S. Epatha Merkerson reflects on ‘Lincoln,’ life after ‘Law & Order’

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S. Epatha Merkerson is in demand. The accomplished actress has had an exciting and challenging year, with a flurry of projects already set for 2013.

Merkerson — best known for her longstanding role in Law & Order – has just won a recurring role in the forthcoming NBC crime thriller series, Deception. The highly-anticipated show stars Meagan Good as Detective Joanna Locasto, who is trying to uncover the murderer of wealthy socialite Vivian Bower.

The Emmy Award winner Merkerson will join the cast as Padget’s mother, Beverly, who worked for the Bower family when Joanna was a child. “The character seems to be a complete departure from my role as [Law & Order’s] Van Buren,” says Merkerson. “I look forward to working with Megan Good. I have been a fan of hers.”

It comes following outstanding reviews for Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, in which Merkerson has a small but pivotal role. She plays the part of Lydia Hamilton Smith, the biracial housekeeper and confidant of abolitionist U.S. congressman Thaddeus Stevens, played by Tommy Lee Jones.

In essence, Merkerson’s presence in Lincoln is a powerful reminder of what inspired Stevens to fight for freedom and equality. “She [Lydia Smith] has a prominent place in the film,” says Merkerson. “History tells us they were companions and resided in the same place. It explains why Stevens was so passionate about abolishing slavery.”

Another project Merkerson is particularly proud of is her directorial debut, The Contradictions of Fair Hope (2012). The riveting documentary explores the gradual loss of tradition of one of the last known African-American benevolent societies, The Fair Hope Benevolent Society, in rural Alabama.

Formed by freed slaves, benevolent societies played an important social and economic and role in the transition to freedom. Set up in 1888, Alabama’s Fair Hope has held an annual celebration every year over four days in September. In the early days the event focused on fellowship and sermons on slave emancipation.

“It’s morphed into a hedonistic festival, where up to 80,000 people from across the States descend on the area,” says Merkerson. Everything from drugs, guns and even sex, is on sale. “There is a reason it’s morphed this way. It’s a lot to do with the breakdown of our communities.”