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‘SVU’ star Peter Scanavino talks Carisi’s big episode, Rollins relationship – and Chris Meloni’s neck veins

"Law & Order: SVU" star Peter Scanavino, better known to fans as ADA Dominick Carisi, dishes on whether he thought Carisi and Rollins would end up as a couple (he did) and much more.
Mariska Hargitay and Peter Scanavino.
Mariska Hargitay and Peter Scanavino's "SVU" characters have shared some touching personal scenes in Season 25 and had conversations about parenting and family — topics that also translate into their discussions offscreen.Virginia Sherwood / NBC
/ Source: TODAY

The historic 25th season of “Law & Order: SVU” has mainly focused on Capt. Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and the brutal crimes of the week, but one of those crimes that’s been a recurring plot in a few episodes is about to be front and center — as will another character: ADA Dominick Carisi (Peter Scanavino).

In the April 18 episode “Combat Fatigue,” Carisi will prosecute the suspect, George Brouchard, in the case of Maddie Flynn, a teenage girl who was kidnapped and trafficked across state lines.

Her storyline began playing out in the season premiere episode “Tunnel Blind.” Benson took a personal interest in Maddie’s case as she unknowingly saw her sitting in the passenger seat of a shady van but didn’t act on it — and later learned the girl had been abducted. The case consumed Benson at work and during her downtime — so much so that she even chased down a random van while out for a jog (“Truth Embargo”). She tirelessly worked with her SVU team to find Maddie, and even got assistance from police in Pennsylvania, eventually finding Maddie and bringing her home (“Zone Rouge”).

To say all eyes will be on Carisi in the courtroom this week during his attempt to convince a jury to find the suspect guilty is an understatement. He also has a layered history with the SVU team, as he used to be a detective in the unit, so when it comes time for their cases to go to trial, he definitely feels the pressure. recently chatted with Scanavino about this big episode — as well as the upcoming return of Carisi’s wife, Amanda Rollins (Kelli Giddish), crossing over with Chris Meloni on “Law & Order: Organized Crime,” and much more.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

When you were preparing a few seasons ago to play an ADA, and even now during big courtroom scenes, do you pull inspiration from real life or other TV/movie characters who are lawyers? 

I guess a little bit, like “My Cousin Vinny” is one of my favorite movies. (laughs) Not that I’m trying to be like Joe Pesci, but maybe a little bit.

Yeah, you know, it’s interesting if you watch real courtrooms, you’ll be amazed at how unexciting it is and mundane it is. I think, if anything, sometimes I’ll notice lawyers trying to act like TV lawyers: (putting) the drama in their real cases. So it’s more the other way around.

I was recently rewatching Carisi’s first episode as ADA (“I’m Going To Make You a Star”) and noticed it always feels like there’s more pressure on him because he also used to be a cop with the SVU squad, and his former police pals are always pushing him to get the win in court. Do you think Carisi has it harder than past ADAs on the show? 

Yeah, because I think he’s much closer to the detectives than any of the past ADAs have ever been, and they can have more of an advantage here because they’re like, “You’ve got to get the win!” And I’m like, “Well, you’ve got to get me the evidence.”

Peter Scanavino as Detective Sonny Carisi in season 21 of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit."
The SVU squad threw Carisi a surprise party in Season 21 to celebrate his move from detective to ADA. Virginia SherwoodNBCU Photo Bank / Getty Images

I have in-depth knowledge of their world, and they don’t quite understand my world. So that can (bring) a little bit of tension sometimes.

I love this season that Carisi and Benson have had some really nice personal scenes, including in last week’s episode that Mariska directed. What’s it been like to shoot those personal scenes with your characters?

It’s been great because, even personally, I’ve watched all her kids grow up. She’s seen me and my family and my three kids grow, and it’s like we have a lot of those things in common — those conversations in real life.

Mariska Hargitay and Director; Peter Scanavino on the set of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit."
Hargitay and Scanavino have worked side by side on "SVU" for years. Virginia Sherwood / NBC

It’s nice to have that reflected on screen just about — obviously not the same specifics — but just matters about hopes and dreams and kids and family and the loved ones in your life.

Last year, I spoke to Betty Buckley about her role on “SVU,” and she mentioned how much she loves you and your “vast knowledge of music.” Being in the courtroom is like a dance, right? Things can get crazy in the courtroom. What kind of music or dance would you say best describes the atmosphere in the courtroom this week?

(Laughs) I’m just going to say, it’s going to sound cool: It’s a tango. It’s a tango, and it takes two to tango, let me tell you!

This week you’re busy in the courtroom, but Kelli will return as Rollins in the May 2 episode. Will we get to see Carisi at home as a new dad anytime soon?

Yes, you absolutely will. Listen, I don’t know what makes it into the episode and what doesn’t, but I will just say there was a very good amount of Carisi/Rollins home life.

The last time we saw Carisi and Rollins together, they were like the picture of bliss at their baby’s baptism. Will they still be in that blissful state when we see them together?

Well, it’s complicated when you’ve got three kids, which they do now, and everybody’s trying to find themselves in this world. So it’s still blissful, but there’s definitely a new element to this episode.

Peter Scanavino as A.D.A Dominick "Sonny" Carisi Jr. and Kelli Giddish as Amanda Rollins in season 25 of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"
Carisi and Rollins were all smiles at the baptism for their son in the Season 25 premiere. Peter Kramer / NBC

Carisi and Rollins began as platonic partners at SVU. Did you ever think their relationship would turn romantic?

Yeah, I always thought that there was something there that I kind of picked up on in the episodes, but then it was also if you do it, you make the leap and you make them a couple — then where do you kind of go from there? But I’m glad they waited for so long before they actually did it.

It had such a good payoff, but I don’t know — I always saw they got along well. And I always thought that there was maybe something else to that relationship.

I also know this is a historic 25th season. Sometimes we’ve seen multiple ADAs share the screen over the years. If you could pick a former “SVU” ADA to share an episode with, who do you think would be the most fun to bring back?

I can’t do Raúl (Esparza) because I’ve already done that many times with him. I always wanted to — not an “SVU” ADA — but Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston). I always wanted to do something with him but never got to before he left the original “Law & Order.” So, I’d bring him back.

Raul Esparza as A.D.A. Rafael Barba in season 19 of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit."
Raul Esparza's Rafael Barba was one of the last ADAs before Carisi transitioned into the role. Michael Parmelee/NBCU Photo Bank / Getty Images

I know people would also love to see you with the new DA, Tony Goldwyn.

I’d love to cross over into that world and do something over there. I think that’d be really interesting, particularly on a show that’s much more focused on the court and the law side than ours — those proceedings.

You mentioned crossing over — you crossed over to “Law & Order: Organized Crime” this year, and Carisi and Chris Meloni’s Elliot Stabler kind of got into it. What was that like — kind of having to get tough with him?

(Laughs) Well, you know, Chris is so scary sometimes. He, like, leans into me and, the veins in his neck were popping. I was like, “Don’t kill me, Chris! It’s just a TV show.”

It’s also interesting, though, because Carisi only knows him from when he’d come back (after 10 years away from the SVU). I didn’t know him from before. I didn’t know what kind of cop he was. There’s an element of Carisi that’s just like, “Hey, I’m just trying to do my job here, and you’re making my job difficult.” And he doesn’t know how much — the intensity the Stabler character can bring.

But that’s just for the characters. On the personal side, it’s fun to get to know Chris and get to work with him because he’s such an incredible actor and a passionate actor.

My last question: From what you know about what’s left this season, how would you tease what’s to come in just three words?

Do. Not. Blink!

“Law & Order: SVU” airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC after “Law & Order” at 8 p.m. and before “Law & Order: Organized Crime” at 10 p.m. The shows all stream the following day on Peacock, which is part of our parent company NBCUniversal.