Philip Winchester interview: Peter Stone’s second act

LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- "Chasing Demons" Episode 1914 -- Pictured: Philip Winchester as Peter Stone -- (Photo by: Michael Parmelee/NBC)
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- "Chasing Demons" Episode 1914 -- Pictured: Philip Winchester as Peter Stone -- (Photo by: Michael Parmelee/NBC) /

Now that Peter Stone is Law & Order: SVU’s new prosecutor, where does he go from here? Philip Winchester told One Chicago Center about his next chapter.

There’s a new lawyer in New York. After being introduced in the previous episode, tonight Philip Winchester officially becomes Law & Order: SVU‘s new Assistant District Attorney.

But that’s a big leap for his character Peter Stone, who didn’t arrive under the best circumstances. And he’s got quite a bit of baggage to unpack, too, so how exactly is all of this going to work out?

In part two of our interview (read part one here), Philip Winchester connected with One Chicago Center to discuss how Peter will fit in with the SVU team and what his challenges will be in the rest of SVU season 19.

When tonight’s episode begins, Peter has replaced Rafael Barba as the show’s ADA, and much like Peter didn’t see that coming, neither did Philip Winchester.

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“When the framework of this was being hammered out by people above my pay grade, the conversation with them was look we want you over on SVU, we don’t know what it looks like yet, would you be interested?” he told us.

“I didn’t actually know for all intents and purposes what my role would look like in the SVU universe,” he revealed. “Whether I would come on as a second chair, whether I would be popping in and out and doing something in Chicago. I really didn’t know.

“Late December when I get the script, I read it and I go oh holy s–t, Barba’s going to resign and I’m going to step in. That was a whole different curveball I didn’t see coming.”

While character and actor are in the same boat in that respect, Peter Stone might have a harder time fitting in with his new colleagues than Philip Winchester has. After all, when last we saw him, he was prosecuting his predecessor. So will there be some acrimony between Peter and the SVU detectives going forward?

“Yeah, they’re not huge fans of Peter Stone,” Philip laughed. “What was interesting as an actor coming in to play that, clearly this team of people have been doing this such a long time together, they’re so tight and so brilliant and there’s no reason for them to welcome me with open arms but they absolutely did.

“So there was this really interesting thing happening where all our scenes were really gritty and sort of antagonistic towards each other and off camera, we were like I don’t even know you and I’m yelling at you in all these scenes. It was kind of hard to drum that stuff up day in and day out without having a relationship with these people.”

Another challenge that Peter will have to overcome on Law & Order: SVU is that this isn’t his show anymore, literally. While on Chicago Justice he had seniority and the team deferred to him in many ways, on SVU he’s the new guy and it’s everyone else who has the experience. Whether he’s able to get along with them or not, he needs their help.

“Peter Stone is absolutely nervous,” Philip told us. “He’s like hold on a second, how do you do things over here in New York? What’s great about the writing is Michael [Chernuchin] and the team of writers behind him have all said look, this is really important for our audience to know, Peter Stone is learning.

“This stuff is not as clear cut,” he continued. “The line is very grey so he’s leaning on [Olivia] Benson and going hey, listen, I have a job to do, you have a job to do. Can you walk me through how this works?”

And he’s going to have to master it on his own, because while he had Anna Valdez (Monica Barbaro) on Chicago Justice, the format of Law & Order: SVU means that Peter doesn’t have a dedicated second chair we see each week. So like Peter has to change his approach, so does Philip Winchester.

“It was oddly comforting,” he told us. “I say oddly because going into Justice, there was definitely a time period where I was going man, this is theater. I have my words and my suit, that is it. It was funny to find comfort in coming back to the mothership, the courtroom that’s been there since it all began, and go this is where I feel comfortable because this is Peter Stone doing what Peter Stone does which is dissect this case and make his point and has the law doing it’s job.

“So it was really fun for myself to see some real courtroom stuff even in that first episode, and now coming out of the second, third, fourth episode that I’ve been able to shoot. It’s great because the writers know that too. They know this is where Peter Stone is home and so they’re allowing it to happen in the courtroom and then to challenge him.”

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What makes Peter Stone’s transition into Law & Order: SVU season 19 so compelling, though, isn’t just that he’s the new ADA. It’s everything that he’s bringing with him, as the son of the very first prosecutor in the entire Law & Order franchise, and all the personal history he has. For all of those hurdles in front of him, he’s got just as many in what’s behind him.

“The thing I’m most excited about is the unraveling of why he’s staying in New York,” Philip explained, “and how those relationships with the existing SVU family become more real and more important to him and that comes through the writing.

“I’m excited for the audience to see that, because I have some fans that have come on board who have been amazing and said okay we’ll see what happens on SVU, and I have the SVU audience who some of them have gone screw you, we want Barba back and I love that.

“It’s not that I want to win them over, but I just want to be a part of the show and say this character is allowed to say things that we haven’t heard before or do things in a different way. If they like it, they like it. If they don’t, they don’t. But I’m glad I get an opportunity to say that.”

In fact, it’s entirely possible that with everything on his shoulders and all of his unfinished business, Peter Stone could be his own worst enemy regardless of how the fans or Benson or anyone else takes to him.

“With leaving New York and going to Chicago, for all intents and purposes he ran away,” Philip said. “He ran away from his problems, which was his father and the shadow of his father. He ran to Chicago and he hid in sports and the injury in sports led him back to law, but he still couldn’t go back to New York.

“And now here he is, facing the demons of his past even though his father isn’t here. Everyone mentions his father, saying I hope you’re nothing like him and all these things just being dragged up and he’s having to face them day in and day out. That makes for good drama and that makes for a complicated character.

“He is his own worst enemy and he’s learning that he has to say help. That he can’t do this on his own, because he doesn’t have his team, he has a group of people that are saying look, this is what we do. Hop on or go back home. And he’s having to say okay, show me again? Show me how you did that.”

But that’s the beauty of Peter Stone getting this, essentially, second lease on life. As he continues his journey, he’s getting this chance to grow that he never would have had even if Chicago Justice had been renewed for a second season. Because this is SVU, it’s taking the character someplace he can either move forward or fall on his face, or probably both.

Likewise, there’s a compelling story going on behind the scenes. Two years ago Philip Winchester had never played a lawyer in his whole career. Now, he’s done it on three different shows, and as a regular on two of them. He’s getting more comfortable in the skin of Peter Stone, though he’s still sharpening his skills, too.

“In every script I’ll run into something that I don’t understand,” he reflected, “and that’s because of the brilliance of the writing and they want it to be as real as possible. I’m an actor, not a lawyer, so I’m constantly coming up against stuff where I’m like what? So I crack open my law book and I’ll look at it and go oh that makes sense and I’ll put it in there a little bit deeper.

“Every time we do something in the courtroom or I talk with Michael or the writers who were lawyers themselves, a little more sinks in, a little more of the nuances and grey area of law starts to filter into me,” he concluded. “What’s great is I have this amazing group of people that there’s a world of knowledge. I can say, this does not make sense to me, can you please help me on this? And they do and we always get there.”

So whether you’re a Chicago Justice fan or a Law & Order: SVU fan, there’s a reason to be excited about Peter Stone. We’re watching a character grow in ways we could have only dreamed of, and a fantastic actor who’s continuing to build that character to new heights. We haven’t seen the best of Philip Winchester just yet, and Peter Stone’s likely got a few surprises up his sleeve as well. He may have just gotten here, but his story has only just begun.

Next: What happened in Peter Stone's first SVU episode

Don’t miss Philip Winchester continuing the story of Peter Stone in tonight’s Law & Order: SVU, at 9 p.m. ET on NBC. For more on SVU season 19, check out the Dick Wolf category.