'Law & Order: SVU's Peter Scanavino on Carisi's 'Frustrating Season' & His Career Goal

Law & Order SVU Season 21 Peter Scanavino Carisi ADA
Finale
Heidi Gutman/NBC

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Season 21 finale of Law & Order: SVU, "The Things We Have to Lose."]

Law & Order: SVU may have ended its 21st season earlier than expected, but it did so with an episode that brought back several cases from the year.

The squad has its hands full with setbacks in two of the cases from "Midnight in Manhattan". Fin (Ice T) is focused on Joelle and her son; her husband beat and raped her, and her son called 9-1-1. That unfortunately has a very tragic ending: Fin is forced to shoot the husband when he takes his own son hostage. Meanwhile, Kat's (Jamie Gray Hyder) friend Lakira calls her after a friend is assaulted (and later dies) — and she's certain it was the same man who attacked her. With proof and Lakira's testimony, Paul Davies is likely going away this time.

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Meanwhile, Rollins (Kelli Giddish) takes it upon herself to look after Ivy Bucci, who has spiraled since what happened with Getz and her father; she finally gets the teenager to agree to go to rehab.

And Olivia (Mariska Hargitay) and Carisi (Peter Scanavino) are focused on the trial of the year — Sir Toby Moore's — with the ADA taking lead. Witnesses are stressed, and Moore's lawyer keeps requesting delays due to his health. There's yet another postponement after Moore suffers a "heart episode" near the end of the finale. Will the trial happen? We'll have to wait and see if it's part of Season 22.

Here, Scanavino takes us inside Carisi's head in the finale and looks back on his first season as ADA.

Peter Scanavino Law & Order SVU Season 21 Carisi Court

(Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

Let's start with Carisi's mindset during this episode. There's a roller coaster of ups and downs for all the cases. Plus, there's the pressure he's put on himself even before the postponement at the end. He's the lead in a high-profile trial, talking to the witnesses…

Peter Scanavino: He's clearly stressed out because he's been put in this position, which is, it's a great opportunity, but it's an opportunity to succeed, but it's also an opportunity to fail. I don't think that's lost on him. This is kind of a make or break case for him. If he can get a good outcome, that means a lot for him personally, and if it all goes south, there could be repercussions for that.

It's high stakes from the start, but he's very driven. He's excited, but he just keeps slamming into these walls of delays and motions from the other team, and it gets so frustrating to a point that he almost loses his cool. He's disgusted, frankly, in the way this person is delaying the outcome and the right of the witnesses to confront him in open court.

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Then there's yet another postponement due to Moore's "heart episode," and Carisi's so frustrated and angry in court. Olivia says Moore won't get away with what he's done, but he says, "he already has." How defeated is he feeling after that?

It's been a real frustrating season for Carisi, and this is one of the examples of just the hurdles you have to jump over to get to an actual just outcome or even have your day in court. Several times this season, somebody else comes in, strikes a plea deal or another government agency takes over the case, and there's all these things that are getting in the way of doing what he wants to do, which is try cases.

When Rollins stops by, he takes a rain check on drinks. 

Maybe there was a little bit more to that than him just not going because he was going to be lousy company. He's maybe trying to protect himself in some way because that relationship, who knows what's there, what's not. He's in a place of change right now where things are changing for him, and I don't think he was in the mood.

Kelli Giddish Peter Scanavino Law & Order SVU Season 21 Rollins Carisi

(Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

Speaking of Carisi and Rollins, there were some moments of frustration this season, and we saw a bit of jealousy on his part when he saw her with Khaldun. They do share a small moment at the end of this episode, too; it's so rare to hear someone call him Dominick that it stands out. How is he feeling about her at this point? Does he know?

I think there is something there. I'm not quite sure what it is, but certain times you look to a specific friend or a type of person to get you through difficult times, and Rollins definitely is that person for Carisi. But when he says he doesn't want to go for the drink, maybe he's aware that there is something else there. He's very emotional in that moment, and he's emotionally protecting himself in that way because it's leaving him very vulnerable. What he doesn't want to be and doesn't want to feel in that moment is vulnerable.

When I spoke with Kelli Giddish earlier this season, she suggested that "they rely on each other too much" to take that step. How big of a role do you think that might play?

Yeah, that's a good point because it's a risk, right? What if you do try it out and it goes south and it doesn't work out at all and then what you had before has been — it's not like you can just say, "Oh, let's go back to the way it was before." That's not how life is. There is a risk involved in taking things to the next level, because that could lead to a lot of disappointment.

You spoke about Carisi's frustration, and it's been an almost full season of Carisi as ADA, so how’s he feeling about this transition? Would he consider it a success?

I think it's a success in that he's getting the ropes and seeing how this all works. But he's really gotten his sea legs. He knows how to stand on his own two feet, and he's really becoming the ADA that he wants to be and not the one Hadid wants him to be or even the squad wants him to be. He's coming into his own. It's a success in that sense. Has he done as many trials as he probably would have liked to have done? Probably not. But that's just the way it goes. This is how you learn to do that job.

And what have you enjoyed about Carisi's relationships with Olivia and the squad and with Hadid over the course of the season as he's settled in as ADA?

I feel like it's made Carisi and Benson even closer than they were before, and I thought they were very close before. Before it was definitely kind of a mentor/mentee relationship, and this one, you have them seeing each other more eye-to-eye because he's not underneath her in that same way. That's not to say he doesn't still have the utmost respect for her, which he obviously does, but sometimes they're in conflict, so it's been really interesting to play those scenes where there's this new tension there that wasn't there before.

Law & Order SVU Season 21 Olivia Carisi Hadid

(Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

And Hadid, she's kind of a mystery because sometimes it seems like they get along really well, sometimes they don't. There's this built-in distrust of Hadid, where he doesn't know where she's coming from sometimes, but then in other episodes, they're able to team up, [like] the pharmaceutical episode where they team up and do this number on a witness to get her to say what they need her to say. It's fun, and it's really fun to play with Zuleikha [Robinson], who's great on set.

He's clashed with Kat. What does he think of her now that he's gotten to see her work for a bit?

He likes Kat. You only clash with the people you actually care about, and she has a personality he really likes. She's forthright and she's got a lot of pep and energy, and he likes that.

And the character of Stabler is returning to the Law & Order universe. How do you think he and Carisi would get along?

I think they'd get along just fine. I could see him maybe getting angry at Carisi for not doing what he wanted him to do, and then Carisi getting angry that he's angry. So maybe there's some fireworks there, but they'd be friends.

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With another three seasons coming, is there anything you'd like to explore with Carisi going forward? Do you see any other career changes in his future?

I think he'll be a doctor next. [Laughs] No, I think this is the real path he wants to be on, and he wants to make moves in the ADA's office and he wants to climb that ladder as quickly as possible. He's got his eyes on the prize in the ADA's office.