“Ripped from the headlines…”

We’ve all heard this language used to describe some of the storylines of our favorite scripted shows. Now, one of the longest-running television franchises is literally taking on a true-crime story for Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders.

That’s right -- this one is all about the shocking murder trial of Lyle and Erik Menendez. These are the Beverly Hills brothers who were accused and eventually convicted of killing their parents.

Actress Stephanie Maura Sanchez steps into the crime anthology series as the ‘Linda’, the assistant to Defense Attorney Leslie Abramson – played by Edie Falco. A Southern California native, Stephanie remembers firsthand the case that captured the nation.

Fans might remember Stephanie from appearances on Jane the Virgin, Life in Pieces, Grey’s Anatomy, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Shooter. Before becoming an actress, Stephanie attended the University of Notre Dame. While there, she participated in the ROTC program and upon graduation was commissioned an Officer in the U.S. Navy. She was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, where she was twice awarded the Navy Achievement Medal.

I recently caught up with Stephanie Maura Sanchez to learn more about Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders.

What can you tell us about your role in Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders?

STEPHANIE MAURA SANCHEZ: I play “Linda”, who is the assistant to attorney Leslie Abramson, played by Edie Falco. I am first introduced during the fourth episode and continue to help set-up some revelations for her character later on.

How aware were you of the real case before you started working on the series?

SMS: I was a kid when it happened, so I wasn’t very interested at the time. What I knew, was what I half-heard through TV news clips and the grapevine. The story was that a couple of young guys from Beverly Hills shot their parents and people were saying they were spoiled rich kids who did it for the money. I didn’t seek to know much more.

But being reminded of it recently with this project, it struck me differently. I immediately got curious about it. It seemed so unusual. Intuitively, I felt like there was more to the story. What kid just decides one day to murder their parents? I started reading about it and watching clips. I wanted to know what drove the brothers to murder their parents. What was going on that precipiated the murder? I’ve never been in that place and I guess I’m curious what that feels like. I think especially being an actor or any kind of story teller. You seek to understand things at a very deep level.

Did you prepare differently for this role because it’s based on a true story?

SMS: Well when I went to the audition I tried to look “late 80’s/early 90’s” esque. The clothes I wore, the way I did my hair. The large earrings I wore. I wanted to reflect the time period when this all happened. And of course on set the costume department is using all clothes from the actual time period. That’s the physical preparation part. I already spoke about delving into my research for this case. There was so much I didn’t know—mainly, the defense’s side of the case—that Erik and Lyle were controlled and abused by their father Jose for years. I quickly began to empathize with them. I’m sure plenty of people will disagree, but watching the footage of Lyle and Erik’s testimonies in court was deeply disturbing. I saw them transform from seemingly cocky young adults into scared little boys right there on the stand. That intense display of shame and trauma—I think is evidence of the truth behind their words. I know it doesn’t justify murder, but I really sympathize with them and what they went through. How tortured they must have been to make the decision they made.

What was it like working opposite Edie Falco?

SMS: Well, I was super excited to work with her; such a seasoned actress, the woman who so brilliantly embodied "Carmela Soprano” in The Sopranos and "Jackie Peyton" in Nurse Jackie. Her reputation proceeds her, but she is very humble, no ego. She was lovely to work with-- very real, grounded. She gives credit where credit is due, very supportive of her fellow cast and crew members. I remember when I saw her all done up for the first time when I got to set for rehearsal. She looked so striking I blurted out “Wow you look beautiful!” And she said, “You look beautiful too!” And it was genuine.

As an actor, she is very focused, but at the same time so easy going. She rolls with things. And she’s pulling off that Leslie Abramson hair which is not an easy feat ;). It looks good on her.

Any interesting stories from the set you can share with us?

SMS: I first met Edie with her skull cap on (prepped for her Leslie Abramson wig), on our way into the makeup trailer. I said “Oh I didn’t’ recognize you. I’m your assistant—[she looked at me perplexed, I added] . . . Leslie’s assistant.” We had a little laugh about how for a second she thought I meant I was her personal assistant and she joked, “Go get me a cup of coffee!” She actually pointed at the coffee machine so maybe she was serious. I kid.

Our holding actor holding area was in the Menendez living room set, the murder room. It was a little eerie how exactly it resembled the actual living room in the Beverly Hills home.

What’s been the biggest lesson you took away from the opportunity?

SMS: You belong. Sometimes as actors we go through stretches of not working and so when we get to audition or get to work on set, we feel like a fish out of water. I think this is also true even for people who work all of the time. Actors are often finding their footing on new sets. I think there is a tendency to come on a set and be polite and defer, kind of a “know your place” mentality. But I think the most important thing on set and in life, is to just be yourself. Act with the people around you the same way you would if you were in line at Starbucks or examining produce at the grocery store. Talk to your fellow players and crew the way you would to any other stranger. You are all just people. And we all have something to offer. People respond to you the way you present yourself. I’ve gotten more comfortable just being my friendly chatty self. And some people want to play and some people don’t. But each one of us has a gift to offer this world and it’s not our job to hide in the shadows. It’s our job to take what we’ve got and stand in the light!

Got anything else coming up we can watch for the near future?

SMS: Yes. I will be in Episode 4 of the CW’s new military drama, Valor. I play 'Susan Gates', a classy businesswoman who works off the radar. The episode is set to air October 30, 2017.

Also I host a web series that profiles military veterans. Here’s the latest episode: https://vimeo.com/229511725

Thanks, Stephanie – you definitely belong!

Keep up with Stephanie Maura Sanchez at: www.StephanieMauraSanchez.com

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