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Sam Waterston Jokes He's 'Drunk' on Freedom Ahead of 'Beautiful' Final Episode of “Law & Order ”

As Waterston says goodbye to DA Jack McCoy after three decades, he jokes that his "reputation is in terrible danger" because of how good he expects successor Tony Goldwyn to be in the NBC procedural

Michael Greenberg/NBC Sam Waterston on "Law & Order"
Michael Greenberg/NBC Sam Waterston on "Law & Order"

Sam Waterston is embracing a new chapter in his life as he says goodbye to Law & Order after 30 years.

The 83-year-old actor revealed on Wednesday's Today that he feels “fine” about no longer playing District Attorney Jack McCoy after three decades as part of the NBC procedural.

“I knew I was going to leave when I came back, and it was just a matter of when,” he said referring to his 2022 return to the series. “This was a beautiful way to go I have to say.”

He added that he has no plans to reprise the role in the future after his final episode airs on Thursday but teased that fans might “see a picture of him somewhere” on the show.

Rob Kim/Getty Sam Waterston attends NBC's "Law & Order" Season Premiere at Capitale on September 19, 2022 in New York City.
Rob Kim/Getty Sam Waterston attends NBC's "Law & Order" Season Premiere at Capitale on September 19, 2022 in New York City.

Related: Where to Stream Every Season of the Law & Order Franchise

The actor starred in Law & Order from season 5 in 1994 until its finale in 2010, earning three Emmy Award nominations for his performance in 1997, 1999 and 2000, as well as a Golden Globe nod in 1995. He's continued to portray DA McCoy on a few occasions before his return in 2022.

Waterston admitted his lengthy tenure on the series “gets your attention.” He explained, “When they say goodbye to me, the last shot that I did was on the set of the courtroom, and [creator] Dick Wolf showed up, and everybody gave speeches, and I quoted from Abraham Lincoln going to D.C. at the beginning of the Civil War. That he had been there for 25 years. If 25 years doesn't matter, nothing matters.”

Earlier this month, NBC announced that Scandal alum Tony Goldwyn will be joining the long-running crime drama as Waterston steps away after more than 400 episodes in character.

<p>Will Hart/NBC; Amy Sussman/Getty</p> Sam Waterston as DA Jack McCoy on "Law & Order" and Tony Goldwyn

Will Hart/NBC; Amy Sussman/Getty

Sam Waterston as DA Jack McCoy on "Law & Order" and Tony Goldwyn

Waterston shared his excitement for the new addition to the cast, saying, “I think he's going to be great. You know, my reputation is in terrible danger, because I think he's just going to be wonderful and I'll be watching. But I think... it's going to be big trouble. It'll be what the DA is: demanding....”

Related: Katherine Waterston Says Dad Sam Waterston's Passion for Acting Inspired Her to Follow in His Footsteps

As for Waterson, he teased there is “not a chance” that he is retiring from acting after Law & Order. He added that his manager and “fabulous wife are in charge of finding me my next job. I'm not worrying about it.”

The actr admitted that he is enjoying his newfound flexibility after he wrapped filming the series.

“I can't tell you how freeing it is,” he shared. “It happened the minute I was walking off the set of the courtroom on that last day. Suddenly, there was space in my head that I didn't even know there was that had been occupied by the job forever.”

<p>Peter Kramer/NBC</p> Tijuana Ricks as Police Commissioner Hanlon and Sam Waterston as D.A. Jack McCoy on "Law & Order"

Peter Kramer/NBC

Tijuana Ricks as Police Commissioner Hanlon and Sam Waterston as D.A. Jack McCoy on "Law & Order"

Related: Sam Waterston Returns to 'Law & Order' as Jack McCoy in First Teaser for Upcoming NBC Revival

“Even during hiatus, even on breaks... It's a wonderful thing to look through the world from somebody else's eyes, and that's what an actor sort of gets to do,” he continued. “But it's also restricting. Now it's my own eyes. I like it.”

He joked the change has made him “drunk on just the freedom” and admitted his bucket list is now “a million miles long.”

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Law & Order airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

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