Breakout faces from the ’99-’00 season: Christopher Meloni

'Victims,' 'Oz' thesp receiving recognition from shows' success

For anyone else, walking onto the set of a spinoff series with a 10-year history might be a slightly anxious experience. But not for “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” star Christopher Meloni.

Then again, the Washington, D.C., native has been walking onto sets to play thuggishly likable characters for years in films such as “Bound” and “Runaway Bride” and on the small screen in “NYPD Blue.” He even earned a spot in USA Today’s “Top 10 Breakout Characters” for his first short-lived sitcom, 1990’s “The Fanelli Boys” — the same year the original “Law & Order” went on the air.

“I’ve been in the business long enough to know you can only worry about so much,” Meloni says. “Sure, it was a little bit of a challenge — one I readily accepted — but I never felt the shadow of the mothership hovering over me. I didn’t come to the show with any expectations. I just had confidence in my abilities and knew the rest is up to the writers.”

But it took his role as conflicted family man/sex-crime detective-with-a-conscience Elliot Stabler, as well as that of his sinisterly sexual Keller on HBO’s “Oz,” to finally give him the kind of name recognition and exposure that makes maitre d’s at New York’s wait-listed restaurants seat him without a reservation.

“This is my first experience being on a show people are watching,” says Meloni of “SVU.” “And I think that breathes a certain life into people and their work. When the work is good, it makes for an enthusiasm and that’s a great spirit to be around. The first season may be a little too early to tell how the show has affected my career, but so far it feels great.”

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