'Law & Order: SVU' Star Jamie Gray Hyder Breaks Boundaries With Detective Kat Tamin's 'Layers' (Exclusive)

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is only beginning to peel back the layers of its newest detective, Katriona "Kat" Azar Tamin, played by Jamie Gray Hyder. Kat joined Capt. Olivia Benson's team at the start of Season 21 and already has a special episode devoted to her. In a new interview with PopCulture.com, Hyder broke down Kat's boundaries and how her breakout episode "Redemption In Her Corner" came to be.

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(Photo: Karolina Wojtasik/NBC)

In the episode, which aired earlier this month, Kat suspected a trainer at her boxing gym of having sex with an underage student. The episode took a sudden turn though, when the team discovered one of the other women at the gym was sexually assaulted by her father and they reunited her with her estranged sister. The episode had a "lot of layers" to it, as Hyder pointed out.

"In a case like Kat, we're all kind of getting to know her at the same time, the producers, the writers and myself," Hyder explained. "I think that this particular episode drew from life as much as it did kind of from the page in that the producers knew that I loved to box and that fighting was kind of my workout of choice and something I'd been doing for awhile."

"So when the storyline had kind of come up, I think they felt like it was a really great opportunity to dive deeper into Kat," Hyder continued. "Part of it was drawn from my personal life. Then part of it was drawn from the news and from the writer's mind and so in that way, it becomes kind of a collaboration of multiple parts."

Another aspect of Kat's background drawn from real life is that she is a Lebanese-American, just like Hyder. The actress said it was very important to her that she finally got to play a character of her own background. It also gives her a chance to show a character of a Middle Eastern descent in a positive light.

"It was hugely important for me. I've played a lot of characters of Latin heritage and I typically played ethnically ambiguous characters so to actually get to play not only my own heritage, but a kind of cultural identity that's been misrepresented oftentimes by entertainment," Hyder explained. "A Middle Eastern person in the past had kind of roles in action films or they were a spy or it was a terrorist thing or they were a woman in a position where they were being controlled by a particular man in their life. So to get the play sort of an average American citizen, who's also Middle Eastern and is also a police officer for me was really, really important."

Kat was also a unique character for Hyder in that she is already an experienced officer when audiences met her in the Season 21 premiere. She couldn't play her character as a rookie. Hyder said one acting lesson she picked up from Ice-T and Mariska Hargitay was "figuring out how to be comfortable in my character as quickly as possible."

"It's part of the conventions of Kat to kind of step outside the lines and show us a different side of law enforcement," Hyder said. "But to really fit with the style of the show, you really got to get your ABCs figured out pretty quickly so that everything feels natural and realistic and you're not dealing with sort of this high drama type material."

Kat also has to shake off her habits from her undercover work.

"In SVU, you're often coming in in a more reactionary position where something's already happened and you're having to now deal with it and figure out how to solve this crime and give justice to the person, the victims involved," she said. "That requires a different process I think that she's not as familiar with and is becoming very quickly familiar with, but still has a little ways to go."

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New episodes of Law & Order: SVU air Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.

Photo credit: Karolina Wojtasik/NBC