It’s been a while since we first learned about Sergeant Bell’s planned storylines for Law & Order: Organized Crime Season 3. So, who better to give us an update than Danielle Moné Truitt? The series doesn’t return until March 23, making this mini hiatus, for those of us who follow along with the weekly cocktails and chatter on Twitter, a “dry March. And then we’ll pick it back up” in Truitt’s words. Which means now is the perfect time to catch up. With that in mind, we chatted with the actress about pretty much all things Sergeant Bell.
While discussing the character’s recent struggles with the NYPD’s power structure, we learned we might be in for a surprise. We also talked about how the series handles its storytelling around policing in the U.S., as well as how Truitt’s feedback makes Bell’s depiction as a Black woman who works in this field better reflect reality. Oh, and there’s a lot more. So much more, in fact, that we broke this interview into two separate pieces. While this first part is all business, our second one discusses more of the found family dynamic that’s been so strong this season. (We might even have something on the case of Bell’s disappearing son. Because seriously, where’s Jack?)
So, without further ado, check out the first installment of our exclusive interview with Danielle Moné Truitt below.
Bell’s recent battles with the brass
After giving full disclosure that we’re forever having to look up the name “Thurman” because we’re always calling him just “the fake Tar Heel” (or plenty of other names…), we got down to business. First up, what’s next for the rivalry with Deputy Inspector
Whatshisname Thurman? Well, what we learned was not at all what we expected. According to Truitt, in “the last two episodes we just shot, I kind of had to do Thurman a favor. Like with one of the cases, he needed something from Bell. Or he needed Bell and the team to handle some stuff for him.” So, even though the new boss might have talked about reporting Bell to the higher-ups, “whatever he was saying about me to 1PP, he’s probably going to chill out with that.”
(And if he doesn’t, all of us at home are going to fight him through our TVs. Obviously.)
In fact, future episodes have a different focus. They’re “all about these cases that we’re kind of getting pulled into out of the blue.” So, they won’t necessarily feature “a lot of Bell having to struggle with 1PP.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean Bell hasn’t already had plenty of battles to fight just to get to this point. Even in this season alone, Thurman wasn’t the only (non-Stabler) thorn in her side. So, we asked for Truitt’s perspective on how things might’ve been different earlier in the season, when butting heads with Deputy Inspector Goldfarb, versus the more recent tension with
Fake Tar Heel Thurman. For her, “Lillian…genuinely wanted to help Bell and thought that she was doing what was best for her. I think a lot of times people do that without even kind of asking the person what they think is best for them.” So, regardless of how she sometimes came across, that character wasn’t “evil in her intentions.”
But Thurman, on the other hand, doesn’t have Goldfarb’s good intentions at all. He’s just something else entirely. Truitt told us she sees him as “an opportunist,” adding, “he wants to look good. He wants to be in the best light at all times. And he kind of doesn’t care who he has to step on to get what he wants.”
On bringing authenticity to Bell’s story…
Sergeant Bell isn’t just another hero on another copaganda series. She broke the mold for the “type” you’d typically see in a position of power on a procedural like this one. And everything that sets her apart from that usual “type,” so to speak, can, should—and, often with Truitt’s help, often does—contribute to how she does her job. But rather than try to explain that ourselves, let’s get it straight from the source. As the actress told us, “she’s not just a cop. She is a woman, she is Black, and she is a lesbian. So, she’s going to view certain things differently than someone who’s just a white male cop.”
Even with the best intentions, writers may not have the lived experience of being a Black woman in America—much less one in a position of power in the NYPD—and will, therefore, give the character lines that don’t take that experience into account. So, “sometimes, they write certain things, and I’m like, ‘Bell would not say this.'”
As an example, Truitt brought up one of Bell’s recent lines: “Oh, right. And people who are not guilty run from the police.” But that type of comment really only works if you ignore everything about Ayanna except her job…and everything about policing except how racism factors in. “And so, Danielle is like, ‘yes, people who are not guilty run from the police every day. Especially Black people who are not guilty run from the police…That’s something that is known.'” So, a better way of putting it would’ve been “‘oh, right, and white men who are innocent run from police.’ Because to me, that was a little bit more appropriate for the moment.”
While not every single line gets changed, conversations around keeping the character real do happen. And, more importantly, Truitt’s input does affect how Bell is written. As she told us, “whenever I can bring humanity to Bell, outside of her being a sergeant, I try to do that.”
On that front, be on the lookout for an upcoming episode. Let’s just say that one will have a little bit of the Danielle Moné Truitt touch. There’s a particular scene where Sergeant Bell is in interrogation with someone who’s “scared about snitching. Because in his community, snitches get stitches. So, when he brings that up, initially, Bell was like…Well, basically, ‘if you don’t tell the police the information we want, worse is going to happen to you.'”
But that didn’t sit right. “As a Black person, I know how the Black community is: You don’t snitch. That’s a known thing.” Not just in the Black community but in “the latino community, the Asian community” and others, as well. “There’s that sense of, you keep your mouth shut. And I said I think Bell would be able to relate to that, and [the writers] were like, ‘oh, you’re right.'” So, good news: “They reworked that line.”
…and the need for Law & Order: Organized Crime to avoid romanticizing cops
While we were on the subject of how being a Black woman affects Bell’s work and how listening to her feedback makes that character feel much more real, we wondered what Truitt thought of how Organized Crime handles its portrayal of police in a more general sense. “I think our show has done a decent job of showing that there are some cops that are good. And there are some that aren’t,” she told us. The series is also really careful about “not romanticizing police, law enforcement. Because you can’t.”
(Emphasis on “can’t.”)
As she reminded us, “we live in a world where we’ve seen over and over and over again that there are cops that don’t deserve to be cops and to have the position of power that they have.” So, yes, when TV shows “just show cops that are always doing the right thing, always saving the day,” she told us, it does “do a disservice…Because in real life, that doesn’t always happen.” This series doesn’t make that mistake. Truitt highlighted the Brotherhood arc as one of the times when the series really emphasized police corruption.
There’s also a more recent example: The FBI letting Murphy, the man who killed Bell’s former partner — among others — go free because he was an informant. “That’s another way that law enforcement can be crooked,” Truitt told us. Because sometimes, “they give people who are hurting people passes.” Additionally, “there’s a lot of politics. There’s a lot involved in the institutions of law enforcement.”
So, while it’s not perfect and not every line is going to resonate well, “I am, for the most part, proud of how we have handled certain things. And if anything comes up that I feel uncomfortable with, the wonderful thing about our show and our production is that our voices are heard. We’re able to talk to the showrunner. We’re able to discuss certain things before we put it on TV.”
And yes, showrunner Sean Jablonski “is very open to our thoughts about our characters.” Truitt added, “I can text him and be like, ‘hey, I had a question about this.’ And he’ll call me right away. Or make a plan for us to talk through things. I think that’s really important.”
Which…speaking of asking Jablonski questions, that actually brings us to our next point. But you’ll have to wait for the second part of our interview with Danielle for that one. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with a little bit of a tease.
A look ahead
Make sure you don’t miss Organized Crime 3×18 when it airs live. Why (other than the usual reasons)? Because it’s “going to be a really good episode for Bell.” Truitt didn’t want to give anything away — and we wouldn’t spoil anything even if she did — but she still got our attention with what she could say at this time. “You’ll get to see another part of her life that you don’t really get to see that often on the day to day.” And, if that’s not enough of a tease, we’ll even give you one more. “It’s like another one of her worlds collides with her work life, and she has to navigate that. And she has to kind of be honest with herself about a few things. So, it should be cool and pretty interesting.”
Insert that “give it to me now” gif here, actually…