An unbreakable bond — on and off screen. Mariska Hargitay and Chris Meloni first met on the set of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in 1999, when they were cast as Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler, respectively.
“I have a million memories from the pilot, especially the immediate chemistry with Chris. We were filming in the Meatpacking District, and it was really hot and raining, so we all had to wear baseball caps,” Hargitay recalled to TV Insider in 2018. “I was going, ‘How lucky is this California girl to be shooting a television series in New York with this fantastic actor and fantastic crew!’”
For years on the series, fans wanted their characters to come together romantically, something that never happened. Instead, Elliot and Liv formed a seemingly unbreakable working relationship and friendship — until he unexpectedly left the unit at the end of season 12.
Meloni exited the NBC drama in 2011, choosing to focus on other projects. Still, the actor’s relationship with Hargitay remained and the pair reunited on many occasions, often snapping selfies and sharing them on social media for the longtime fans.
Meloni returned to SVU for the first time in 10 years in an April 2021 episode before kicking off his new series, Law & Order: Organized Crime. He revealed that he just felt it was time to bring Stabler back — something that was confirmed during his first night of shooting, when he stepped out of his trailer and a woman saw him on the street.
“She goes, ‘Oh, my God, oh, my God,’ and she starts hyperventilating. Tears start swelling and forming in her eyes,” he told TVLine in March 2021. “I’m like, ‘Hey, how you doing?’ She goes, ‘No, you don’t understand: You’re the reason I became a cop.’ That was my introduction back to the meaning and the power and the place that my character — and our characters — have held in the consciousness of many people. It was nice.”
Hargitay, meanwhile, confirmed in January 2022 that fans are not the only ones who feel the chemistry between Benson and Stabler.
“Olivia Benson is hurt! I mean, he left me in a lurch for 10 years. She’s frightened,” she explained on The Drew Barrymore Show. “The energy’s there. Olivia’s been in love with him for many a year and I think that we are slowly finding our way back to it, but I want to give him the amount of time he needs to grieve Kathy Stabler.”
Scroll through the gallery below for more of their best quotes about their close friendship: