Elliot Stabler is an iconic Law & Order character. He co-lead the strongest seasons of SVU, before moving over to lead a different team on Law & Order: Organized Crime. He also has a special bond with the franchise’s longest-running character, Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay). The writing has definitely done Stabler justice, but a lot of the credit has to be given to the actor who plays him.
Christopher Meloni brings a singular energy and charisma to the role, and has done so for over two decades. He’s truly one-of-a-kind, which is what makes the concept of a different guy else playing Stabler difficult to grasp. Difficult as it may be, though, that’s almost what happened.
Was Christopher Meloni the first choice for Stabler?
Meloni was a recognizable, albeit non-famous character actor when he auditioned for the role of Stabler back in 1999. He’s had bit parts in 12 Monkeys (1995) and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), but nothing so successful that he would be able to get the part on fame alone. He was one of four finalists considered for the role, alongside Tim Matheson, Nick Chinlund, and an actor who would go on to play a pivotal role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: John Slattery.
That’s right, there is alternate universe where Slattery, the man who would play Howard Stark in such classic superhero films as Captain America: Civil War (2016) and Avengers: Endgame (2018), is still busting bad guys in the Law & Order franchise. It’s easy to see Dick Wolf and the SVU team were interested in Slattery; the actor is wildly charismatic, and he brings a weathered, seen it all quality that would have suited the character of Stabler. Slattery is one year younger than Meloni, so that ages would have lined up as well.
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We’d say things worked out for the best. Meloni would go on to land the most iconic part of his career, and while Slattery had to wait a few decade to make his first MCU appearance in Iron Man 2 (2010), he earned four Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for a little show called Mad Men (2007-15).
Meloni even joked about the casting what if during a 2023 exchange on Twitter. Clearly, they’re both doing alright.
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