After a lengthy absence, Chris Meloni returns to the role of Det. Elliot Stabler

Law & Order: Organized CrimeCityWhen Christopher Meloni picked up the badge and gun of Det. Elliot Stabler again after a 10-year absence, fans could barely contain their enthusiasm—for many reasons, but one in particular. Would this finally mean romance for Stabler and his longtime Special Victims Unit partner Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay)? Although Meloni did not return to SVU—instead becoming the lead of the franchise’s newest spinoff, L&O: Organized Crime—the anticipation for a partnership that goes beyond the precinct has not been tempered.

Law & Order: Organized CrimeCityTV Week had the opportunity to get the scoop on Meloni’s return to base, and what can really be expected in this ongoing Stabler-Benson saga.

TV Week: You left Special Victims Unit some years ago and went on to perform in several great projects. Did you start to get the itch to revisit Stabler or was it something you hadn’t considered until you were pitched the spinoff?
Christopher Meloni: I mean this exactly how I’m saying it: I never once thought about it or looked backwards. I had a great run, 12 years. Enjoyed most of it, was ready to move on. Was more than pleased with all the different projects I got to do afterwards. I couldn’t have asked for a better 10-year hiatus from the Law & Order world. To [producer Dick Wolf’s] credit, he sensed I wasn’t as interested in revisiting how SVU tells a story, so when he pitched this more serialized expression of a Law & Order show, I really thought it was a stroke of genius.

How did you and Dick decide Stabler’s return would involve the world of organized crime?
That was Dick Wolf’s idea from the get-go. He was kind of enamoured with the organized crime part of the NYPD. He thought that area was rich in storytelling ability. You had a variety of entities out there that would be wonderful foils for Elliot. And you could get into the foe. You could get into the organization, the people that run it, how they run their lives and their personal lives. I think he thought it would be a rich tapestry to tap into.

This season, Elliot is undercover, which could shake things up between him and Olivia. How does him taking this job change their dynamic, and are there parallels to the last time that she went undercover, back on your original run on SVU?
With Elliot undercover, I think Benson recognizes certain telltale signs. Maybe it’s not the healthiest place for him to be in. It does put a strain on how Benson and Stabler engage with each other.

Law & Order: Organized CrimeCityWhat’s been the greatest joy of working with Mariska? What have been some of the challenges?
Most of the challenges were from the beginning [of SVU’s run], of two strong personalities finding each other’s dance steps. We found those steps 80 percent of the time, but 20 percent of the time we didn’t. That’s where stuff happens, and it can be creatively wonderful stuff, and it can be challenging stuff. At the end of the day, I think we love and honour and respect each other’s gifts. We’ve quite literally grown up together. She was single, got married and had a family. I was married and on my way to having a family. We’ve always had each other’s best interests at heart. Mariska is what she puts out there: she’s open and honest and trustworthy and a ball of light. She radiates a goodness and a warmth and an inclusiveness. She’s just a wonderful energy to be around. And she’s a hard worker. She’s kept the SVU train going for 23 years now.

How has working with Mariska different now, in your SVU crossovers?
We got into this not knowing each other. We were fresh and new and young, starting a new show, and learning each other’s thing. It was dynamic and exciting. This time, to me at least, it felt important. I haven’t examined it beyond that. It felt comfortable. I don’t have that relationship with any other actor walking the Earth, because I’ve never worked with anyone for as long as I have with Mariska. We are revisiting a thing that was left unfinished, so it is a completely different dynamic, and yet I think the cornerstone of it all is a playfulness, a humour that we just always have with each other.

Why do you think fans are so interested in this relationship?
I think there was a very unsatisfying ending to the Benson/Stabler saga that was abrupt for the fans. There were always those underpinnings of feelings that never got answered, so they stuck around for 10 years to watch the story continue.

Should viewers stay hopeful for a romance?
Sure. Hope springs eternal. I mean, why not? I think it’s going to be a collaborative effort between both showrunners for SVU and OC, and with Mariska and I to figure it all out. It’s a complicated relationship. We’ll see.

You’ve been playing this role for a long time. Has being Stabler revealed anything to you about yourself?
I’ve learned a lot about myself. It’s been a wonderful journey. I always thought of him as a man under pressure and he has made me examine how I engage the world, how I deal with personal relationships, maybe certain blind spots that I have that I’ve had to work on. You really do grow with the character and as you mature as a human being, I think you bring those lessons to your character. You march hand-in-hand with the thing that you’ve created. It’s been very rewarding. 

Law & Order: Organized Crime airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on City & NBC