CARY, N.C. (AP) — Ainsley Seiger always imagined herself doing musical theater.
But the young actress’ first gig — landed less than a year after graduation from the UNC School of the Arts and during a pandemic — couldn’t be more removed from that world.
And she couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity.
Seiger, a 22-year-old Cary native (with hard props to nearby Apex, where she said she did a lot of her growing up), is one of the stars of the new NBC cop drama “Law & Order: Organized Crime.” She plays a computer technology expert with a special NYPD unit charged with investigating organized crime.
The series is the seventh in the fabled “Law & Order” franchise, and the cast is led by Christopher Meloni, whose character, Detective Elliot Stabler, originated in “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
“I thought Broadway and off-Broadway would be where I would find my place,” Seiger told The News & Observer. “And that is, oddly enough, not the course that my life has taken. But I love to sing. It’s still one of my favorite things to do.”
Seiger’s mother is an opera singer and private voice teacher, so that influence has been there from the start. Her love of music was nurtured at UNCSA, a performing arts school in Winston-Salem.
“One of my favorite things about UNCSA in the four years that I went there is that even in the acting program, there’s a really really strong focus on singing and dance as well,” Seiger said. “If movement is the path that you want to take as an actor, they really nurture that.”
Her last year at UNCSA was cut a little short by the pandemic, so she was at home in Cary when she submitted an audition tape for “Organized Crime.” (Her mother and her father, who is a master bench jeweler and goldsmith, still live in Cary.)
“I did two scenes from the show and I sent it in, and then the carpet just kind of unrolled before me and I was in New York,” she said.
She recognizes that the path from school straight to series regular in a popular television franchise is, as she puts it, “incredibly unusual.”
“I’m incredibly lucky,” Seiger said. “The gratitude that I feel and the thankfulness that I feel for having what I have right now — it’s impossible to put it into words. I’m so, so grateful.”
The gig comes with two things most actors would kill for: a built-in fan base and a bit of job security.
As the seventh in the Dick Wolf-created franchise, “Law & Order” fans — especially “SVU” fans — were guaranteed to check it out, and enough of them stuck around to earn the show a second season. And next season, “Organized Crime” will no longer be the baby of the franchise; an eighth “Law & Order” series, this one called “Law & Order: For the Defense,” will join “SVU” and “Organized Crime” for an all-”L&O” Thursday night TV block.
FROM LONE WOLF TO TEAM PLAYER
The sudden attention from such a hardcore fan base has taken some getting used to, but Seiger describes the experience as “overwhelming in a positive way.”
“I talk a lot about how grateful I am about the reception that I’ve gotten from the fans of the show, and that is something that I’m really trying my best not to take for granted, because I feel that doesn’t happen very often,” she said.
“And it’s so easy to be mean to people on the internet, so the fact that people would be nice to me instead is astounding.”
Fans don’t just love Seiger, they love her character, Jet Slootmaekers.
The young tech genius has been an integral part of the show, often providing the crucial bit of information each episode that gets Stabler one step closer to the bad guy.
“If I were to describe her a little bit more in depth, my favorite aspect of Jet to talk about is that she is a lone wolf who has been thrust into this very team-playery role, and I don’t think she knows how to navigate that,” Seiger said. “I think she’s figuring that out as we go on. She’s very smart and very good at her job.”
In most episodes, Seiger’s character is stuck in an office, hunched over a keyboard and relaying info to officers who do the more physically dangerous work. But in last week’s episode, the penultimate of the season, Jet had to improvise on the fly and place herself in the middle of an important sting operation to keep the whole mission from failing.
Seiger said she didn’t create a backstory for Jet, finding it more interesting to play the character on the page and let the rest unfurl naturally.
But she said she does relate a bit to Jet’s “lone wolf” personality.
“The primary part of her that I connect with the most is this, not antisocial behavior, but, I would much rather be alone in my apartment than surrounded by people,” Seiger said. “I’m very much a homebody, even before everything with COVID happened. I don’t leave my apartment very much.”
That’s kind of where her kinship with Jet ends.
“The aspect of her that I don’t connect with whatsoever is computers,” she said. “I am not good with them. I know how to use Google and that’s about it.”
Seiger also may not be that much of a lone wolf anymore. A few weeks ago she adopted a cat, Jiji, who she said was sleeping beside her through our interview.
“He’s the biggest joy. I love him so much,” she said. “And it’s definitely made staying home — which is my primary function — it’s made it a lot easier because I now have a little creature-friend I can come home to and pet.”
With shooting for the show over for the season, Seiger is looking forward to a break, and perhaps a trip south.
“I’m thinking of possibly going home for a little bit, I would love to be back home in North Carolina,” she said.
“I was about to say I’d love to be back down in North Carolina for a little bit of the spring, but it’s summer, it is not spring. Spring is dead and summer is here. But I’d love to see my family for a little bit. But for right now I’m just happy to take things as they come my way.”
WATCH ‘LAW & ORDER: ORGANIZED CRIME’
Unlike other “Law & Order” shows, “Organized Crime” doesn’t solve a different case each week; the entire Season 1 plot has revolved around bringing down one person, mobster Richard Wheatley (Dylan McDermott).
Wheatley was arrested in last week’s episode, with a major assist from Seiger’s character, and this week’s season finale will see Wheatley headed to court to face the charges against him. But don’t expect that to go off without a hitch.
“Law & Order: Organized Crime” airs at 10 p.m. Thursday on NBC.
You can catch up on old episodes on the NBC website, on the NBC streaming service Peacock, or on the streaming service Hulu.
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