Scroll far enough down any successful performer’s IMDb page, and odds are good you’ll find an early role on some Law & Order or other. That’s true for Edie Falco, Emmy-winning star of The Sopranos and Nurse Jackie, who appeared four times on the original Law & Order as a defense attorney. “I’m in a very large club,” says Falco. “It is a rite of passage for most actors. If they haven’t been on Law & Order, there’s question there,” she laughs.
This season, Falco’s joining the significantly more exclusive club of actors who’ve returned to star on a Law & Order series. Once again, she’s a defense attorney. But because Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders is the first entry in a proposed anthology of actual historical cases, Falco’s playing a real-life figure. In the media history of the murder trials of Erik and Lyle Menendez, Leslie Abramson is a pivotal figure, bullish in her defense (and, ultimately, investigated by the state bar).
“I think you do learn a little bit about why she is the way she is,” Falco explains, regarding her interpretation of Abramson in Menendez Murders. “What her home life was, what her past was that might have contributed to her ferocity in the courtroom.”
It’s a more three-dimensional portrait of someone who became something of a caricature in the media coverage of the time. “Leslie Abramson was typecast by the media as this foulmouthed raging harpy, defending these horrible monsters,” says showrunner René Balcer. “She was tenacious. She didn’t back down from anybody. At the time that she was operating, in the ’70s and ’80s, that was not a popular MO for a woman to have, to be assertive. I think she largely got a bad rap.”
Falco sees Abramson as “an incredibly hard worker, kind of a type-A personality. Her work was really her priority. That’s something I thought was interesting and important to note. You’re gonna find more pushback from the general public about women in regards to how they work, and that being their priority.”
According to Balcer, the real-life Abramson opted out of any participation in the process early in production. “She’s having a nice life, a nice retirement,” he says.
Falco, however, gained some insight into the woman she’s bringing to life onscreen. “I spoke to someone who worked with her during the time that all this was going on,” says Falco. “This kind of broke her heart. She’s not doing this anymore. She now works in a toy store, apparently.”
Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. on NBC.