September 29, 2022

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The Legal System

SVU’ Star Octavio Pisano on Earning Approval From Benson, Stabler and the Fans

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Octavio Pisano’s character Detective Joe Velasco crosses over to “Law & Order: Organized Crime” on Thursday’s episode, “The Lost One,” where he teams up with Elliot Stabler (Chris Meloni) and tech whiz Jet Slootmaeker (Ainsley Seiger) to find a kidnapped girl.

While Velasco, who only joined the SVU squad this season, took a while to earn the approval of veteran cop Fin Tutuola (Ice-T), when Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) recommends him for the assignment, Stabler is impressed with his work.

“They actually get along great,” Pisano told TheWrap of Stabler and Velasco’s working relationship. “They both have backgrounds in organized crime. He’s been in that world before, so I think Stabler saw that and appreciated it.”

As for working with Seiger, who is also fairly new to the “Law & Order” universe, Pisano said, “She’s fantastic. I haven’t seen much of her work until I went over there and she’s super creative, she’s really fun to work with.”

Velasco’s mixed reception at SVU mirrors Pisano’s introduction to viewers, who weren’t thrilled to see a new actor after series regulars Demore Barnes (Deputy Chief Christian Garland) and Jamie Gray Hyder (Officer Kat Tamin) were shown the door in Season 22. “In the beginning, it was tough because two other series regulars were let go and so people were skeptical of my character, especially because his chief was McGrath, who nobody liked,” said Pisano, who was quickly promoted to series regular this season.

“I think Benson and Fin being skeptical about him and having their guard up kind of resembled how the fans were. But throughout the season, they were able to see more into his backstory and who he is and his choices and where his heart is. And I think with getting Fin’s and Benson’s vote of confidence, now, it’s amazing. The fan base is incredible and very involved and have been following the show for years, so it’s an honor, walking the streets of New York getting to know these fans. I love it.”

Referring to Warren Leight, who stepped down as showrunner after Season 23 wrapped, Pisano said: “Warren told me at the beginning of the season, ‘This will be the education of Joe Velasco.’ Because his background is basically undercover, he didn’t usually operate within the limits of the law, because he needed to get the job done. Now, he’s learning that to prosecute an oppressor or a criminal, there has to be certain guidelines, otherwise there’s no point in catching someone if you can’t put them behind bars.”

Pisano previously worked with “Law & Order” honcho Dick Wolf on a pilot for a 2019 revival of ’90s series “New York Undercover.” When Wolf brought him back for “SVU,” Pisano was able to draw on the three weeks of training he received for the previous project “We had extensive training with guns and how to bust into a room and all the drills and everything,” he said.

Fans got to know Velasco better in the episode “Once Upon a Time in El Barrio,” where the Mexican-born detective’s background came into play as he sought three girls who were trafficked from his town of Ciudad Juárez. “I did discuss the backstory of Velasco with a lot of the writers at the beginning of the season. I grew up in a border town, Tijuana, which is similar to where Velasco was brought up. It was a lot of the same or similar crimes. I think they took that and built it into the character,” he said.

Velasco’s background comes up again in an episode dealing with predator priests, “Confess Your Sins to Be Free.” “[My character’s] going to have to ask himself some questions in terms of what’s right and what’s just, even if it goes against his faith,” said Pisano.

He doesn’t yet know if Velasco will be back on “SVU” for Season 24. “That’s up in the air. We should know soon, but as of now, it’s still up in the air. But, hopefully, they bring my character back,” he said.

“The Lost One” episode of “Law & Order: Organized Crime” airs 10 p.m. PT/ET, Thursday, May 5 on NBC. The season finale of “Law & Order: SVU” airs 9 p.m. PT/ET Thursday, May 19 on NBC.

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