Stabler is back. Ten years after he quit Law & Order: Special Victims Unit to star in very un-SVU shows like True Blood and Pose, Christopher Meloni — and his popular character, NYPD detective Elliot Stabler — has put his badge back on. On April 1, Meloni (and Stabler) will return in NBC's newest Law & Order series, Law & Order: Organized Crime. (To help everyone make the transition, the premiere episode is an SVU crossover, including Meloni's former costar Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson.)
Meloni, who will turn 60 the day after his new series premieres, talked with AARP about revisiting a character who's aged and returning to the SVU universe.
How is Elliot Stabler different now?
You can have certain behavioral patterns as a younger man that I don't think wear as well as an older man. I think that if you are conscious and have aspects of empathy and awareness, you acquire a modicum of wisdom, which I think helps temper impulses. I think the heart and soul of this man, Elliot, is still very much alive and burning.
How do you feel about turning 60 on April 2?
Ah, man, I've never felt better. I've always thought of growing up as putting away toys. When you're 2, you get a rattle. When you're 5, you don't have a rattle. You have your toy truck, your doll. When you're 8, you have your bicycle. You're always putting toys away. For me, the toys were toys of pleasure and entertainment and just living a better life. Everything's just a little tighter now.
Was it weird to come back to the SVU universe?
I would be completely not shy in telling you that, “Yes, that was really weird.” There was some trepidation. I was fully prepared for weird. Gearing up to reintroduce my character through the SVU vehicle was really rather nerve-racking. Very difficult. But within a couple days, I settled down or found whatever it is I needed to find, and everything has been really smooth sailing.
Why did you want to come back?
It's the home of the 800-pound gorilla: Dick Wolf Productions. Their connections, their knowledge of how shows get produced, done and written. It's nice. You don't have to remake the wheel. I was pleasantly surprised to slip into shoes I had worn before.
Is it a challenge to do a cop show when there is so much controversy surrounding police behavior?
Yeah. I couch it as a challenge, an opportunity. The shtick of the show has always been “ripped from the headlines.” So if you're going to walk that walk, you have to lean into certain realities and how you can be an agent for exposing the ways things are done. Maybe they were done mistakenly, or without maximum benefit, or things were done that did a great detriment to people or institutions. You can't ignore it.
We want to be agents not only of entertainment but for — if not change, then at least reflection. It's a big platform that we're being given. I know the Wolf people have been very open, going to seminars, listening to all aspects of the community, listening to people who advise both sides — the police department as well as the community that feels they are being put upon, or underserved, or poorly served. Or negatively impacted by the cops. We're taking all issues pretty seriously.
Many viewers still seem to want Olivia Benson [Mariska Hargitay] and Stabler to get together romantically. I'm hearing about unresolved issues being resolved.
If that doesn't happen 100 percent, I don't know what I signed for! [Laughs.]
Do you really want them to get together? SVU isn't Grey's Anatomy.
[Still laughing.] Me, personally? No, no. I don't think it would service the characters or the franchise very well.
Chris’s Fast Facts
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Greatest Hits: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Oz, True Blood, Pose, Happy!, Wet Hot American Summer, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle
Accolades: Emmy nomination for best actor in a drama series for Law & Order: SVU, in 2006. Winner of best guest actor in a cable series for Oz, in 1999, from the Online Film and Television Association
Education: B.A. in history from University of Colorado at Boulder, in 1983; Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York.
How will SVU and Law & Order: Organized Crime relate to each other? Will characters go back and forth?
I think Mariska and I will be the linchpin. In the opening sequence, the crime does overlap between the two shows, and then we go our separate ways. Mariska and I are still connected, though. That's how we'll stay in touch ... the shows.
NBC says Stabler comes out of retirement because of a “devastating personal loss.” Internet rumors speculate that his wife, Kathy [Isabel Gillies], or one of his children, may die.
I can't confirm or deny.
How will the organized crimes that Stabler fights differ from the Mafia?
I think it will be a bit more tech-savvy and more up to date, to reflect what kinds of things criminals are doing today. And how they operate.
How did your siblings react when Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates, Jr. revealed that your great-grandfather, Enrico Meloni, was abandoned at a foundling home in Italy?
They hold everything so close to the vest. We just didn't know the details about my great-grandfather. So that was fascinating.
How did your wife react when Dr. Gates revealed that you're related to Nancy Pelosi?
She went, “What? No one in your family's that smart."
Your nude urination scene on Oz (HBO, 1997-2003) went viral. Did you think that scene would still follow you around in 2021?
Well, no. In the old days, you'd say, “Oh, you never saw it? That's a shame.” And now it's, “Let me pull up a GIF. Let me pull up the meme.” That scene was the biggest reaction Oz ever got from fans. We had prisoners getting raped, limbs and necks broken ... but you have a problem with someone urinating in a bucket? ... OK.
On a brighter note, you and your wife bought Ozzie and Harriet's real house in 2014 and have lived there since. [The classic TV show's sets were based on the house as well.] What's that been like?
Pretty darn cool.