Chris Meloni talks DNA evidence, Chrissy fits and his transvestite fans
As hunky hothead Detective Elliot Stabler on Law & Order: SVU, actor Chris Meloni is, along with his partner (played by Mariska Hargitay), seemingly keeping NBC in business. The seemingly ubiquitious show keeps many DVR lists overflowing; for all their gruesome scenarios, SVU episodes oddly make for great bedtime entertainment. Meloni —who also has a role in the upcoming film adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, directed by John Krasinski—spoke to us on the eve of SVU’s new season, which kicks off next week.
You guys film all over the city—how is it having Manhattan as your office?
New Yorkers are pretty gung ho about the show and really appreciative—especially cops. Although the lawyers don’t like us. They say we’ve made their jobs harder because now juries always expect DNA evidence.
You’re always filming storylines about rapes, murders, and child abuse. Does that make for a somber atmosphere on set?
Not at all. It’s very much akin to the gallows humor that real life homicide detectives resort to. It’s a chop-busting extravaganza on set. Among the recurring themes are how often all of us flub our lines and Richard Belzer’s inability to hit his mark.
Your character has a lot of rage. Do you enjoy having onscreen tantrums?
Not really. It’s a terrible state to work yourself into. We call those moments Chrissy fits.
Meloni on Law & Order: SVU.
Tell us about Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. What was it like working with John Krasinkski?
John Krasinski is a genius, and I’m not basing that on the fact that he sought me out and offered me the role. There were no trappings, no budget, no frills—it was this guerilla, old-school, commando style of shooting, which I love.
You’ve also done a bunch of funny roles—in Wet Hot American Summer and the Harold and Kumar movies, for example. Are you secretly a comedic actor underneath your badge?
Well I’ve always thought I was kinda funny. I was the class clown growing up. But really I’m just an actor trying to get a job. Every actor’s always trying to swim in the other pond.
With your role as a bisexual serial killer inmate on Oz, for which you performed explicit gay sex scenes, you became a kind of gay icon. Did you enjoy that status?
It was great—I got a lot of attention and I was very welcomed by the tribe. But it also kept me grounded—I remember one time I took a picture with a transvestite fan who was going on about how he loves my acting. And I was thinking, this is a guy who really appreciates my work, who really sees my talent. And then he says, “What I love best of all are your shower scenes!” And I realize, this is the sum of my work: that I look good in the shower. There’s nothing like a transvestite to bring you back down to earth.