Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Which Characters Has Cara Buono Played On Law & Order?

A show like "Law & Order" has plenty of chances to bring in lesser-known actors for different roles. Though this may seem a little shocking to hear, when one considers that "Law & Order" and its subsequent spin-offs have hundreds and hundreds of episodes, it becomes a little bit easier to understand how an actor can manage to achieve such a feat. This is even further augmented by the fact that these shows typically have an "episode of the week" format where the individual stories are fairly contained within one episode, though there can be plots that are woven throughout episodes and seasons.

Although the name Cara Buono might not be the most immediately recognizable, some of her most recent roles make her easy to identify. Having appeared in "Mad Men," 2003's "Hulk" movie, "The Sopranos," and "Person of Interest," Buono is probably best picked out by her stint on "Stranger Things" as Karen Wheeler. Karen takes a somewhat hands-off approach to parenting her children, Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Nancy (Natalie Dyer), who get into all sorts of adventures while trying to save Hawkins, Indiana. It is important to note that Karen did receive the spotlight in "Stranger Things" during Season 3 because of a forbidden shared attraction between her and Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery), but this relationship never truly manifests. 

However, before appearing in "Stranger Things," it seems as if Buono popped up in several episodes of "Law & Order" as several different characters.

Buono pops up in three different Law & Order shows

According to IMDb, Cara Buono is credited for appearing as five different characters over three different "Law & Order" series. Her first stint in the franchise started with the original show,  "Law & Order," where she played three different characters between 1996 and 2007. Buono's first appearance in the series starts in the Season 6 episode "Girlfriends" from 1996, in which she played Shelly Taggert. This episode is about the death of a student at a college, and during the course of the investigation, the victim's friends are questioned about her history. Shelly eventually helps point out that the victim would never have been able to afford diamond earrings.

Buono's next "Law & Order" appearance came in the Season 9 episode "Punk" from 1998, where she played Alice Simonelli. Unlike the previous episode where Buono had a bit part, this episode puts the spotlight squarely on her, as Simonelli is accused of ordering a hit on a guard while she is in prison, though it is eventually revealed that she had every reason to be angry and violent with said guard. 

Flipping the script entirely, Buono then continued to display her acting range in the Season 17 episode "Melting Pot," where she played Defense Attorney Shannon. The role is definitely a far cry from her previous appearance in "Law & Order." Though she is not the focus of the episode, DA Shannon is still important to the plot.

Buono plays a social climbing schemer in Law & Order: Criminal Intent

Cara Buono also pop-ups in a different show of the franchise in a 2002 episode titled "Phantom" of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," where she played Charlotte Fielding. This particular episode is from Season 1 of "Criminal Intent," and it is about a man who leads a double life, lying to his family and friends about being connected to the United Nations. Charlotte is connected to the man known as Gerry Rankin (Michael Emerson), though she has also obfuscated her past, which gives the law enforcement agents of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" a temporary puzzle to solve.

Expressing their adoration of this particular episode over on Reddit, u/SherlockianTheorist wrote, "I just watched this yesterday. One of my favorites. It's so disjointed between worlds it feels like [two] stories instead of one." This caused u/crmrdtr to reply, "This episode is high on my list too. Michael Emerson was mesmerizing. Who can possibly forget his Gerry Rankin? Cara Buono & Brooke Smith were in it too; always such reliably good performers." In addition, both u/LadyBug_0570 and u/DelcoPAMan mentioned the scene in which Charlotte eventually reveals herself, and how much they enjoyed this episode.

Buono plays the mother of a victim in Law & Order: SVU

Cara Buono's last appearance in the "Law & Order" franchise is in the Season 9 "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" episode, "Unorthodox." This episode is a brutal one involving children and sexual assault in a closed community of Orthodox Jews, and one case where Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) understandably lets his emotions get the better of him. Buono plays the role of the victim's mother Rachel Zelinsky, who helps kick the episode into high gear.

Investigating the heinous crime, Detective Stabler and John Munch (Richard Belzer) first question the victim, David (Braeden Lemasters), but he refuses to talk. This leads the detectives to Rachel, who explains that David was in the custody of his father the previous week, which sets the detectives on their path. Though not as substantial as some of her other roles in the "Law & Order" franchise, this particular episode weighs heavy in the minds of fans, with u/sonkien over on Reddit writing, "It makes for a good episode but it disgusts me to no end. I've watched the entire series and several episodes keep me up all night. It's a guilty pleasure." 

Overall, Buono has had quite a tour through the world of "Law & Order," having played a friend to a victim, an inmate who orders a hit on a tormentor, an attorney, a social-climbing charlatan, and a mother.