It was the *other* double murder that defined the nineties – the one that wasn’t OJ-related. Coming to Lightbox today is its TV dramatisation: Law and Order True Crime: The Menéndez Murders. But who are all these people? Sam Brooks has the info you need.
I was not yet born when Lyle and Erik Menéndez walked on into their parents’ living room and unloaded many shotgun shells into their parents; I was only three years old when their trial finally made its way to court. So I’m not exactly of a time where this trial was all over the news. But after talking to my friends who are obsessed with true crime, I know there were two big crime stories of the nineties: it was the OJ thing, and this.
And now it’s been turned into a miniseries, under the prestigious Law and Order brand, and with a wicked cast. Thanks to my storied knowledge and the help of Wikipedia, I can tell you exactly who is playing who, where you’ve seen them before, and give you a little bit of foundation knowledge to go into the show with.
Without further ado, the player of Law and Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders.
Spoilers, obviously. But also, this actually happened. So it’s less spoilers and more, the news.
Edie Falco is Leslie Abramson
Who is she? Edie Falco is one of television’s finest actors, established as such by the little known mob series The Sopranos. Since then, she’s won an Emmy for playing the titular Jackie, a pill-popping, hard-loving, harder-living nurse, on Nurse Jackie. If you go deep into her career, you can also see her on Oz and the OG Law and Order. But, I have to say, my favourite role of hers is her short run on season three of 30 Rock as the Democrat Celeste Cunningham, who falls in love with the most Republican of Republicans Jack Donaghy.
Who is she playing? Leslie Abramson was the defense attorney for the Menendez Brothers, and was notably flamboyant and performative in her style. She did some shady shit during the trial, which complicated everything and made it even more of a media scandal. Also, she rocked a great perm.
Gus Halper is Erik Menéndez
Who is he? This is actually Gus Halper’s first big role, so you’re forgiven for not recognising him! Outside of this he’s been in an episode of Madam Secretary, andthree episodes of Power, but he’s most likely known best for his role in the Meryl Streep vehicle Ricki and the Flash, as ‘Impatient Traveller’.
Who is he playing? Erik Menéndez, the younger of the Menéndez brothers! He was the one who, after the murders, competed in a few pro-tennis tournaments in Israel, as one does. Like his brother, he was sentenced to life in prison.
Fun fact: Erik Menéndez is married and got married behind bars, over the telephone. Who needs Tinder, right?
Miles Gaston Villanueva is Lyle Menéndez
Who is he? You are also forgiven for not recognising Mr. Villanueve, as Lyle Menéndez represents his first big role outside of soap operas. His biggest roles prior to this were on The Young and the Restless and Days of Our Lives. Welcome to the big leagues, Miles, where there are far fewer evil twins and staring into the middle distance to close out a scene.
Who is he playing? Lyle Menéndez is the older Menéndez brother. While Erik competed in tennis tournaments post-murder, Lyle just bought a whole lot of stuff, like watches and cars and a Buffalo wing restaurant in New Jersey.
Fun fact: Lyle Menendez has been married twice since being behind bars. His first wife left him because he had been ‘seeing another’ woman. What a catch!
Anthony Edwards is Judge Stanley Weisberg
Who is he? Anthony Edwards is probably best known to your eyeballs as being on ER for-bloody-ever, playing Doctor Mark Greene. He was also in early-nineties hit Northern Exposure and had a very memorable role in David Fincher’s Zodiac, about the Zodiac Killer.
Also? Top Gun.
Who is he playing? Judge Stanley Weisberg presided over the first two Menéndez trials. He was criticised for allowing ‘the television’ to affect his judgments, and because of this, forbade cameras from being allowed into the second trial. He was parodied on Saturday Night Live, like all good justices of our time.
Julianne Nicholson is Jill Lansing
Who is she? Julianne Nicholson is one of the most underrated actors of our time. She’s had critically acclaimed roles in both Boardwalk Empire and Maters of Sex, but my favourite of her performances has to be in August: Osage County where she plays the quietly aggrieved daughter, Ivy. She is also quietly beautiful in acclaimed Tonya Harding film I, Tonya and little known indie film Keep the Lights On. I’m a fan, is all.
(You can also watch her right now in Eyewitness, a kicky drama on Lightbox.)
Who is she playing? Jill Lansing, who was on the defence team for the first trial. I can’t find heaps about her, but she resigned from the team in the second trial to spend more time with her daughter. I can imagine this wasn’t exactly the nicest case to be a part of. I hope wherever you are, Jill, you feel proud to be played by Julianne Nicholson, one of the most underrated actors of our time.
Harry Hamlin is Barry Levin
Who is he? Harry Hamlin has been in a shitton of things. If you’re over the age of forty, you would remember him from LA Law and Clash of the Titans. If you’re under forty but over twenty-five, you probably know him from playing the terrifying Aaron Echolls in season one of Veronica Mars. If you watched Mad Men, you’ll remember him from Mad Men. If you’re me, you’ll remember him from his one episode stint on The Nanny.
Who is he playing? Barry Levin was Abramson’s co-counsel on the second Menéndez trial. He was found dead in a cemetary in 2001, from unrelated circumstances and so cannot enjoy Harry Hamlin playing him. Levin was a famous lawyer in LA, and argued against the death penalty for the brothers.
Heather Graham is Judalon Smyth
Who is she? Heather Graham’s most famous starring roles to date are in two films that couldn’t be more different. She played Felicity Shagwell in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and she played Rollergirl in Paul Thomas Anderson’s depressing porn drama, Boogie Nights. She also had a well-received arc on Scrubs in the middle of the aughts, like many actors of her ilk.
Who is she playing? Judalon Smyth is a strange part of this case. She was Jerome Oziel’s mistress, and ended up providing testimony against him, and honestly, look up their story online because it’s just as wild as the murders, and worthy of its own True Crime show.
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Josh Charles is Jerome Oziel
Who is he? Josh Charles is most famous for his role in Dead Poet’s Society nearly thirty years ago, and his role as Will Gardner, the hunky-ish lawyer on The Good Wife, who tempts our good wife away from being the goodest wife she can be. In between, he was pretty great on Aaron Sorkin’s late nineties comedy, Sports Night.
Who is he playing? Oziel is a pivotal part of the trial. Erik confessed the murders to him, he was threatened by Lyle, and when Oziel told Judalon about the confession, she tipped off the police. He was later disbarred and potentially the luckiest thing that’s happened in his life is having somebody as handsome as Josh Charles play him.
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