Bamber, Walsh Still Imposing 'Order' On BBC America

Originally published on January 15, 2011 8:53 am

When Dick Wolf's original Law and Order didn't return for a 21st season, fans of the show were bereft. There's still plenty in the way of spin-offs -- Law and Order: L.A., anyone? -- and knock-offs, of course. But the heart of Law and Order lies in the screech of subways, sausage and falafel carts, all the din and clatter of street life.

Which is why Wolf took his show across the pond to London last year.

Law and Order: UK began its second season on BBC America this week. Like the original, it has stories ripped from the headlines and wisecracking cops in trench coats walking into the squad room and debating the minutiae of everyday life. But there are cultural differences: the barristers -- lawyers, to us ex-colonists -- still wear powdered wigs in the queen's courts. They don't talk directly to the jury, or not much; they're not allowed to pace dramatically before the bench as they make their case.

"There are certain little things about our system that are particular," actor Jamie Bamber tells NPR's Scott Simon. "We have to sort of celebrate them, because that's what makes our show worth doing, as opposed to airing reruns of the original."

Bamber plays Detective Sgt. Matt Devlin on the show, opposite former stand-up comedian and professional soccer player Bradley Walsh, who fills the role of Detective Sgt. Ronnie Brooks. Unlike Bamber, who spent significant time in the United States while starring in Battlestar Galactica, Walsh was unfamiliar with the Law and Order franchise before joining the cast.

"I didn't know the show -- I honestly didn't," Walsh says. "So there was nothing I could do but bring what I could to the table, and what the directors told me and how I worked alongside Jamie. So for me, it was very unfamiliar territory."

Walsh describes his veteran-cop character, in some ways the show's dramatic center, as "a wizened old mainstay. ... He's seen it all, done it all. He's come through alcoholism and two marriages."

Bamber, meanwhile, says his Matt Devlin "still believes in good and evil."

"He's been through some tough times, but he doesn't view himself as a victim," the actor says. "And therefore he doesn't really empathize with those who've suffered -- and that ... comes to bear in all the cases that we come across."

Bamber says those basic character differences are part of "why they're a good team." They have "mutually exclusive energies," he says. It's a contrast that recalls the partnership of Lennie Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) and Rey Curtis (Benjamin Bratt) on the original show.

"You don't want to obsess too much about what worked when someone else did it," Bamber says. "You want to come at it fresh -- although I'm sure we've inherited a lot of what Jerry Orbach and his partner did originally. We are indebted to them."

But whatever its debt to the original, Law and Order: UK is a show about its great city, as much as anything.

"We're really putting London front and center as the central character of the show," Bamber says. "There's barely a street left that we haven't done something in, in the West End of London."

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

NBC: Which is why it's so good to hear...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LAW AND ORDER")

STEVEN ZIRNKILTON: In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police who investigate crime...

TV: U.K.")

SIMON: ...and the crown prosecutors who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: "Law and Order: U.K." began its second season this week on BBC America. Dick Wolf is the executive producer. And like the original, it has stories ripped from the headlines, wisecracking cops in trench coats walking into the squad room debating the likes of vegetarian sausages.

TV: U.K.")

BRADLEY WALSH: (as Ronnie Brooks) Mattie, what are you talking about? Sausages are made from meat, not soy. And they certainly ain't made from vegetables.

JAMIE BAMBER: (as Matt Devlin) Why should veggies be denied the pleasure of the sausage roll? And let's face it, Ron, it is half the fat.

WALSH: (as Ronnie Brooks) And half the taste. I'll have you know, I'm at the peak of my fitness.

SIMON: Thanks for being with us.

BAMBER: My very great pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: Thank you for being with us.

WALSH: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: So were you conscious of kind of replicating the wise old cop, cute young cop duo that Jerry Orbach and Benjamin Bratt played for so long?

BAMBER: I speak for myself. I have to say I wasn't really, because I was...

SIMON: You're the cute one.

BAMBER: Oh, am I?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Oh, wait. Is that the wrong thing to say, Mr. Walsh?

WALSH: No, no, that's fine, Scott. He really is the cute one. Don't worry about that. He's very wicked.

BAMBER: Although, you know, I'm sure we have inherited a lot of, you know, what Jerry Orbach and his partner did originally. And we are indebted to them. But, you know, you try and do your own thing - eh, Brad?

WALSH: Absolutely. Having said that, I mean I didn't know the show. I honestly didn't, so there was nothing I could do other than bring what I could to the table, and what the directors told me, and how it worked alongside Jamie. So for me it was very unfamiliar territory.

SIMON: Mr. Walsh, you were once the warm-up act for Tom Jones?

WALSH: Yes, indeed. I was.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WALSH: And do you know Shirley Bassey? Do you know that singer?

SIMON: Of course. We had the pleasure of interviewing Dame Shirley not long ago. Yes.

WALSH: It just seemed like a good idea at the time. There was nothing else to do.

BAMBER: Oh, you haven't packed in, love. He still makes us laugh when the camera's not rolling there, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BAMBER: Yeah.

WALSH: But it was something I enjoyed. But, you know, time to move on. It's a young man's game - standup comedy.

SIMON: And yet, of course, you're - the character that you play now, DS Ronnie Brooks is, if anything, he's the dramatic center.

WALSH: Well, I think he's the wizened old mainstay that's the sort of good cop, bad cop type guy you need, I guess. He's seen it all, done it all. He's come through alcoholism and two marriages. And he needs someone young and vibrant and handsome with him to sort of bounce off. And that's why Jamie's there and it's good. It's really good.

SIMON: How do you see your character, Jamie Bamber?

BAMBER: He's very keen to convict people. And Ronnie is a bit slower and a bit more measured, and he's lived life. So that's why they're a good team. I think they have mutually exclusive energies. And they sort of fit together well.

SIMON: Mr. Walsh, you were once a pro football player for British football?

WALSH: Yeah, I was what you'd call a Third Division player. There was the Premier League, the First Division, or the Third Division...

BAMBER: He's very modest, Scott. He played. He played professionally, which is pretty hard to do, 'cause there's a lot of soccer players at home.

WALSH: Considering I only have one leg as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WALSH: That's the most extraordinary thing, quite frankly.

SIMON: You are a great actor.

BAMBER: Didn't your coach tell you that you were on the team because you kept everyone laughing on the bus or something?

WALSH: Yes, that's exactly. That is exactly...

BAMBER: That was one of your primary functions.

WALSH: After that I packed it in and became an actor, oddly enough, and then there wasn't enough work in that and then stand-up comedy.

BAMBER: You've had about five careers, haven't you.

WALSH: I have, yes.

BAMBER: And made a success of each of them. That's very impressive.

WALSH: Well, I don't know about that, mate, not such a success of that. But, yeah, you know, sort a bit about.

SIMON: Does it help, I mean and recognizing that the British approach is different from the American method, but does it help when you've had so many careers when you're playing a kind of knock-around character like Ronnie Brooks, who - Detective Superintendent Ronnie Brooks, who has seen a lot of life?

WALSH: Do you know what, Scott - it's not about that, really. I mean I've, to be honest with you, I've never had an acting lesson. But I've been at drama school for 50 years. And what that means is I'm learning every day. Every person I see has a story to tell. Every day I learn something new, and you know, you go through life's experiences and if you can bring every experience, at some point somewhere in every drama or every story that you have to portray, you will come across an emotion or a feeling you have had some point in your life. And as long as you can go back to that point and that reference, that sort of Rolodex of emotions, then you're sort of halfway there, and alongside yourself and of the other actor who's playing opposite you, and the director, you will come up with what would sort of be the emotion that you need, really, and that's the way I do it.

SIMON: Mr. Bamber, is it fun to be out and filming on the streets of London?

BAMBER: Oh, yeah. I love it. I love it.

WALSH: Yeah.

BAMBER: I mean we don't have the hugest sets. It's "Law and Order" on a budget the way we do it in the UK, inevitably; we're a smaller market. The joy for me is when we get - let loose in the middle of the West End of London. And we don't have - we have a very small crew and we don't shut any streets down and we shoot with cameras on shoulders and pedestrians walk by and they, you know, invariably now and then, you know, a school kid grins at the camera and we have to go again.

WALSH: Yeah.

BAMBER: But we tend to do them in one, you know, whole scenes in one shot.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LAW AND ORDER: UK")

WALSH: (as Ronnie Brooks) So (unintelligible) can't afford to live in the area anymore?

BAMBER: (as Matt Devlin) They move to areas where they can afford it.

WALSH: (as Ronnie Brooks) What about when that gets gentrified, where do they go then?

BAMBER: And Brad and I get to run off into various little holes in-between, in-between takes and grab a coffee or a nice lunch somewhere.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WALSH: Yeah.

BAMBER: We're really putting London front and center as the sort of central character of the show. And, yeah, having also been away from London for a while, it was a, you know, real blast for me to do that stuff. I absolutely love that bit and we've had some really great laughs, haven't we?

WALSH: Oh, yeah (unintelligible) yeah. I mean oddly enough, Jay, where I'm speaking to you from now, Bush House on the Aldwych, is right at the bottom of Kingsway, where we just, we filmed (unintelligible) Clements is there, and it's amazing.

BAMBER: There's barely a street left we haven't done something in, you know, in the West End of London.

WALSH: Yeah.

BAMBER: And it's fantastic fun. And Scott Bradley is a very recognizable character at home. Everyone thinks they know...

SIMON: Sure. Coronation Street for you...

BAMBER: Whatever it is, and Bradley has an equally vociferous retort to give, and I just love watching it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: A lot of Americans watching this will recognize the street life of a great city in London, as they did in New York. But they'll be thrown by the barristers wearing wigs.

BAMBER: And rightly. It's weird.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BAMBER: It's weird. Why can't the British get over their traditions? Yeah, it's very odd, but that's what we bring to the party, I suppose. We have our own little eccentricities and color that the British legal system, you know, provides. The barristers aren't allowed to walk around the court either, which poses a real problem for the director and cinematographer in terms of how to bring energy to the scenes, because they are rooted to the spot. And there are little things like that. Also they can't, they don't talk directly to the jury very often. But there are certain, yeah, certain little things about our system that are particular and we have to sort of celebrate them, because that's what makes, you know, our show worth doing as opposed to just, you know, airing reruns of the original.

SIMON: Well, gentlemen, thank you both very much. I enjoy your work a lot. It's a great show. So glad we could talk to you.

BAMBER: Thank you.

WALSH: Thank you, Scott. Cheers, mate.

SIMON: Jamie Bamber at NPR West. Bradley Walsh in London. The second season of the "Law and Order: UK" airs Friday nights, 9:00 Eastern and Pacific time, on BBC America.

WALSH: Dum-dum.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.