In the January 5, 2011 episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, entitled “Possessed,” Taryn Manning guest stars as Larissa Welsh, a child-abuse survivor, along with David Patrick Kelly, who guest stars as the man who wrote the book that may have inspired the abuse Larissa suffered.
Based on SVU star Ice-T’s reaction after hearing about a book for sale describing how to victimize children, this galvanizing episode addresses whether the person who writes such a book should be held responsible for contributing to the abuse suffered by Manning’s character; and Kelly’s character attempts to stand behind the First Amendment in order to justify his role in the crimes perpetrated by another.
The episode seeks to ask the question of “where do we draw the line?” when it comes to child abuse. Does our criminal justice system provide accountability for both the person who commits the crime and the person who encourages it or provides information on how to commit the crime?
Because of Ice-T’s strong feelings on this topic, the episode was written specifically to highlight this thorny issue. Executive Producer Neal Baer admittedly even wrote the line, “I’m all for the First Amendment, but not when it allows perverts to write stuff like this,” just for Ice-T’s character because of how passionately he felt about the subject.
The role was also personal for Manning, who has a friend who went through similar traumatic abuse. Thus, for her, the role was Manning’s way of giving back to her friend – and to show other victims of abuse that someone will stand up for them and show that people do care.
Talking about her friend’s situation, Manning admitted, “I’m the reason that [the abuser] is now in jail.” It was because she was willing to stand up for her friend that the abuser was prosecuted and incarcerated. Manning said, “I dislike anything that has to do with child abuse in any shape or form. . . . It’s disturbing, but real.” She also quietly shared, “I like playing characters that empower people to have the courage to get through something so awful — even though she’s a victim, she survived it.” So when the chance to play this role on SVU came along, she knew she had to be a part of it. She was honored to be a part of this episode and to help bring awareness to this problem.
Despite playing the monster who wrote the offensive book in this episode, David Patrick Kelly explained that, as a father of a young daughter, he felt inspired to tackle such a vile role in order to also make sure this story is heard. To him, it is important for people to know that such conduct will not be tolerated. Kelly also thought the episode was good in that it allowed a victim to confront someone who has done them wrong in a way that never really happens in real life. Despite worries that he is playing the bad guy in the episode, Kelly ruefully said, “Somebody has to be the bad guy in the story. . . [and] it is important to me as a father to help show what hope there is. To help make people aware of such abuse and how that can happen.”
Baer noted that because SVU likes to address relevant and important issues, this topic was not only timely, but necessary. It was important to show that Kelly’s character uses and abuses the First Amendment through manipulation of words which he uses for his own nefarious purposes. Baer added, “That’s what good drama is about. Taking concepts – First Amendment legal theories — and making it real with three dimensional characters.”
As a self-professed queen of the tortured-soul roles, Manning admitted, “Acting allows me to get out a lot of my frustrations — to harness it for something positive. . . . For me it is an escape, that’s really why I love to act.” Though she confessed that such tortured-soul roles take a personal toll on her. She considers herself to be a fun, free-spirited person and to live in the darkness is tiring. So while she acknowledged that she is good at the tortured-soul roles and knows that many of her peers would kill to do the kinds of roles that she gets offered, she vowed to pursue more comedy roles in 2011 to bring some balance into her professional life.
Kelly also noted that while his role on this episode of SVU is the most horrifying character that he has ever played, the chance to work with the SVU cast was the nicest experience he has had in television. He said, “Everyone from the writers, producers on down were just fantastic – I’m very proud to be a part of the story.”
On a more light-hearted note, Manning shared that one of her favorite moments ever on a TV set was during filming this episode when she opened her trailer door and Kelly was standing there with a ukulele playing one of her songs. As Kelly happily exclaimed, “From one old rocker to a young pop goddess!”
Baer explained, “The chemistry of this cast has led to the staying power of this show. They are all close and very funny. . . you don’t even know it until you’re with them . . .the subject matter is so dark and serious, it is great to have actors who can let steam off in a productive way.” He added that because SVU stories are frequently gripping, thought-provoking and surprising, it is lucky that they have had the same ensemble cast over the 12 years the show has been on the air. He said that due to that comfortable familiarity, it allows the guest stars to give the show great “emotional juice.” He then reflectively said, “As long as you create great characters, the show can keep on going.”
So with such a powerful story to be told, be sure to catch Law & Order: SVU tonight, January 5, at 10/9c on NBC.