|Chris Meloni’s hard work pays off |
WHIPPING THROUGH NEW YORK city traffic in the back seat of a cab, Christopher Meloni is tired. He’s just concluded a whirlwind weekend with his family at their Connecticut home.Now he’s heading to their Manhattan home to prepare for the upcoming week’s worth of shooting for NBC’s Law & Order: Special Victim’s Unit.This weekend included a birthday bash for Meloni’s 1-year-old son. (He also has a 4-year-old daughter).
“Splitting time is a bit of a pain,” Meloni says.“But the days are long, 14 to 15 hours sometimes, so it wouldn’t make much sense to commute up to Connecticut every night. I’d get home just in time to turn around and come back.” Such is the life of prime-time television’s It Guy. Known as the hardnosed but sensitive detective Elliot Stabler on SVU, Meloni doesn’t mind the long hours and so-called inconveniences of being a full-fledged star.
“I’m having a blast, really,”Meloni says.“I mean for so many years you put up with so much shit to get to a point where your work is appreciated and in many ways, recognized.Then it happens and it’s like,‘Wow!’”
Meloni remembers the day that “wow” occurred for the first time. It happened at a recent New York Knicks game. Meloni, his wife, Sherman, and a small group of long-time buddies sat courtside during the game and SVU fans kept approaching him for autographs. Security guards surrounded Meloni and his friends and his image was even flashed on the large overhead screen.
“Sherman and I looked at each other and just laughed,” Meloni says. “It was just a weird, surreal moment. But I have no complaints.”
While Meloni doesn’t have any real complaints, he does admit to some confusion over autograph-seekers. He doesn’t mind giving his autograph and has a reputation for being approachable and gracious.After all, these are the people who make it possible for him to do what he loves. He just believes his brief time with fans could be better spent.
“Sometimes when I get approached for an autograph, I just say, ‘Screw the autograph—let me buy you a drink. Tell me about yourself. Let’s hang out and talk.’”
Meloni believes conversation is much more interesting than a piece of paper with his or anyone’s name scrawled across it.
“It’s always been kind of weird to me because when you give someone an autograph,you’re looking down at a piece of paper and once you sign it the person moves on,” he says. “What good is that?”
Meloni has learned a lot about signing autographs. SVU dominates its Tuesday prime-time slot and has become the most watched of all Law & Order shows.The secret to SVU’s success is no secret at all, according to Meloni. It has to do with the characters who create the characters.
“We’re real fortunate to have such a unique cast,” Meloni says. “I think that comes out in the show.”
Meloni is, of course, talking about himself and Mariska Hargitay, both of whom are experienced character actors; Richard Belzer, who began his career as a standup comic; and edgy rap star Ice-T. “Everyone brings something special to the cast,” Meloni says.
“Richard is a very intelligent thinker. Ice gives us legitimate street smarts.Mariska and I are more the atypical actors. It’s a great blend.” SVU continues to carry NBC on Tuesday nights, allowing producers to tackle the characters’ personal lives this season—which Meloni and others have enjoyed. Character exploration is handled with kid gloves. Personal issues remain secondary to the storylines, giving viewers just enough to make them tune in for more.
“I think the producers, writers and directors on our show are very astute to what people want to see,”Meloni says.“You’ll get bits and pieces of what’s going on in Stabler’s life, but you’ll never see an episode devoted to one character going off someplace that doesn’t fit into what the show is based on.”
“Our viewers are ultimately most interested in seeing these people solve [cases] and prosecute the bad guys.”
And as long as that continues, Chris Meloni will continue to be the It Guy.