After a year and a half absence, Vincent D'Onofrio, 51, returns to "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" as the brilliant but troubled detective Robert Goren for the show's 10th season, which debuts May 1 on the USA Network.
I like your character, Det. Goren, but he seems to get a mixed reaction. I think some people don't get him.
It's always been like that. I think that's OK. It's not for everybody, especially the way I play him is not to everybody's taste. People, I think, unless they allow themselves to take the leap of faith, they don't like the intelligence, the ridiculous amount of knowledge he has. It doesn't make it easy in a 40-minute show to solve a crime [persuasively] in the first place, but then to have a guy who's as clever as Goren solve it, it kind of makes it even harder to get away with. It's a battle for people to like that show, I think. On the other hand, the people who do take the leap love it. I say that not out of arrogance. Believe me, every time I go to the corner to get milk for the kids, I hear it.
Goren is seeing a shrink this season, right?
Maybe. We haven't shot any of that yet. But the word is that yeah, Goren is seeing a shrink.
Why did you leave the series and why are you back?
I needed to stretch a bit and spend time with my kids and family and my wife. I wrote with a couple of friends of mine and directed a film that's going to be distributed next winter. It's called "Don't Go in the Woods," a pretty crazy movie; it's a slasher musical. I wanted to do things like that, and during the last year and a half, I developed three films. That one was made. We're going to make an announcement about the second one that me and my friends wrote that we're producing.
Tell me about the slasher musical.
Me and two friends — Joe Vinciguerra and Sam Bisbee, who's a musician — I had this idea about a bunch of kids who go into the woods, and they all sing and they all die. It's modeled after a B slasher film, but it's a musical with beautiful music. I cast it off the streets of New York with all unknown actors. The movie cost $100,000, and we shot it in 12 days.
How did you happen to come back?
[Series creator] Dick [Wolf] called me. Dick has been a great supporter of mine since the show began. When I was getting tired, he helped me out then. I don't know why he does it, because he's an amazing businessman, and usually amazing businessmen don't care about what their actors are thinking. But in my case with Dick, it's exactly the opposite. And he has always tried to accommodate me in whatever way he could without of course being ridiculous. I don't want to say anything about the show with Jeff [Goldblum], because I thought I was leaving the show for good and Jeff was going to be the perfect person to play that part. Why the show didn't work out, I have no idea.
How was making the show so intense in 2004 that you ended up being hospitalized for nervous exhaustion, and why won't that be the case now?
It's very simple. We're not doing that amount of shows ever.
How many were you doing then?
Twenty-three. It wasn't just me, by the way. It was Kate [costar Kathryn Erbe] too. Both of us had kids, and we were working 10 months out of the year with maybe a couple of days off here and a couple of days off there. And at one point, I think it was on the second or third season, it was a brutal, brutal time. And I will never ever, no matter what kind of money they offer me, ever do that again.
That's why it's eight episodes?
Yeah, we're doing eight. And my wife told me that USA is really pushing the "last eight" thing, the final-season thing, which I think is really interesting. I know the television business pretty well now. I've been in it for 10 years, and I've never heard of a company saying something is over until it's really over. I always thought that people were in television for the money, companies. And why would they kill something if they could figure out how to make money off it? I think that from an actor's point of view, because I'm certainly not making an official announcement because I have no control over these things, I would say it's probably not done. I would say that "Criminal Intent" will be back in some form after these eight at some point.
From your mouth.... Speaking of God, the first episode of the new season deals with misdoings in the Catholic Church. You were an altar boy, weren't you? How did it feel to work on that episode?
I always found it a bit nerve-racking when we did things that the church was involved in. It's the same when you do things about bad cops. As you know, in this day and age, everybody loves to hear nasty stories about people; tales being told out of school are the most popular thing in the universe right now, on the Internet, on television. And they always have, about the church and they always have about law enforcement officers. I just think you have to be really careful when you tread those waters because on both accounts there's a lot of good that's been done. There are a lot of priests in this country that are more like social workers than guys who have to answer to the pope, and they don't get credit. And the same with cops.