Marcia Gay Harden has been working steadily in film, theater, and television since she broke out in the Coen Brothers’ 1990 movie Miller’s Crossing. She won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 2000?s Pollack and the 2009 Best Actress in a Play Tony Award for God of Carnage. She has a recurring role on USA’s Royal Pains and is about to make a return appearance to LAW AND ORDER: SVU as FBI Agent Dana Lewis, a role for which she was nominated for the 2007 Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Emmy.
The Wednesday, November 10 “Penetration” episode of Law & Order: SVU marks Marcia Gay’s third time portraying Agent Lewis. She first appeared in season seven’s “Raw” episode where Lewis had infiltrated a white supremacist group as part of an undercover operation, running smack into the special victims squad’s investigation into the shooting of a six year old. In the season eight premiere “Informed,” Lewis’ informant in an eco-terrorism case disappears after being raped and refusing to submit to a rape kit, so Benson and Lewis team up to find her. “Penetration” will find Lewis seeking Benson’s help in a much more personal matter, though they will also team up professionally once again.
Daemon’s TV was there when Marcia Gay and Law & Order: SVU executive produce Neal Baer answered questions about what challenged Marcia Gay about playing Lewis this time around, what makes the Lewis-Benson relationship work, and whether she would want her own show. The reason behind Agent Lewis’ unexpected visit to Benson in “Penetration” has been widely reported, but if you don’t already know, it is discussed below, so beware of that. Otherwise, there are teasers, but no spoilers.
On what brings Agent Lewis back
Marcia Gay described Lewis as “investigating some kind of terrorism,” and during that time, she is attacked by a stranger–”something terrible”–that leads her reach out to Benson (Mariska Hargitay)to perform a rape kit exam.
“I’m the same sassy, bold, bright, tough person as before,” Marcia Gay said about Lewis, adding that this time “They gave me a motorcycle and broadened my horizons,” allowing other aspects of Lewis to come out.
Neal called Lewis “as salty as ever,” and said “Of course [the episode] leaves it open for her to return.” He thinks her performance is “compelling” and that the Lewis character resonates and has left a real mark, calling her “a very unique character.”
On how the role of Dana was more challenging this time
Marcia Gay said that while she can imagine the rape itself, given that “awful, crazy things happen all the time” and even the “I was trained to get out of this situation” attitude toward the rape, she had a harder time with Lewis’s particular soldier mentality of “It happened. It was terrible. Let`s move on.” She explained that that mindset really is difficult for her to imagine with its “soldier up” kind of mantra, where Lewis thinks to herself, “You are not going to be a typical victim awash in emotion.” On the other hand, Marcia Gay also said that there is the notion that “a violation is a violation” that runs through the episode and she thinks that resonates deeply.
Marcia Gay gushed about how the writers and producers “raise the bar each time,” keeping Lewis salty and fun to play even as they broaden her horizon and give her more depth.
On Lewis and Benson
Marcia Gay thinks that Lewis relates to Benson’s job first and foremost. She has respect for how Benson does her job and said that “Benson is a much more overtly compassionate person,” something else Lewis respects.
Marcia Gay likes the “locker room mentality” Lewis and Benson share. Their friendship is filled with “banter, respect, and one-upwomanship,” and this episode marks a turning point because Lewis needs Benson in a way she hasn’t before because of the rape kit. That makes things feel “fresh.”
Neal said the relationship is special because “We don’t see this kind of camaraderie between women very often.”
On using the “Ground Zero Mosque”
Neal said that the mosque is integral to Lewis’ undercover story and that they will “never shy away from any part of New York life,” adding that the mosque is definitely part of life in New York right now. He explained that while the mosque is a way in for this story, there is no commentary involved.
On why L&O: SVU is still so popular
Marcia Gay loves SVU because of how it works “on a simple human level while staying current on a global level” and she thinks people relate to the show because of that.
Neal joked it’s still popular because they get “great guest stars like Marcia Gay.”
On whether Marcia Gay would want her own series
Marcia Gay said “Having my own show is something I`m definitely exploring,” but she’s also very happy to be able to play these “juicy characters [who] are written with different facets of femininity that don’t feel like a Hallmark card.”
Law & Order: SVU airs on NBC Wednesdays at 9pm/8 central. The “Penetration” episode airs November 10 and you can read all our L&O: SVU coverage here.