Law & Order: Special Victims Unit stars Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni have a friendship worthy of celebrating, as they have stayed close for over 20 years. Even after Meloni left SVU in 2011, the two remained close and could often be seen reuniting on their social media pages. They finally reunited onscreen earlier this year, when Meloni returned to the franchise to lead the new Law & Order: Organized Crime spin-off.
Hargitay, 57, and Meloni, 60, began working together in 1999 when SVU premiered. Hargitay was cast as Olivia Benson, a role she has been playing non-stop for 23 years now, while Meloni starred as Elliot Stabler. Meloni left after Season 12, but creator Dick Wolf wooed him back for Organized Crime, in which Stabler joins the Organized Crime Control Bureau. Of course, his return meant he shared scenes with Benson both on SVU and Organized Crime in crossover episodes. In a February 2021 joint interview with PEOPLE Magazine, the two said they still "have each other's back."
Meloni said their friendship began the moment they started filming screen tests. "It happened at the screen test," he told PEOPLE. They "walked into the screen test, me telling her a story, and we get up on stage in front of all the suits, and we're just so engaged." Hargitay also knew the instant she saw Meloni for the first time that he was the perfect Stabler.
"I walked in, saw him, and I went, 'That guy. That's the guy.' It went deep, very fast. We both knew that it was something big," she said in February. "I won't say that I fully understood it, but I knew that meeting him was important and life-changing. My father, my husband, [Law & Order creator] Dick Wolf, and Chris are the four pillar men in my life. And that happened early."
During the first 12 seasons of SVU, the two supported each other through major moments in their lives. Hargitay's father, bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay, died in 2006, and Hargitay married actor Peter Hermann in 2004. Meloni and Hargitay also became parents during those 12 years. "The birth of his first child and being privy to his amazing, solid relationship with his wife, before I had that for myself — I think that Chris and [his wife Sherman Williams] played a really big role for me, to see this really stable couple that loved each other," Hargitay told PEOPLE. This helped Hargitay see Meloni as someone she could lean on when she needed him. "It was like family," she said.
In another part of the PEOPLE interview, Hargitay said she was "so sad" after Meloni left SVU in 2011 because they went through so many milestones together and "understood so many things that nobody else could understand." While they did not work together in front of cameras for a decade, the two "stayed connected," Meloni said.
Hargitay and Meloni will be back after a summer off with new SVU and OC episodes this fall. Law & Order: SVU Season 23 will start with a two-hour season premiere on Thursday, Sept. 23 at 8 p.m. ET, followed by Organized Crime Season 2 at 10 p.m. ET. NBC originally had plans to debut another Law & Order series, Law & Order: For the Defense, this fall, but the show was canceled before it ever aired.