‘Law & Order’: The Character You Never Realized Wore a Wig on the Show

by Taylor Cunningham

After appearing in 391 episodes of Law & Order, there was one detail about star S. Epatha Merkerson that nearly all fans missed—her costume included a wig.

Merkerson’s character, Anita Van Buren—commander of the 27th Precinct in Dick Wolf’s New York City universe—was a bright and honest leader. She was known for always being in her detective’s corner and for having unending compassion for the many victims she met over 21 years on the job.

But what she wasn’t known for was her short, conservative haircut. Something that is completely different from her look in Chicago Med.

For Law & Order, S. Epatha Merkerson donned a wig. And the decision to do so was all her own. According to the actress, wearing the piece was on par for female African American police officers in the NYPD during that era.

“She wouldn’t be natural because at that period that would have seemed militant,” Merkerson told Archive of American Television. “And she had to make herself palpable to the powers that be. And that would mean she’d be quaffed, so literally, it was the right thing to do.”

After years on television, the Law & Order writers and producers tried convincing the actress to take off the wig and show her natural hair. But Merkerson refused to budge. She said that if she were to change her look, her character would no longer look culturally accurate for an officer in the ’90s.

S. Epatha Merkerson Will Remove her Wig if she Returns to the ‘Law & Order’ Reboot

However, S. Epatha Merkerson did admit that she would have removed her wig if she continued with the series. And since the Law & Order reboot debuted this winter, she now has a chance to make good on that promise.

When the original series ended in 2010, Merkerson has already been gone for a season. In her final episode, she revealed that she had to leave the NYPD to seek treatment for cervical cancer. And because the show ended abruptly, she never had a chance to return to the screen.

But if she had, the actress said she would have done so without her wig. Because of her health scare and likely subsequent hair loss, the character would have felt more comfortable dropping the bureaucratical look.

While S. Epatha Merkerson was not one of the many original stars who made it back to the show this year, she’s still a likely candidate for a short cameo or character arc. The actress’ current gig in the One Chicago world is also part of the Dick Wolf universe. So there is a chance that officer Van Buren may come back with a whole new look.