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28 Actors Who Started Out on Law & Order

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Call it a “role” all you want. For any actor who got his or her start after 1990, a guest spot on Law & Order is more like a rite of passage. 

While well-known actors such as Robin Williams, Frank Langella, Henry Winkler, Angela Lansbury, Jerry Lewis, Ellen Burstyn, Carol Burnett, and even Julia Roberts have filled in as special guest stars over the years, here are 28 actors who appeared on the show before they were stars (dun dun).

1. PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN: SEASON 1, EPISODE 14

Fifteen years before he was clearing space on his bookshelf for a Best Actor Oscar, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman made his on-screen debut in Law & Order’s first season. (The 1991 episode, “The Violence of Summer,” is also notable for being one of the few in which “Order” comes before the “Law.”)

2. JENNIFER GARNER: SEASON 6, EPISODE 23

Less than a year into her career, Jennifer Garner played temptress to Benjamin Bratt’s happily married Detective Curtis in the show’s sixth season finale, which was notable for its lack of the show’s typical “first comes law, then comes order” format. Instead, it follows the series’ key players in the aftermath of witnessing an execution at Attica.

3. CLAIRE DANES: SEASON 3, EPISODE 1

Claire Danes was clearly tinkering with her now-famous “cry face” at the tender age of 13, when she played the distraught daughter of a sometime-prostitute and murder suspect with her own romantic links to the murder victim. Six Feet Under star Lauren Ambrose makes one of her earliest career appearances in the same episode.

4. TY BURRELL: SEASON 11, EPISODE 2

Modern Family’s father of the year Ty Burrell was a bit of a latecomer to the game; he was 33 years old when he was cast in his first on-screen role in the 2000 episode “Turnstile Justice,” in which a mentally unstable homeless man is accused of killing a woman on the subway. The producers must have liked what they saw, because they brought Burrell back two seasons later to play a Marine marksman-turned-kidnapper.

5. ROONEY MARA: SEASON 7, EPISODE 20 (SVU)

By now, most people know that a year after (barely) appearing in the straight-to-video Urban Legends: Bloody Mary, Oscar-nominated actress Rooney Mara appeared in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit as a formerly overweight teen who bullies overweight teens. Why do most people know this? Because she caused a bit of a PR stir when she was quoted in Allure as saying the experience “was so awful.” Fans of the series were none too happy with Mara’s criticism, but she was quick to respond, clarifying that, “If anything, I didn't mean that the storyline was ridiculous; I meant that humanity is ridiculous.”

6. KATE MARA: SEASON 8, EPISODE 8

Rooney isn’t the only Mara to count L&O among her earliest roles. It’s also the show (albeit the original edition) that gave big sister Kate her first paying gig in 1997 as Jenna Erlich, the daughter of a murdered bail bondsman.

7. JOHN KRASINSKI: SEASON 3, EPISODE 11 (CRIMINAL INTENT)

A year before he began giving sideways glances to the documentary crew of The Office for nine seasons, John Krasinski was the anti-Jim Halpert when he played a violent—and possibly homicidal—high school basketball player facing off against Vincent D’Onofrio in a 2004 Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

8. JESSICA CHASTAIN: SEASON 1, EPISODES 2, 3 and 13 (TRIAL BY JURY)

In the span of less than a year beginning in the fall of 2011, now-two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain went from being in no movies to being in, well, just about every movie. One of the shows that got her there, after guest spots on ER and Veronica Mars, was the single-season snoozer of a Law & Order spinoff, Trial By Jury, on which she played an assistant district attorney.

9. PETER FACINELLI: SEASON 5, EPISODE 14

Three years before his breakthrough role as teenaged stud (but 25 at the time) Mike Dexter in Can’t Hardly Wait, Peter Facinelli was playing another teenaged stud, this one at the center of a points-for-sex rape scandal, in his second credited performance.

10. VERA FARMIGA: SEASON 8, EPISODE 12

After a recurring role on the short-lived series Roar, starring Heath Ledger, Oscar nominee Vera Farmiga did the L&O thing in 1998 as the daughter of a convicted murderer who goes on her own mini killing spree.

11. EDIE FALCO: SEASON 3, EPISODE 15

By the time she made her first of four appearances on L&O—all of them as attorney Sally Bell—Edie Falco was already becoming an increasingly familiar face to fans of American independent cinema, having appeared in Hal Hartley’s The Unbelievable Truth and Trust and Nick Gomez’s Laws of Gravity. But her introduction to television audiences came with L&O, and it is on the small screen that she would later find her greatest success with shows like The Sopranos and Nurse Jackie.

12. JULIANNA MARGULIES: SEASON 3, EPISODE 17

Before they were warring spouses on The Good Wife, Julianna Margulies—as a military lieutenant—played a brick wall to Chris Noth’s investigation into the death of a female Navy officer at a Manhattan hotel. The role was Margulies’ second ever; two years earlier she had played a prostitute in the Steven Seagal actioner Out for Justice.

13. ROB MCELHENNEY: SEASON 8, EPISODE 1

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia star Rob McElhenney wasn’t even old enough to drink at Paddy’s Pub when he appeared as one half of a thrill-killing duo who turns witness for the state. The role is actually referenced in the original Sunny pilot, when a gorgeous transsexual (played by Homeland’s Morena Baccharin) tells McElhenney how much she liked him in the show.

14. EMMY ROSSUM: SEASON 8, EPISODE 10

Shameless star Emmy Rossum was just 11 years old when she landed her first on-screen appearance in 1997. So we’re guessing/hoping that much of the episode’s plot—which involved an Egyptian family’s fight over whether or not the pre-teen should be circumcised—was a bit over her head.

15. LEIGHTON MEESTER: SEASON 9, EPISODE 15

As a teenager living in a shelter who may know more than she’s letting on about the circumstances surrounding the death of a classmate, Leighton Meester’s first role is a far cry from Gossip Girl’s Blair Waldorf in the glamour department. But her ability to sass all those around her, including Detectives Briscoe and Curtis, is evident.

16. CLARK GREGG: SEASON 1, EPISODE 12

Three years after making his big-screen debut in the role of “Stage Manager” in David Mamet’s Things Change, soon-to-be Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Clark Gregg got mixed up in an investigation into the bombing of an abortion clinic in the first season of L&O.

17. CAMRYN MANHEIM: SEASON 1, EPISODE 12

Camryn Manheim made her television debut in the first season of L&O, in the same episode as Gregg. She would go on to star in two more episodes over the next three years.

18. AMANDA PEET: SEASON 6, EPISODE 5

Amanda Peet channeled her inner Patty Hearst for a 1995 L&O episode in which she claimed that she was kidnapped and forced to partake in a recent crime spree that has resulted in the death of four individuals.

19. PETER SARSGAARD: SEASON 6, EPISODE 6

Less than two months before he made his film debut in Dead Man Walking, Golden Globe nominee Peter Sarsgaard was just another college student caught up in the middle of a murder/cyber-stalking investigation.

20. ALLISON JANNEY: SEASON 2, EPISODE 12

With nearly 100 credits on her resume, Allison Janney is one of those actresses who seems to have been around forever. But one of her earliest roles was in a small part in a 1992 episode of L&O that follows the murder of a soap star. Two years later she appeared in a second episode of the series, this time playing a witness against the Russian mob.

21. GIL BELLOWS: SEASON 1, EPISODE 14

While his official acting debut came in a little-seen 1988 film called The First Season, Gil Bellows’ second professional credit—and first television gig—was as Hoffman’s scene partner-in-crime. Three years later, Bellows would share screen time with Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman in his breakthrough role in The Shawshank Redemption. In 1997 he returned to the small screen in a big way as the (sometime) romantic lead in Ally McBeal.

Fun fact: Samuel L. Jackson was also one of this same episode’s guest stars; though he was far from a household name at the time, he had made an impression with small but memorable parts in Do the Right Thing, Coming to America, and Goodfellas.

22. ELLEN POMPEO: SEASON 6, EPISODE 16

Grey’s Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo played the lone survivor of an attack that took the lives of her mom and brother, and landed her father in jail. But as her dad’s trial progresses, fingers start pointing in her direction. Four years later, Pompeo played a similar role in a different episode of L&O, but this time the crime was sororicide.

23. CHANDRA WILSON: SEASON 2, EPISODE 18

Four years before Pompeo’s L&O debut, her future Grey’s Anatomy co-star Chandra Wilson made her first of three L&O appearances (the latter two for SVU) in the (appropriately) hospital-themed “Cradle to the Grave,” in which a baby is found frozen to death in an emergency room.

24. MICHAEL PITT: SEASON 8, EPISODE 17

Michael Pitt has never conformed to the typical “rising young star” formula, not even when he was just starting out at the age of 17 and starred in “Carrier,” a 1998 L&O episode that played a bit like the movie Kids; it told the story of an HIV positive young man who is knowingly infecting others with the disease.

25. SARAH PAULSON: SEASON 5, EPISODE 4

Sixteen years before she was well-known enough to score a big promo as a “special guest star” on SVU, Sarah Paulson was stirring up a whole lot of family drama in her first-ever role in the original series’ fifth season, as the daughter of a murder victim who also may or may not be sleeping with her stepfather.

26. CHRIS MESSINA: SEASON 6, EPISODE 2

Being killed in a 1995 episode of Law & Order wasn’t exactly the breakthrough role Chris Messina—star of The Mindy Project and The Newsroom—needed. But it didn’t prevent him from appearing on the show on two more occasions in the next eight years (in different roles, obviously).

27. PAUL WESLEY: SEASON 2, EPISODE 1 (SVU)

In the same year that he landed a recurring role on Guiding Light, The Vampire Diaries star Paul Wesley—then just 18 years old, and going by the name Paul Wasilewski—made his Law & Order debut as an uncooperative head of security.

28. SARAH WAYNE CALLIES: SEASON 4, EPISODE 17 (SVU)

The Walking Dead’s Sarah Wayne Callies has kept herself busy with television gigs for the past decade, but it all started with a 2003 episode of SVU. She plays a one-percenting wife who used to be a prostitute, whose testimony could provide invaluable to Detectives Benson and Stabler in a rape and murder case.

See Also...

25 Future Stars Who Appeared on Seinfeld
27 Future Stars Who Appeared on Miami Vice
35 Future Stars Who Appeared on The West Wing

Images courtesy of NBC Universal Television.

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11 Screenwriters Who Hated Their Own Movies
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John Phillips, Getty Images

Even the most successful screenwriters don’t always get what they want after a film is completed. Here are 11 scribes who didn't hold back when it came to reviewing their own films.

1. QUENTIN TARANTINO // NATURAL BORN KILLERS (1994)

During the early 1990s, Quentin Tarantino sold his screenplay for Natural Born Killers to Oliver Stone and used the money to fund his debut film, Reservoir Dogs, which was released in 1992. Two years later, Stone released the film with Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis in starring roles.

While it was a box office hit, Tarantino despised the production because of the changes and alterations to much of his original content. "I hate that f*cking movie," Tarantino told The Telegraph in 2013. "If you like my stuff, don't watch that movie."

Years after its release, the producers of Natural Born Killers sued Tarantino when he tried to publish the original screenplay as a book, as he had done with his original script for True Romance. The producers believed that Tarantino forfeited his rights when he sold it to them, but a judge ruled in Tarantino's favor.

2. PAUL RUDNICK // SISTER ACT (1992)

During the late 1980s, playwright and novelist Paul Rudnick tried his hand at screenwriting between stage productions. He pitched Sister Act to Touchstone Pictures, which is owned by the Walt Disney Company, with Bette Midler in mind for the lead role. Though Midler passed on it, Whoopi Goldberg signed on to play the lovable lounge singer pretending to be a nun.

After months of rewrites and tedious studio notes, Rudnick was not happy with the final screenplay because it was nothing like what he originally wrote or intended the film to be. In fact, he was so unhappy with the movie that he asked Disney to remove his name and use the pseudonym “Joseph Howard” instead.

“Good or bad, it was no longer my work, so I asked to have my name removed from the credits,” Rudnick wrote in The New Yorker in 2009. “The studio was unhappy with that, and I got a series of urgent calls offering me a videocassette of the final cut and asking me to watch it and reconsider. I refused, because, even if the movie was terrific, it wasn’t my script ... Disney agreed that I could use a pseudonym, pending its approval.” He continued, “I can’t vouch for the original film, for one reason. Sister Act may very well be just fine, but I’ve never been able to watch it."

3. KURT SUTTER // PUNISHER: WAR ZONE (2008)

Before Marvel’s The Punisher made a comeback as a TV series on Netflix in 2017, Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter was hired to write a sequel to The Punisher starring Thomas Jane and John Travolta. In 2007, Sutter started writing a new script and wanted to ground the antihero in a grittier reality and move the character from Florida to New York City.

However, after Jane dropped out of the project, Marvel Studios wanted to start over with a new sequel that felt more like the comic book version of Frank Castle instead of the more realistic idea that Sutter envisioned. The end result was so far removed from what Sutter had written that he asked for his name to be removed from what would turn into Punisher: War Zone.

“I threw away the first draft written by Nick Santora and did a page one rewrite,” Sutter wrote of the project in 2008. “I changed the locations, the characters, the story. I dropped Frank in a real New York City with real villains, real cops, real relationships. To me, the Punisher deserved more than the usual comic book redress. It shouldn’t just follow the feature superhero formula. Apparently, I was the only one who shared that vision.”

4. AND 5. LANA AND LILLY WACHOWSKI // ASSASSINS (1995)

During the mid-1990s, Lana and Lilly Wachowski sold the screenplays for Assassins and The Matrix to producer Joel Silver for $1 million per film. Assassins was the first to go into production, and Richard Donner signed on to direct with Sylvester Stallone and Antonio Banderas attached to co-star.

Although Assassins was one of the hottest unproduced screenplays at the time (you can read the Wachowskis' original version here), Donner didn’t like the darker tone and artsy symbolism, so he hired screenwriter Brian Helgeland to do a page-one rewrite to make it into a standard action thriller instead. The Wachowskis were not happy with the decision to tone down their screenplay, so the siblings wanted their names to be taken off the project, but the Writers Guild of America denied their request.

“The film was not really based on the screenplay,” Lana said in a 2003 interview. “The one thing that sort of bothered us is that people would blame us for the screenplay and it’s like Richard Donner is one of the few directors in Hollywood that can make whatever movie he wants exactly the way he wants it. No one will stop him and that’s essentially what happened. He brought in Brian Helgeland and they totally rewrote the script. We tried to take our names off of it but the WGA doesn’t let you. So our names are forever there.”

If there’s a silver lining to this story it’s that the experience with Assassins led the Wachowskis to want more control over their work—so they decided to become directors; they made their directorial debut with Bound in 1996.

6. BRET EASTON ELLIS // THE INFORMERS (2008)

Although Bret Easton Ellis co-wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation for The Informers, from his own novel, the final cut was not exactly how he envisioned it. Ellis was upset that the tone of the story went from dark humor to something more melodramatic. He blamed Australian director Gregor Jordan for The Informers's missteps.

“You need [a director] who grew up around here,” Ellis said. “You also need someone with an Altman-esque sense of humor, because the script is really funny. The movie is not funny at all, and there are scenes in the movie that should be funny that we wrote as funny, and they’re played as we wrote them, but they’re directed in a way that they're not funny. It was very distressing to see the cuts of this movie and realize that all the laughs were gone. I think Gregor was looking at it as something else. I think we had this miscommunication during pre-production that it’s not supposed to be played like an Australian soap opera.”

In 2010, Ellis again commented on the woes of The Informers during a Q&A at the Savannah College of Art and Design, saying: “That movie doesn't work for a lot of reasons but I don't think any of those reasons are my fault."

7. KELLY MARCEL // FIFTY SHADES OF GREY (2015)

In early 2013, Universal Pictures acquired the film rights to E.L. James's bestselling novel, Fifty Shades of Grey. The studio envisioned a new film franchise and hired Saving Mr. Banks screenwriter Kelly Marcel to adapt the book. While the movie studio promised Marcel creative freedom to explore the book’s characters and themes, the author had the final approval over the screenplay, director, and cast. James was unhappy with Marcel’s work and wanted the movie to be more like her novel.

“I very much wanted to do something different with the screenplay, and when I spoke to the studio and the producers and made that quite clear, they were very enthusiastic about that and kind of loved the things I wanted to do,” she explained on the Bret Easton Ellis Podcast in 2015. “I wanted to remove a lot of the dialogue. I felt it could be a really sexy film if there wasn’t so much talking in it.”

Marcel didn’t return to write the film's sequels, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, and never even bothered to watch the original. “My heart really was broken by that process, I really mean it,” Marcel said. “I just don’t feel like I can watch it without feeling some pain about how different it is to what I initially wrote.”

8. JOE ESZTERHAS // JADE (1995)

During the 1990s, screenwriter Joe Eszterhas was the toast of Hollywood after Basic Instinct became a smash hit. His screenplays would sell for upwards of $4 million apiece, with Paramount Pictures acquiring the film rights to Jade for $1.5 million after Eszterhas turned in a mere two-page outline. However, after William Friedkin signed on to direct, the screenplay was completely changed with Friedkin doing an uncredited rewrite. Eszterhas was not happy that his work was butchered.

"I stared in disbelief," Eszterhas wrote in his autobiography, Hollywood Animal, about watching Jade for the first time. "I watched entire plot points and scenes and red herrings that weren't in my script. I heard dialogue that not only wasn't mine but was terrible to boot."

9. GORE VIDAL // CALIGULA (1979)

Although he was paid $200,000 for the screenplay for Caligula in 1979, novelist and screenwriter Gore Vidal was not happy with Penthouse Magazine founder and film producer Bob Guccione after he changed the film from a political satire to a $17 million piece of mainstream porn. Vidal was also very unhappy with the film’s director, Tinto Brass, with whom he had several clashes during production. Guccione sided with Brass and kicked Vidal off the set, while Vidal requested that his name be taken off the project altogether.

Eventually, Brass also walked off Caligula after butting heads with Guccione; Brass, too, asked for his name to be taken off the movie. The end result was Brass receiving a bizarre “Principal Photographer” credit, while Vidal got an even stranger “Based on an Original Screenplay by Gore Vidal” attribution.

“When I asked to see the first rushes, I was told by the Italian producer, ‘But, darling, you will hate them!,'" Vidal told Rolling Stone in 1980. "To which I said, ‘If Gore Vidal hates Gore Vidal's Caligula, who will like it?’ This was never answered. I quit the picture. Meanwhile, the director told the press that nothing of my script was left, except my name in the title.” Vidal later continued, “I threatened legal proceedings to remove the name. Finally, it was agreed that I would get no credit beyond a note that the screenplay was based upon a subject by Gore Vidal. But a fair amount of damage has been done.”

10. GUINEVERE TURNER // BLOODRAYNE (2005)

Screenwriter Guinevere Turner is mostly known for her thoughtful, character-driven movies like American Psycho, Go Fish, and The Notorious Bettie Page. She was even a staff writer and story editor on the hit Showtime TV series The L Word during the mid-2000s. With such an impressive resume, it was a little surprising that German director Uwe Boll, who is known as one of the worst directors of all time and the “schlock maestro” of movies like Alone in the Dark and Postal, commissioned Turner to write the film adaptation of the video game BloodRayne in 2005.

Turner wrote the screenplay in a few weeks and turned in a first draft to Boll, who was really excited about her work and decided to film it right away. However, he only ended up filming about 20 percent of the script and let the actors "take a crack at it" with improv and ad-lib work.

To no one’s surprise, BloodRayne turned out to be terrible, while Turner later said she was the only one “laughing out loud” during its premiere at Mann’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. “It’s like a $25 million movie, and it blows! I mean, it’s like the worst movie ever made,” she admitted in the Tales From The Script documentary.

BloodRayne was later nominated for two Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst Director and Worst Picture.

11. J.D. SHAPIRO // BATTLEFIELD EARTH (2000)

In 1997, John Travolta commissioned screenwriter J.D. Shapiro to adapt Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s 1982 novel Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000 for the big screen. Shapiro wrote a darker version of the novel, which resulted in him getting fired from the project altogether for refusing to change its tone.

However, much of what he wrote ended up in the final movie, so Shapiro ended up with a writer’s credit, much to his dismay. Battlefield Earth was released in the year 2000 and went on to be known as the worst movie of the decade. Shapiro even penned an open letter to apologize for his involvement.

"Let me start by apologizing to anyone who went to see Battlefield Earth,” he wrote in the New York Post in 2010. “It wasn’t as I intended—promise. No one sets out to make a train wreck. Actually, comparing it to a train wreck isn’t really fair to train wrecks, because people actually want to watch those."

Although Shapiro hated Battlefield Earth, he was a good sport about its failure. He even showed up to accept a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Screenplay in 2001.

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David Lynch's Amazon T-Shirt Shop is as Surreal as His Movies
Dominique Faget, AFP/Getty Images
Dominique Faget, AFP/Getty Images

David Lynch, the celebrated director behind baffling-but-brilliant films like Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, and Twin Peaks, is now selling his equally surreal T-shirts on Amazon.

As IndieWire reports, each shirt bears an image of one of Lynch’s paintings or photographs with an accompanying title. Some of his designs are more straightforward (the shirts labeled “House” and “Whale” feature, respectively, drawings of a house and a whale), while others are obscure (the shirt called “Chicken Head Tears” features a disturbing sculpture of a semi-human face).

This isn’t the first time Lynch has ventured into pursuits outside of filmmaking. Previously, he has sold coffee, designed furniture, produced music, hosted daily weather reports, and published a book about his experience with transcendental meditation. Art, in fact, falls a little closer to Lynch’s roots; the filmmaker trained for years at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts before making his mark in Hollywood.

Lynch’s Amazon store currently sells 57 T-shirts, ranging in size from small to triple XL, all for $26 each. As for our own feelings on the collection, we think they’re best reflected by this T-shirt named “Honestly, I’m Sort of Confused.”

Check out some of our favorites below:

T-shirt that says "Honestly, I'm Sort of Confused"
"Honestly, I'm Sort of Confused"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with a drawing of a sleeping bird on it
"Sleeping Bird"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt that says Peace on Earth over and over again. The caption is pretty on the nose.
"Peace on Earth"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an image of a screaming face made out of turkey with ants in its mouth
"Turkey Cheese Head"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an odd sculpted clay face asking if you know who it is. You get the idea.
"I Was Wondering If You Know Who I Am?"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an image of a sculpted head that is not a chicken. It is blue, though.
"Chicken Head Blue"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with a drawing of a lobster on it. Below the drawing, the lobster is labeled with the word lobster. Shocking, I know.
"Lobster"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an abstract drawing of what is by David Lynch's account, at least, a cowboy
"Cowboy"

Buy it on Amazon

[h/t IndieWire]

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