Who Are Your Favorite “Law & Order” Guest Stars?

There’s a running joke that everyone has been on Law & Order at some point. With seven incarnations over two decades, it’s become less of a joke and more of a reality. From perpetrators to defense attorneys to victims, the franchise has featured some notable names and outstanding performances (like in last night’s SVU). Below are a list of some of my favorites – who are yours?

Spoiler Alert: Since we’re discussing entire guest arcs here, there are spoilers for episodes below.

In no particular order:

1. Jason Wiles, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (“Branded,” 2010)

Anyone who knows me could have guessed that Jason Wiles would end up on this list; I’ve been a fan of his since his work as hotheaded, dedicated cop Maurice “Bosco” Boscorelli on Third Watch. Yet as Alexander Gammon, he was the kind of guy Bosco would love to destroy – a rich, arrogant, controlling person who not only raped a 14-year-old, but encouraged two other men to do the same and then cover it up. Of course, he’s smug the entire way through, until the last moment when Stabler confronts him with the knowledge that he’s about to be prosecuted for two prior rape charges and then that defeated, almost afraid look in his eyes is perfect.

Wiles (pictured above, behind Melissa Sagemiller) has always been such a facially expressive actor, and while we still see that talent on full display, he also manages to make himself completely repulsive. I was completely excited to see him on the show and yet, by the time the episode was over, wanted to punch him in the face myself. He was able to move me from one end of the spectrum to the other with his performance. It’s how good he was here that made me think of this article, so it would be wrong not to include him.

2. Zeljko Ivanek, Law & Order (“American Dream,” 1993)

The veteran actor made one of the all-time great guest appearances on Law & Order when he played Philip Swann, a man that EADA Ben Stone had previously convicted for murder 14 years earlier. When the victim’s body is finally located and that exposes inconsistencies in the case, Swann wins a new trial and insists on representing himself. Smart, smarmy and self-assured, Ivanek’s portrayal of Swann was more than a match for the courtroom presence of Michael Moriarty as Ben Stone. Furthermore, he was so deliciously bad that I loved to hate him. For fans of the Stone character, “American Dream” is always on their favorite episode lists, and Ivanek’s bad guy is a big part of why.

There’s also a layer of behind-the-scenes greatness here: the same year that Ivanek shot this episode, he began his recurring role as Assistant State’s Attorney Ed Danvers on Homicide: Life on the Street, a role which the versatile actor pulled off just as well. Talk about irony in action.

3. Desmond Harrington, Law & Order: Criminal Intent (“Vacancy,” 2006)

Before Gossip Girl and Dexter, Desmond Harrington stepped into the role of Tim Rainey, a cab driver and would-be actor who happened to take Method acting a little too far – into murder. It’s a role that could easily become over the top in the wrong hands, but Harrington (who’s been down this role before, having played the bad guy in horror films Ghost Ship and Love Object) mixes his natural charm with just enough quirkiness; as much as I naturally adore the actor, I could feel that there were screws loose with the character from moment one. There was another layer as well; Tim had a wife and child that he loved dearly, which added a heartwrenching aspect to seeing him arrested and put away. I knew he had it coming, but at the same time, I could feel his confusion and desperation, and felt for him on some level.

Trivia buffs will remember that Harrington was on the right side of the law two years earlier, when he was a regular as Detective Jimmy McCarron in Dick Wolf’s update of Dragnet, entitled L.A. Dragnet. The show only lasted two seasons, but his performance was one of the bright spots of the dismal remake.

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