|Watching Christopher Meloni dancing in his funky SoHo loft to a bootleg Tool concert video on a TV set topped by a purple Teletubby, it's hard to conjure up the guy who busts perps on one crime series and limbs on another. While Meloni has the same blue-eyed intensity as sex-crimes cop Elliot Stabler on NBC's Law & Order: SVU (Fridays, 10 P.M./ET) and the same seductive smile of cunning convict Chris Keller on HBO's Oz (new episodes air in January), at home he looks...sweet and silly. |
Meloni's career as a TV tough guy began with his role NYPD Blue's red-hot thug Jimmy Liery and bounty hunter Dennis Knoll on Homicide. Then came Oz.
"I hadn't heard of the show, but when they said it was Tom Fontana, I said yes," says Meloni, 40. "When they said there's no money, I still said yes. There are few opportunities to do this sort of exciting work." And Oz and Homicide executive producer Tom Fontana is a longtime Meloni fan. "Chris is absolutely courageous and completely unafraid to look bad. Plus, he's as twisted as I am." Indeed, Meloni has nudely gone where no man has gone before on TV. (Oz fans will remember last season's shocking "bucket" scene.)
"Chris is a gift to work with," says Lee Tergesen, who plays Oz inmate Tobias Beecher, whose tortured romance with Keller had as devoted following. "People really care about this relationship, [and] we've grown to care to about each other." As Meloni puts it: "Let's face it; we're the new millennium's Luke and Laura."
Despite Meloni's skill as playing criminals, Dick Wolf, the creator of the Law & Order franchise, did not hesitate to cast Meloni as the idealistic Stabler. "What I like about Chris," says Wolf, "is you get insight in two or three emotions [at once]. His sensitivity and anger come through."
The youngest of three children of Robert, an endocrinologist, and Cecile, a homemaker, Meloni was born in Washington, D.C., and studied history as the University of Colorado. After graduation, he joined New York City's Neighborhood Playhouse and supported himself with menial jobs, including one as an attendant at a gay gym. "I confronted my own homophobia and learned how not to put on a come-hither look," he says with a guffaw. Later, he played an ex-con on HBO's 1st & Ten: Do It Again and a womanizer in the 1990 NBC comedy The Fanelli Boys.
Meloni's not all about work. In 1995, he married Sherman Williams, a production designer; the couple have a new baby, Sophia, born March 23. "My worst problem used to be work and trying to find time to work out. But now I'm at the gym going, 'Let's get out of here and go visit the little squirrel.'"
Life couldn't be better, says the new dad. "To be in two strong, provocative, intelligent shows -- I'm very lucky." And Meloni's happily in his first comedy since 1999's "Runaway Bride," in which he plays Julia Robert's fiancee. In "Wet Hot American Summer," he's a Vietnam veteran, who, he says, "fondles sweaters and humps refrigerators. Figured I'd done girls and boys on-screen, what's next? I really liked it; it was bizarre." Anyone out there surprised?