A successful entertainment career is an elusive thing. Law & Order: Organized Crime star Chris Meloni has undoubtedly carved one out. Thanks to his stints on Law & Order, he’s basically a household name these days. But what was the Elliot Stabler actor’s big break?
Well, it depends on how you define “big break.” Was it the first time Chris Meloni could support himself from his work on commercials in the early days? Or was it the first role he landed on a TV show? Was it the fifth?
Fortunately for us, the Law & Order star sat down with fellow actor Chazz Palminteri to give us his take on the matter.
“To me, what I always carry with me—the gigs that got me out of the bars, as a bartender, were the commercials. I did a lot of commercials in New York,” Meloni began. “I’ve always credited David Milch and NYPD Blue. They offered me a four-episode arc as Jimmy Leary, who was a Westie kind of guy, you know, the Irish gang on the West Side of New York.”
Chris Meloni’s stint on NYPD Blue didn’t come along until 1996, but the actor had longer arcs on other TV shows in the years prior. So why does he consider it his big break? Because he was never really able to sink his teeth into the sitcom and TV movie work he did in the early 1990s.
“I felt it,” Meloni continued. “It was the first time I’d had this feeling that I was recognized, even though I didn’t have the data to back it or boots on the ground direct knowledge. It was a really weird feeling of ‘Oh, people watch this’ and went ‘Oh, look at this guy. Look what he can do.'”
Chris Meloni’s Legendary Two Years Before Landing Stabler on ‘Law & Order: SVU’
By the time Meloni appeared on NYPD Blue, he already had nearly a decade of acting experience under his belt. But before then, there wasn’t much momentum to his career. That all changed in 1997.
“After that, the tumblers started falling. That was about ’96, ’97,” said Meloni.
And he wasn’t kidding. Between 1997 and 1999, the Law & Order star landed 13 roles. Some of them were in high-profile movies like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Runaway Bride. Most, though, further advanced his TV career. He had another arc on Brooklyn South and landed a series regular role on the fan-favorite Oz.
In 1999, Law & Order came calling. Elliot Stabler was born with the first episode of Law & Order: SVU titled “Payback.” For the next 12 years, Meloni would play the character until his decade-long hiatus. Now, he’s back to his old ways on Law & Order: Organized Crime.