The Senator and the Bard

Posted March 10, 2013 at 7:30pm

Former Sen. Fred Thompson, the only member of Congress to go on to star in “Law & Order,” will be the first person featured in the new series “Expert Witness,” a production of the Bard Association, the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s “legal affinity group.”

Thompson, who first came to prominence as a Senate Watergate Committee counsel, will chat at the inaugural “Expert Witness” event with his old friend, Bard Association Chairman Abbe D. Lowell. The former counsel for the House during the Clinton impeachment hearings, Lowell is now with Chadbourne & Parke LLP.

The series will be structured as a conversation with a prominent member of the legal community who has bridged the gap into the world of arts and entertainment.

Thompson was discovered as an actor in 1985 and made his big-screen debut playing himself in the film “Marie.” From that point, he was offered more parts and eventually scored an agent.

Before that first film role, Thompson tells HOH, he had never acted before.

“I had never been in a high school play. Back in my day that would have been distinctly uncool,” he says.

Is acting similar to politics and/or trying a case in a courtroom?

“[Y]ou have to be willing and able to get out there and be convincing about what you do,” he says.

Unlike acting, Thompson says that “you’re shooting with real bullets” in politics and law.

With acting, on the other hand, a person is “given a script” and “more than one take to get it right,” he says. “It’s a luxury I’ve never had in politics or law.”

Another major difference between acting and politicking, according to Thompson, is the role of empathy.

“When you’re playing a part, you do have to identify with the part that you’re playing, even a bad guy. You have to find something that you identify with, [and] you can find that in almost any part,” Thompson says. “I don’t think the process is comparable in regards to policy or law.”

He goes on to say: “If you’re going to have rule of law or the interest and benefit of the American people at heart, [then] that’s a process that calls for objective analysis,” he says. “I think politicians wrap their personal feelings in policymaking.

“It’s not about you and your feelings. It is about your duty and what is best. You’re paid to think about those things. If people think that you’re not being empathetic enough, you have to be able to convince them [you are] or you’re out of a job.”

This first installment of “Expert Witness” kicks off March 18 at 7:30 p.m. at the Lansburgh Theatre (450 Seventh St. NW).