Nov. 28th, 1952
Saginaw, Michigan, USA
S. Epatha Merkerson's Main TV Roles
Main Movie Roles2010 - Mother and Child
2009 - The Six Wives of Henry Lefay
2007 - Slipstream
2006 - Black Snake Moan
2004 - Jersey Girl
2003 - Radio
1999 - Random Hearts
1991 - Terminator 2: Judgment Day
1990 - Loose Cannons
1990 - Navy Seals
1990 - Jacob's Ladder
1986 - She's Gotta Have It
Guest TV Roles
Capt. Margaret Claghorn
Lt. Anita Van Buren
Lt. Anita Van Buren
Judge Melanie Ellis
Book Club Member #5
A native of Michigan, S. Epatha Merkerson earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from Wayne State University. In 1978, she moved to New York City to apply her craft on stage. Although best known since 1993 as the smart and shrewd Lieutenant Anita Van Buren on the long-running TV crime drama "Law & Order" (1990), she has a long list of Broadway and off-Broadway credits and honors that include Drama Desk Award and Tony Award nominations for Best Actress for her performance in the August Wilson play The Piano Lesson (1995) (TV), a 1992 Obie Award for her performance in "I'm Not Stupid," and a 1998 Helen Hayes Award for her starring role in the Studio Theater production in Washington, DC, of the John Henry Redwood play "The Old Settler." Her first appearance on television was a guest-starring role on an episode of "The Cosby Show" (1984). Her earliest regular role in television, however, was that of Reba the Mail Woman on "Pee-wee's Playhouse" (1986). Merkerson remains a theatrical force on the stage and on the screen and has the distinction of having been nominated for an Image Award in the Outstanding-Lead-Actress-in-a-Drama category for "Law & Order" (1990) for three consecutive years by the NAACP.
- With 'Jerry Orbach' (qv)'s departure from _"Law & Order" (1990)_ (qv) in 2004 after playing the role of Detective Lennie Briscoe for twelve years, she is now the longest-running cast member. She joined the series as Lt. Anita Van Buren in 1993 at the beginning of the show's fourth season.
- Her _"Law & Order" (1990)_ (qv) character, Lt. Anita Van Buren, whom she has played since 1993, is the longest running African American character in an American television drama.
- Nominated for the 2008 NAACP Theatre Award (Best Lead Female) for her performance as Lola in a revival of "Come Back, Little Sheba." The other three nominees, 'Jeannette Bayardelle' (qv), 'Felicia Fields' (qv) and 'Michelle Williams (I)' (qv), were all nominated for the work in "The Color Purple".
- Has been nominated twice for the 'Helen Hayes (I)' (qv) Award, first in 1990 for "The Piano Lesson" (Outstanding Lead Actress-Nonresident Production) and in 1999 for "The Old Settler" (Outstanding Lead Actress-Resident Play), for which she won the award.
- On a June 11, 2005, episode of the NPR show "Wait wait... Don't tell me!" she claimed that her first name was not Sharon, but rather was "Sweet." This may well have been a jest, but she repeatedly stuck with it.
- Along with 'Jerry Orbach' (qv) and 'Annie Parisse' (qv), 'Diane Neal' (qv), and 'Milena Govich' (qv) one of at least 5 _"Law & Order" (1990)_ (qv) cast members to play a different character in an episode before joining the cast in a later season. ('Michael Imperioli' (qv) also played multiple roles, but was not a permanent addition to the cast as Det. Falco.).
- Won her second Village Voice Obie Award in 2006 for her work in "Birdie Blue."
- As Lt. Anita Van Buren, Merkerson has done over 300 episodes and is the longest-running African-American character on television. Male or female.