Photo by Will Hart/USA Network
We spoke with Saffron Burrows recently about her first year on the show, working with Jeff Goldblum, and how she spent her first 4th of July as a U.S. Citizen.
Q: What originally made you want to be a part of this show?
SAFFRON: First of all, Jeff Goldblum comes to mind because we’d already made a movie together and I think he’s first of all, a wonderful actor and very, very witty intelligent man. I knew that if you’re going to be working on a show like this where you work really long hours and long days, then he’d be a great comrade to deal with. And then, of course, Dick Wolf, everything that Dick Wolf created has a great deal of integrity to it and a huge fan base of people who become, I guess, involved in his writing because it’s so smart and gritty and truthful. So I also embraced… Manhattan, so the combination of those elements was really attractive to me.
Q: Before this you were known primarily as a movie actress. What made you decide to switch over to TV?
SAFFRON: Well, I think it’s interesting you said that because I realize that I did a little bit on Boston Legal, like a season on Boston Legal. I realized that one of the things you don’t have with movie acting is the feeling of continuity with people. You build up a nice rapport and a way of working and then that stops and you all say good-bye. I realized on Boston Legal that I rather enjoyed, even though I was just part of the ensemble; I rather enjoyed that feeling of continuum.
So when this option came up would I liked to go and talk to them about it to Dick Wolf’s company, and also Jeff was a big draw because I’d already worked with Jeff and I liked him a lot. I was much more open to it than I would have been if I hadn’t already dipped my toes into television with David Kelly’s show. So I think I was very drawn to that part of it, I must say. But you know actors are such transient beings. We spend a lot of our life in hotel rooms. The idea of being in New York, which I love and working on something I would enjoy with some kind of sense of continuity where I have an apartment and I live there was quite attractive to me.
Q: How did it feel to join a show in its ninth season with the original stars leaving?
SAFFRON: Luckily I didn’t allow myself to pay too much attention to that because it’s like joining school when you come a little late to high school and everyone else has been there for a while. I certainly felt shy on my first day. I think the good thing with the show is that they wanted… Zach Nichols’ and my character, Serena, to be very much these new individuals who have a big history. And also what I like about the writing for the stars before us and for us is that we’ve already come to it with a lot of life. So all you can do is try and serve the writing that they’ve given you and not pay too much attention to the weight, the reputation of the thing is so enormous that I think it’s best to try to and be present and do a good job. Otherwise, it would be a little too overwhelming.
Q: When you first joined the show that had been on for so long, did you feel welcome instantly? Was there a sense of chemistry among all of you or did you have to work on that?
SAFFRON: I have to say they’re very welcoming, really. They’re really great. I think American crews in general are very friendly. There’s a lot of people there who are there just to make you feel comfortable, a really great costume department and hair and make-up. So all of the stuff as an actor that you spend time with, those departments that you at 4:00 AM or 5:00 AM, you’re with all those people before you’re even on set, there’s a lot of back time that obviously remains behind the camera where you’re just being taken care of by people who are really good at their jobs.
So I felt assured that Dick Wolf’s company had hired the best people in New York. And they’re there to put you at ease and make you feel good and make you as relaxed as possible. So that when you’re playing the scenes, that’s all you’re thinking about is the actual scenes themselves. So I must say they’re very, very good at making you comfortable and welcoming you to New York and finding you a really nice place to live, all of the stuff that makes you feel good when you’re stepping into a new job.
Q: As a whole new cast with a completely different set of characters, how are you all setting yourselves apart from the previous seasons while also staying connected with this established series?
SAFFRON: I think Jeff and I would leave that up to the writers to take charge of that because I have complete respect for them. They know the structure of the story so well and the shape of the show and the history of the show. So I think I bow to them in that respect.
Q: What does your character, Serena Stevens, bring to the show that’s different from her predecessors?
SAFFRON: I’m not sure. I guess you’d have to ask the audience… I’m enjoying her own particular set of characteristics, Stevens, and the way that I’m allowed to develop a partnership with somebody. I’ve come from another city. I probably have a tougher background. Nichols’ background is a little bit more gentle and intellectual I think than my own, which is a military one with my father in the military. So I wouldn’t know how to compare and contrast that to previous characters, but I’m enjoying so far having someone unfold in front of my eyes so that I find out things almost as we’re shooting them. So I’m given a new script and discover a little bit more about her.
I like the way they don’t patronize the audience. So when we have a crime to solve, we’re not going into endless melodrama about our private lives. We do give each other little tiny bit of information that become hopefully a gentle reveal over time, which I think is hopefully an attractive way to find out about someone’s life because it’s rather subtly done. So I’m enjoying that a lot.
Q: You have fantastic on screen chemistry with Jeff. So what is it like working with him?
SAFFRON: You think we have chemistry? Oh, good, I’m glad. It’s so much fun. I don’t know if you’ve already spoken to him, but he’s a very funny man. In fact, I’m going to see him on stage. I’m in London and he’s doing a play here, so I’m going to see him on Monday doing his play. He’s incredibly bright and funny. And I guess he’s probably wittier than most people would ever know and so that’s really nice to be around, the combination of intelligence and irreverence. He takes care of me. He’s a gentleman. He’s very caring and loving and it’s great. It’s really fun.
He’s very easy to work with. He’s incredibly respectful of everybody and treats people really well, which I like. He has amazing energy. He’s always the one at the end of a long day who has the most energy left when everyone else is flagging. He’s incredible, yes.
Q: What’s been your most memorable moment so far from filming this season?
SAFFRON: I think just the exuberance of the cast and crew because this is its ninth year. There’s a lot of new faces, but apparently there’s people who have been on the show for a long time. There’s a lovely team spirit to the thing. And so I think just the overall feeling. I’ve made friends on the crew, which is always nice, the feeling of camaraderie that builds up over working together. On films or movies, you shoot together for a while and then you all say good-bye. On this show, it’s seven or eight months filming, so you have time to build up a rapport and get into a rhythm with people in the way that you would more in a regular job.
So that’s been fun for me. Both Jeff and I said we’ve always done theatre and I think the longest I’ve done in the theatre is six months. So for both Jeff and I, this is our longest ever job we’ve done we both realized where you’re actually with the same people for that length of time. So I like that a lot.
Q: What can we expect from the season finale and from Serena?
SAFFRON: There’s a very interesting turn of events with Jeff’s character. I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say, but something occurs with Jeff’s background. There’s a case that we deal with in the season finale that’s very, very cool and a shockingly violent case, really and we decide we need help from an unusual direction. So Nichols and I, along with the captain go into a process with somebody where we asked for someone’s help that Nichols knows personally and that person helps us solve the case.
It’s interesting because it’s the home life comes in to help us in our working world. It’s interesting for me because I get to find out a lot more about Nichols. And it’s a case that’s very, it’s disturbing and confusing and very hard to solve. So, yes, it’s very well written, I think based on a true story. I’m being very vague, aren’t I, to keep you guessing?
USA PUBLICIST: You can actually say it’s Nichols’ father.
SAFFRON: Am I allowed to say who plays him?
USA PUBLICIST: Yes, F. Murray Abraham.
Q: What was it like working opposite F. Murray Abraham?
SAFFRON: Oh, he’s wonderful. It was very exciting. We have these arias that the show has every week. We almost have a double aria in this one, but there’s very, very intense sequence of events that takes place with F. Murray at the pinnacle of it at the fulcrum. And then I’m sort of there witnessing what’s happened to my partner and how he’s being affected by that. And it’s incredibly powerful. What a wonderful actor.
In fact, he gave me a gift at the end of one day. He was in a scene, but he didn’t have any text. He was there to add dramatic effect at a certain point. So he spent the day writing, spending afternoon writing out all of Shakespeare’s sonnets that he could remember on a note pad. And then at the end of the day, he gave me all the sonnets, which I love. But he’s terrific. There’s a lot of improvisation that went on, actually, in that episode. It was very alive.
Q: We’ve read that you just passed the final test and you’re 100% full legal citizen. How you plan on spending your first 4th of July as an American?
SAFFRON: I was meant to be flying back to the states on the 4th of July because my friend has a beach house, which I enjoy. Well, funny enough, I have some things to do in London, including going and seeing Jeff on stage on the west end. So embarrassingly I might be in Europe for my first 4th of July.
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