'Law & Order: SVU' Star Mariska Hargitay on Christopher Meloni Return: 'There Have Been Many Conversations'

Although it has been almost a decade since Christopher Meloni left Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, fans are still hoping Detective Elliot Stabler will be returning to the show. In a new interview, Mariska Hargitay did her best to avoid the question, but said there have been "conversations" about it. Just last month, showrunner Warren Leight said bringing Meloni back was "above my pay grade."

"I can't tell you that; I'm taking the Fifth!" Hargitay, who plays Captain Olivia Benson, told PEOPLE. "There have been conversations, many a conversation."

Meloni starred on SVU's first 12 seasons, but was mysteriously missing when the show returned for Season 13. Stabler's character was never given a proper send-off, which is why so many fans have been yearning to see him come back. The actor left after he was unable to reach terms with NBC on a contract extension.

In January, Leight told E! News bringing Meloni back was out of his hands, and said it would even be tricky to even bring back elements of Stabler's story back.

"Look: I assume that if some year, some decade, couple decades from now, we get to the last SVU, [Meloni] would have to come back before we do the last episode or before the show signs off," Leight told TV Line last year. "However, I don't think we're at that point in the show's run."

Meloni himself told fans on Twitter in December 2018 he had "zero plans" to come back.

Elsewhere in her new interview with PEOPLE, Hargitay reflected on SVU's success as the show continues its record-breaking 21st season. The show is the longest-running primetime scripted drama in TV history, passing the original Law & Order and Gunsmoke this year.

"I felt so deeply connected to Olivia Benson from the second I read [the script]," Hargitay said. "And yet as actors, we've seen so many projects come and go and not move forward. I think that the best way to describe it is: Even if I had been wildly, recklessly optimistic about the future, I couldn't have ever dreamed that we'd be here in this moment in television history."

Hargitay has played the same character on one show longer than anyone, but she said she still remembers her audition like it was yesterday.

"I had just finished a 13-episode arc on ER," she recalled. "I remember actually saying, 'Oh God, I've been on the best show on television, where am I going to go? There's always one place for me, and that's Law & Order.' I said that. Maybe I am a little psychic. Then this audition came, and it was like lightning in a bottle. I met Chris Meloni. I just knew that he was Stabler."

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

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