Since Law & Order SVU debuted in 1999, the cast has always been the key to the show.
Mariska Hargitay now holds the record for the longest regular run as the same character in a single series. Ice-T is hot on her heels as Finn has been around since the second season.
The series has seen its revolving door with scores of cast members entering and exiting over the years. Some were around for a long while, others barely a season yet made an impact thanks to some good actors.
Several of them were TV veterans before coming to SVU, which led to some intriguing past roles. A few were in crime shows which gave them some experience before SVU. Others were interesting in comedic roles while showing their great talents off.
A few were before the era of regular streaming shows and on series’ long-forgotten.
These are ten roles fans may not know the SVU cast once held, showing their talents in different ways.
Raul Esparza as a strange salesman in Pushing Daisies
Esparza’s return in season 22 reminded fans how much fun Barba was on SVU. The ADA handled some nutty cases with some dry humor but could win any case in court.
One of Raul Esparza’s more notable roles came in the beloved cult 2007 show Pushing Daisies. The quirky series revolved around a piemaker who could bring the dead back to life amid a fantastic world.
Kristin Chenoweth played a waitress at his pie shop with Esparza as a traveling salesman. He was hit by the bizarre fear of the Earth suddenly losing its atmosphere, but his banter with Chenoweth was fun.
The series lasted two short seasons but had a devoted following, with Esparza one of the many charming characters making it magical.
Richard Belzer as a reporter in The Flash
Richard Belzer currently holds the record for the most TV show appearances by the same character.
All told, John Munch has been on ten TV series from Homicide to The X-Files to SVU. Fans love his sardonic one-liners and conspiracy rants.
Belzer was already a successful comedian when he debuted the role of Munch on Homicide. Before that, he had a few interesting TV roles.
One was on the original 1990 Flash CBS series. Belzer played Joe Kline, the go-to TV reporter in Central City.
Kline would pop up, at first dubious about some super-speeding hero but then realizing the Flash was for real. It was a small role but showed Belzer’s dry wit could work even outside of Munch.
Demore Barnes as a lawyer in The Associates
A dramatic storyline in season 22 of SVU saw Chief Garland facing the bigotry of the NYPD. While he hoped things would change, the season ended with hints that Garland’s own career is in jeopardy.
Born in Canada, Demore Barnes is known for roles in the military drama The Unit and Supernatural. Yet, he had an intriguing one in his native land.
The Associates was a Canadian legal drama about a firm in Toronto. The twist was that it had merged with an American firm with several lawyers adjusting to the differences between American and Canadian courts.
Ironically, Barnes played one of the American lawyers whose attitude got him in trouble with judges.
Given he’s so good as a cop on SVU, it’s funny Barnes could have handled the courtroom part of the show as well.
Jamie Gray Hyder as a drug lord’s sister in Graceland
The latest addition to the cast, Jamie Gray Hyder’s Kat, has been proving herself as a tough cop handling the dark world.
Hyder has a few TV credits, such as True Blood and The Last Ship. One of her biggest was on USA’s cop drama Graceland.
The series focused on a beach house secretly home to agents of the FBI, DEA, and other agencies. Season 2 revolved around them hunting a deadly cartel leader.
One agent gets closer to the man’s sister, played by Hyder. She’s mostly unaware of her brother’s crimes and truly loves the agent. When a raid on her brother happens, he tries to kill Hyder, and the agent saves her.
She left afterward as she couldn’t handle having been lied to all this time. Given her tough work as Kat, it’s fun to see Hyder on the other side of the law in this drama.
Tamara Tunie as a cop’s wife in NYPD Blue
At first, just a recurring character, Melinda Warner graduated to the opening credits halfway through SVU’s run. The character has reverted to recurring, with Tamara Tunie making a return in season 22.
Usually just around to tell the detectives how a victim died, Warner has gotten into the line of fire now and then. Tunie has good experience with the show, so it’s easy to forget this isn’t her first turn in a procedural.
NYPD Blue was a groundbreaking cop show that pushed the boundaries for network TV in the 1990s. James McDaniel was one of the key stars as Arthur Fancy, the unit’s first Lieutenant.
Tunie played Fancy’s wife, who, unlike her husband, was warm-hearted and outgoing. There were concerns over her health issues and pregnancy, but she nicely grounded her husband with her behavior.
She didn’t make many appearances on the show, but Tunie provided much-needed heart to an otherwise dark cop show.
Peter Scanavino as a law student in The Bedford Diaries
Peter Scanavino is a unique person in Law & Order lore: He made guest appearances on L&O, SVU, Criminal Intent, and Trial By Jury before landing the part of Sonny Carisi.
One of the more surprising turns of Carisi was when the cop jumped from SVU to being the ADA handling their cases in court.
Scanavino was believable as the rough and tumble detective but still jarring for fans to see him adjust to a courtroom. Oddly, Scanavino already had experience with it.
The Bedford Diaries aired in early 2006 on the old UPN network. It focused on a pack of college students brought together into a unique seminar by an eccentric professor (Matthew Modine).
Scanavino appeared in two episodes as a law student romancing one of the other characters. The series didn’t last past its spring run yet showed Scanavino had some legal experience before his L&O run.
Kelli Giddish as a unique psychologist in Past Life
Amanda Rollins has been through a major wringer on SVU. She’s had to handle a criminal sister, a gambling problem, and raising two kids.
Kelli Giddish has handled the role with skill and believability as a cop. She had shown that in the short-lived NBC drama Chase. But her first turn at law enforcement was weirder.
Past Life was a 2009 Fox series with Giddish as a psychologist who realizes a patient’s issues stem from being a murder victim in a past life. She works with a dubious detective and others to see if others are reincarnations of murder victims.
The series mixed doubts whether these people truly had past lives or just mental problems and even the hint one may well be a murderer themselves.
While a unique concept, the series only lasted three episodes before being canceled. Giddish would go on to Chase and then Rollins, but this is a unique role from her own past.
Ice-T as an ex-con working for the FBI in Players
Ice-T was a notable early addition to SVU. His Finn has been good, from undercover work to the occasional wisecrack helping the team out.
While rising to fame as a rapper, Ice-T also had various TV and movie roles, often playing a street thug. He played on that for NBC’s 1997 drama Players.
The series used a familiar concept as the FBI recruited a trio of ex-cons, offering pardons in exchange for helping bust bigger crooks. Ice-T was Issac “Ice” Gregory, a former gang leader now trying to make amends.
The series had the turn of every episode, somehow working “con” into the title and Ice-T nicely showing his usual intensity in the role. It lasted just one season yet proved Ice-T had the skills to play a cop on TV.
Christopher Meloni as a dim-witted worker in The Fanelli Boys
After years away, Christopher Meloni made a big return to Law & Order as his Stabler leading the Organized Crime spin-off.
Meloni had been a popular face on TV for several years, including the groundbreaking HBO drama Oz. But one of his first roles was a far cry from Stabler.
The Fanelli Boys was a 1990 NBC sitcom about a widow intent on selling the family funeral home business to move to Florida. Unfortunately, her bumbling sons aren’t keen on the move, especially when they find out how much debt the place is in.
Meloni was the slightly thick-headed and egotistical son whose engagement had fallen through. He was often the source of laughs for his antics causing some trouble.
The series lasted only one season, yet it’s notable seeing Meloni trying a sitcom role rather than his intensity as Stabler.
Mariska Hargitay as the quirky best friend in Can’t Hurry Love
As the daughter of legendary bombshell Jayne Mansfield, it would have been easy for Mariska Hargitay to get some “sexy” roles.
Instead, her first tries in Hollywood ran from guest star roles on crime shows to even a spoiled heiress on Baywatch.
Hargitay was also the classic “best friend next door” in the sitcom Can’t Hurry Love. One of the many would-be “Friends clones” on TV in 1995, Nancy McKeon played a woman handling dating life with her pals.
Hargitay was Didi, her free spirit best friend, often getting her into hijinks (like accidentally stealing Elizabeth Taylor’s necklace).
While it had good ratings, it was canceled after one season. It’s still funny to see Hargitay showing more comedic chops than Benson.
Law & Order SVU seasons 1-22 on Hulu and Peacock. Season 23 premieres this fall on NBC.