It’s a brilliant, cloudless late-August day at Will Rogers State Beach in Malibu, Calif. (standing in for Venice Beach, a few miles down the coast), and the crowd gathered on the sand has nothing to do with sunbathing or surfing.
A four-wheeled buggy circles and further excavates an existing drainage culvert that extends out from underneath the walkway onto the beach on the ocean side of the Pacific Coast Highway, making more room for the cameras and lights of the new NBC series “Law & Order: Los Angeles.”
There’s a blue tent and a little group of chairs on the sand above the culvert’s edge, providing a patch of shade for the cast and crew.
Playing the police side of the drama, Skeet Ulrich, as Detective Rex Winters, and Corey Stoll, as his partner, Detective Thomas Jaruszalski, are both dressed in dark suits and ties. They’ve come to investigate the stabbing death of a woman (Nancy Youngblut) who is found deep inside the culvert, lying on the gravel next to some fairly rank water.
At one point, Stoll slips rubber boots over his pant legs to descend to the crime scene (boots are recommended on the day’s call sheet, since the culvert water will apparently have an unfortunate effect on “nice shoes,” which everyone is cautioned not to wear).
The episode in production, “Echo Park,” airs as the second of the series, on Wednesday, Oct. 6. It begins with a bit of inspiration from the Manson Family story, throws a spin on it and then takes it in an entirely different direction — something that should be familiar to fans of the original, New York-set “Law & Order.”
When filming breaks, Youngblut — sporting fake stab wounds, with fake blood and wet gravel all over her clothes and hair — edges her way to her chair, trying not to leave any traces behind on the other ones. It’s a warm day, but after spending a lot of time down in the dark and the wet, she’s eager to soak up a little sun.
As Stoll is about to sit in a chair, she cautions him about checking to make sure he won’t get blood on his suit.
“You always have to know where the blood is on set,” Stoll says.
Between takes, Ulrich seeks tips and advice from the real LAPD uniformed officers on set, but his education doesn’t stop there. Tucked into the pocket of his chair is a copy of a nonfiction book called “Homicide Special: A Year With the LAPD’s Elite Detective Unit,” by Miles Corwin.
“It’s pretty good so far,” says Ulrich. “I think it’ll be very informative. Been lucky enough to go on a homicide with some detectives. It’s incredibly interesting. A good buddy of mine is on the Los Angeles County Sheriffs, he’s a deputy sheriff, and he has been quite informative.
“I can call him up at the drop of a hat and run stuff by him. He’s got interesting, fact-filled info to pass on.”
Stoll also takes advantage of having real police on set.
“That’s one of the great things,” he says, “almost all the time when you see a uniformed police officer or an SID [Scientific Investigation Division], it’s the real thing. It’s great research.”
Later on, at lunch in an empty restaurant across the PCH, Stoll explains his most recent police-procedure learning-curve moment.
“Just today,” he says, “as I was looking over the body, I went over to talk to the cop who called in the scene, and I stepped over the body. I just stepped over her leg, but apparently …”
“No shortcuts,” chimes in Ulrich.
“…you have to go all the way around,” continues Stoll.
And in case you were wondering how an actor came to be close pals with a deputy sheriff, Ulrich says, “Our kids go to school together. He lives right down the street. He was so excited [to hear I was on the show]. We had justifiable reasons to hang out and drink together.”
Asked if he needs justifiable reasons, Ulrich says, “Well, yeah, in a way. We have kids …”
Photo credits: NBC