‘Law & Order: SVU’ Missed Out on Making A-List Actor a Series Regular Before Breakout

by Leanne Stahulak

With 500 episodes debuting over the last 22 years, “Law & Order: SVU” has seen its fair share of stars and celebrities cycle through. Even if they only appeared in one episode, you’d be surprised by some of the stars who made their acting debuts on the hit crime procedural.

Looper recently discovered one A-List Hollywood actor who almost became a series regular on the show back in the early 2000s. Though she only appeared in one episode, the showrunners had plans to bring Zoe Saldana’s character back for more on “SVU.”

Saldana starred in a Season 5 episode called “Criminal” in 2004. She played Gabrielle Vega, the daughter of a criminology professor named Javier Vega who was a murder suspect. Although his daughter claimed he was innocent, Javier had a criminal record that made him look suspicious. The team eventually caught the right killer, and people assumed that would be the last of Saldana on “Law & Order: SVU.”

But back in 2014, casting director Jonathan Strauss told Buzzfeed that they originally wanted to bring her back as a series regular. Saldana’s film career, however, quickly took off and prevented her from returning to the show.

“Zoe is one I had my eye on for a while,” Strauss told BuzzFeed. “It’s no secret now, but there’s no one like her, and there really was no one like her 10 years ago.”

He added, “At the time, my not-so-secret-mission was to implant characters on the show who could become something more. In this case, her character was in law school. And my hope was she could turn into an assistant district attorney. In the end, it ended up not being practical because she became famous very quickly and the scheduling was too complicated.”

What Prevented Zoe Saldana From Returning to ‘Law & Order: SVU?’

The 2000s was certainly not the time to try and rope Zoe Saldana into a “Law & Order: SVU” contract. She starred in several movies from 2004 to 2009 until landing two major contracts right at the end of the decade.

First, she premiered in the reboot “Star Trek” movies as Uhura. Then, shortly afterwards, made her legendary debut in James Cameron’s groundbreaking “Avatar” film. These two films really put Saldana on the map. It Led Marvel to cast her in “Guardians of the Galaxy” in 2014. She starred in four Marvel movies overall as Gamora, as well as several video games.

The “Law & Order” alum now has as many as 15 projects in the works right now, per IMDb. Four of those films include the upcoming “Avatar” sequels. One includes “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” and another includes a “Star Trek” prequel. But fans will always remember how she got her start in the “Law & Order” world.