If you’re a struggling New York actor, you’ve most likely have these two credits to your resume: waiting tables and having at least one bit part on Law and Order. No IMDB page is complete without the credit. Naturally, lots of OITNB actors put in their time on L&O before spending time at Litchfield Pen – here are just a handful of them.
Pablo Schreiber/George “Pornstache” Mendez
Before Pornstach became Pornstache, Pablo Schreiber put in lots of Law and Order time, beginning in 2005 on a Criminal Intent episode. His big arc came in 2013 when he spent eight episodes as William Lewis — a sadistic stalker and criminal mastermind. Lewis kidnapped and tortured Benson on more than one occasion, and took advantage of every woman he encountered — including his lawyer, played by Lauren Ambrose, aka Claire from Six Feet Under.
Natasha Lyonne is impossible to mistake for anyone else, but her ability to shift gears really gives every role she’s taken a significant nuanced differences. Take, for example, her role as Gia Eskas in Season 13 (Episode 8, “Educated Guess”). Eskas is a patient at a psychiatric facility who is being abused by someone at the hospital. Although her character is dramatically different from Nicky Nichols, she still sneaks a couple of Nichols-esque wisecracks in there.
As far as Law and Order one-off roles go, Kate Mulgrew got a pretty juicy part. On the Season 7, episode 21 episode of Special Victims Unit, Mulgrew plays Assistant US Attorney Donna Geysen, who demands that a 14-year-old boy with a history of sexual abuse be punished to the full extent of the law for molesting his younger brother on a live webcam show. How does Mulgrew’s Red stack up against her gritty US Attorney Geysen? Let’s just say Geysen failed in the courtroom and Red still holds significant power at Litchfield.
Laverne Cox had one of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-her bit roles in a 2008 (season 19, episode 6, “Sweetie”) episode where she plays Minne, a jovial truck stop prostitute. The episode was loosely based on a scandal surrounding writer JT LeRoy, and it was directed by Mario Van Peebles. Lots of talent in this episode.
Selenis Leyva has been on all variants of Law and Order, she probably has a permanent dressing room on set. She played Lorinda Gutierrez in the first season of SVU, and assorted bit roles in various episodes of Criminal Intent. On Law and Order proper, Leyva spent 17 episodes as Detective Mariluz Rivera, often popping up to offer evidence or explain key plot developments to main detectives Fontana and Green. Three seasons later, she popped up as a bit character in Season 20 Episode 14 (“Boy On Fire”), and the crazy thing is that nobody on the force seemed to recognize her.
Michael Harney/Sam Healy
Before he was the corrections officer and inmate councilor at Litchfield Pen, Michael Harney was best known for playing a cop in NYPD Blue. But before that, he’d been in four different episodes of Law and Order, two of them as Lieutenant Stu Miller. In Season 7, Episodes 15 & 16, Lieutenant Miller shows up to help Briscoe and Curtis track down the murderer of a wealthy movie studio executive. He plays a convincing cop opposite Briscoe, too.
Sanja Danilovic/Katja Healy
While we’ve mentioned Sam Healy, let’s talk about his mail order bride, Katja Healy. She has the perfect look for a Law and Order wife. She’s stately looking – new money – but she still gives off subtle hints of warmth. She’s also been on several L&O, as in this scene in SVU (season 15, episode 1) as the unsuspecting wife of a man who has kept several other women locked in a Brooklyn basement for decades. Oddly enough, she seems to act for fondly for her murderer husband than Katja does for Sam.
Lea DeLaria/Big Boo
In an old episode of Law and Order: SVU (season 10, episode 14), Lea LeLaria has a small role as Frankie – the gritty, tough-as-nails bouncer at a strip club called Sugar Pops. Frankie’s favorite part of the job is roughing up the pervs when they get to close to the dancers. This is a job I feel Boo might have held at one time or another.
Barbara Rosenblat/Miss Rosa
Another multi-episode guest! In 2009’s “Transitions” (season 10, episode 14), SVU detectives are trying to track down the ID of a man who was horribly assaulted outside a club. When they discover his place of employment, they run into none other than Barbara Rosenblat, know to OITNB fans as Miss Rosa. Rosenblat also appears as a nurse in an earlier episode (Season 6, Episode 17, “Rage”).
Deborah Rush/Carol Chapman
It was an inspired masterstroke to get Deborah Rush to play Piper’s mom. If you’ve seen her in Strangers With Candy, you know she has that uptight, unsympathetic white lady act down flawlessly. She’s an underrated comedic genius. Less comedic was her character Frances Houston on Law and Order Season 8, Episode 7 (“Blood”), where she comes under suspicion after her ex-husband’s new wife is murdered as a racially-motivated cover-up. And in SVU (season 1, episode 10, (“Russian Love Poem”), Rush plays the wife of a cheater who discovers her husband’s body in their home.
Annie Golden has an incredibly varied career. Before she gave acting a serious shot, she was the lead singer for a minor, but highly-regarded New Wave band called The Shirt. By 1999, she appeared in a Law and Order (season 10 episode 2 as the mother of a little girl who was interviewed as a potential witness to a homicide. You can also spot her in Season 7, Episode 14 of Law and Order: SVU as Varla, a pregnant homeless woman with a substance abuse problem who panhandles outside a coffee shop. In both roles, she actually talks to the cops – Norma’s a new stretch.
Without spoiling too much of season two for those of you who somehow haven’t finished the episodes yet (who are these people?), it’s safe to say we can all agree that Pennsatucky has taken big leaps since then in order to manage her anger and change her life for the better. Unfortunately, her character Larissa Welch on SVU (season 12, episode 12, “Possessed”) doesn’t get quite so kind of a story arc. Welch grows up abused and forced into pornography, only to be recognized and later assaulted by one of her fans.
All photos: NBC