Christopher Meloni, former CU, on his role in “Law & Order”
How did CU alumnus Christopher Meloni go from a theater student to a starring role on America’s 12th most watched show?
Meloni, known for his role as protective and paternal detective Elliot Stabler in “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” now stars in NBC’s “Law & Order: Organized Crime.” Stabler partnered with Detective Olivia Benson from 1999-2011 on “Special Victims Unit” until he left where he shot a teenage girl, as well as the men who killed her mother. Now, after a decade, Stabler is back. âOrganized Crimeâ debuted on April 1 as a spin-off of âSpecial Victims Unitâ and season two premieres Thursday, September 23 on NBC.
The actor entered the University of Colorado at Boulder predicting he would become an engineer. It was only in the second year that he chose the profession of actor.
âThat’s when the virus bit me,â Meloni said. âI walked into (the classroom) and I knew on an instinctive level, more than anyone, how much I didn’t know. “
Meloni’s first acting class at CU opened the door to his future acting career.
Growing up, he remembered that his childhood fantasies were constantly changing. Was he going to be a footballer, basketball player, doctor, engineer or cop?
âYou try on all (of those identities) like a costume, just trying to see how it goes and feels,â Meloni said. âAnd at the end of the day, I realized I was better at pretending all of these things. I was better and more committed to telling stories than I was to reality.
For Meloni, acting started to feel like a new home. The logic and formulas of visual storytelling appealed to him.
“I have a good sense of words and rhythm,” he said. âI see music in the stages. I feel its tempo, its tone, its quality.
After 4.5 years as a CU student, with an extra semester because he failed to land a role in California, Meloni graduated in history in the winter of 1983, taking as many courses from theater as possible without obtaining a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. He spent his time exploring what he called “the vast open planes and the vast scale of the mountains” on his motorbike and began working on construction sites. After debating whether to enroll in a master’s program in political science, Meloni called an old friend from high school who was planning to move to New York City to study theater. The two left for New York.
Meloni started a summer program at the Neighborhood Playhouse, located in Manhattan. He took two evening classes a week and collected enough money by working on whatever he could find. He was a bartender, bouncer, gym trainer, and model. After two years of study and another year spent trying to find an agent, Meloni landed her first commercial job.
At 28, Meloni was a full-time commercial actor.
âIn two years, I was one of the most reserved actors in New York City,â Meloni said. âI paid my bills, even if they were just advertisements. It quickly becomes unsatisfactory.
At 29, Meloni got her first real gig as Vito Del Greco on HBO’s first cable TV show, “1st & Ten”. From “The Fanelli Boys” to “NYPD Blue” to “OZ”, Meloni stood out. In 1999, Meloni auditioned for Detective Elliot Stabler for “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”.
âIt took me nine years from when I thought I was on the map and things were going to happen,â said Meloni.
And so it started. Meloni became a Stabler for 12 years on the show’s âSpecial Victimsâ iteration, and after a decade he’s back on NBC’s âOrder: Organized Crime,â a show that discusses the role of police in crime. American company. Meloni said it would be doing viewers a disservice not to do so.
âI think Stabler is a good character to launch into the arena,â he added. âIt’s a bit controversial. It was presented, intentionally, not without flaws. He’s an empathetic man and a compass who wants to point to a true north. He is thoughtful and open to learning and education, but he also takes a stand.
Audiences looked to Stabler’s passion, dedication and empathy. But being a cop, Meloni said it was important to be âboldly, respectfully and thoughtfullyâ aware of this. He accepted this role because it was offered to him at the best possible time.
âI have to get away from the two things that I know: my real life and my professional life, which is Elliot Stabler,â Meloni said. âI discovered a new side of myself, new people, a new world. My soul was able to travel inside and out.
Returning to the character hasn’t been without pressure, anticipation, and expectations from the industry and fans alike.
âOnce I dealt with this internally, I got down to business,â he said, claiming that he brought back to his character what he had learned during the years away. âOnce they said ‘action’ it was second nature. Everything was clear and determined.
âThe fact that life is working for me, Christopher Meloni, has helped me improve and make things more accessible,â said Meloni. “So that I can make them available to Elliot Stabler.” I think life has helped enrich my expression as Elliot Stabler.
Meloni and Stabler are still growing. The business, the suspense and the criminals continue.
See Meloni onscreen for the season two premiere of âLaw & Order: Organized Crime,â which airs Thursday, September 23 on NBC.
Contact Chloe Wasserstrom, CU Staff Freelance Writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.