Law and Order SVU – Chris Meloni Interview
A week before they were due on the Law & Order: SVU set to start shooting Season 11, Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay finally signed contracts to continue on the NBC hit for two more years, reportedly bringing their payday to about $400,000 per episode. Meloni talks exclusively to TV Guide Magazine about the deal and continuing as Det. Elliot Stabler.
So you’re back for an eleventh season of SVU. How do you feel about finally signing a new contract?
I feel great! The unknown is always a little distracting. Once all the T’s get crossed and the I’s get dotted, it’s just a sense of “Ok, now I can focus on things more important to you.”
Why did the negotiations go up to the wire? Was it purely financial or did creative or other issues intrude as well?
There were a few quality-of-life issues as well. Meaning work hours, that stuff. Aside from that, when you’re dealing with the types of money, and I don’t mean just mine and Mariska’s contracts, I mean the economic climate, everyone trying to squeeze out as much money as they can both from the product and us as performers that you have to tread carefully because it’s a very uncertain environment out there. It was the dance that needed to be danced. It was a long waltz.
A very long waltz.
Yeah, but that’s kind of what has to be when you’re dealing with these kinds of numbers.
Could you have returned to the show without Mariska? Can you imagine that?
Can I imagine that? It would have been a different show. (laughs)
You do negotiate as a team, don’t you?
That makes sense. I think the show really does hinge on the Benson and Stabler dynamic.
Were the fans with you and Mariska during the negotiations?
I divided them up into sections. The vast majority believe money’s not the issue. They were like “These are guys who are workers. And if they’re in a position to get as much as they can for the work that they do, good for them.” And then there’s the other side that I’ll call the “playa haters,” who begrudged and were very upset that we should ask to get paid what we thought was at the very least fair market value. On the whole, 90% were with us and then you had the 10% weren’t. They were really upset that all this was maybe threatening the continuation of the show.
Speaking of that, is it true you’re back for two years?
So now the show has to get picked up for that long.
That’s true. Yeah.
During your negotiations, everyone I spoke with from the show in front of and behind the cameras told me that they were sure you were both returning. Was there ever a time that you weren’t as sure as they seemed to be, that you thought this might not happen? Were you ever down about the process?
If you’re going to negotiate you can’t negotiate falsely, which is to say I was fully prepared not to come back. If I hadn’t come back, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world for me. I love these people, I love working there, I love the show. But in the end, it’s like acting. You have to say it with meaning, you have to commit to what you laid out. That’s the only stance you can take in anything you do, whether it’s acting or negotiating. I had made peace. I had made peace with all outcomes.
How do you feel about the agreement?
Very good. It’s one of these things that I didn’t get some things and they didn’t get some things and I think that’s a very healthy outcome of the negotiations. Everyone’s not quite happy, and everyone’s not quite unhappy (laughs).
Is Mariska as pleased as you are about the new deal?
Yeah. We’ve spoken and I think it’s the outcome that she was hoping for.
You mentioned quality of life, will you be in every episode? Will we see as much of Elliot Stabler as we have?
Yes. I will. That’s not going to change.
So you’re still going to work really hard.
Yeah, I’ve always liked working hard. Don’t get me wrong, to be able to take a half day off is awful nice too.
Are you happy to back to work?
Yes and no. I really enjoy having extreme quality and quantity time now with my children. Working out of New York, it’s really nice to experience the summer. I need to feel the warmth and the freedom and leisure of summer months. On the other hand, I get a little edgy if I’m out of work for too long.
When do you go back to work?
So can you talk a little bit about the new season? You must have seen the scripts and talked to Neal Baer by now. What’s the big arc for Stabler this year?
I don’t know! That’s part of the negotiation. These were real serious negotiations. And part of that was let’s not bet on Meloni coming back. I think they plotted things out, obviously. I don’t think there was use in letting me know if I wasn’t going to be back (laughs).
When did you sign the deal?
A couple of days ago.
Have you talked to Neal yet? Do you have any idea what’s happening with Elliot?
No! I’m on vacation. (laughs)
You’re going back to work with an empty slate?
Yeah, and I kind of like it. By this juncture, I don’t have to ruminate too much on the path of Elliot Stabler. I kind of fit into the storyline and where it leads.
What would you like to happen with Elliot?
I’d love to have a reunion with Robert Patrick. He played a guy who was a rapist who had gotten out. I’d love to see him out again on a technicality. It’s fun to work with him.
Do you know that Wentworth Miller guests in your first episode this fall?
I didn’t know that. That’s awesome.
Do you know have a new ADA played by Christine Lahti for four episodes?
I heard that. I’m very excited about it. I’m a huge fan.
Do you have any idea what your interplay will be with her?
I’m sure there will either be sexual tension or fireworks. (Laughs)
How do you feel about having Stephanie March back for a bunch of episodes after Lahti leaves?
I love Stephanie, both personally and professionally. I’ve always been very happy and comfortable acting with her. Absolutely. She’s a nice addition.
How long was your hiatus and what did you do?
A little over two months. I took a cooking class in Florence. I spent a lot of time water skiing and playing basketball.
At your weekend place?
The basketball was in town because my kids were still in school for the first part of our hiatus. But we did get our getaway trip.
How good is your cooking now?
I’d say very beginner-ish. I was totally surprised that it jump-started my interest in cooking, which I had never focused on at all. And all of a sudden, my curiosity’s been peaked.
We’ll know the lessons really took when you bring ziti to the set.
Or maybe an eggplant dish. Something a little more exotic.
It’s a big relief the deal was finally completed, right?
(Laughs) They really do like to milk the drama in everything.