'Law & Order: SVU's' New Second-in-Command Speaks: "He Has a Lot to Learn"

Theater actor Andy Karl talks with THR about joining the tight-knit squad and the struggles ahead for his character.
Will Hart/NBC

There's a new addition coming to Law & Order: SVU – and that is not a reference to Rollins' impending delivery. Theater actor Andy Karl (Rocky) joins the series in a recurring role Wednesday as Sgt. Mike Dodds, Lt. Benson's new No. 2 and the son of Deputy Chief William Dodds (Peter Gallagher).

Although this marks Karl's first time on Law & Order, the role reunites him with his Broadway co-star Gallagher, with whom he shared the stage for On the Twentieth Century earlier this year. After seeing him onstage in that production as well as in Rocky, Karl got a call from showrunner Warren Leight. "Maybe that's what clued him in," Karl tells The Hollywood Reporter with a laugh. "The idea that I could play Chief Dodds' son."

THR spoke with Karl about Mike's upcoming struggles, the "skepticism" from the rest of the squad and his complicated dynamic with Benson (Mariska Hargitay).

What was Peter's reaction when he heard you were cast as his son after working together on On the Twentieth Century?

I couldn't tell if he knew. I knew a little bit before the show was done on Broadway, and it was one of those things where I wasn't sure if I was supposed to tell him or not so I kept it to myself until he found out later as he was shooting one of the episodes. He texted me a couple weeks before I went on the set and he was so thriller. We had such a good time at On the Twentieth Century. The entire cast was terrific, and Peter was just amazing. I'm honored to be playing one of his family members and living up to that.

What can you say about the relationship between father and son on the show?

It's very interesting. Peter plays a very strong character and he's also high ranking. Some of the backstory that I'm getting is Mike Dodds has grown up in this police family and he's sort of had to live up to his father's expectations. Which means two things: you're either going to rebel against it or you're going to be Sgt. Mike Dodds and really try to honor that part of the family. So as Mike Dodds, I'm doing the best that I can to dot all my i's, cross all my t's and get the job done. That's good if you're a police officer working in anti-crime, where I came from, but to come into SVU, it's a whole different territory of investigation. It's very personal, it's very emotional and the cases are not always what they seem. I think Mike Dodds is struggling with that, but also struggling with the fact that he's joining the squad as a sergeant, he's coming in as a higher ranking than most of the detectives there and just under Lt. Benson. His father is shoving him into this job, and Mike is stepping up to the plate. One of the lines from the first episode is, "sink or swim," and I choose to swim.

The SVU squad is a very small and tight-knit team. How does your character navigate that and what kind of introduction does he make?

I think he's still struggling with that. He's a get-it-done type of guy. He's trying to figure it out as he goes along, which is basically what I'm doing on the show as well. I'm trying to figure out the relationships within the cast as well. … There's not so much a pushback, but it's skepticism of a higher ranking officer who also happens to be the police chief's son. What is this guy going to do? There are a few moments between Lt. Benson and I to get to understand how things run at SVU, and she's giving me the chance to try out cases, but there's definitely a tap on the door too if I'm making an interrogation go completely wrong. I think Mike Dodds proves himself through his work, and he's done that all his life. … Now in this third episode, things are a little bit more comfortable and they trust what I do. I'm just dealing with how the cases are handled and how I represent myself. It's definitely not in sync entirely yet.

I'm curious about his relationship with Benson in particular but she's just been promoted recently, and she has a history Chief Dodds. How will that dynamic evolve as it goes along?

She's skeptical, and I think Mike Dodds definitely sees that. It's a matter of earning respect, but Lt. Benson is extremely smart, extremely experienced. She's able to handle herself no matter what, but there's also the fact that I don't think Sgt. Mike Dodds has ever had a female boss. That's a very interesting relationship to put on television — the first time he's coming into a situation where there's a very strong, experienced lieutenant who has the reigns and figuring out how far I can push to get things done. But I've never been in an atmosphere where the woman is in control. That was interesting to think about as I was coming in: How would this character react to that? Lt. Benson has the ability to be very strong and very willful and she also has the ability to switch on the care, and caring about somebody. She sees me working on something, struggling with something, if I have something I want to get off my chest, she wants to have an open relationship in the squad, but there's also a time to shut it down. She picks and chooses when she's cracking the whip with my character.

Warren Leight previously said there might be questions about whether the son would be telling his dad certain things about the squad. Is that something that we'll have to keep an eye out for with this character?

I don’t think Mike Dodds would go running to daddy. He doesn't want to have that reputation of going to daddy. There's a line in my first episode towards the end: "What happens at SVU, stays at SVU." He cares enough about the work and he cares enough about what's going on at SVU to make sure it's not about going running off telling the world our problems and issues. It's about figuring it out. He's ready to take that journey. … I think more so I'm finding out how difficult the job is and how much the chief should lay off, because these people are working very hard, and it's very difficult work and very emotional work and very personal work — and there's a great respect for that. Seeing Chief Dodds come in and crack the whip and say, "This needs to get done. You can't follow the case." I almost want my character to tell him to shove off; "they're doing their job, dad." But that episode hasn't been written yet.

How will the SVU assignment affect Mike because as you said, these are very difficult and personal cases?

That's one of the great things about where my character is coming from — anti-crime — which is really busting down doors and taking initiative to put criminals behind bars. But here, it's a totally different style. The statistics are very different, as are the nuances and the interrogations. It's something that Dodds is not used to. He has a lot to learn about the delicate balance of facts and peoples' versions of the truth. So, yeah, I think there's probably going to be some struggles. The first case deals with so many in-squad problems with Rollins' sister and so forth, so it's really interesting to see the personal cases come through. That's what makes SVU very special and makes it very emotional, and makes it a more compelling police show, if I may call it that.

Law & Order: SVU airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.

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