What It's Really Like Being on Law & Order: SVU

I’m a reporter—and I play one on TV.

This season of Law & Order: SVU, the TV history-making season 21, I’ve been drafted into service twice as “Reporter No. 2” (not sure what a guy needs to do to get a name over there), a reporter following the story of Ian McShane‘s character Sir Toby Moore. McShane plays an entertainment executive who shares similar characteristics to a certain convicted rapist and former movie mogul.

So, what’s it like to be on Law & Order: SVU? You know the stories of an elite squad of detectives known as the special victims unit, now here’s mine.

I’ve done the show three times before the season 21 finale. Once as an extra, twice as a reporter in two very different climates. My first speaking line was in season 16 and we filmed during a polar vortex. It was negative degrees out. The coldest days New York had seen in years. I couldn’t feel my face as I yelled, “How much did you pay for the rectal probe?!” at Susie Essman and Marcia Cross on a street near New York City’s Union Square.

The second time I was called to duty as a reporter was during a wet and muggy July 2019 night for the historic season 21 premiere. I had to yell, “Toby, they get you on film this time?” as Ian McShane did his perp walk by me with Mariska Hargitay and Ice-T escorting him to justice. SVU revisited that story in “The Things We Have to Lose” and brought back the original reporters from the history-making season 21 premiere. Hey, we’re dedicated.

Originally, we were set to film on March 10, but twist! My shooting date moved up by five days to March 5. This was before the coronavirus panic truly took hold and the last episode SVU completed before production was shut down due the spread of the virus.

March 3, 3:00 p.m.
I arrive at SVU‘s stages for a costume fitting. When I got to the wardrobe department, my options were waiting for me on a rack. I noticed the same pair of shoes I wore in July and the same maroon T-shirt. However, since it’s March, I’d be wearing a sweater and jacket this time. I tried on a pair of green pants that made me look like I was wearing a diaper—they were too big. Next were a skinny pair of black Levi jeans that actually fit! Those were outfitted with brown boots. We tried a gray sweater and a blue peacoat/nylon combo that I would actually wear. Out went the gray sweater in came a blue sweater. Wardrobe assembled!

March 4, 9:19 a.m.
Suddenly I have more lines! A brief moment of panic subsided, and I said, “Counselor Barth—have you ever been the victim of a sexual assault?” probably 200 times.

March 4, 9:52 p.m.
I got my call time and have to report to set near the courthouse at 9:15 a.m. on March 5.

March 5, 8:50 a.m.
The subway is very crowded and why do I suddenly have to pee so badly?

March 5, 9:07 a.m.
I’m in my trailer!

March 5, 9:34 a.m.
My wardrobe arrived. In addition to the sweater and everything else that was picked out for me, I was provided thermals to layer, body warmers and a big warming set jacket. I notice my trailer has a tiny entrance rug.

March 5, 9:44 a.m.
I really have to go to the bathroom.

March 5, 10:30 a.m.
I’m in hair and makeup. What can I do later to show off how good my makeup is?

March 5, 10:47 a.m.
We’re on set! Mariska Hargitay and I hug hello and talk about SVU’s three-year renewal that will bring the show to season 24 (It’s unheard of!), and her People magazine cover story about the work she’s done with The Joyful Heart Foundation.

March 5, 11-something
We’re rehearsing. It’s me, Annika Pergament (Reporter No. 1), Peter Scanavino (ADA Carisi), Jenna Stern (Elana Barth), the one and only Mariska Hargitay (Captain Olivia Benson, duh) and the director Juan Campanella. There’s some confusion over how we’re shooting the scene with the additional dialogue (and said confusion continues for quite a bit), but we rehearse the original scene. Scanavino declares I’ve hit my line like Marlon Brando. Reader, it’s true (no it isn’t).

March 5, 12:26 p.m.
We’ve been on set for a bit and somehow we’re two takes in already.

March 5, 12:43 p.m.
I discover I have a stand in! He is very nice and is there to set up the shot so I can go inside to warm up a bit. I am just delighted by the fact I have a stand in. Is this fame?

March 5, 1:20 p.m.
We are done! I got a ride to my trailer, which has since moved to another part of New York, put on my real clothes and signed some papers.

Law & Order: SVU will return for a season 22 on NBC.

(E! and NBC are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)

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