Law & Order

Did You Know This Iconic Law & Order Actor Was a Real-Life Cop?

If you’ve ever watched Law & Order‘s Dennis Farina and thought his portrayal of the beloved Detective Joe Fontana was a little too believable, you’re onto something. That’s because the late Farina was a cop for the Chicago Police Department for almost two decades before becoming an actor.


Farina played Fontana from 2004-2006, with many fans loving his dynamic with Jesse L. Martin’s Detective Ed Green. Interestingly, many details of Fontana’s life mirror Farina’s. For example, Fontana came to the Manhattan 27th Precinct from Chicago, which happens to be the same city Farina grew up in.

Dennis Farina was a real-life cop before playing one on Law & Order

Farina was a real-life cop in the Windy City for 18 years, but then a run-in with a director changed his life forever. While shooting his 1981 film Thief in Chicago, director Michael Mann consulted the CPD and Farina to research plot details. From these conversations, Mann offered Farina a minor role in the movie to help elevate the believability.

“I remember going to the set that day and being intrigued by the whole thing. I liked it. And everybody was extremely nice to me,” Farina recalled to The Associated Press in 2007. “If the people were rude and didn’t treat me right, things could have gone the other way.”

Detective Ed Green (Jesse L. Martin) and Detective Joe Fontana (Dennis Farina) appear in Law and Order.

Later, Farina guest-starred in Mann’s NBC series Miami Vice, which only added to his burgeoning passion for acting. He ultimately resigned from law enforcement and dedicated his efforts toward the screen, landing the lead role in the ’80s NBC series Crime Story as a Chicago detective.

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His casting in Law & Order came nearly two decades later, in 2004 for the show’s 15th season. After his departure following Season 16, Farina went on to star in several notable projects, including What Happens in Vegas, Unsolved Mysteries, plus several guest appearances in New Girl as Jake Johnson’s hysterical on-screen father.

RELATED: Meet the Real-Life Heroes from NBC’s LA Fire & Rescue

“Sometimes you can take those dramatic roles and maybe interject a little humor into them, and I think the reverse also works,” Farina explained to The Associated Press. “One of the funny things in life to me is a guy who takes himself very seriously.”


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