Exclusive

Law and Order: SVU Boss Explains That Secret Season 21 Cameo

Exclusive! Get the inside scoop on Law & Order: SVU's long-awaited cameo

By Chris Harnick Feb 07, 2020 4:00 AMTags
Law and Order: SVUNBC

Olivia Benson has had a rough couple of episodes on Law & Order: SVU, and she turned to an old friend for support in "Redemption in Her Corner, the Thursday, Feb. 6 episode. Warning, spoilers follow!

The episode opened up with Benson (Mariska Hargitay) on a video call with none other than Rafael Barba (Raúl Esparza), the special victims unit's one-time ADA last seen in season 19. While their interaction took place entirely via a video call, E! News has learned Esparza filmed his cameo on set with Hargitay doing her lines off-camera with him. Warren Leight, SVU's executive producer and showrunner, told E! News exclusively that they decided to have Barba check in from afar—he said he was in Iowa dealing with election fraud and "living in a dystopian nightmare"—for a reason.

photos
How Law and Order: SVU Handled Cast Exits

"We wanted a private scene at the top of the episode of Barba checking in on Benson after Tucker's death. If we'd put him in the squadroom, we would have had to have him interact with Fin and Rollins as well, so we decided to have him check in from afar," Leight said in an email interview. "It was also fun to speculate where he is in his life, now. The fact that he's investigating possible corruption in the Iowa caucus is an odd fluke. We wrote it last year."

Barba was checking in on Benson following the death of her brother earlier this season and the suicide of her ex-boyfriend Tucker (Robert John Burke) in the previous episode. "It's been rough," Benson said. "A lot of loss lately. Time is just flying by."

The two ended their call promising to make dinner plans. Leight said he hopes it happens. "Our best guess is they dine at El Mercado in Hudson Yards," he said.

Related: Mariska Hargitay Feels "Privileged & Blessed" to Play Olivia Benson

Esparza played Barba since season 14 in 2012. He made his last appearance in character in 2018, and Esparza appeared in The Paley Center Salutes Law & Order: SVU, a special honoring the shows historic season 21. As for why it was Barba and not another character from Benson's past, Leight said it came down to history.

NBC

"Barba's character and his history with Olivia made him the right choice. Barba and Olivia were very close, he was around when she was involved with Tucker, and we sense they stay in regular touch with each other. Also, logistically, it was easy. Raúl and Mariska and I have remained in touch, and he responded to the idea immediately," Leight said.

Law & Order: SVU airs Thursdays, 10 p.m. on ABC.

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