IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Chris Meloni says Stabler is now 'in the middle of realizing' his feelings for Benson

No thoughts, head empty.

It's been 28 days since the last episodes of "Law & Order: SVU" and "Law & Order: Organized Crime" (but really, who's counting?!), and with one week left to go until the shows return, along with the revival of the original "Law & Order," we caught up with some of the shows' stars at Wednesday afternoon's press junket. It's been over two months since Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) shared the screen, so we had some questions that needed answers stat.

Stabler's again grappling with many things, including his wife's suspected murderer being a free man after a mistrial and still coming to terms with the loss of said spouse, but he's also been adjusting to being back in Benson's life again after his 10-year absence.

Effortless. Anthony Behar / Sipa USA via AP

In a recent interview, Hargitay said Benson has "been in love" with Stabler "for many a year." So, we had to ask: At what point in Stabler and Benson's friendship/partnership/relationship, did Stabler realize his feelings could be the same?

"I think he's in the middle of realizing," Meloni said. And after a pause, he added, "Yeah, I think it's more difficult for him. I think he's carrying a lot of — stuff."

While reflecting on her previous comment about Benson's feelings for Stabler, Hargitay explained she said it in "sort of a frivolous moment" and that the answer is actually "much deeper."

"Olivia, being a product of a rape and not being — raised by a single mother, hasn't had a lot of stability in her life in terms of a male figure," she said. "And Elliot Stabler was the first person that really came in her life that really had her back."

She added Stabler's "focus was to protect" Benson.

"And so there was such a deep safety in that, knowing that these two people, each other's safety was almost the most important thing."

That safety, Hargitay explained, gave Benson "such a confidence and a stability that she never had."

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
He's had her six since season one day one. NBC

"So, I think that spending that much time with somebody, but then knowing that it could never be — but the chemistry has been undeniable: It's been a complicated, a complicated factor in their relationship. So I think that it's the man that she was closest to, the man that understands her the most, the man that she understands the most, and a deeply complex relationship.

"So I don't know if it's as simple as, which I said sort of half-kidding, as being, having feelings for and in love with him. It's somebody that she's deeply connected to, and I think all the feelings are not quite mine yet."

In an upcoming episode, Hargitay's husband, Peter Hermann, will reprise his recurring "SVU" character, attorney Trevor Langan, who invites Benson to a charity event.

Hargitay was tight-lipped about the episode and when asked about the invitation for Benson, she teased with a laugh, "She goes."

Another lingering question fans have had since the December "SVU" and "Organized Crime" crossover: Did Benson and her son, Noah, take up Stabler on his invitation to go to his house for a Christmas family gathering?

"What do you think?" Meloni replied, and we explained the scene could be open to interpretation.

"There you are. I do too," he said.

Fans have been getting to see a more personal side to Stabler and Benson since his return that wasn't as prominent in the first 12 seasons of the series, like the "OC" Christmas episode scene when Stabler invites Benson over. She also said in the same conversation they'll call "whatever this is" (Stabler's words) between them a "friendship" — "for now." And who could forget about the scene that sent fans spiraling when Benson held Stabler's hand?

We couldn't help but wonder if little moments like that are ones Meloni and Hargitay add in themselves after reading the scene or if they're part of the original script.

"No that's, you know, that's our thing," Meloni said. "There's nobody who knows these characters better than she and I. With all due respect to the writers, whatever you see is really she and I figuring it out — figuring out what the exact words are or the exact emotions are."

One of Benson and Stabler's biggest scenes since his return is in the first season of "Organized Crime," when Stabler blurts out "I love you" while staring at Benson during the middle of an intervention Stabler's family asked Benson to help stage.

That intervention scene is Meloni's favorite one he filmed with Hargitay since his return last April.

As for Hargitay, there have been "so many" scenes the two have filmed since Meloni's return that she loves.

"He and I, we go there, and we drop into a place and then sort of don't know what's going to happen," she explained, "but I loved some of the scenes in the initial, initial return, 'Return of the Prodigal Son.'"

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit - Season 22
We will never get over this moment.Christopher Del Sordo / NBC

"I always go home at the end of the day after he and I have worked together and feel so inspired and sated because we push each other, and we challenge each other, and we go to uncomfortable places. And so it's a very exciting work environment."

One of the other "OC" actors who has gotten in on the fun of sharing the screen with both Hargitay and Meloni is Danielle Moné Truitt, who plays Stabler's current partner, Sgt. Ayanna Bell, and she teased a scene her character shares with Benson and Stabler in an upcoming episode.

"There is a scene in episode 15 with me and Chris, and then Mariska comes in at the end of it. That scene is off — I can't wait — that was super fun to play," she said. "You guys are going to love it. It's great."

Law & Order: Organized Crime - Season 2
"I love shooting with him. Period. We have so much fun," Truitt said about working with Meloni.Will Hart / NBC

"She can tell that they love each other," Truitt said about Benson and Stabler. "I don't know if Bell is concerned about whether it's a platonic love or romantic love, but she can see the bond that they have and I think she is going to want whatever is best for Stabler at the end of the day.

"I think she's a supporter of his emotional health, his mental health, and hopefully they hook up, they get together, and it's a great relationship. I think Bell would definitely be on board. But Bell also has her own life, and I don't think she's that concerned about whether they hook up. ... But if he brings it to her or wants to talk about it, I think she would be a really good friend, you know to counsel him through it. I think he'll need a little bit of help in the relationship department."

Law & Order: Organized Crime - Season 2
Truitt is one of the first Black main leads in the "Law & Order" universe, and viewers will see more of Bell and wife Denise (Keren Dukes) in the next arc of "OC."Virginia Sherwood / NBC

As for Bell's relationship, Truitt fears Bell and her wife, Denise, could "start bumping heads" during the next arc of "OC," when the storyline involving the secretly corrupt Congressman Leon Kilbride really takes off.

"The last eight episodes of our second season are about the Marcy Killers, and he's very much a part of that whole story. It's going to get, it's going to get real crazy," she said.

While she has no idea if the events of those episodes will cause conflict between Bell and Denise, Truitt does worry there will be tension between the two since "Denise is so starstruck by Congressman Kilbride."

"There might be a little rift in there because of that," she said. "We'll see, though!"

Someone who has both Stabler and Bell's well-being at top of mind is Ainsley Seiger's tech savvy Jet Slootmaekers. Seiger says her "OC" character "has come to care a lot more for Bell and Stabler both than she ever thought that she would in season one when she was originally asked to do this job."

"I used to always say I don't think working on a team was her specialty or that she was very good at it or even knew how to, but I think that's really changed in the past season-and-a-half," she said.

NBCUniversal - Season 2022
An iconic trio if we do say so ourselves.Cindy Ord / NBCUniversal

When it comes to Stabler, specifically, she said Jet "isn't worried about him because he is a grown man, and he can take care of himself."

"I think she feels very protective over Bell and Stabler and wants to keep them out of harm's way as much as possible," she added, "and I think that's why at the end of the day she does what she does."

Someone both fans and Stabler are definitely protective of is his mother, Bernie (Ellen Burstyn). Viewers recently saw Bernie has a love interest in what appeared to be a friendly neighbor and turned out to be a man paid by Richard Wheatley, Stabler's wife's suspected killer, to get close to the beloved Stabler matriarch.

"She'll be OK," Meloni assured us.

Law & Order: Organized Crime - Season 2
Protect Bernie Stabler at all costs.Michael Greenberg / NBC

As for working with Burstyn, Meloni said, "I just love her so much." He also explained he told Burstyn what an "impact" her character in "The Exorcist" had on him.

"It's a dream come true," he said about working with Burstyn now. "She's a legend."

A new character who will join the "OC" universe in a recurring role is Denis Leary, who will play another member of the NYPD named Frank Donnelly. But how, exactly, will Leary's character interact with Stabler?

"Very closely, I mean he and I are going to be running buddies and getting into nefarious dealings," Meloni said.

But why does Stabler choose Donnelly to be his running buddy?

"Because he's doing things he shouldn't be doing, and I'm a dedicated detective."

NBCUniversal - Season 2022
These two in a scene alone together when?Cindy Ord / NBCUniversal

Another dedicated detective over at "SVU" is Amanda Rollins (Kelli Giddish), who started with the squad in the first episode of season 13, right after Stabler's unexpected exit and was there for the aftermath and impact of that loss on Benson. Fans have been wanting a scene between Stabler and Rollins in a crossover, and Giddish said she would "want to do that too."

"We should push for that. Twitter. Hashtag."

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit - Season 23
Donal Logue reprised his role as Cpt. Declan Murphy in a recent episode of "SVU."Scott Gries / NBC

Rollins also is one half of the fan-favorite relationship between Rollins and ADA Dominick Carisi (Peter Scanavino), which officially started taking off in last season's finale and will be a hot topic in next week's episode. However in a recent episode, the father of Rollins' daughter, Declan Murphy (Donal Logue), came back and worked a case alongside Rollins, which caught Scanavino's attention.

"When Peter and I were talking about this script, he was like, 'Oh, Murphy's back, huh?' I was like, 'Yeah,'" Giddish said while laughing. "He was like, 'Anything happening?' And I was like, 'No, no nothing's happening. But it was, it was a lot of fun actually to play and like those nonverbal moments where you're just like, 'Hi, welcome back,' you know. That was a lot of fun to play. I love Donal so much."

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit - Season 22
More Rollisi content, please and thank you.Virginia Sherwood / NBC

Now that viewers have been able to see Rollins and Carisi in a relationship, Giddish said she appreciates how the writers have approached this new territory for the two.

"I really respect how the writers have treated this and how we've, how we've gone about it because it's so earned," she said, "and it's — they're friends, and they love and support each other. And Rollins, certainly just from my perspective, Rollins has been hurt in the past — and very deeply and very badly — and so to see her trust and love, I think it's really, you know, there's a lot of rewards in that for any audience members watching that may have gone through the same thing."

Another important relationship in Rollins' life is with Benson, who's both her boss and friend, and Giddish said a personal scene between the two "is a must now" given all the professional and personal drama in each of their lives. Benson has also been dealing with a troubled boss of her own and the mental effects of having to shoot a suspect on the street while investigating a series of hate crimes around Christmas, all while still processing that Stabler is back after a 10-year absence.

"I think it's a must now. You can't have these two strong women, this kind of a friendship, and not have that be reflected in the show and in the scripts."

"Law & Order: SVU" and "Law & Order: Organized Crime" return Thursday, Feb. 24, on NBC after the premiere episode of "Law & Order" at 8 p.m. ET.