An Actor's Season to Howl
For Scott Cohen, this sweeps period has been a triple play.
First, Cohen showed up as Harry Denby, a narcotics task force member who was supposed to be keeping tabs on Detective Jill Kirkendall's ex-husband in two episodes of ABC's "NYPD Blue."
Now, Cohen's appearing on two other networks, in a pair of high-profile miniseries that both kicked off, opposite each other, on Sunday.
In CBS' "Perfect Murder, Perfect Town," which is about the investigation of the unsolved JonBenet Ramsey murder, he plays Steve Thomas, a dogged Boulder, Colo. police detective.
And in NBC's sprawling, 10-hour "The 10th Kingdom," Cohen has a starring role as Wolf, a highly conflicted half-man, half-animal who's torn between his allegiance to an evil queen (Dianne Wiest) and his love for the miniseries' heroine, Virginia (Kimberly Williams).
Cohen is mesmerizing as Wolf, who struggles to tame his inner beast. Ultimately, he helps Virginia and her father (John Larroquette), who have departed from the 10th Kingdom (aka, New York City) and are transported via magic mirror to the fairy-tale world of the other Nine Kingdoms (where, for example, Camryn Manheim plays Snow White, and Ann-Margret is a 200-year-old Cinderella).
The miniseries -- television's longest such project since the 29-hour "War and Remembrance" in 1988-89 -- is a big gamble for NBC, especially in this era of shortened attention spans and instant game-show millionaires.
"If you stick with it and follow the story of Virginia, it's a great story," says Cohen, who spent seven months making the miniseries, mostly in England, Austria, and France. "It's a very literate television story, and it will be very sad if people don't watch it."
Regardless of how "10th Kingdom" fares in the ratings, Cohen has been winning rave reviews for his portrayal of Wolf.
"It was instinct," Cohen says of his acting approach. "That might sound weird ... But the bestiality is something that's in us somewhere .fs2..
"I was so connected to him. His bestiality came out of his neuroses, and that's something I could relate to."
Cohen was amazed at how easily he slid into the character during his first audition. He even remembers an incident in the waiting room, when he suggested to a woman auditioning for the Virginia role that they read lines together.
"I started reading with her, and this vocal thing started happening in my throat, this growling. I was completely unaware of it," Cohen recalls, laughing. "She got strange, and said, 'I think I should work on this by myself.'"
A whole world apart is Cohen's role in "Perfect Murder, Perfect Town." He plays tough but compassionate Detective Thomas, who was obsessed with finding little JonBenet's killer, and is convinced that Patsy Ramsey is guilty. His frustration with the Boulder DA's office ultimately led him to give up his law-enforcement career.
"The media just kind of pounced on Boulder, Colorado, and here's Steve Thomas. All he ever wanted to be was a cop. This case destroyed him and he resigned," says Cohen.
By comparison, Cohen's character on "NYPD Blue" was kind of a bad cop.
During an alcoholic blackout, he lost track of Kirkendall's ex-husband, a drug courier, who later turned up dead.
In his most memorable "Blue" scene, set in a bar, Denby, an alcoholic, tried to get Detective Diane Russell (Kim Delaney), a recovering alcoholic, to drink with him.
When she refused, he insisted that he wouldn't give her information about Kirkendall's troublesome ex-husband unless she kissed him.
Reluctantly, Russell did.
Cohen credits Delaney and director Jeff McCracken for showing great sensitivity during the filming of that difficult scene.
"You're talking about a scene that really kind of delves into the mystery of what it is to be alive as an alcoholic, and it's a horrible place to be," he says.
The actor -- who also played an FBI agent in an episode of the first season of HBO's "Oz" -- says that Delaney has been "pushing" executive producer David Milch to continue the Russell-Denby story line. "David has said that there might be more episodes, but I haven't gotten a phone call to come back," says Cohen, who's "taking a little break," and, among other things, plans to take his 4 1/2-year-old son to amusement parks in Los Angeles.
The native New Yorker -- who's also familiar from a popular Volkswagen commercial, in which his flirtation with a woman in the next car is interrupted when a child's toy hits his dashboard -- has appeared in a number of stage and screen productions.
His credits include two HBO movies -- "Gotti" (he played Gene Gotti), and "Gia," in which he played an agent for model Gia Carangi, played by Angelina Jolie. "Angelina called me the prince of darkness in that," he says.
Cohen was also dark in a critically acclaimed, three-part "Law & Order" from several seasons ago, in which he played an ambitious Hollywood film director who murdered his wife.
Like all actors, he has experienced periods of unemployment, which makes this month's embarrassment of riches especially wonderful, Cohen says.