Every Wednesday night, "Law & Order SVU" fans sit with rapt attention as the detectives chase down the latest sicko sex predator and sort out the ups and downs of their home lives. The unpredictability of the storylines has kept viewers coming back week after week for 15 years.
HNGN caught up with "SVU" stars Ice-T (Detective Fin Tutuola), Danny Pino (Detective Nick Amaro), Raul Esparza (ADA Rafael Barba) and Peter Scanavino (new guy Dominick "Sonny" Carisi) on the red carpet at PaleyFest Monday night for exclusive interviews about what plots will ensnare their respective characters in Season 16, which continues this Wednesday night on NBC.
HNGN: Tutuola has been a member of the unit since the 2000 season, but we know very little about him. Will that change this season?
ICE-T: I don't know where I live, I don't have a car. Every week we get these scripts and I find out something new about myself. So no. We don't know anything. When I get a script, I just try to make sure I don't get shot, and if I do, I hope I don't bleed out by the end of the page. Real talk.
HNGN: What would you like to see happen to Fin?
ICE-T: Maybe I become captain. Maybe I can sit behind a desk and I won't have to chase 15-year-olds down the street. But I'm now the second highest detective in the squad so, you know, all Mariska (Hargitay) has to do is decide she wants to move over and do something, maybe she wants to go back on the beat, and then I can be captain. I don't know, maybe spin me off.
One of the characters that has found himself in trouble is Amaro - busted down from SVU to beat cop after assaulting a suspect, faced with his estranged wife's move to Los Angeles and dealing with a new relationship with his SVU partner, Detective Amanda Rollins.
HNGN: Is there a future for Amaro and Rollins, or is their relationship just an office fling?
Danny Pino: I think that will be revealed. In what direction it goes will be revealed sooner than later.
HNGN: So it will happen this season?
DP: You're in a roomful of detectives so it's hard to keep anything secret for very long.
HNGN: Is the anger management therapy effective for Amaro, or will we see a flareup?
DP: I think just like any kind of therapy, there are days where you're successful and days that are setbacks, and Amaro has plenty of opportunities for both. So I think you're going to see him really struggle keeping the balance between the successes and the failures.
HNGN: We really have gotten to know Amaro quite well since your character was introduced in Season 13. How do you feel about his development and playing such a rich and important character in the SVU universe?
DP: I give all the credit to (executive producers) Warren Leight and Julie Martin and the writers staff. I think they see a three-dimensional character in all of our characters, and they don't see it in terms of a good guy or a bad guy, they see it in terms of a complicated existence, somebody who has lost family, somebody who is trying to deal with being demoted and working his way back into the good graces of the unit. His identity is very much wrapped into being a family man and being a police officer, and the threat of losing all of that is something that is very taxing on him. I think our writers just have their finger on the pulse of what that is and how precarious a balance it is, for all of us. They've given all of us a journey to go through and not just the typical procedural, "let's solve the crime of the week." I think they're melding what's happening on television right now, the serialized storytelling that's happening on television, with kind of the classic procedural. And they're developing almost a hybrid type of storytelling.
Raul Esparza plays the hard-nosed Rafael Barba, one in a long line of SVU assistant district attorneys. His backstory finally started to emerge last season when he was confronted with allegations against the mayor, his childhood friend from The Bronx.
HNGN: Barba has a rough and combative exterior, but last year he was forced to open up about his upbringing due to his friendship with the mayor. Will we learn more about the ADA as Season 16 progresses?
Raul Esparza: I think so. We've talked about it, we played around with it last year with his sort of coming from the neighborhood and the responsibility he felt to who he grew up with, and we talked a little bit this year about playing with what it means to change your life, to sort of remake yourself. Because Barba, one thing he is is ambitious. It's why he dresses the way he dresses. He knows what he needs to do is intimidate, and he's seeking power. So the political side of that, it's very interesting to me, and the idea that you're coming from not poverty necessarily, but definitely a family that would not have this kind of power, and we've talked about, "So what does that do?" and I think we're going to explore that a little bit.
The SVU is a tight-knit unit that doesn't take kindly to new faces on the squad. Drawing that short straw is Detective Dominick "Sonny" Carisi, a new transfer into the group played by Peter Scanavino.
HNGN: Will the SVU ever accept Carisi?
Peter Scanavino: I think I do some stuff where I may be a little brusque, I might come on a little strong, but I'm always trying to get to the truth. So maybe my style isn't quite in line with SVU, but I do gain their respect and I am going for the same thing we're all going for, so I think I do get some respect.
HNGN: When we met Carisi, he had a mustache, but as of last week's episode, it's gone. What's the story there?
PS: What happened is I came in with a beard, and I think they wanted this cop to be a real cop from a family of cops in Staten Island. But a lot of people were like "What is that mustache?" So I came in, we did the mustache. I kind of liked it, you know what I mean? But maybe it was distracting, so they yanked it.
HNGN: What did your wife think of the mustache?
PS: (Laughs) What do you think, man? (laughs more) It's funny, like, if you have a mustache, and you live with it, it's totally normal and you don't understand how people are seeing you on the subway or whatever, and then you go on TV and you get to read comments like "porn stache" or "it's creepy," so is that how everybody sees me? (laughs)
See the stars of "Law and Order Special Victims Unit" on the PaleyFest red carpet in HNGN's photo gallery.