Law and Order SVU puts Peter Stone on trial tonight, and Philip Winchester spoke about his reaction to the case – and how he sees Peter now.
Peter Stone becomes the defendant in tonight’s episode of Law & Order: SVU, and that turned the tables for Philip Winchester.
Going back to his days on Chicago Justice, Peter has made mistakes. But he’s never been accused of a crime. That’s exactly what happens in “Mea Culpa,” when a woman from his past (guest star Alexandra Breckinridge, This Is Us) says he sexually assaulted her—leaving Peter fighting for his freedom, his career and his reputation.
It’s a shocking accusation given Peter’s established history, so what was Philip’s reaction when he saw what Peter would face? How did he handle such a difficult episode? And did it leave him with a different opinion of his character?
One Chicago Center connected with Philip Winchester before this week’s SVU to ask him these questions and others. Find out what he had to tell us below, and then tune in tonight to see the full episode and discover if Peter is about to take a very hard fall.
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One Chicago Center: Having Peter Stone accused of sexual assault seems so far out of character. What was your reaction when you first got this script?
Philip Winchester: My first reaction was making sure that we got it right, in terms of making sure that both sides of the coin were covered.
SVU has a side that it leans to, and I think that under the current condition of our country and the things that we’re going through with different movements, that’s important. But there are other stories, and there are other sides to the coin.
And so when Stone gets accused of something, there was a tendency for the show to say well, we’re still going to rake you over the coals and we’re still going to go through that you have to maybe admit to something, and maybe we’ll sift through it, but you have to admit that you were wrong, just because you’re a man. And I wanted to make sure that that didn’t come across.
We went back and forth quite a few times on how we were supposed to tell this story. The one that we ultimately got to was a place where we are right now as a culture—where everyone’s asking the question, did we behave appropriately in the past? Did we make mistakes? Was it one person’s fault or was it two people’s fault? That’s the question that I was really concerned about when we started tackling this episode.
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OCC: At the end of last week’s SVU, when ADA Chris Hodges is arrested, he tells Peter that they’ll come for him. Was that deliberate foreshadowing for this episode?
Philip Winchester: When I heard him say that, I was like, “Gosh, I wonder if that is a total little nod to what’s coming down the pipe.” And I think it was. I think that we always knew this episode was coming. It was something that, again, we were sort of nervous [and] excited about telling such a topical story. And so I do think it was on purpose.
OCC: Which then prompts the question, if these two episodes are meant to be connected, is the fact that Peter just had another ADA arrested for something he did in his past then influencing the way he behaves in this SVU episode?
Philip Winchester: Absolutely. And it was kind of hard for me not to go there when I was prosecuting that case [in “Hell’s Kitchen”], because I knew that the script was coming down the pipe, and we were working on it. We were honing it and making sure that it was less of, “Because someone said I did something I have to just say, okay. I must have done it but I forgot.”
I was pretty adamant about not telling that story, and telling a story that was, let’s figure this out. Let’s uncover all the truth in this case and make sure that everyone’s story is heard. And so I was trying not to go there in my head as we were doing the script before.
OCC: There also has to be a certain degree of painful irony, because Peter Stone was introduced to SVU prosecuting an ADA, and now he’s being prosecuted himself. Did that make filming this a bit surreal?
Philip Winchester: it was a little surreal. I think being able to legally take care of myself in the scene, that was quite entertaining. But, I think that’s the genius behind the writing on the show. They know where these characters are from, they know how they work, so there’s always stories to be told within their lives.
OCC: Since the accuser is someone from Stone’s past, does that mean that SVU will be revealing more of his backstory through this case?
Philip Winchester: We dive into a little bit more of that. A little bit more of his baseball history, and then the troubles that that brought with it. Mostly it’s him just kind of sitting down. The name of the episode is “Mea Culpa.” Admitting fault. And so I think despite the truth that comes out at the end of the show, it’s Stone genuinely digging into his past and saying, I wonder if there were better decisions I could’ve made.
OCC: If he’s re-examining himself, did this week’s SVU also make you look at Peter Stone any differently when it was over?
Philip Winchester: We do come away looking at Stone a little differently. Because you can’t walk away untouched by this stuff. And that was one of the most important story points for me, was if you accuse someone of something as heinous as this, it’s not something that goes away. You damn near ruin someone’s life if you do this. So the search for truth [with] an accusation like this has to be so thorough and so specific. I really wanted that to come across in the story, because it changes the way we look at Stone. It really does.
OCC: What was your biggest challenge in playing this particular episode and this difficult thing that he has to go through?
Philip Winchester: The search for truth is always the biggest thing, and there’s always two sides to a coin. We have systems in place in the United States. We have due process. We are innocent until proven guilty despite Twitter and despite the noise from the media. And I think that it’s really, really important that we stick to those guns. That’s what makes us different from every other country. That’s what makes us a great country, and we have to remember that.
It doesn’t mean that victims shouldn’t be heard. It just means that there’s a process. That was my biggest thing, especially being the lawyer on the show. And I think Peter comes from that point too. He knows he’s going to be tarnished because it’s been thrown in his direction. That’s just the nature of a claim like this. And so he says, “Okay. I have to trust the system that I give my life to.”
I want that story to come across when people watch this episode. To go, let’s listen to both sides and let’s really let the rule of law work in this situation, and not mob mentality.
OCC: SVU season 20 in general has been tough to watch for Peter specifically because of where it’s taken him. What has it been like for you to play him down these paths that are not what we expect of him?
Philip Winchester: It’s really interesting to play these different sides of this character…The way that he’s dealing with loss, and the way that he’s dealing with grief, is not right but it is definitely a coping mechanism. It’s not right, but it’s real. And I think the more we engage in the reality of Peter Stone’s life, the more audience members can say hey, I’m going through something similar. Maybe I’m making the right decision or the wrong decision as well.
OCC: At least on a positive note, you’ve had multiple opportunities to touch on his time with Chicago Justice through a few guest appearances. What has it meant to you, to have people like Carl Weathers and Gary Basaraba come onto SVU?
Philip Winchester: It’s so comforting for me. We had this great relationship on Chicago Justice and so when we step back and work on this show together, it’s just like being home. And I’m reminded of how fortunate I am to have come from Chicago Justice [with] everyone who was on that show, all the great actors that were there. When I work with them over on SVU, I’m just reminded of how I’m a part of something so much bigger than I can even imagine.
There’s so much history and there’s so much weight behind this stuff. You know, we just did a scene yesterday where I recalled a line that my father said in like, the third episode of the first season of Law & Order, and I was so excited when I saw the script, I said, “Man, my dad said that line.” This is a legacy and to be a part of it, obviously it’s great, but it’s so much deeper than that. You’re digging up stories and you’re reliving things that made you want to be an actor. To see those things come back full circle is pretty amazing.
For the latest SVU season 20 spoilers and news, plus more on all of Dick Wolf’s other series, follow the Dick Wolf category at One Chicago Center.