If you can remember, Law & Order: SVU ended it's 14th season with a gun pointed at Detective Olivia Benson's head. Benson, played by Mariska Hargitay, has had many close calls during her 15 years on the show, but this one really pushed the boundaries of the normal episodes.
"She's never been in this much danger," show runner, Warren Leight says. "It takes her to places physically that's she never had to go and it takes her to places emotionally that she's had never had to go."
Last night, on the season 15 premiere, we see Benson undergoing the torture that she has seen all too many times from other women.
"At various points, he's drugging her and he's pouring alcohol down her mouth. He's torturing her psychologically and physically," Leight says. "It takes her a long while to accept the fact that this is happening to her. She bargains with him, she gets angry with him. She has to really go through a lot," said Leight.
The episode really pushed Hargitay to the extreme. "There are scenes in this episode, when you look at them, I don't recognize her. I don't recognize her voice. I don't recognize her face," he says. "It's almost as if what her character goes through and what she had to go through as an actress changed her," Leight says.
Hargitay also says that the episode changed her as an actor. This was the first time that she had ever been "nervous" to go to work. “It was, without a doubt, the most difficult episode I ever shot in 15 years, and it was unlike anything I’ve ever done,” Hargitay said. “But I have to tell you, after 15 years, to be nervous and scared and excited to go to work—it’s a pretty great thing.”
Shooting this episode was not as easy as the other episodes that she has filmed. She says that it was hard to determine when you are too emotionally involved. "When you're acting, your body doesn't know the difference of acting or being in reality, and you try to keep it real...I think you pretty much play the what-if game. It's just about believing it. I think that's why you study your whole life to be focused and be present."
This season will be focusing on Benson's efforts to deal with the horror that she experienced.
"I don't think Olivia's character can ever be the same after this. And that's what we'll be playing for the rest of the season is watching her process this," Leight says. Her road to recovery is a "path that she's watched 100 people go on over the last 15 years, so I think for an audience to see her on that path I think will be very moving and cathartic and engaging."
New episodes air Wednesdays at 9/8c on NBC.
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