EXCLUSIVE: Danny Pino Talks About Replacing Christopher Meloni on 'Law & Order: SVU'

The next time you see Christopher Meloni's character Elliot Stabler on Law & Order: SVU, he'll be Cuban. OK, not really. But Meloni's replacement on the thirteenth season of the hit NBC drama (premiering this fall) is a Cuban-American actor: Cold Case alum, Danny Pino. We caught up with Pino, 37, to get the scoop on his hot new role, and the hunky actor gave us tons of details about his audition, and explained why he doesn't feel he has to fill Meloni's shoes on the hit show. 

Congratulations on your new SVU role! Are you excited to be joining the show?

Thank you! Absolutely! It is a fantastic show.

What can you tell us about your new character?

I’m not sure what they have planned in terms of where he falls and what his relationship is to the other characters yet. I don’t even know the character’s name yet because we’re still developing him.

What would you like the character to be like?

An intelligent character with a strong point-of-view who challenges the characters around him would probably be something interesting and fascinating to watch.  

One of the things we loved about Detective Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) was his short temper. Is that a trait you'd like your character to have?

I think having a broad range is attractive — being able to have a conversation with a witness within an investigation is potentially as interesting as strategically being antagonistic and getting physical. It’s equally as effective in getting information.

Tell us about your audition!

It was a screen test, so I auditioned on the set of the SVU precinct. Mariska {Hargitay} and I played a scene together. They wrote a character for the test I'm not sure if that's going to be the character that I'll be playing, or if that was solely a character setup for the purpose of the test. But the scene we played was about Mariska and a detective coming in with a different style of interrogation and a different style of interview. While Benson is protective of the victim, my character in the screen test was protective of the investigation he wasn't sure who was being truthful and who wasn't being truthful. The character I was playing was combative. 

You've starred in a procedural before {CBS' hit series, Cold Case}. How do you expect this show to be different?

The main difference is, in Cold Case, the victim sometimes had been dead for decades — you didn’t have the advantage of being able to interview the victim. You had to piece together the circumstances surrounding the crime from witnesses and other evidence. SVU is much more immediate in that you can talk to the victim. Sometimes that's a plus, but sometimes the victim could also mislead you. I am excited to be doing SVU  I think there's a lot of inherent drama and a lot of inherent conflict in procedural shows. I have a lot of respect for police officers and the work that they do. There's a lot of nobility to depicting what these officers do on a day to day basis. 

Why do you think Christopher Meloni's character, Stabler was such a fan favorite?

Well, I think he's a solid actor. If you watch five minutes of the show, you realize that not only is he a fantastic actor, but he's also surrounded by an incredibly talented cast — and that's including guest stars. His character had a broad range  from obviously getting to the boiling point to really being able to have conversations with children and gleaning information from them. I don't quite feel like I have shoes to fill because {Christopher} was able to fill the character of Stabler so effectively. So I just feel like I'm going to come in and try and create a different character. 

Do you think at some point you'll have a conversation with Christopher about your new role?

I would welcome that — I think he's a fantastic actor and his work speaks for itself. 

Fans have been waiting for years for an Elliot/Olivia hookup on the show. Do you think the show would go there with Olivia and your new character?

That's kind of an endgame question. When you're filling out a character, you start from {the question of} why the character joins the unit. It's a specialized unit so there has to be a motivation for the character to want to join that group of detectives investigating that particular kind of crime. Once you have that filled in, you start focusing on the interpersonal relationships between the characters within the unit. We understand what his likes and dislikes are and then it'll be more apparent as to whether any kind of relationship arises from that. In the screen test, I definitely felt that my character was being challenged by Mariska's character, and my character stepped up to the challenge and stood his ground as to how he wanted to carry out the investigation. 

A lot of Latinos are really proud that you are joining SVU in a lead role. Does it make you proud to represent Latinos with a starring role on such a revered show?

I'm certainly proud to be Cuban American and it's a fantastic opportunity for anybody — regardless of their ethnicity or nationality. It does carry a measure or pride to know where you're from and to know what your roots are. Tune in!