S. Epatha Merkerson’s love of theatre remains strong even though she is best known for her role in Law & Order

By Nina Steele 

S. Epatha MerkersonIf like me, you enjoy watching reruns of Law & Order, then you’d know who S. Epatha Merkerson is. The 66-year-old actress, who has no children, plays the role of police chief Anita Van Buren, a tough and no-nonsense woman, who has earned the respect of her predominantly male colleagues. She was a part of the show for 17 seasons, until its cancellation in 2010.

There are many cop shows on TV, yet finding one to stick with is often not so easy. Some I find are too gruesome. It feels to me like the modern shows particularly, are all trying to outdo each other for all the wrong reasons. I mean, real life is bad enough.

Which is why I find the format on Law & Order so appealing. We the viewers never really get to see the actual murders, only the aftermaths, with the courtroom taking centre stage. Another part of the show’s appeal, is the relationship between detectives and their commander, played of course by Epatha Merkerson.

It’s funny how our lives more often than not, always turn out differently to the one we had envisaged. In Epatha Merkerson’s case, she says in a 2013 interview that even though her success came via Law & Order, theatre was and remains her true passion. Of that she said: “All I wanted to be was a theatre actor. I came to New York because I knew this was a place to be for theatre, and I just loved being on stage”.

Going back to her part playing lieutenant Anita Van Buren on Law & Order, It seems that the toughness her character portrays on the show is also a personal character trait in real life. And that toughness was apparent when she chose to leave the show. She had become disillusioned with the storylines that were coming her way towards the end. One of the reasons why Anita Van Buren had become such a much loved character, with a following within the real police force, was because she was portrayed as a strong woman. Diluting that persona in her view, took away what made her character unique.

Of her decision to leave the show, she said in the aforementioned 2013 interview: “the storyline absolutely contributed to my decision to leave, because they were changing the fabric of my character”. As it turned out, her last appearance on the show also ended up being the show’s final episode. It was cancelled two months after she left.

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