Christopher Meloni is Back on 'Law & Order' After a 10-Year Absence with 'Organized Crime'

CUL_PS_Christopher Meloni
Virginia Sherwood/NBC

"The mob is not the same old mob."

It's been nearly a decade since Law & Order: Special Victims Unit fans have been able to find out what happened to Elliot Stabler, played by Christopher Meloni. "It's been 10 years of radio silence," Meloni says. All that is about to change with Law & Order: Organized Crime (April 1, NBC). This new iteration of the popular franchise finds Meloni as Stabler returning to the NYPD to lead a task force focused on combating organized crime. While he's doing that, he'll focus on rebuilding his life—including finding a resolution with SVU's Olivia Benson (played by Mariska Hargitay). "It'll be a while to get it unpacked fully, there are a lot of questions to be answered, but yes, we do delve into that." The thing about Meloni is that while he's well known as the tough detective on Law & Order, he's just as well known for playing the wacky cook in Wet Hot American Summer or the evil convict in the HBO prison drama Oz. "I think I unconsciously set out to hit every God dang demographic [laughs]."

It's been 10 years since you last played Elliot Stabler. What was it about this new series that made you decide to come back?

I thought the format was interesting. As opposed to self-contained units, this is going to be more of a series. The crime and the storytelling will focus on Elliot and the task force and the crime they're going after. This beginning series will have eight episodes to it, so one through eight we'll focus on who we're going after, why we're going after them and who they are.

How will the unresolved issues from SVU be addressed, particularly with Benson?

We're going to because it's been 10 years of radio silence. It'll be a while to get it unpacked fully, there are a lot of questions to be answered, but yes, we do delve into that.

Organized crime has always been a fascination of Hollywood. What do you think it is about the mob that makes it so popular, and how is OC different?

I think everyone's always enamored with the rebel, the bad guy, the dark underbelly, etc. The Sopranos is a good example, The Godfather! I think it's baked into American culture. The task force, the gang unit here in New York, it's interesting how they've changed and they've morphed and what kind of businesses they're into now. The mob is not the same old mob. They're more high-tech now, and they're reaching places that you wouldn't normally associate them to be in. Those are the stories we'll tell.

How has Elliot Stabler changed?

Whatever he's gone through, he will learn from it. He's learned a little bit more humility, the wisdom of not being so reactive. Although, I still think that's in his spirit and part of his makeup. The behavior of a 30-something-year-old is not necessarily the behavior of a 50-year-old now that they have learned the lessons that life places in front of them. They conduct themselves a little more intelligently.

Considering the more nuanced conversations we're having around police, in what ways will the show address what's going on now?

First and foremost we're storytellers, but also storytellers with the moniker, "ripped from the headlines." So what is happening today reflects the conversations and which part of this conversation we want to focus on. Whatever it is during this series or during this episode, what is this moment between the male, female, or Black cop, white cop, whatever the conflict, let's engage and let's reflect.

Are you aware of the influence your performance in the HBO prison drama Oz had on an entire generation of queer people?

Let me say this about that, I think I'm ignorant in many ways because I'm kind of limited when I do a job that's all I care about, I just focus on the job. Right? I don't go out about selling myself or branding myself. That's not where my skills lie, but I'll tell you this, even I knew what this meant. I'm not gay and yet even I knew I had never seen a depiction of a gay man with agency who is dangerous and who had a point of view beyond the gay wacky neighbor. I just thought that it was a very strong, never-before-seen depiction. To someone who is gay, they'd be like, "That's really cool." He can have this freedom of expression, this ownership of whatever it was that he was, he moves through this world with strength.