Tuck this tidbit away somewhere: It is easier to die with your eyes open. Eyes closed — much harder.
“There’s nothing worse than sitting there holding your breath and concentrating on not moving your eyelids,” said Mike Doyle, an actor with a quick grin and a knife sticking out of his chest on the set of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” last month.
It was May 7, a day Mr. Doyle spent mostly playing dead for the season finale on Tuesday on NBC. Mr. Doyle played Ryan O’Halloran, a forensics expert who first appeared in 2003. More than 50 appearances later, revealing little about himself other than occasional impatience with his fellow officers and a drive to solve crimes, O’Halloran ran afoul of a co-worker, Dale Stuckey, who has snapped and gone on a killing rampage.
Dying on screen is nothing new for Mr. Doyle. At 36, he has been killed off in so many made-for-television movies and shows that if there were a gold statue on his mantel at home, it would be lying flat on its back with a chalk outline around it.
“This will be No. 7,” he said. “I’ve been shot with a shotgun, shot with a machine gun. I’ve been blown up in a boat. I’ve been burned in a submarine fire. I’ve been strangled and today, stabbed.”
He paused, counting on his fingers.
“Oh — and I was electrocuted on a fence. After being gang-raped.” Later, after further reflection, he realized that he had not, in fact, been shot by a machine gun, but was the one firing it. Furthermore, that particular shooting and the boat explosion happened to the same character on “Smith,” a canceled CBS show that starred Ray Liotta. For the record, Mr. Doyle’s character was shot, then the body blown up. But the total number still stands at seven, as Mr. Doyle counts a quiet death off-camera on the CBS movie “Bella Mafia.”
“They didn’t show how I died,” he said. “It’s a mystery. James Marsden meets me at a roadside stop, and the next scene, he’s wearing my clothes.”
Mr. Doyle, it should be noted, has survived several roles as well, most recently on HBO’s therapy drama “In Treatment,” in which he had a brief cameo as Bennett Ryan, the boss and lover of the character Mia, played by Hope Davis. Later in the season she described in graphic detail his shortcomings in the bedroom, but she doesn’t kill him. He also had small roles in the films “Rules of Attraction” and “P.S. I Love You,” and has a supporting role in the forthcoming film “Rabbit Hole.”
After a small role in the “ABC Afterschool Specials,” his first big acting job also included his first death on screen. “It was a movie-of-the-week called ‘Loss of Innocence,’ ” he said, a 1996 drama set in 1920s Utah about a Mormon community. Mr. Doyle’s character goes hunting with his brother, who happens to be having an affair with his wife. There is an “accident,” and then there is one fewer brother.
In 1997 Mr. Doyle had the bit part in “Bella Mafia.” In 2002 he appeared in a four-episode arc on the HBO prison drama “Oz” that was particularly grim even by that show’s standards. He played Adam Guenzel, a rich kid convicted of rape who is in turn transformed into a lipstick-wearing sex slave behind bars. It was on this HBO show that he met Christopher Meloni, who also played a prisoner and went on to star in “Special Victims Unit.”
“I took one look at that face,” Mr. Meloni recalled in his dressing room, “and said, ‘Bye-bye.’ Pretty boys don’t last long on ‘Oz.’ ” Mr. Doyle’s character was raped by Aryans, then killed in an attempt to escape, last seen hanging — eyes open — over the top of a prison fence.
“It looked so cool,” Mr. Doyle said. “The makeup was phenomenal.”
Next he will be strangled in a flashback scene of a horror movie called “Sibling: Marcus Miller the Orphan Killer.” We take him at his word for this as the film has not been released.
The role of O’Halloran on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” was Mr. Doyle’s longest job. Only a couple of weeks before filming, he learned of his character’s demise from Neal Baer, a producer, in a telephone call to his apartment in the East Village, where he has lived most of the last 12 years.
Mr. Meloni, his old co-star from “Oz,” searched for a bright side: “He said, ‘At least you’re not getting gang-raped,’ ” Mr. Doyle said.
The staging of the death was fairly elaborate. Strapped to Mr. Doyle’s chest was a metal plate with a center slot holding the retractable blade of a fake knife. He walked onto the set in a warehouse in North Bergen, N.J., on May 7, and somebody shouted, “Dead man walking!”
He lay on his designated spot on the floor of the crime lab, and no fewer than 18 people hovered over him, dabbing fake blood on his shirt and hands and angling the knife just so. “Mike, bring your left leg in that way,” said George Pattison, a camera operator. “Go for comfort. You know that.”
Between takes, his co-stars shared their own past death scenes. The actor Noel Fisher, who plays Stuckey the killer, recalled his suicide scene on “Huff,” in which he shot himself in the mouth, and fake blood and cottage cheese blasted out of the back of his head. Mr. Meloni was hanged in one movie and made a deadly swan dive in “Oz.”
There is one person who will never get used to seeing Mr. Doyle die on screen, no matter how many times it happens: his mother, who picks up the phone in Northern California every time.
“She’ll call me and say, ‘I know it’s not real, but I just want to make sure you’re O.K.,’ ” he said. “Not that many mothers have seen their son die over and over.”
And HERE is a video of all his deaths. Heh.
I totally called who got killed and who did the killing, but the bit at the end with E&O was...surprising. Oh, show, never change.