|His New "Law & Order" Spinoff is Guaranteed A Full Season on NBC, but Christopher Meloni Also Hopes To Keep His Role on HBO's "Oz." |
Wanted on both sides of the law Christopher Meloni is behind bars on "Oz." That's where he puts others on "Law & Order: SVU."
Taking a well-deserved break from playing a hardened criminal on HBO's prison drama series Oz, Christopher Meloni and his wife, production designer Sherman Williams, headed for an extended Hawaiian vacation last May.
After 12 Relaxing hours under the tropical sun of Kauai, Meloni received a telephone call from the office of Dick Wolf, executive producer of the new cop show "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." His presence was needed in New York immediately for a screen test as Detective Elliot Stabler in the new spinoff series for NBC.
Meloni was on the next flight to Los Angeles, where his feet barely touched the ground before he transferred to a New York bound flight. But the tiring trip paid off; he was hired on the spot.
Meloni boarded the next plane back to L.A., where he made quick a connection back to Hawaii. Basking in money and sunshine, he and his wife had an exquisite time in paradise -- for approximately 24 hours. A severe gall bladder attack sent him straight to L.A., where his physician was waiting to perform surgery.
"It was an amazing experience," Meloni says, now able to laugh about it. "The upside is that I have a prime-time network show and 50,000 frequent-flier miles. The down side is that I only had a total of 2 1/2 days in Kauai and the [show] only paid for my L.A.-New York round-trip ticket."
Quickly regaining his health, Meloni started his preparations for shooting the new show in New York while supervising the initial stages of construction for a new hilltop home in L.A.'s funky Los Feliz district.
"It was fairly hectic there for a while," he deadpans, stroking the three-day stubble on his chin. "Things didn't settle down until I began putting in 15-hour days on the set again."
Meloni, 38, is highly charged about his new series, which deals with police officers in the elite Special Victims Unit that investigates major sex-related crimes. His seasoned and rock-solid character, Stabler, is teamed with the more emotional Detective Olivia Benson, played by Mariska Hargitay.
"Special Victims Unit" is seen Mondays at 9 p.m. on Channel 10. The cast includes Dann Florek, reprising the role of Capt. Donald Cragen from three seasons on "Law & Order", and Richard Belzer as conspiracy theorist Detective John Munch, reprising his part on the late "Homicide: Life on the Street".
"One big difference between "Law & Order" and "SVU" is that our characters have private lives," Meloni says. "For example, Elliot is in a slightly rocky marriage with four kids. He's a guy under pressure.
If everything works according to plan, Meloni won't have a spare second during the TV season. Besides starring in 22 episodes of "Special Victims Unit" (the show has already been picked up for a full season), the actor is expected to make occasional cross- over guest shots on "Law & Order" (whose cast is expected to reciprocate).
In the schizophrenic world of television, Meloni also hopes to complete an additional eight segments on "Oz"--also produced in New York--as imprisoned "sexual predator" Chris Keller, "the guy Stabler would toss in the slammer."
He is confident that "SVU" and "Oz" executive producers Wolf and Tom Fontana, great personal friends, will find ways to tweak their shooting schedules to allow him to act in both shows.
"I've got the best of all worlds," Meloni says. "It's every actor's dream to wake up in New York City and go to an acting job rather than to a restaurant to wash dirty dishes. And I live so close to the studios that I ride my bike to work."
Meloni also finds time to do movies. He costarred in the recent hit "Runaway Bride", portraying the small-town high school football coach dumped by Julia Roberts for Richard Gere.
The laid-back actor has yet to carve out a serious movie career, though he has made a strong account of himself in good and bad projects, including "Bound", the Philadelphia-based "Twelve Monkeys", "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and "The Souler Opposite".
The son of a homemaker and an endocrinologist, Meloni was born and reared in Washington, D.C., along with a brother and sister. After graduating from the University of Colorado with a bachelor's degree in history, in 1983, he survived with a short stint as a construction worker in Washington.
But soon he was off to New York, where he apprenticed at the Neighborhood Playhouse and began acting in Off-Off-Broadway plays, while supporting himself as a bouncer at various night spots. Persistence paid off with a small regular part (along with O.J. Simpson) for the 1989-90 season of the HBO series "1st & Ten."
He next moved to L.A. for a job as a dumb, lovable hunk on a short-lived sitcom called "The Fanelli Boys" (1990-91). Meloni's most recent series, prophetically titled "Leaving L.A.", vaporized after six episodes (of which only five aired). The actor had more exposure in a previous five-episode arc on "NYPD Blue" as Jimmy Liery, the dangerous undercover target of Detective Russell (Kim Delaney).
A travel buff and an ardent collector of Asian rugs, the bicoastal Meloni shares a heavily carpeted SoHo apartment with Williams, whom he married four years ago. They have no children, but "keep working on it."
"I met Sherman on a job in New York 10 years ago, then we kept bumping into each other on the street for years afterward," he says.
"A couple of years went by without contact, then we ran into each other at the Sundance Film Festival. That was it. I think she was following me."