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The last time Olivia Benson was taken hostage on Law & Order: SVU more than two years ago, it changed the course of her entire life. She nearly died, and she nearly killed her brutal and calculating attacker, William Lewis, only to have to face him in court after deciding to spare his life. However, it also led her move in with her then-boyfriend, to embrace her rise up the ranks in the NYPD and, most importantly, it pushed her to finally adopt a baby.
Which is exactly why all eyes will be on Benson when she is taken hostage again on Wednesday’s new episode. Instead of going on the run with her assailant a la William Lewis, Benson is taken hostage at a townhouse when she tries to intervene in the middle of a home invasion. This time, she won’t only have herself to think about, but the others taken hostage at the townhouse as well as her son, Noah.
“Benson is now a mom, which means that the whole world has changed,” says series star and producer Mariska Hargitay.
THR caught up with Hargitay to discuss the “out of control” ordeal, the higher stakes and why she approached this episode with “more dread” than the William Lewis arc. THR also has four exclusive first-look photos at the harrowing and haunting episode.
Benson has obviously been in similar situations before, but what makes this hostage situation different from her past brushes with danger?
It feels very different for Benson, because this time, she’s a mother. Everything she says, every reaction she has is new and carries more weight. Everything matters more, everything matters differently. As an actor, it’s always great to know that the stakes have gone up. It always feels like an invitation to dig deeper, to dig differently, to dig into even more uncomfortable places.
Because Benson has been in danger before, were you ever concerned that this would be one too many times, or that the stakes wouldn’t be as high? What made you confident that this situation would be organic?
I didn’t look at it as a case of something we’d done before, but as a chance to explore how someone who’s been through what Olivia has been through handles finding herself in similar circumstances again. And to find a way of arming herself with the first experience and to work through it in a different way this time.
You can only put Benson in harm’s way so often on the series. What in your mind made now an appropriate time to do that again with Benson?
The detectives who actually do this job out in the real world don’t have control over how many times they encounter this kind of danger. But we thought it would be interesting to have the chance to explore how Benson would approach a hostage situation at this point in her arc. Here’s this person who’s constantly having to prove her strength — to higher ups, to herself — and her guard is down for one moment, and she’s in a very bad situation. That’s a really compelling thing for a character to have to metabolize.
Because it is Benson taken hostage, viewers will draw parallels to the William Lewis arc. What do you think Benson learned from William Lewis specifically that she is able to apply to this situation?
Benson knows how to assess a situation, knows how to read a perp and knows how much she can push him/her. William Lewis, and the countless perps who have come through SVU, have taught her a lot in that regard.
At the same time, Joe Utley has a very different approach than William Lewis. Lewis was calculated, in control, and Joe is very much out of control. That can’t help but affect Benson’s response. She’s more in the position of hostage negotiator this time, and she has other players in the situation to deal with.
How did you approach this episode differently as an actress? What kind of extra preparation do you do for heavy Benson episodes like this?
To be honest, I probably approached it with a bit more dread than the Lewis episode, because I knew what I felt like after that one. At the same time, I was excited to dig in deeper, and do it differently, to hit different notes and depths. My friends who are marathoners tell me the same thing: right after they finish, they say never again, but then a few days later, they’re signing up for the next one.
Law & Order: SVU airs on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.
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