Seamlessly joining the “Law & Order” universe, especially as Elliot Stabler’s new partner, is no easy feat, and earning the seal of approval from one of television’s most loyal fan bases is arguably even more of a challenge, but no one has understood and successfully completed the assignment like Sgt. Ayanna Bell, who’s portrayed by Danielle Moné Truitt, on “Law & Order: Organized Crime.” (In fact, we love Bell so much around here, we now refer to Stabler as Sgt. Bell’s partner!)
Bell is a trailblazing character in the franchise not only because she’s an accomplished Black officer who’s risen through the ranks of the NYPD, but as a gay woman, she’s also paramount representation for the LGBTQ+ community.
Truitt’s historic character has been such a hit with the show’s fans that she’s received countless messages of gratitude online and in person while filming on the streets of New York City.
“Someone walked by, and he was like, ‘Thank you for being an ally for us!’” Truitt said during a recent interview with TODAY. “I was like, ‘You’re welcome!’ Very cool.”
“I’ve had lesbian women, especially Black lesbian women, message me and say they feel seen and supported by having Bell on their TV every Thursday,” she said.
“They feel seen, and that’s kind of like a gift that comes along with being in this profession.”
Truitt explained she also has received messages from Black women who “feel proud,” represented and “beautiful and accepted in their lives” after seeing her on television with her natural hair.
“I think when you’re an actor, you get into acting because it’s something that you love to do and fun and you get some fulfillment out of pursuing your passion and stuff, but I think the other beautiful thing that comes along with the journey is there’s just so many people who feel inspired or feel like they can go on or they can do what you’re doing because they see you doing it,” she said.
“They feel seen,” she continued, “and that’s kind of like a gift that comes along with being in this profession.”
The “Law & Order” franchise — especially “Law & Order: SVU,” which is helmed by Mariska Hargitay’s Olivia Benson, who’s also prime time’s longest running live-action character ever — is known for having strong female characters, and some of those fan-favorite personalities will team up for an unofficial crossover of sorts during the May 5 episodes of “SVU” and “Organized Crime.”
“I think this episode is definitely, like, I feel like it’s a girl power episode,” Truitt explained. “It’s me, Jet (Ainsley Seiger), Captain Benson (Hargitay) and Rollins (Kelli Giddish). And Captain Benson of course is pairing up with Stabler, or whatever, but I do love there’s so many women in this episode, like on the case, getting stuff done.”
In recent episodes of “Organized Crime,” Chris Meloni’s Stabler has been undercover looking into a dirty group of cops within the NYPD called the Brotherhood as part of an assignment Benson is also very much aware of.
“There’s like another case — there’s like another thing that happens that it’s still in line with the Brotherhood and stuff like that, but it’s one of those episodes where we have to figure something out, and it’s very time sensitive,” Truitt explained. “So it’s definitely going to be high anxiety for everybody. If we haven’t stressed you guys out enough, like you’re going to be more stressed.”
Truitt’s previously had a few scenes with Benson and Stabler, including a recent and unforgettable one where the three of them argued and caused a scene in the lobby of One Police Plaza in front of their fellow officers. The audience later learned it was all an act as part of Stabler’s new mission to investigate the Brotherhood, but it was entertaining TV for everyone watching at home. Truitt recently filmed another scene with Hargitay and Meloni for the upcoming episode and said the tone of this one is “different” than the previous one.
“It’s kind of us putting our heads together to try to figure out how to help somebody that’s in need,” she explained, adding “it’s the opposite” of what fans saw prior.
“Last time we were working together too, but it’s not the whole argument stuff,” she said. “It’s more of like how can our teams come together to solve this thing? So it’s more of a feel-good kind of thing.”
“Oh, my God, yes, they are funny,” she said. “All I do is laugh at them. Like, they are so funny.”
“That would be so cool, they should do that,” Truitt said. “I mean, if not this season then definitely next season. I would love to work with him more. I think I’ve only been in one, like one, scene with him. … I say that Fin is my uncle, I just made that up,” she added with a laugh. “I’m like, ‘Fin is Bell’s uncle. Nobody knows.’”
One person Truitt consistently enjoys having scenes with his her “OC” co-star Meloni, whom was also in her favorite scene to film to date in episode 13 of season two when Bell calls out Stabler for wanting to go undercover again.
“Nothing’s fair, Elliot,” Bell says to Stabler. “I have a list of grievances that would make your head spin! I don’t deal with them by changing my identity and running away from my actual life.”
“It was really cool to shoot,” Truitt said about the scene. “I have fun shooting with Chris a lot because we just like push each other to do our best work.”
While the actors spend hours working hard to film all the scenes for “OC,” they also know “how to have a good time” and “a lot of fun.”
“My favorite part was his outfit,” Truitt said. “I loved his outfit. It was so funny and so cool, and I love that he like committed to the theme. Everybody was wondering like, ‘Is it a costume party?’ Nobody really knew if it was a costume party or if that was kind of just the theme. So I was like, ‘Well, I’m going to wear something that I would definitely wear in my real life, but it’s kind of like a nod to disco.’”
She also appreciated getting the chance to hang out with her castmates outside of work, especially since it’s been so difficult to gather like that due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We want to keep each other safe. … So we haven’t been doing a lot of hanging out outside of work,” Truitt explained. “So it was just nice to come to a space as ourselves, not as our characters, and let our hair down and have fun and get to know each other on a different level.”
Truitt is the self-proclaimed best dancer of the group but said for that night, she’d give that honor to “the birthday boy this time.”
Her favorite memory with Meloni, however, happened months earlier at his family’s lake house.
“We were on the boat and jet skiing,” Truitt said, before adding Meloni personally took one of her sons out on the jet ski.
Truitt has two boys: Jackson, 11, and Roosevelt, 7, while Meloni and his wife, Sherman Williams, have daughter Sophia, 21, and Dante, 18.
“He doesn’t have any grandchildren yet — his kids aren’t older, or they’re not old enough to have kids yet, but it was just so cute,” Truitt explained. “He just looked like Grandpa Chris out there with my son.”
“Just the fact that they opened their home up to us, to just get out of the city and have fun —it just meant a lot. And we had a great meal together and like broke bread and talked about life.”
Real life has also managed to work its way into “OC.” Truitt recently shared on Twitter that Bell’s son on the show is named after her firstborn: a decision from the writers that came as a surprise to Truitt.
“They didn’t tell me that,” she said. “The first time that, I think it was season two, when we were saying Jack, Jack was born — Jackson was born. I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, yay!’”
Truitt added she told Jackson that her TV son was named after him.
“He was like, ‘Really? That’s cool,’” she said. “He’s 11 now, so once they get to that age, showing a lot of excitement is like not the cool thing for them to do, but he looked kind of shy about it like, ‘Oh, that’s really cool.’”
Truitt said while her boys know she’s on TV, they’re in bed by 9 p.m. but realize their mom is working hard.
“I think they’re proud of me in their own way, and I think they’ll expand more about it when they get a little older,” she said.
As for Bell’s family, things are taking a bit of a turn right now for her and her wife, Denise. In last week’s episode, Bell found out Denise was offered a job tied to Congressman Leon Kilbride, who’s actually a corrupt politician Bell has been investigating, but of course, Denise doesn’t know that. Things turn tense between the two when Bell isn’t exactly thrilled about her wife’s job offer.
“Oh, it’s going to get worse,” Truitt said about the situation between them. “I do think there’ll be the light at the end of the tunnel, we just haven’t gotten to that light yet.” She also teased two “really good” scenes with Bell and Denise in an upcoming episode.
Truitt also mentioned there’s a fun forthcoming scene between Bell and Jet, who recently started exploring romantic feelings with Malachi, who’s an established hacker who's been assisting the Organized Crime team in exchange for avoiding punishment for providing technology that helped a group of bad guys. So far, Jet and Malachi’s romance has seemingly remained under the radar.
“Oh, you know, Bell knows all, she knows all,” Truitt said. “Bell is funny because she kind of minds her own business until the right — she knows when to meddle in their business and when not to for the most part. She knows information, and she kind of keeps it to herself. So in one of the upcoming episodes, Bell does kind of briefly talk to Jet about that. So it’s a really cute scene between Bell and Jet.”
Truitt is also known among the fans for her fun live-tweeting sessions, which sometimes include a boozy beverage, during “Law & Order” on Thursday nights, so before we let her go, we had to ask for her drink recommendations ahead of the last few episodes of the season.
“I think there’s definitely going to be some tequila and some whiskey for the last two — for the last three episodes,” she said. “Yeah, I think tequila and whiskey are appropriate.”