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S. Epatha Merkerson Leaving Law and Order

After 16 years on Law & Order, S. Epatha Merkerson is turning in her badge as Lt. Van Buren at the end of this season. The Emmy-winning actor recently spoke to to discuss why she decided to leave the show and how difficult it will be to move on.

On deciding to leave the show, she told, “It’s a graceful way to go. It’s the end of my contract this year, and the storyline has been so perfect. I’ve given it my best for 16 years. It’s time to move on. I’m doing other things and this will be a great way to leave what has been an extraordinary gig.”

She added that she decided to leave the show when she realized her contract was up midseason and she just felt, “like I wanted to do some other things.”

She also said that her boss, Dick Wolfe was very understanding when she broke the news. “Dick is a great guy. And one of the things that I wanted to let him know was how much this job has meant to me and how I’ve appreciated the opportunity. We have a decent relationship, so he understood.”

And though her character on the show has cancer, that doesn’t necessarily mean she will die. “I have no idea how this is going to end; the [final] scripts are just coming out now. And now that they know that I’m leaving they might make some changes.”

Merkerson acknowledged how hard it will be to leave too. ” It was 16 years of employment — actors rarely have that experience. And so I know that I’m really, really lucky, because that’s what we look for — the next gig. And I’ve always been able to say, “I’m going back to Law & Order.” But the things that I’m doing now are interesting and challenging. I’m producing and directing a documentary about African-American benevolent societies. It’s exciting for me to be able to learn new things. I’m sure it will be emotional, but right now I’m just really happy for having had the opportunity.”

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