The perfect complement to Vincent D’Onofrio’s character in Law & Order: Criminal Intent (Robert Goren) was his partner in crime (no pun intended) Alexandra Eames, played by the unique Kathryn Erbe.
She calls herself a “blue collar actor”, but in reality she’s so much more than that. Kathryn began her career as a member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company and starred in some critical-acclaimed plays, A Streetcar Named Desire and The Grapes of Wrath among them.
I remember watching her in a movie called Rich in Love. It is one of those films featuring some true gifted actors, not exactly “movie stars”: Ethan Hawke, Piper Laurie, Albert Finney and Kathryn herself. It was such a great experience, as Erbe’s portrayal of Lucille Odom displays enough expertise while allows you to take a glimpse of her work ethic.
However, every great actor finds a way to expand their own horizons by taking the most challenging roles available for them. In some cases, it doesn´t necessarily implies earning millions of dollars or having your name all over the place in showbiz TV shows on a daily basis. Actually, it takes so much more than that.
This is exactly what Kathryn Erbe did in Oz. Shirley Bellinger, a woman in death row, was the perfect character to showcase her skills, and great enough to disturb the audience and got them thinking for a change about the nature of evil and the darkest side of mental illnesses.
Kathryn Erbe was completely exposed as an actress both physically and emotionally, during every scene of Oz in which she appears. Bellinger is a mother who drowned her own daughter by sinking her car in a river. She's so disconnected from the real world that uses kinky, emotionless sex as the only way to express her feelings.
The execution scene of Shirley Bellinger shows how great Kathryn Erbe is. No wonder why she stated later in an interview that after this character, she knows how to check out and not be affected by all the stuff she portrays on screen.
The cold murderer and evil mother beg for forgiveness just seconds before being hanged, but the law was stronger than her survival instincts. The whole sequence is extremely frightening and Kathryn’s performance is raw, wild and perfect.
Fortunately, we will always have Alexandra Eames, her most memorable character, to remind us that true friendship lasts forever. Kathryn worked very hard and along with Vincent D’Onofrio endured long hours of filming to create such a memorable TV show. Worth the effort, as she embodied a tough and determined detective able to solve the most tricky cases with the help of her brainy partner Robert Goren.
Even if the show never turned into any cheesy comedy à-la Bones to appeal to a wider audience, Kathryn and Vincent are still the perfect TV couple who gave us the best of their talent for almost a decade.
Pretty much as Vincent himself, Kathryn Erbe is a real actress whose passion for what she does goes beyond shallow recognition by the media. She knows exactly where she stands both as a woman and artist... and that’s all that matters.