Wednesday's (March 19)
"Law & Order: SVU"
episode marks two debuts: Alec Baldwin as a guest star and Mariska Hargitay as a director, and showrunner Warren Leight says he was surprised by Baldwin.
"We have an Islamic Indian woman raped, and it's a hate crime, and it's on Central Park South so it is a high-profile crime," Leight says of the episoded, titled "Criminal Stories."
Baldwin plays a tough tabloid columnist, who accuses the woman of being a fake, and "our squad is caught in the middle," Leight says. "Meanwhile, he is so discrediting the victim, it is going to be hard to prove."
It's ironic that Baldwin is playing a reporter, considering his recent screed against journalists. But it turns out he and Hargitay are pals, and he had optioned a couple of books on Mike McAlary, the late columnist who in the 1980s bounced between the New York Post and the New York Daily News. (McAlary was the subject of the 2013 Broadway play "Lucky Guy," which starred Tom Hanks.)
"What we have is a columnist who, at a certain point, may realize he has part of the story wrong," Leight says. "But his ego won't let him admit it. This is the stage at these guys' lives where they become larger than their stories."
Baldwin is a perfect match for one of those columnists, long on swagger and bluster. And Leight, who did his time in community newspapers in Manhattan, knows the type. But what surprised Leight was rather than play Jimmy MacArthur as a brazen, king-of-the-city loudmouth, Baldwin's take was different.
"Alec went the other way on it," Leight says. "And he took the guy and went under, instead of over. It sets expectations a little bit upside down. I was impressed."
As for Hargitay, the show's star, going behind the camera for the first time?
"It was kind of great," Leight says. "I wasn't at all anxious about it. She knows the show better than anyone. Often on our show when an actor can't get there, Mariska helps them get there. She has done these scenes enough and knows how to get there. If they see Mariska knows how to get something, they will let her go get it. And she prepared more than almost more than any director I have had in here."
Hargitay was busy working on the final edits for the episode, which she also appears in. Baldwin declined an interview.
"Law & Order: SVU" airs at 9 p.m. ET/PT Wednesday on NBC.