The wait’s over. As in, we’re done making you wait for the second half of our interview with Danielle Moné Truitt. (If you missed the first part, we’ve got you covered. Click here.) While the first post focused primarily on how Truitt’s feedback helps keep Law & Order: Organized Crime‘s Sergeant Ayanna Bell rooted in the real world, where being a Black woman — and a lesbian — is going to bring a different perspective to the job, this one’s all about relationships. And we’re going to try to touch on all of them. So, without further ado…
What’s going on with Denise and Jack?
As we touched on above, Ayanna Bell is a member of the LGBTQ+ community. When we first met her, she was even in a committed and loving relationship — again, while still being a Black woman in a position of power in the NYPD. We can’t stress enough how much every single aspect of who she is contributes to a much different point of view for the character, as well as for some much needed representation on television — especially a procedural like this one. Unfortunately, Ayanna’s marriage to Denise fell apart at the end of the series’ second season, and no, it has never recovered.
And we use “unfortunately” loosely here because, eh. Denise kinda sucks. Speaking as a viewer, with the way Denise behaved toward the end of that relationship, it’s not like she ever deserved Ayanna anyway. So, we’re not exactly advocating for them to kiss and make up. And if anyone else out there is worried about possibly having to see that romance rekindled, you can relax. We’re safe. Because Truitt’s fairly certain “Bell and Denise definitely are not going to reconcile. So, that’s not happening.”
Of course, the actual unfortunate part of the divorce is that, when the marriage ended, so did any depiction of Sergeant Bell’s sexuality. Not only that, but Ayanna’s now kind of…home alone. Which means we also lost any and all storytelling around what it’s like for her to balance motherhood with this job. And that’s a huge deal because it’s very important to us, and to members of the fandom who felt seen by this character’s existence, to know what’s happening in Ayanna’s life outside the job. So, even if we’re not sad to lose Denise, specifically, these two do share a son. And just because a marriage ends, that doesn’t mean a mother’s connection to her son should just…disappear. So…what, exactly, is going on?
When we brought up our questions surrounding Sergeant Bell’s personal life, Truitt told us she’s “wondering the same thing,” adding, “I’m like, ‘what happened to Denise and to Jack?'” And she “actually just talked to the showrunner the other day.” (Note: This interview took place before…that news.) In fact, “I put that out there to him — Bell hasn’t seen her son at all. At least the audience hasn’t seen her son at all. I think we need to mix that in when we can.” Admittedly, though, “we also have to remember this is a procedural,” with the cases being the main focus and many characters’ stories to juggle.
Even with that being said, though, don’t give up. The writers are still “trying to put our personal life into the mix as much as they can, when they can.” And Truitt does “hope…in the future, we can see Bell being the mother that she is. I think that’s important to see.”
Agreed. And if she happens to find someone better than Denise along the way, we’re here for it.
On the Bell/Stabler partnership and working with Meloni…
Now, if we want to talk about personal stories that the series has absolutely, without a doubt, managed beautifully, look no further than the Bell/Stabler partnership. Not just the working partnership, but the friendship — the found family aspect of the storytelling — too.
So, what’s that been like for Truitt? She agreed with us that “they’ve been doing a great job with developing the relationship between Stabler and Bell and the friendship that they have.” And it’s certainly been a journey. “I think in the beginning,” she told us, “Bell was trying to figure out what this relationship was going to be. Because he’s been on the force for forever.” At the time, she was “kind of a new sergeant, younger, and…they could have just easily had a work relationship and that’s it…Nothing deeper than that.”
Instead, “over the seasons, there’s been certain moments that have caused them to have more of an understanding for one another. Sometimes it’s spoken, sometimes it’s not.” And some of the “unspoken understanding,” as she put it, simply comes from “the things that Bell has seen in her life, and the way she grew up, and how hard she’s had to fight to become who she is.”
But that is not, of course, to say that things are always easy. So, does Truitt have any preference for which aspects of the relationship she likes to play more? Either the really tense scenes, like when Bell and Stabler gutted us with their argument over shutting down the task force? Or is she more into the quieter moments when they’re comforting each other?
“It depends on the storyline for me,” she said, though she did single out the heartbreaking scene in the car in episode 14 as “definitely one of my favorite scenes I’ve shot,” noting that “partly, it’s because I felt like they were giving my character something to really feel.” And, while filming the scene, Christopher Meloni was “a great scene partner. He gave me the space to feel the emotion.” While that was one of the more personal scenes, Truitt also loved “one of the scenes where I was going off on him,” so it really does just depend on the specific scene.
But speaking of Bell going off on Stabler…and maybe, if we’re honest, just looking for some wish fulfillment here: We just had to ask if there are any outtakes of Bell smacking Stabler upside the head. “I wish,” Truitt joked, “there’s footage of Danielle smacking Chris upside the head.” (Again. Note the word “joked.” She was totally kidding. Danielle and Chris “have a great rapport” and “a lot of fun working together.”)
Actually, though, the working relationship has been great pretty much since the beginning. At one point during our interview, she mentioned some feedback she received in Season 1 through then-showrunner Ilene Chaiken. Meloni “was so happy with the kind of actor that I am, the energy that I have, and how dynamic I am,” she told us. “I don’t back down. And it’s Christopher Meloni. Of course I was a little nervous. But I think even when I’m nervous, I know I have to show up.” And she believes that’s what makes the Bell/Stabler scenes always work so well: “Because we both show up. And…there’s a rawness to it and a realism to it. No matter what the words are. I know that they’ll continue in that vein because it’s working.”
…and leading the rest of the task force
While Stabler may be her partner
(and someone who occasionally gets on everyone’s last nerve), Sergeant Bell still has several other detectives under her command. So, how’s it been bringing the new cast members on? “Oh, my God, I love them,” Truitt told us. She added that she “actually knew Rick [Gonzalez, who plays Detective Reyes] before he got the role” and was “super happy when he joined the cast.” Gonzaelz is the type of actor who’s “very serious about the craft and serious about what his motivation as an actor is.” And he’ll speak up if something doesn’t make sense.
Then, there’s Brent Antonello, also known as Elliot’s Mini-Me, Jamie Whelan. Just to be clear: No, Truitt’s not at all surprised that a lot of us keep making the Stabler comparisons. “That’s who this is supposed to be,” she told us. Whelan’s “a guy who has the same sensibilities that Stabler has. So that’s why Stabler kind of takes him under his wing…to kind of mentor him.” Since we now have “a more evolved Stabler,” here’s hoping Elliot can help Jamie “maybe not do some of the things that he’s done…along his career. But I think that was the point, that he’s kind of a little bit of a hot head like Stabler. And that kind of helps them connect.”
So, we’ve confirmed that Whelan is totally Stabler Junior, but what’s Antonello like? He’s “just chill as heck, and he’s a sweetheart.” While Whelan’s Christmas gift to Sergeant Bell was everything she needed to get some of the negative energy out of her office space, Brent gave Danielle “this really good gin” and, recently, effectively repeated the gift giving. When Truitt wanted to know where she could get another bottle, he picked it up…and wouldn’t accept any payment.
(But, again, as we mentioned in the intro to part one: Dry March. Maybe it’ll be gin season when the series returns on March 23.)
Additionally, Truitt told us she feels like Gonzalez and Antonello are her “two brothers.” And, from a character or storytelling standpoint, she really feels like this is the task force — the team we have now. Not that she didn’t value or care for previous cast members and their characters. But Reyes and Whelan are just so well developed, everything’s just clicked into place. “The fact that they actually have an emotional life and a history, a background, it makes them real people,” Truitt told us.
Now, don’t think we forgot the other key member of the team, who’s been there since the beginning. Because we most certainly haven’t — and would never. As viewers, we definitely enjoyed seeing more of a mentoring relationship between Sergeant Bell and Detective Slootmaekers during the Murphy case. So, naturally, we had questions about what those scenes were like to film and when we’re getting more.
“That’s my girl. I love her,” Truitt told us of Ainsley Seiger, who plays Jet. “We love working together.” Unfortunately, some Ayanna/Jet scenes have been cut in the past. But that just made what we saw that much more special. “It was really nice, that last arc,” Truitt said. “It was really great to see us just get to play off one another.”
Where does Danielle Moné Truitt “shine”?
All the talk about Bell’s more personal moments with Jet actually brought up an interesting conversation about the importance of the more character-driven scenes, not counting procedural actors out, and where Truitt knows she does her own best work. “Anything that’s character driven is where I shine,” she told us. “Most actors that are on procedurals, we can definitely do more than tell you where the perp went and what time he got there. That’s the easy stuff. Sometimes, it’s harder because you have to remember it. But whenever there’s an opportunity to connect, on an emotional level or just a character-driven scene…we wait for those moments.”
As viewers, I think we’d all agree with her here—on basically every possible level. The cases are the backdrop; it’s the emotional stuff we’re here for. And a lot of these actors, Truitt included (and especially in that Murphy arc) simply kill it. But back to what Truitt actually had to say because we’re forever writing a billion words about television as it is…
Truitt promised us “we’ll definitely have some more [character-driven scenes] in the future.” But, she again warned us, “because it is a procedural, we can’t have it every week.” Bottom line, though, she’s “definitely looking forward to it because it’s that thing where you’re like, you’re thirsty for a drink of water, and then you get that water and you’re like, ‘oh, thank you! Thank you for the opportunity to show more of what I’m capable of.’ I think that’s a really important thing for us as actors.”
Just a little bit of fun…
The Law & Order franchise is known for having great guest actors, and this particular series already has a fantastic team. So, we kind of had to ask who Danielle Moné Truitt would like to see as a guest star. “There are so many actors that I really love,” she told us. Those include (but aren’t limited to) some pretty big names. Basically, let’s just say she has taste. (Not that anyone should be surprised).
Names like Mahershala Ali. “I think he’s so good — would love for him to guest star on our show,” she added. And, of course, Meryl Streep. (Because why not? “Come on, Meryl.”) For a couple more names, Truitt told us she “love[s] Jonathan Majors — he’s awesome.” And last, but not least, “I know Viola already did SVU back in the day, but you know I love me some Viola Davis, too.” (Who doesn’t?)
So, if any of those actors want to organize some crime…
…just saying we’d totally be here for it. Until then, we can always dream—and dream big.
You can catch Danielle Moné Truitt in Law & Order: Organized Crime Thursdays at 10/9c on NBC.
You can get out your gin and end dry March The series returns on Thursday, March 23.