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Before His New Crime Show, Mark-Paul Gosselaar Had an Unforgettable Guest Role on Law & Order
Mark-Paul Gosselaar stars as Sir on NBC's new missing persons show, but you might remember him from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
Most people know Mark-Paul Gosselaar as the charming, good-hearted Zack Morris on sitcom Saved by the Bell. But Gosselaar has played his fair share of dramatic roles, even appearing on one of the most iconic crime shows of all time.
Who did Mark-Paul Gosselaar play on Law & Order: SVU?
In the Season 3 episode, “Sacrifice,” Gosselaar tackled the difficult role of Wesley Jansen, a porn actor who entered prostitution due to dire circumstances.
Playing both a murder suspect and a sexual assault victim is no small feat, and Gosselaar elicits a range of emotions from the audience, from shock to sympathy. His character’s attempts to support and protect his sick daughter are woven into a moving episode about sadness, violence, and ill-fated circumstances. (Spoilers follow.)
Gosselaar’s quiet intensity added weight to his character’s troubled backstory. Jansen and his teenage girlfriend, Jaina (Elizabeth Banks), ran away from home to elope. They soon welcomed a daughter, Mara, who was born with cystic fibrosis, an inherited genetic disease that can’t be cured. Facing bleak prospects with no health insurance or money, the couple turned to porn acting in a desperate attempt to pay their healthcare bills.
The very first scene immerses viewers in SVU’s signature gritty world: We’re introduced to Jansen as he lies writhing in an alleyway after being brutally sexually assaulted by three men and shot in the stomach outside a gay bar. After Jansen regains consciousness, Detectives Oliva Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) enter the fray and quickly see through Jansen’s charade of a seemingly happy marriage.
While lying on a gurney in the E.R., Jansen says to Detective Benson, “I see the way you’re looking at me. I’m scum because I make money having sex, so why do you care who shot me?”
Without skipping a beat, Benson responds, “Because it’s our job.”
The SVU team ultimately tracks down the man who orchestrated the attack: A villainous porn producer named Cal (Tom Gilroy), who also happens to be obsessed with Jania. But true to SVU form, the turmoil keeps bubbling up in “Sacrifice:” When Cal is murdered, the detectives set their sights on Jansen, and he transitions from victim to murder suspect before our eyes.
Though innocent, Jansen is willing to take the fall for the real murderer: his wife, who secretly planned to ditch her family for porn jobs in Vegas and Los Angeles.
Gosselaar brings a real sense of grit and empathy to this challenging character. In one heart-wrenching scene, Gosselaar as Jansen nearly breaks down in tears as he cradles his sick daughter, providing detailed medical instructions to his estranged mom, as he’s the only one who knows how to care for his daughter properly.
In the upcoming series Found, Gosselaar captures the nuances of a different type of tortured character in his role as Sir.
The crime drama follows Gabi, a public relations specialist who survived kidnapping and captivity as a child, as she and her team search for overlooked and forgotten missing people. Cast opposite Shanola Hampton (Gabi Mosely), Gosselaar plays a complicated and sinister person from Gabi’s past: her kidnapper, who she's now holding captive, coercing him into helping her solve cases.
Both roles are far from Gosselaar’s early days as a ‘90s teen heartthrob, when he burst onto the screen in 1989 in the NBC sitcom Saved by the Bell.and became one of the biggest teen celebrities of that era.
He reprised the character as a recurring guest star in the Peacock reboot, which he also executive produced.
Though we’ll always love him as "The Ultimate Wingman,," Gosselaar also excels in dramatic roles, bringing a pensive and troubled undercurrent to his characters.
Found, from Greg Berlanti and Nkechi Okoro Carroll, premieres on October 3 and airs Thursdays at 10 pm on NBC.