‘Law & Order: SVU’: Danny Pino on Amaro’s Return and Relationships With Benson & Rollins

Danny Pino as Nick Amaro, Kelli Giddish as Detective Amanda Rollins in Law & Order SVU
Will Hart/NBC

Welcome back to SVU, Nick Amaro! Danny Pino returns to the NBC drama for its milestone 500th episode, and he’ll be working alongside his former squad, but in a different way.

In the years since Pino’s character exited on Law & Order: SVU — he moved to California at the end of Season 16 — he’s made some moves, and that’s just the beginning. He has a new job in genetics that leads to him asking SVU for help clearing a convicted man’s name and brings someone from Benson’s (Mariska Hargitay) past back into her life.

Pino discusses returning to SVU and previews the 500th.

Talk about the conversations about you coming back for the 500th. How did it come about?

Danny Pino: I received a text message from Norberto Barba, who is the executive producing director on SVU and who was a director on the show when I was a regular, and then we joined forces again on Mayans M.C. when he was the executive producing director [there]. We’ve been in contact throughout, him being Cuban American just like me, and we shared so many interests and maintained a friendship throughout.

When he texted me about the possibility of Amaro coming back and whether I’d be interested, that turned into a conversation with Warren Leight, who was the showrunner on SVU when I was there as well, and now, again, he’s the showrunner. So multiple conversations with Warren and discussing what Amaro’s evolution would be and where we’d find Amaro six years after leaving SVU and his interest as well as mine in that Amaro would have a significant arc and something meaningful to contribute to the storytelling of the 500th episode. After having those conversations and getting a lot of backstory in terms of Amaro’s post-graduate discipline in genetics and forensic science and genealogy and studying a little bit about that, it was hammered out and we were able to figure out a way in to showing the evolution of Nick Amaro.

Kelli Giddish as Detective Amanda Rollins, Aidan Quinn as Burton Lowe, Danny Pino as Nick Amaro in Law & Order SVU

Will Hart/NBC

Last we saw Amaro, he and Benson talked about how he wasn’t going anywhere in the department and planned to start over in California. How does he feel about where life has taken him?

I think he’s in a pretty positive place. He’s happily married, albeit in a blended family in California. He’s found a way to do what he’s passionate about, which is to bring closure to families who have suffered horrific crimes. I think he feels good about himself in that he’s earned two post-graduate degrees and is working his way towards a doctorate. In a lot of ways, I feel that he is in a place of strength and has something incredibly valuable to offer not only Benson but to law enforcement in general.

What brings him back to SVU?

An unsolved case. He is friendly with a crime writer played by Aidan Quinn, and Aidan Quinn and I go back several years, we did a film together, so to reconnect with Aidan was also an amazing thing to be able to do because he is such a gifted actor and such a great person. But Amaro comes back thinking that he is reopening a cold case, a murder of a high school student who is killed on prom night. He needs Benson’s blessing to reopen it and gain access to the evidence so that he can try and re-examine the evidence for genetic markers so that maybe they can identify the actual perpetrator of the crime and potentially exonerate somebody who’s been sitting in jail for 20 years and who’s been saying that he was innocent. So in a big way Amaro is trying to right the wrong of what transpired 20 years prior. But in addition to that, he’s also trying to reconnect with these people that he loves, including Benson and Rollins [Kelli Giddish].

Danny Pino as Nick Amaro in Law & Order SVU

Will Hart/NBC

Speaking of, what can we expect from Benson and Amaro’s dynamic? Because they were partners, now she’s captain, he’s not at SVU…

What’s beautiful I think about the journey of Amaro and the journey of Benson is that there’s a similarity between that journey and the journey that I personally have taken, not only as a father, but also as an actor, and the journey that Mariska has taken as an artist and an actor and as a mother and as an activist. There’s this reconnection of people who love each other, and we drop right back into that friendship. But I think the healthiest thing that Mariska and I share and experience, and I think you see that in the relationship between Benson and Amaro, is this space for the characters to grow while they’re still connected to that same friendship, that same relationship that they share.

Space for growth is important. Amaro respects that she’s captain. Amaro respects the amount of responsibility that is on her shoulders. He’s incredibly proud of her. I also think that is reflected back to him, that Benson also feels similarly about him. Amaro’s never afraid to punch up, right? He’s never afraid to speak truth to power. And while that could come across as abrasive to some people, what I think is attractive about that character trait is that he’s honest and sometimes honesty, however harsh it might be, is love. It’s kindness. It’s actually trying to break a cycle. It’s trying to help people evolve and maybe shine light into a blind spot. Amaro, I think, has always been that for Benson, and I think Benson has been that for Amaro in a big way. So I tip my hat to Warren, Julie [Martin], and Brianna [Yellen], to be able to fit that into the storytelling of this episode.

Amaro and Rollins had a complicated relationship, to say the least. How are things between them, especially now that she’s with Carisi (Peter Scanavino)?

I don’t think Amaro knows that for sure. It’s important for Amaro to retain some of that innocence as to what he knows, what he doesn’t know. What’s fascinating for me is that Amaro, even though he’s now an expert in genetics and an expert in forensic science and an expert in genealogy, he is still a detective and his bulls**t meter is still highly tuned.

When he and Rollins are talking, there’s definitely a certain line that Amaro feels like he doesn’t want to cross with Rollins, given their past relationship and given that he’s a married man, but he definitely senses that there’s something that Rollins isn’t telling him, and that’s why he goes on to ask Carisi about it. And then Carisi’s response, or non-response, I think, sets off all kinds of sirens in Amaro’s head as a detective and that maybe a half-truth is being told or maybe even a lie is being told. And that makes him suspect something else. So for Amaro, it’s all suspicion. And for people who know Amaro, suspicion for him is enough.

Law & Order: SVU, Thursdays, 9/8c, NBC