A beautiful Israeli import with dark hair and flashing eyes, Mili Avital was a celebrated performer in her native land, winning an Israeli Academy Award at age eighteen before moving to New York to st...
Dick Wolf knows his way around a crime procedural. For 13 years and counting, the writer/producer's beloved NBC crime procedural Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has provided faithful entertainment to both the network viewers and addicts of cable syndication. And with its 300th episode airing tonight, SVU stands only as Wolf's second-longest running series, losing out to the original Law & Order (and by seven years at that!). Wolf, who recently spoke to the press about this forthcoming milestone, knows that it's not just dumb luck that has given SVU its staying power.
“It has served a defined social benefit that has been acknowledged for years," Wolf said of his powerhouse series. Since SVU went on the air, it has been a really profoundly influential show in terms of the reporting of sex crimes, in terms of the reporting of both child abuse and elder abuse, a whole range of topics." Wolf added, "The actual percent in increase, in the early years of the show, of reported sexual crimes astounded police. It took away the curse of silence.”
Even the show's cast has taken on progressive efforts towards solving the problems highlighted onscreen: "Obviously, Mariska [Hargitay] has really devoted her life, way beyond the show, in terms of the Joyful Heart Foundation, which is dedicated to helping the victims of sexual abuse," said Wolf. "I don’t know any other show that’s ever done anything remotely close to those. But I’m very prejudiced.”
The creator weighed in on what we might expect in the 300th installment of the program, hinting at how the story for the new episode stands out among its brethren: "It was an opportunity to do some things creatively that the show has really never done before, which is using the lifespan of the show as a story point in a landmark episode … Six months ago, we said, ‘Oh, this is the 300th.'" He even mentioned a few guest, including Tom Sizemore — “It’s an interesting role. It’s not a major part, but it is an important part of the episode. He is an expert at this type of character.” — and stars from days of yore: "“There are a bunch of people from the first episode. Mili Avital was the mother. The guy who was a convenience store owner… who was a Sikh cabdriver… there were three actors."
Of course, celebrity guest appearances are a staple of the Law & Order franchise. You might be surprised by someone Wolf is particularly interested in having on the show: Jimmy Fallon. "I talked to him, and he said, ‘Oh, yeah, I’d love to do that!’," Wolf affirmed. "First of all, he’s a very good actor. Second of all, I think he’d have a lot of fun. And it’s way inside the NBC family. I think it’d be fun to do … In passing, I said, ‘Do you want to do the show?’ And he said, ‘Absolutely.’”
But Wolf is not entirely on board with the idea of any Law & Order reunions. “It’s a six person ensemble, and 26 actors were in it. So which cast do you bring back? You’re talking about something that would be creatively not only very difficult to pull off, but also frustrating to a lot of the fans. ‘What do you mean they don’t have Dennis Farina in the show?’ … I wouldn’t really know how to do a reunion show.”
Obviously, when talking Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the topic of Chris Meloni is bound to come up. The actor portrayed Elliot Stabler from start of the series until the 2010-'11 series; his departure led many to question whether SVU could go on without him. “There were a lot of people who said the show can’t survive Chris Meloni leaving," Wolf stated. "I never believed that … the writing is the most important element of long-term success. Mariska is obviously a very integral part of the show … I’m hopeful that she’ll be here for as long as the show is.”
He was confident thanks to experience with Michael Moriarty's departure from Law & Order in 1994. “I got an hysterical phone call from Warren Littlefield [former president of NBC] at 7 in the morning," Wolf recalled. "He said, ‘What are we going to do? He’s the entire soul of the show? He’s the moral raison_d'être.’ And I said, ‘I’ve got two words for you: Sam Waterston.’ He went, ‘Oh. Okay.’”
But there was another reason that Wolf was confident in the replacement of Elliot Stabler: “I learned the myth of necessity of anybody when I was 16 and, unfortunately, John F. Kennedy was assassinated. That night, there was Lyndon Johnson taking the oath of office, and he was president. The horrifying fact of human is, nobody’s indispensable. In television, it’s just part and parcel.”
Wolf's series has subsisted as one of NBC's tent-pole figures for 300 episodes, and as far as he's concerned, can live for many more: “You’ll think I’m insane, but the next goal would be to go 21 years and beat Law & Order,” Wolf laughed. Stranger things have happened.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit's 300th episode airs tonight at 9 PM on NBC.
[Photo Credit: Michael Parmelee/NBC]
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The last time an epic fantasy miniseries came along, it was NBC's exercise in stamina "The 10th Kingdom." We suggested then that you wait until the next sweeps period for impresario Robert Halmi Sr.'s more promising "Arabian Nights" (8-10 p.m., tonight, and 9-11 p.m., Monday, ABC). Well, the sweeps are here again, and "Arabian Nights" has been worth the wait. Filmed in exotic Turkish and Moroccan locations, it features very cool and moody visual effects, and most importantly, a great story, er, stories, as "The Thousand and One Nights" of Middle-Eastern folklore has provided some of the most bulletproof material in entertainment for about 1,000 years now. The cast is strong and looks like they were having a lot of fun throughout, with Jason Scott Lee ("Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story") as Aladdin and John Leguizamo as the genie. "Arabian Nights" also features a very sexy narrator in Mili Avital as Scheherazade, the sultry weaver of the ancient tales. Fortunately, first-choice James Earl Jones was already booked. (He couldn't have pulled off wearing her outfits, anyway.)
In other highlights:
-- For anyone who was alive during the 20th century's most embarrassing decade, we all know that the last thing we need is to have any of the 1970s documented in an epic miniseries. Unfortunately, that's exactly what's happened in "The '70s" (9 p.m., today and Monday, NBC). It's the sideburn-heavy sequel to last year's mini "The '60s." Some of "The '70s" is, as you might expect, pretty "mellow," but much of drama in this film comes from an extended series of "hangups" and "bummers" ranging from Watergate to disco. Amy Smart ("Felicity") stands out as a possible breakout performer.
-- As the venerable "X-Files" (9 p.m., Sunday, Fox) perhaps winds down, the show proves it's still very capable of giving us a special episode. This week's installment might sound like a recipe for self-indulgence and disaster as star David Duchovny not only wrote and directed (remember what eventually happened to "M*A*S*H?"), but cast his wife (Tea Leoni) and his friend (Garry Shandling) in major roles. But you know what? It's a lot better than it sounds. "The X-files" has always been smart, even when it's being funny, and with Leone and Shandling guest starring as actors in a movie based on the work of Scully and Mulder, this pip of an hour continues the tradition.
-- Finally, two staples of quality teen/twentysomething programming deliver series farewells this week. In a satisfying two hours of closure, Fox's engaging study in angst, "Party of Five" (8 p.m., Wednesday), finally sees the Salingers go their separate ways after six seasons. Somewhere among the tears, alcoholism, terminal illness and more tears, "Party" also provided the launching pad for several present and future stars, including Neve Campbell, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Scott Wolf. We're sorry to see them go here but suspect we'll be seeing them all again. Meanwhile, "Boy Meets World" (8 p.m., Friday, ABC), the always warm and surprisingly intelligent teen comedy, ends its seven-year run with a special one-hour finale. Cory (Ben Savage) and Topanga (Danielle Fishel) are all grown up, married and moving to New York. It almost sounds like they are ready to start their own little spin-off.
Made American feature acting debut in Roland Emmerich's "Stargate"
Had a small role in Wim Wenders' "The End of Violence"
Featured in the independent drama "Animals"
Acted in "The Young Girl and the Monsoon"
Born and raised in Israel
Guested again on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit", playing twins
Moved to NYC to study acting
Featured in the Jim Jarmusch Western "Dead Man"
Played the woman pursued by bachelor pals David Schwimmer and Jason Lee in in the romantic comedy "Kissing a Fool"
Co-starred in the USA Network presentation "After the Storm", based on the Ernest Hemingway short story
Starred in the suspenseful romance "Minotaur" (aired on Cinemax)
Guest starred on the premiere episode of the NBC crime drama "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"
Had a featured acting role in the independent drama "Bad Seed"
Won an Israeli Academy Award at age eighteen for her performance in "Over the Ocean"
Played a florist who finds herself unhappily carrying the child of her psychotic former lover in the drama "Invasion of Privacy" (aired on HBO)
Played beautiful storyteller Scheherezade in the ABC miniseries "Arabian Nights"
Made stage debut in an Israeli production of "Dangerous Liaisons"
Starred in "Uprising", an NBC miniseries chronicling the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising
A beautiful Israeli import with dark hair and flashing eyes, Mili Avital was a celebrated performer in her native land, winning an Israeli Academy Award at age eighteen before moving to New York to study acting and try her hand in the United States market. With a demo reel in Hebrew and somewhat tentative English skills, Avital nonetheless quickly landed her first starring role after being discovered while waitressing on Manhattan's West Side. She was cast as the female lead in Roland Emmerich's sci-fi epic "Stargate" (1994), a role that would win the young actress much attention from the start. Working steadily throughout the mid- to late-1990s, Avital was featured alongside Johnny Depp in Jim Jarmusch's stylized Western "Dead Man" (1995) and took a starring role opposite Johnathon Schaech as a woman wishing to terminate her pregnancy who is stalked by the mentally unstable would-be father in the HBO-premiered disturbing thriller "Invasion of Privacy" (1996). In 1997 she had a smaller role in the Wim Wenders-directed drama "The End of Violence" and finally followed up with some lighter fare, starring as a woman dating one man (David Schwimmer) but possibly in love with his friend (Jason Lee) in the romantic comedy "Kissing a Fool" (1998), jump-starting her off screen romance with Schwimmer. A role in the independent drama "Animals" cast the actress as an American from the deep South, an accent she tackled with gusto. She was next featured in the independent romance "The Young Girl and the Monsoon" (1999).
In 1999, Avital began working in impressive television projects, beginning with a guest role on the debut episode of the critically-acclaimed spin-off series "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC), which she would revisit in 2001, playing Romanian twins embroiled in a murder. The actress' exotic good looks and compelling presence made her a clear choice to play Scheherezade in the ABC miniseries "Arabian Nights" (2000), a role to which she brought a solid combination of engaging sweetness and alluring mystery. She co-starred in "After the Storm", a dramatic adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's short story for the USA Network in 2001, and was featured in the romantic thriller "Minotaur" (premiered on Cinemax) that same year. Playing a Jewish freedom fighter in "Uprising", the 2001 NBC miniseries chronicling the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto, offered Avital a chance to dig into her roots, returning to her homeland to research her significant role in this powerful historic drama.
Met during the filming of "Kissing a Fool" (1998); Had an on-again, off-again relationship; Co-starred in the NBC miniseries "Uprising" (2001); Split in 2001
Circle in the Square Professional Theater School
Mili Avital on her first English-speaking acting role in "Stargate", quoted in GQ (April 1998): "I didn't understand the plot. I had no idea what people were saying to me half the time. I was doing one scene where I'm supposed to react to this guy who's morphing. How the hell do you explain morphing to someone who doesn't speak English?"
"Everybody knows Scheherezade. It's like playing Alice in Wonderland. You have your own take on it. It's a period movie that takes place in another time with all these special effects, but at the end of the day it's about how our imaginations can save our lives. It's a testament to the power of storytelling." --Avital to USA Today, April 28, 2000.
Avital on her acting beginnings: "My mother forbade me to go professional as a child. I would take books and make them into plays with girls from school." --quoted in US Weekly, May 8, 2000.