Is it just us, or is it getting steamy in the squad room?
The reunion has been in the works for quite some time, thanks to longtime SVU executive producing director and Pino's real-life pal, Norberto Barba.
"Norberto and I first worked together on SVU when I was a regular on the show. Norberto being Cuban-American like myself, we immediately hit it off and had so many similar points of interest and experience," Pino exclusively revealed to E! News on Oct. 20.
Barba and Pino collaborated again post-SVU on FX's Mayans M.C., which is entering its fourth season. "We've been friends and close all along, and he texted me to kind of gauge my interest in whether I want to come back for the 500th episode [of SVU]," Pino explained.
The star worked closely with SVU showrunner Warren Leight to craft "who Amaro is now and how he evolved since last we saw him," Pino noted. "Having Amaro be involved in the storytelling and having a well-thought-out and meaningful arc within the episode was important to both of us."
Leight, alongside writers Julie Martin and Brianna Yellen, drew parallels between Pino's and Amaro's shared growth both on and off-screen.
"What I love about the re-introduction of Amaro is we're not only bringing back a character, they're also bringing back an actor," Pino continued. "In much the same way that Amaro has evolved professionally and personally in his life, so have I. Coming back to a show that is so vibrant and so necessary and current, in such fertile soil for creativity and bringing back a character who has had positive changes in his life, professionally and personally, in much the same way there's been an evolution of my experience as an actor, as a father, as a parent, and bringing all of those things to bare for Amaro."
Pino credited Hargitay for mirroring that "evolution" in her character as well.
Of course, Pino's return to SVU felt like returning to family. "We all have those friendships where you might not see that person or you might not speak to that person sometimes for years, and the minute you see them, you just pick up right where you left off. I think Amaro and Benson have that kind of a relationship," Pinto reflected.
"Then you add to the component that they give each other respectful space to grow and to be proud of one another. She's now a captain with so much more authority and responsibility, and certainly Amaro has a new perspective on a lot of different things. It's the same way as Mariska and I are as people now. To be able to have art imitate life is a profound place to meet these two characters."
Fellow SVU alums Peter Hermann, Tamara Tunie and Dann Florek also guest star in the milestone episode. "It's an embarrassment of riches, frankly," Pino joked. "And those are just the people you see on-screen. Off-screen, with the crew and the writers, so rarely are you given an opportunity to come back and see people you love and people you respect, and I'm happy that it happened."
So, can we expect more Amaro in our future?
"I think the show is in a really good place. Its resonance and its impact is as sharp now as it ever was, and I don't want to dull that by commenting on whether Amaro would come back or not, because I respect this creative team and this incredible cast," Pino said. "Truly year after year, they're constantly challenging themselves and stepping up to the plate, and this crew that I love so much. So I generally don't answer those questions, but with coming back for this episode, I think that's the loudest answer that I can give."
"Oh, I'm not answering that," Pino teased about his dream series. "I think that's a Dick Wolf question."
Law & Order: SVU airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.
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