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'Law & Order' actor Sam Jaeger ’99 says he owes a lot to his Cardinal community

'Law & Order' actor Sam Jaeger ’99 says he owes a lot to his Cardinal community

It all began with his first professional acting role on Law & Order while still an Otterbein student, and now Sam Jaeger ’99 finds himself as a lead character in the newest Law & Order mini-series this fall.

“It’s an absolute thrill to be part of this new venture for the series,” said Jaeger. I was very lucky to be part of Law & Order so early on in my career. It was definitely a tent pole of my young career then. I never thought then that it could lead to where I am now.”

Law & Order True Crime: The Menéndez Murders premiered Sept. 26 on NBC and will run this fall as a mini-series Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. EST. The show follows the lives of suspects, family members, law enforcement and prosecutors who took part in the Menéndez brothers’ murder trial. Lyle and Erik Menéndez were tried for murder of their parents in 1989 and were subsequently found guilty and convicted in 1996. Law & Order True Crime depicts the investigation and trials of the brothers as a new style of storytelling for the franchise. Jaeger plays Les Zoeller, the Beverly Hills detective who investigated the deaths of the parents.

“I had a couple of weeks to study trial footage and interviews of Zoeller before filming began. Since he is a real person and not a character, you can’t take as many liberties with your performance. I wanted to do his role justice,” Jaeger said. “The more I read and studied him, the more I came to appreciate and respect him. He was the only advocate for the parents in all of this. He only wanted to solve the crime and nothing else.”

After appearing in a small part on Law & Order in 1999, Jaeger graduated with a BFA in Theatre from Otterbein. He continued with his career in films, television, voice-over work and live theatre, eventually landing one of his most well-known roles as the stay-at-home dad Joel Graham on NBC’s Parenthood from 2010-15. He also appeared in the Academy Award winning film American Sniper. Jaeger gives a lot of credit to the unique style of theatre teaching he received from Otterbein.

“So many acting schools and university theatre programs pride themselves in tearing down students and building them back up again as they see fit. I don’t really believe that’s healthy. But Otterbein was never like that at all. From day one they believed in me and gave me the confidence that I could pursue acting as a career. It’s truly a rarity to find that and have your professors be that supportive, especially when you’re starting out,” he said.

For Jaeger, Otterbein is all about community. He met his wife, and fellow actress, Amber Mellott ’99, while a student and continues to stay in close contact with fellow Cardinal friends and professors. His advice to students is to savor those relationships and continue to build more because those will be the people who are with you when times are the hardest.

“When leaving a university to strike out on your own, to me, the most important thing is that you feel empowered to succeed. The relationships I built while at Otterbein have been some of the most enriching parts of my life. I’ve never felt like I was alone."

Go behind the scenes on set of Law & Order True Crime: The Menéndez Murders with photos of Sam Jaeger in our photo gallery.