Law & Disorder

Law & Disorder

When the actorVincent D’Onofrio leaves his apartment in the East

Village, he can walk down the street in almost any direction and, in a matter

of minutes, come across his face in an advertisement for Law & Order: Criminal Intent , the new television series he

stars in for NBC. It was once a New York thrill, of course, having one’s visage

plastered all about town, announcing a show or product launch. Yet in the days

since Sept. 11-as the city’s bus stops, subway walls and plywood walkways have

been blanketed with thousands of photos of other, absent, less famous

residents-those promotional posters have felt suddenly worthless and

embarrassing, especially to people in them, like Vincent D’Onofrio.

“As an actor, I feel completely insignificant,” Mr. D’Onofrio,

42, said on a recent afternoon. He was sitting on a park bench in Tompkins

Square Park, his long, blue-jeaned legs stretched out before him. “I feel

completely useless. I feel like a fool. I feel that what I do for a living has

so little to do with anything that is good for us as a people. I can’t believe

that anything I have done or will do as far as my acting will ever help anybody

or ever serve us in any way that is helpful. I just feel silly.”

Mr. D’Onofrio fumbled with a pack of Camel Lights and lit one.

The air outside was damp, muggy.

“I was supposed to do the Today

show next week and I have pushed everything back,” he said. “I was supposed

to do lots of press for [ Law & Order:

Criminal Intent ] right before it came on, but I told them I can’t do it, I

feel silly. I feel silly trying to sell anything on TV. I can’t do it. It’s

going to have to wait until I can do it, and I don’t know if it will affect the

show. The truth is, I don’t care. I’m contracted to do this show and I’ll do

it, but this thing is bigger than a contract, and bigger than any of us can

fathom.”

Just a month before, Mr. D’Onofrio had been in a different mood.

The tall, brown-haired, baby-faced Bensonhurst native-who has co-starred in

films such as Full Metal Jacket, Ed Wood

and Men in Black -has never been a

Robin Williams–style extrovert, but back on a rainy day in August in his

apartment, he talked excitedly about his new television show, about being back

in New York, about being closer to his family, about a movie he was developing

about the late rock critic Lester Bangs.

He also spoke that day about a planned Law & Order miniseries that would integrate all the performers

from the three Law & Order shows.

The miniseries was about a bioterrorist attack on New York (plotted by Osama

bin Laden, it turned out). Mr. D’Onofrio promised the miniseries would be

scary. “I can’t really talk about it,” he said.

Now it was more than a month later, and that miniseries idea was,

of course, kaput. And Mr. D’Onofrio-an actor who had spent much of his career

trying, decidedly, not to be an actor schmuck, resisting fame, resisting big

paydays-felt like, well, a bit of a schmuck. It all seemed so dumb. As a kid,

he had worked as a bouncer alongside dozens of New York City firemen; in recent

years, he’d worked out with a local fireman friend when he needed to be in

shape for a role. That fireman was O.K., he said. But others ….

“This [movie] company, they want to meet with me about a film

tonight,” Mr. D’Onofrio said. “I don’t know what to talk to them about.”

Mr. D’Onofrio said that in the aftermath of Sept. 11, he had

considered leaving the city with his wife and young son. He said if it weren’t

for his deal to do Law & Order ,

they might have left, moved someplace else.

“It’s something so unfathomable-to have no control over whether

your child is going to survive or not,” he said. “The people who were on their

planes with their children sitting next to them, flying to their deaths. A

couple with a 2-year-old kid. I can’t even …. “

Mr. D’Onofrio paused. “I make a living because of my imagination,

but I can’t even come close to imagining what the hell that would be like.”

A man approached Mr. D’Onofrio and bummed a cigarette. Behind, a

group of men listened to a portable radio loudly playing thrash metal.

“The reality of it is that I am involved in the entertainment

business,” Mr. D’Onofrio said. “I’m sure that people who like these shows are

going to be entertained by it-and I hope they are. If it takes their mind off

what has happened to us, all the better. But I am not going to pretend that

right now I am enthusiastic about my career. All of my attention and all of my

focus right now is on our country and what our next move is going to be.”

Mr. D’Onofrio smiled. “You wanted to interview me after this

attack,” he said. “And this is what you get.

“There is no way for me … not to feel affected by this thing,” he

continued. “Talk to me three months from now, and hopefully America will be in

a better situation. I’m going to feel differently; I’m going to be gung-ho

about what I do for a living again. We all are, hopefully.”

-Jason Gay

 

Raging Onward,

With the Bull

It’s fair to say that on the evening of Sept. 29, the last thing

many people in New York were looking for was a fistfight. And yet there we

were, 19,000 of us, packed into Madison Square Garden to watch the young

middleweight champion Felix (Tito) Trinidad take on Bernard Hopkins, a

36-year-old ex-con from North Philadelphia. Originally scheduled for Sept. 15,

the fight had sensibly been postponed, but two weeks later, one still had a

nagging, slightly skeezy feeling-that is to say, more than the usual one

associated with professional boxing-watching men club each other for money and

fame. These were supposed to be reflective, quieter, less grandiose times. In

other words, not Don King time.

Before the main event, the Garden was restless, subdued. Because

of security precautions, Mr. Trinidad’s sizable, passionate fandom had its

usual stable of horns and noisemakers seized at the door, dampening Tito

Nation’s usual Mardi Gras–like atmospherics. Sharkskin suits and white fedoras,

normally so ample, were tough to find. Even the ring girls-the half-naked

Amazons who strut around between rounds, numbered placards high above their

heads-seemed a little lost, miscast. (All thongs, though, were appropriately

black.)

“There is something

missing,” said Jake LaMotta, the 1949-1951 former middleweight champion

portrayed by Robert De Niro in the film Raging

Bull. He wore a black cowboy hat with a black shirt, black pants and a

blazer the color of buttered popcorn. “I think in the back of people’s minds,

they don’t have the energy to be happy all the time.”

Still, the Bull advised moving forward. “It’s got to start

sometime,” he said. “You got to start doing things. You can’t go on forever

like this. I think it’s good for the public. It’s good for the people who went

through a lot of torment and agony and stuff like that. It’s not a pleasant

thing.”

Mr. LaMotta had watched Sept. 11 from his apartment on the East

Side, on 57th Street. “I could see the smoke,” he said. “And I was watching it

all day on TV, for days. They had the same thing over and over again.”

Tonight, Mr. LaMotta liked Mr. Trinidad. “He’s got a style a

little like Sugar Ray Robinson-a very colorful fighter, throws a lot of

punches, takes a good punch,” he said. “Same with the other guy. I think it’s

going to be a toss-up.”

As fight time approached, other celebrities turned up in the

crowd-Denzel Washington, Matt Damon, Jay-Z, the former champion Evander

Holyfield. Unannounced, a troupe of firefighters and police officers crossed

the Garden floor, and the arena erupted into a two-minute wave of applause.

Even sportswriters-a weirdly prissy bunch who wouldn’t clap in the press box if

their mothers scored the winning run in Game 7-rose and applauded.

Shortly after 11 p.m., Messrs.

Hopkins and Trinidad appeared, the former to Ray Charles singing “God Bless

America” and accompanied by an attendant brandishing a dusty fireman’s helmet.

Mr. Trinidad, too, nodded to the occasion, arriving in a policeman’s hat over

his standard white headband and sequined Puerto Rican–flag outfit.

The fight itself was a knockout-Mr. Hopkins, a severe underdog,

baited the elegant Mr. Trinidad all night, crouching and luring him into the

ropes before unleashing furious uppercuts that caught the 28-year-old

champion’s jaw and bolted his young legs to the floor. Mr. Trinidad hung tough,

even dancing a bit in the ring like Ray Leonard, but it was more of a delaying

tactic than showmanship: Mr. Hopkins simply bided his time, waiting to unleash.

He finished the job in the 12th, with a series of blows and a body nudge that

sent the now ex-champ sprawling and Mr. Trinidad’s father into the ring,

calling it finished. In the darkness and clamor, Jake LaMotta rose and went

home, an aging flash of color in a gray night.

-Jason Gay