Meet ‘Law & Order: SVU’s New ADA! Will He Clash With Olivia & the Squad?

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit - Season 21
Virginia Sherwood/NBC

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Season 21 premiere of Law & Order: SVU, “I’m Going to Make You a Star.”]

Law & Order: SVU has a new ADA — and it’s someone very familiar to fans.

Sonny Carisi (Peter Scanavino) makes the move from Benson’s (Mariska Hargitay) squad to the DA’s office in the Season 21 premiere, and right off the bat, he’s clashing with his former teammates and stuck in the middle between them and his new boss, Vanessa Hadid (Zuleikha Robinson).

TV Insider spoke with Scanavino about his character’s new gig.

Carisi has a new job! When did you find out he was making the move to the DA’s office?

Peter Scanavino: Shortly after the end of last season, when it was announced Warren [Leight] was going to be the new showrunner. He called me and said he wanted to discuss the character and he point blank said, “Would you be interested in being the new ADA?” I jumped and immediately said, “Yes, yes, I would.” Ever since it was introduced that Carisi had gone to law school and then he passed the bar in the following season, it was always something in the back of my mind, not knowing if it was a possibility, so to get that request was welcome news to me.

And how does where he is in his career and personal life play a role in him making the move now?

In the fictional world, when opportunity comes knocking, you have to make a decision, especially where Carisi is. He’s not a young man — he’s not 20 and starting his life — so you have to start thinking what do you really want for your life? Certain doors do start closing behind you as you get older. He gets presented with this chance, this opportunity to jump into uncharted territory, and he has to say, “Am I going to do this or am I not?” He decides he’s going to. He’s at a pivotal point in his life. He’s been a detective for a while now and if he’s ever going to give it a shot, now’s the time.

(Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

In the premiere, we already saw that Carisi and Hadid are not always going to be on the same page. How much will that continue to be true and what does he think of his new boss?

He’s kind of unsure of his new boss. Is she too political? He still has a foot in the police department, where it’s very emotional. You have an intuitive sense if someone’s done something wrong but then that’s coupled with his new job where no matter how you feel, there’s still an evidentiary standard you need to achieve before you can prosecute a case. That’s a conflict within him, not just his split loyalties, but how does he square that peg?

In terms of Hadid, she hires him because his access to the police department can keep her informed on what’s going on and then the police department expects him to do the same, so he’s caught between these two places, where he wants to be and where he was and he’s trying to find his path forward.

We already see in the premiere there’s a bit of a divide between Carisi and his old team now. They say he’s now on the “dark side” and he “was” not “is” one of them. What are we going to see from that moving forward?

You’ll see a lot of how they start to see him in his new position. He’s not the detective who was in the trenches with them these past seasons, but he’s got this new job and just as he’s getting comfortable with it himself, all the other characters are learning to deal with it.

Olivia’s captain now. How will that change things for the show and for her and Carisi’s dynamic moving forward?

It’s interesting because Carisi always looked up to Benson as a mentor and she was a guide for him. What she does is where I follow. But now there’s a bit of conflict sometimes, where she may want Carisi to do one thing, but he just says plainly, “I can’t do it.” There’s a little bit of tension now in that relationship I don’t think existed before.

In which areas of the job is it hardest for him to not slip into what he knows from his time as a detective now that he has to play by different rules?

In the SVU department, prosecutors will often times work very closely with the detectives, so just to not slip into that interrogational style where you’re trying to mine the facts from suspects. He’s more often now sitting down with other lawyers and they’re speaking about a deal that’s going to get cut or what’s not going to happen. It’s a different tactic, sense, and feel for the scene.

(Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

What’s Carisi going to be like in court?

He’s going to be a little nervous at first. Like anything, that’s a skill that you have to learn. He’s green. He’s obviously seen a lot of court. He sat and watched Barba [Raúl Esparza], he’s watched Stone [Philip Winchester], but now it’s his turn and when you’re up there, even just as an actor, all eyes are on you, so it’s nerve-wracking in that sense. He’s gotta find his way. He’s by no means a seasoned pro right off the bat.

Are there any former ADAs who will offer advice to him or any you’d like to show up?

I would love to see Barba come back. I’d love to see some relationship with Stone. These are relationships Carisi developed over the past six seasons, so I wouldn’t be surprised. I don’t know for sure, but I’d like to see that happen. I think there’s definitely some room in the show for that.

Let’s talk about Carisi and Rollins’ relationship. Will we see anything more there now that they’re not on the squad together? Or does his new job still make things complicated?

It’s always complicated with Rollins and Carisi. They’re two very ambitious people with a lot on their plates, especially Rollins with the two young children. That’s a thing that plays almost in what’s not said and played with looks, but there’s always something underneath the surface between them and that’ll come out in some of the episodes coming up.

Are there any cases you’re particularly excited about, especially with Carisi in this new role?

There’s definitely some cases that test where Carisi might have a personal view that’s in conflict with a law and it’s nice to see him wrestle with some of those issues. His job is to uphold the law, and he knows that supersedes any personal opinion he has on an issue. You can see the internal conflict in Carisi, but at the end of the day, he’s an officer of the law.

Law & Order: SVU, Thursdays, 10/9c, NBC