When you hear S. Epatha Merkerson’s name, you immediately think of the matriarch Nanny in Lackawanna Blues or even firm-but-fair Lt. Anita Van Buren in NBC’s long-running “Law & Order,” which aired for 20 seasons and left loyal viewers with a void after its cancellation in 2010.
Starting this January, the Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG Award winner, is hosting TV One’s hew docu-drama series “Find Our Missing,” which focuses on the cases of the many black Americans who’ve gone missing in recent years and are mostly unnoticed by mainstream media.
When asked why she felt compelled to be a part of this series, Merkerson answers, “I feel that to whom much is given, much is expected. It’s a way of giving back to my community.”
Here, the Detroit native and graduate of Wayne State University’s fine arts program, discusses how she connects with the stories of the missing, how she chooses work and how we can play a major part in helping to find our missing. –yvette caslin
Did you connect to any of the stories that are highlighted in the series?
It’s kind of impossible not to. They are all so compelling and distressing in that these young women and men are missing from their families and loved ones.
What do you want viewers to learn from this series?
I’d like for it to be like it used to be in our communities where we were all a part of the fabric of the community and kept an eye out on each other. I hope that people will keep an eye out, which is a tag line that we use on the show every week. If they know something report it to the authorities so these families can find some solace and closure or to be reunited with their loved ones.
As an actress, many of your fans will agree that you exude strength in your roles. What do you think of when you hear the word “strength?”
I think of my mother raising five children alone, all educated, and still with a sense of humor.
What does it mean to be prudent?
In my life taking things in stride and being able to be that way in life in terms of how I spend money — being prudent and careful.
What attributed to your staying power on “Law and Order?”
There were a lot of reasons. I liked being in New York, it was an extraordinarily well written show. It had a lot of integrity one of the things that I appreciated about the show is that we had script readings. I always felt that my voice was a part of the making of the show.
How do you choose your roles?
I think it has to be something that I connect to. Secondly, it has to be something that my family can watch. Third, it really has to do with the people who [are] doing it. Someone that I want to work with [is] someone who is an interesting writer or director.
How do you relax and decompress?
I do enjoy reading. I am an avid reader but I am also a big gamer. I like Wii, Kinect, Scrabble. I like a glass of wine.
What was the lack book you read?
I read Perfect Peace by Daniel Black. It’s an amazing, incredible story about a young man being raised as a woman. It’s a really fascinating story.
Note: Each week, “Find Our Missing” profiles different cases and includes interviews with family members, law enforcement and local media. Viewers are urged to share any information they might have on the missing.