Don’t fence Elisabeth Röhm in. The actress, best known for her role as the ambitious Assistant District Attorney Serena Southerlyn on NBC’s long-running hit “Law & Order” is packing up her legal briefs, ditching her business suits, and taking on new roles.
Born in Germany to a corporate attorney father and a free-spirited writer mother, Röhm was raised in New York City. Bitten by the acting bug in college, she got her first professional break on the daytime drama "One Life to Live".
Before her debut on "Law & Order" in 2001, Röhm reached a decidedly hipper, albeit more gothic, audience in the recurring role of detective Kate Lockley on the WB’s Vampire-drama "Angel". But gavels down, it is the NBC stalwart that has packed the most punch. Now in her fourth season, Röhm, like so many before her (Carey Lowell, Jill Hennessey, and Angie Harmon), is making a break. But unlike the often nonchalant departures of previous characters, this episode is likely to have viewers talking the next morning.
Up next on the docket — her film debut alongside Sandra Bullock in "Miss Congeniality 2," which will be released in March. And now, 10 questions for Elisabeth Röhm.
I know you were on “One Life to Live,” but is it true your mother was a writer on “Guiding Light”? Your family must have a flair for the dramatic!
She did for a brief, brief period of time. I think for a year or so.
The irony is that she wrote for “Guiding Light” when I was probably like eight years old, and I really only came to acting about the time I was 18. My mother probably has more the flair for drama. If I picked up any of that from either of my parents, I’m sure it came from her.
So you’re leaving "Law & Order" — and that’s kind of the grand tradition, isn’t it? A lot of people have played that role over the years on "Law & Order" and have gone on to pursue film careers.
Well, I think that the boys have had greater luck, you know? The women have chosen different paths. I mean, both Carey (Lowell) and Angie [Harmon] went off and had children. Angie I think has done a movie and may be doing something currently and then Jill [Hennessey] is starring in her hit show. I think Chris Noth has done a lot. I mean, what is great about this show and what I love about it, especially in reflection of Jerry Orbach passing, is that it was a place that we were lucky to grow up in ... the list goes on and on of people who really trained under the auspice of Jerry Orbach and Sam Waterston and Michael Moriarty. Here you have a marriage of the young and the accomplished coming together and learning from each other.
If I had stayed, I don’t think it would have made much sense, and as much as I loved the show I personally had to kind of kick myself out of the crib.
You haven’t had one of those ‘Oh, what have I done?’ moments?
You know, I’m sure I did. I’m sure I had several. It was very hard for me to make the decision because my managers and agents wanted me to not even do any of this season. Most girls left after a three years and Jill left after two years. I was very comfortable and I had planted myself there and Sam Waterston had become a really good personal friend so it was a harder decision for me. But then I traveled and I shot a film this summer and it opened my eyes to something beyond what’s comfortable and I realized that I didn’t have anything else that I could offer this character.
Your character on "Law & Order" is obviously very serious, doing the business suit thing. But when I saw you at a party recently, and when you’re on the red carpet ... Va Va Voom! Very glamorous, very girly! Are you looking forward to losing the business suit look for a while?
God, yes. I mean, you know, that’s also it. Working with Sandra Bullock on “Miss Congeniality 2” was hysterical. She’s so funny, and suddenly I felt young again, laughing and appreciating her humor.
And like you said, you go down the red carpet and you get a sense of glamour and beauty. ... I’ve always been cast as older, so it would be really fun for me to be a romantic lead or be in a comedy or do a dramedy series.
Okay — tell me — you played a detective on 'Angel', you were assistant D.A. on 'Law & Order', now you’ve got ‘Miss Congeniality 2’ coming out in the spring. Are you staying on the right side of the law again in this upcoming film?
I am, I am. I’m so on the right side of the law that I’m completely anal and probably rather abrasive and annoying to the more eccentric and creative Sandra Bullock character. I’m an FBI agent. I don’t know what it is — I guess if you’ve got a college education you get cast as a cops, lawyers, FBI agents ...
Do you get to flex your comedic muscle in the film?
Yeah a little bit. The whole film is very funny. I think that when I’m funny, the joke is on me. You know, I don’t realize that it’s funny — which is very funny. It’s very much the kind of humor I’d like to do. I do tend to be very serious and philosophical and so, you know, as I’ve grown up I’ve learned to lighten up and see that the world, as complicated as it is, and human nature, as interesting as it is to analyze ... it’s all just a crapshoot. People that really take themselves so seriously are very funny and are funny to laugh at. And I’m one of them.
I’ll admit to being a regular watcher of all things 'Law & Order'. As a result, I have little or no social life, because it’s on all the time. But I haven’t really seen any clues that your character is about to leave, so my prediction is that something big is going to happen. Enlighten me.
That’s very interesting, because there are two camps. There are people that think that they’ve seen clues and there are people that have seen none.
Oh no, I’m the stupid one.
No, Sam (Waterston) doesn’t feel like there have been any clues. ... I’m kind of somewhere in between. I know what happens when I leave; then I wonder if there were real moments that led up to that. And I think that there have been a few, but I think it’s going to be surprising.
Do you get into some sort of trouble here?
Of course I get into trouble! It’s no fun having a big party if you don’t get into any trouble. And a departure, I guess, is a party!
I did an Internet search of your name. I got about 40,000 results and one of them goes to a link that lets people see how biorhythmically compatible they are with you. You’ll be sad to learn that you and I are only 87 percent compatible.
Oh honey, that’s really good though! One of my best friend’s mothers told me once that you only get 80 percent of what you want and if we’re in the 87th percentile we’re really doing well!
Okay, then! Have you had any of those bizarre instances where people treat you as though you’re the character you’re playing on TV?
Sure! But not so crazy as when I was on the soap. When I was on the soap people would engage in conversations with me about my character. But now I’m playing a character that’s almost characterless. So I get “Hey, Serena!”
I love it. In fact, Serena’s a prettier name than Elisabeth.