'Law & Order': Hugh Dancy on Price's Big Case and Trying to Get Claire Danes to Guest Star (Exclusive)

Law & Order

The actor talks to ET about the big episode for his character and the possibility of reuniting with his wife on screen.

Following leading roles on Hannibal and The Path as well as recurring appearances on The Good Fight and Homeland, Hugh Dancy is now part of the ensemble of the revived Law & Order series. Appearing alongside Camryn Manheim, Jeffrey Donovan, Mehcad Brooks and Odelya Halevi, Dancy plays Executive Assistant District Attorney Nolan Price, working under District Attorney Jack McCoy (with Sam Waterston reprising the longtime role). 

What sets Price apart from other district attorney characters that have appeared on the long-running franchise is the fact that he is a former defense attorney with a hard anti-death penalty stance who also volunteered for the Innocence Project before being hired by the prosecution. 

"It's quite common for people to go from the world of prosecuting to the world of defense law because, bluntly, you get paid more for being a defense attorney," Dancy says. "So, it's very uncommon to go the other way around, right? When you do go from in that direction, it's on a matter of principle." In the case of Price, Dancy says, "He decided that he was more invested in getting justice for victims than he was in defending accused people."

And his past, not only as a defense attorney but also his personal affairs, is at the center of the season 22 episode "Bias," which puts Price at the center of the story when a friend and public defender named Rachel is murdered. As a result, Price becomes too invested in finding the killer and bringing them to justice, even if it means compromising the case during trial -- and exposing his own vulnerabilities along the way.  

While speaking to ET, Dancy opened up about his big story line, what comes next for Price on the NBC crime procedural and possibly reuniting onscreen with his wife, Claire Danes

ET: What was your reaction when you read the script and saw what you were going to get to do as Price in this episode? 

Hugh Dancy: I was thrilled. It's always nice to have an episode. I mean, you wouldn't necessarily want it every single week -- well, maybe you would -- but it's really nice to have a little bit more to get your teeth into. And, obviously, I'm in more of the episode, but the stakes were raised for him on multiple levels. So, it was a lot of fun. 

Why does Rebecca's death mean so much to him? Obviously, we learned later about their past relationship. But does her also being a public defender affect him as well?

I think it does. I think it's meaningful for Price. That's where he cut his teeth. But also it's where I think a lot of his values were instilled in him… I think he cares about people who care about people.

Considering Price's knowledge of the law, why does he willingly overstep in the investigation and trial, knowing that he could potentially compromise the case? 

Well, it's a tricky one, right? Because he wins the case and I think the argument that he makes to Jack at the end is pretty strong. And also, to be honest, he thinks, "I'm the best prosecutor; I care more about this than anybody else." … And I kind of liked the fact that in that moment with Jack, Price didn't back down.

During the trial, Price ends up having to take the stand, which is where his past relationship with Rebecca gets exposed. I was curious what that means for Price, like, not only to be on the other side of questioning but also to see his personal life exposed here.

I think in a way, the most embarrassing thing for Price is that the reason his personal life is exposed on the stand is because he didn't fess up to it earlier on, right? He knew, even if he doesn't admit to it, he knew that it was a vulnerability that he had that level of involvement with her in the past. So, he just never brought it up. And what that shows, I think, what he probably might hate just as much as anything is that as a prosecutor, that was a mistake. He didn't do his job well enough. So, he opened up his flank right for attack. I think that really he does not like being weak in the courtroom.


Going back to McCoy. I always love that we get these check-ins with him and Price during each episode, especially when it seems like he's getting scolded by his superior. What is it like filming those scenes and getting to play with those dynamics with Sam? 

There's a certain amount of mirroring there. I think Price, like whatever the nature of their different feelings about any given case and however heated it gets, he has a huge amount of respect for McCoy. Partly, because he knows that he's following in McCoy's footsteps. That McCoy has done that job. And obviously, I feel exactly the same way about Sam, which is just like a massive amount of respect and also pleasure of working with him… I love when the episode hinges on a moment between us as well. 

On the Law & Order shows, I always get worried when an ADA goes after a judge or another member of the legal team and what that means for their career moving forward. Will there by any repercussions for the way he acted here or the fact that he convicted a judge? 

You know, I don't know. With Law & Order, to a certain degree, every episode is like vacuum sealed. You know, we move on to next week. We're in a different world. But I also noticed that every so often, the writers will reach back and pluck something out. Like, a character will say something particularly provocative or do something and it'll be pulled back. So, I think that's perfectly possible. 

There have been several alum to breeze through the revival both in front of the camera and behind it, like Elisabeth Röhm, who directed an episode this season. What's it like having these people on set? And, in the case of Elisabeth, did she give you any insight into acting on the show? 

It's more a sense of you know what a machine this franchise is when you see people coming back like that. Sam was very funny. I forget who I was with 'cause there've been a number of alumni come through, and one of them who was directing gave him a note and Sam said, "Wait, were you always thinking this about my acting but you could never say it?" [Laughs.] Obviously, it's an incredibly broad franchise with the number of actors that have passed through over the years… And to be in a position to hopefully welcome people in and in a sense, host them and certainly help define whether that's gonna be a nice experience for them or not, is something that I don't take lightly.

Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic

Speaking of all the actors that have come through the show, Law & Order has always been a great franchise for standout guest stars. And with that said, what would it take to get Claire on for a special episode, like as a defendant or opposing attorney up against Price? 

I mean, I don't know. I would be entirely open to [it]. I can talk [to her] and ask her. You know that was her first job, right? So, I don't know if it'll ever happened, but it's a nice [idea].  

Since you've joined the series, has she ever shared her stories about her time on Law & Order? [Editor's note: Danes appeared in the season 3 episode, "Skin Deep," as Tracy Brandt.]

Like a lot of actors, she feels really warmly towards the show because it was a part of her springboard, it was the beginning of her career, you know? And it's always been there. 

Finally, I just have to ask what it's like when you get to film on the steps outside the New York Supreme Court in Foley Square. It's such an iconic visual for the franchise. 

Practically the first thing I ever shot was coming down those steps and it does feel iconic. So that's fun, firstly. Secondly, I don't get let outside very much, so that's kind of fun, too. Just as a sidebar, my parents were visiting last week and I decided to walk them over past the courthouse to the Brooklyn Bridge. When we walked outside the courthouse, it was, like, really crazy. And I said to them, "Oh, this is because maybe Trump might be indicted. I think this is what all these news cameras are doing here." We were walking right through the middle of it and then I realized it was actually SVU. They were just shooting an episode and I had walked right through the middle of the set without realizing it. 

I love that. A potential Easter egg for fans is Price walking in the background in an unattended crossover. Like, he's in the background of some SVU scene. 

And maybe I inadvertently cast my real parents as my TV parents. 

Law & Order season 22 airs Thursday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.