8 Actors You Forgot Guest-Starred On 'Law & Order,' Because That "Dun Dun" Launched Careers

Thunk thunk. Do you know what that sound is? Well, it’s instantly recognizable as the sole sound to introduce cultural juggernaut television show Law & Order. The original Law & Order premiered three decades ago, and though it ended its run in 2010, it spawned many successful (like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which is still on) and unsuccessful (Law & Order: Trial By Jury comes to mind here) spinoffs. Isn’t that the mark of an amazing show? Though new episodes of the OG Law & Order are no longer being produced, a score of networks show the reruns all day long. What else would I do when I’m home sick from work besides watch Law & Order (Jerry Orbach and Jesse L. Martin FTW) and eat Saltines? Not much, I can tell you.

Law & Order means so much to the TV canon, so it’s not entirely surprised how many now-famous stars got their start on this lawyered up procedural. And I’m talking Oscar-winners, Emmy-winners, people who are household names to even people like my mother, who refers to actors as, “the guy with the hair who was in that show with her.” In fact, many of these stars played on Law & Order more than once, playing different characters each time. Let’s take a look at some famous actors that got their SAG cards on Law & Order. 

1. William H. Macy

Stars of movies like Pleasantville and Fargo, Macy got his start playing an assistant US attorney on Law & Order. He actually appeared on the show twice — once in 1990 and once in 1992. Luckily, he made Fargo in 1996 and didn’t have to go back to court.

2. Jim Gaffigan

Sure, we’re used to hearing Jim Gaffigan talk about Hot Pockets and how many kids he has, but before he had his own comedy show and was a successful standup comedian, Gaffigan appeared four times on shows in the L&O universe. The first time was in 1998.

3. Cynthia Nixon

Before she was Miranda Hobbes, Nixon was on Law & Order playing three different characters. She played Laura di Biasi in the first season of the show, and she won an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for playing Janis Donovan on Law & Order: SVU. She can’t say that doing L&O doesn’t pay dividends. 

4. Ty Burrell

This Modern Family dad was cast on and episode of Law & Order in 2000, and he came back two years later for a completely different role. Do we think that channeling his dark side on Law & Order helped shape the sunny disposition of Phil Dunphy?

5. Claire Danes

Before she cried for a living on Homeland and My So-Called Life, Claire Danes cut her crying face on Law & Order. If there’s a good place to cry, it’s definitely in an interrogation room.

6. Ellen Pompeo

Perhaps Pompeo’s characters on Law & Order were the basis for the emotionally fraught Meredith Grey. Pompeo has played killers twice on the show — both roles were women who killed family members. 

7. Philip Seymour Hoffman

The late Hoffman was a prolific (and Oscar-winning) actor, but he got his start on the very first season of Law & Order in an episode called “The Violence of Summer.” Fun fact: Samuel L. Jackson was in this episode, too. 

8. Allison Janney

What hasn’t Janney done? She’s starred in too many shows and movies to name outright (though Mom, The West Wing, and 10 Things I Hate About You come right to mind), but she got her start with that “thunk thunk”. 

It seems like if you want to be an actor at all, you have to be on Law & Order. Though the original is no longer new (and I’m still sad about it), at least there’s Law & Order: SVU to keep Hollywood churning.

Images: NBC

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