Jamie Gray Hyder remembers exactly where she was when she got "the call." This wasn't a bad call by any means, it was the call inviting her to join Law & Order: SVU as a series regular after a number of guest appearances.
"I'm super grateful that they've trusted me with this," Hyder told E! News. "They don't add people all that often, and so for them to feel like I was a really good fit, it meant a lot to me."
Hyder made her first appearance in the landmark SVU season 21 premiere as a young cop keen on going undercover. Her character, Officer Katriona "Kat" Tamin, eventually transferred to the special victims unit as a white shield and after a few episodes, Hyder was upped from guest star to series regular. She got news while visiting New York City's Hudson Yards.
"I just started bawling," she said. "I had had a really rough year. A lot of people probably don't realize is you can have a lot of success, and then you won't work for a while. So, I actually, in 2018—and this is an absolute truth—I was on unemployment. I hadn't worked for 18 months, and then I get this call of all calls, and it was just sort of like, ‘You've got to be kidding me! If I had known this is what I was waiting for, it would've been a lot easier.'"
Needless to say, Hyder's answer was an immediate yes. Now, viewers are learning more about Kat and Hyder is learning more about SVU.
"I think it was one of those sort of serendipitous situations where Kat, my character, was experiencing the same thing that I was as an actress: Coming into this new squad room, trying to get used to her place in this group and I feel that I was doing the exact same thing at the same exact thing, which really helps inform."
Hyder's addition to the cast came as SVU started its history-making year and became the longest-running scripted primetime drama. Ahead of the new season, returning executive producer Warren Leight (he previously oversaw seasons 13-17) promised the show would begin to reflect the diverse makeup of New York and the NYPD. The show has introduced other non-white officers working with the squad, including Hyder's Kat, but the LGBTQ quotient has yet to be addressed. Emphasis on yet. Could it be Kat? Hyder isn't saying for sure but did have a tease—without giving too much away.
"I think that we will end up being able to check a few more boxes with Kat in that arena as we dip a little bit more into her romantic life as this season goes, I don't think this season will end without us getting that insight into her…I do think we'll dive a little bit more into Kat's personal and romantic life," she said.
Professionally, Kat has made more than her fair share of mistakes so far and that continues in the Thursday, Feb. 6 episode titled "Redemption in Her Corner." The episode features perhaps her most egregious out-of-line actions to date, and plenty of clashing with Mariska Hargitay's Captain Olivia Benson. Yes, she keeps making mistakes and crossing more than one line, but she's doing her best.
"Just be patient with her. She's learning as she goes, as am I, and I think that as Kat cats more comfortable, she'll open up a little bit more and people will get to see a little bit more of who she really is," Hyder stressed.
As for working with Hargitay, Hyder said it's "one of the best learning experiences you can ever have."
"She's extremely warm, but she's also tough and I think it's a nice balance that she strikes in getting the job done and being a leader, but also being there as a friend. We have a lot of personal conversations and we have a lot of jokes and things like that. It has been amazing to watch the way she works," she said. "I'm learning a lot from her, definitely."
Just as Hyder is learning from Hargitay, viewers will learn more about Kat. Viewers previously learned Kat is of Lebanese decent, which was special for Hyder because she is as well in real life, and this week viewers get to see Kat in the boxing ring. The episode leveraged Hyder's own experience, she boxes two or three times a week as part of her workout routine.
"They told me a few episodes ahead of time and so I just kind of ramped up my training to feel like I felt prepared to do all my own stunt work and to make sure I had the stamina to make it through a six-hour shoot," she explained. "It was a lot of fun. I really enjoy the physical side of things."
Hyder is early in her SVU tenure, but she has felt the power of SVU. Each week, she and the rest of the cast are presented with a research packet full of real news stories that have to do with that week's subject matter. "And because of that, I think that you have to treat the material with a certain amount of reverence because there are people experiencing these horrific things in life and we have to honor them," Hyder said.
"It's amazing to have survivors of sexual assault tell us over social media or on the streets that what we're doing is having a positive impact on their lives and I think that's the greatest thing that we can ask for from a job," she said.
Law & Order: SVU airs Thursdays, 10 p.m. on NBC.
(E! and NBC are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)