NBC Insider Exclusive

Create a free profile to get unlimited access to exclusive show news, updates, and more!

Sign Up For Free to View
NBC Insider Law & Order Franchise

Mariska Hargitay & Chris Meloni Had Instant Chemistry in Their First-Ever SVU Scene

This is the stuff hit TV shows are made of.

By Elizabeth Logan

This is the stuff casting directors' dreams are made of.

How to Watch

Watch the Season 26 premiere of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Thursday, October 3 at 9/8c on NBC.

When Law & Order spun off the "sex crimes" unit into its own show, Special Victims Unit, they needed a central partnership that was at the heart of the show and tied everything together. Good thing they found Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni to play detectives Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler, respectively. From the very first episode, they flawlessly bounced off one another, portraying co-workers who both cared about and trusted each other. The chemistry was undeniable.

Benson and Stabler's very first scene together in SVU

SVU's 1999 pilot starts with a cold open on a rainy Manhattan evening. Uniformed officers are already on the scene of the crime: a cabbie murdered with no apparent motive. Benson and Stabler arrive and instantly command the scene, introducing themselves and taking a look at the body.

After Stabler asks why they got the call, a crime scene officer informs them that the perp also removed the victim's genitals. In perfect unison, our two detectives look at the body, then at each other. (On the same page from the first moment). Cue opening credits.

RELATED: Stabler Hugging Benson for the First Time on SVU Is So Profound and Heartfelt

Throughout the episode, Benson and Stabler share a sense of humor and play good cop/bad cop off of each other with ease. They're honest with one another and tender. Stabler can sense that the case becomes personal for Benson, and she gently touches his arm while assuring him that she's okay.

Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler on Law And Order: SVU Episode 103

Why Hargitay and Meloni are so great together on screen

Before landing a lead role on SVU, Meloni had acted in a number of other cop shows. He was in two episodes of Homicide: Life On The Streets and three episodes of Brooklyn South. Meloni also had a small recurring role on NYPD Blue as Jimmy Liery, a crook connected to the IRA. Alongside Hilary Swank, he starred in the short-lived Leaving L.A., about the employees at the Los Angeles Coroners Office. So he had plenty of on-screen-crime-solving experience to draw upon.

RELATED: Mariska Hargitay's Husband Is Ultra-Charming in His First-Ever SVU Episode

Hargitay had also paid her dues on law enforcement-related shows, with appearances on Downtown, In The Heat Of The Night, Booker, Gabriel's Fire, FBI: The Untold Stories, Tequila and Bonetti, Cracker: Mind Over Murder and Prince Street. She also played "Kate Conklin The Mounted Cop" on three episodes of The Single Guy. She knew her way around a fake courtroom.

"There was an explosion that happened," Hargitay said of auditioning with Meloni during a PaleyFest panel discussion.

Olivia Benson stands with Elliot Stabler in front of a chalkboard

Show creator Dick Wolf agreed. "There are some times you just know," he said. "And you've got to be really stupid not to act on a group think. There was no question."

Hargitay also said on on Late Night With Seth Meyers in 2022, “You never think after being a struggling actor for so long that any show is going to go. But this was a unique audition for us because when we met, there was a certain chemistry, so I actually wasn’t nervous at the audition, but you never think what happened would happen. You can't dream it, quite frankly."

Benson and Stabler's chemistry continued to grow

Benson and Stabler

As any viewer knows, despite Stabler having a wife and kids at home, the chemistry between the partners was too palpable to ignore. Since Stabler's return to New York, and the tragic death of his wife, and and Benson have seemingly acknowledged their mutual attraction, though they haven't acted on it. Yet.

"What I hope is that we find the space to move forward. I don't know if we have, but I look forward to keep trying it. To keep challenging it. To keep trying to figure it out," Meloni told NBC Insider.