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Tony Goldwyn Admits New ‘Law & Order’ Character Nick Baxter Isn’t ‘Warm and Fuzzy’

It’s a new era on “Law & Order” as “Scandal” alum Tony Goldwyn takes over as the new Manhattan District Attorney in Thursday night’s episode and sets a new tone for the D.A.’s office.

In a major cast shakeup, longtime “Law & Order” star Sam Waterston exited the NBC show in the Feb. 22 episode, which saw his character Jack McCoy try his last case and then resign to protect his colleagues Nolan Price (Hugh Dancy) and Samantha Maroun (Odelya Halevi).

Ahead of Goldwyn’s debut on the show, the actor spoke to TheWrap about his character Nicholas Baxter, who he promises isn’t “warm and fuzzy,” and how long he expects to be on the long-running procedural.

Mehcad Brooks and Tony Goldwyn on "Law & Order"
Mehcad Brooks and Tony Goldwyn on “Law & Order” (CREDIT: NBC)

TheWrap: What was your first reaction when the producers asked you to join the show?

Tony Goldwyn: I was really intrigued and pleased. I have such admiration for Sam Waterston and I had the privilege of directing the show with him in 2006, almost 20 years ago. So I knew how well-run the show was and what great actors they have on it. And so I just found it really compelling and then when I met with them, and they described the character they were thinking of, who’s quite different than Jack McCoy, I was excited about it.

What’s the main difference between Baxter’s approach to the law and Jack McCoy’s?

Jack McCoy was really Atticus Finch, a purist about the law. The law is the law is the law, and that decides everything. I think Nick Baxter takes a much more holistic view towards the office. He’s a politician, and a very experienced and good lawyer. I think he views his function as part of a system and takes in societal concerns, and what the broader impacts and longer impacts of every decision. Gray is the primary color in our justice system, so you have to figure out through what lens you’re going to make your decisions.

Does that mean he’s more political? 

Yeah, I would say so. But not in a self-serving way, like, “Oh, this is going to be good for me if I do this.” I think he takes the cases very seriously, but will look at the broader impact of something. Not only do we need to make sure justice is served, but if we make this choice, it’s going to have this positive and negative impact on the city, on the broader community and our ability to do our job and our relationship with the police department. Baxter had a lot of respect for McCoy, but I think he viewed McCoy’s approach as a little old-fashioned.

He comes in and wants to clean house. So obviously, Nolan Price is nervous, and they don’t get off on the best foot there. Can you talk about their relationship?

I think it’s very professional. Obviously, coming in, I need to put together a team that makes sense for me. And that may or may not include Nolan and Samantha Maroun, so they’re going to need to prove themselves. We’re going to need to figure out whether we can work together or not. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Nolan Price is a great prosecutor. We may end up in too much conflict to be able to work together. So there’s the tension, definitely. And Baxter holds his cards pretty close to his vest. He’s not playing games, but he’s not going to be too warm and fuzzy. He’s got a job to do.

And he isn’t above ghosting Nolan when he doesn’t want to talk to him. 

Yeah, there’s a moment in the show where there’s a derailment in an important part of the case. And Nolan is trying to reach out to Baxter and Baxter’s unavailable. I think that’s quite intentional. People can decide what the motive is: Is he trying to distance himself politically from a case or is he telling Nolan, “I’m not going to be here to hold your hand. You need to stand on your own and make your own decisions. And let’s see where the chips fall.” It definitely puts Nolan off-balance.

Do you think you’re going to attract more “Scandal” viewers to watch Law & Order” now that you’re on the show?

They better! (Laughs). I will say, Baxter seems to be a little more of a grownup than Fitz [Goldwyn played the philandering President Fitzgerald Grant on the ABC series from 2012 to 2018].

And you’re a regular now, correct?

We’ll see. I’m going to go through next season. And then we’ll all talk and see what we think. I don’t know what Nick Baxter’s future is, and I think maybe the producers don’t either.

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