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'SVU' goes deep to create an unconventional episode

Kelli Giddish as Detective Amanda Rollins on "Law & Order: SVU." Credit: Will Hart/NBC
Kelli Giddish as Detective Amanda Rollins on "Law & Order: SVU." Credit: Will Hart/NBC
Will Hart/NBC.

From the very moment of her arrival in the ‘SVU’ squad room, Detective Amanda Rollins has been a bit of a mystery.

To her credit, she dove into the work with enthusiasm and has proven that she’s good at her job – except when she isn’t. That usually transpires when things outside the precinct influence her judgment, which has been happening more and more frequently lately.

Viewers have learned that the demons that she’s fought in the past, particularly her compulsive gambling, have followed her from Georgia to New York, as these things will do, and the struggle to stay on the straight and narrow has been an extremely precarious one for Rollins.

Encouraged by her then commanding officer, Captain Cragen, Rollins seemed to be making some headway fighting her addiction by attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings, but even that was undone by Rollins interaction with another former addict, and now with Cragen gone and seemingly no one to support her recovery, Rollins is falling into a deep, dangerous hole in this week’s episode, aptly titled “Gambler’s Fallacy.”

Kelli Giddish, who plays Detective Amanda Rollins, addressed the rollercoaster nature of her characters actions, saying, “She’s managed this addiction for a while, but like addictions do, it just crept back up on her.”

‘Crept up’ sounds like such a tame phrase when Executive Producer Warren Leight says that this episode ‘is horrifying if you’re a fan of Rollins.’

‘Horrifying’ is a difficult word to take in, but appears to be an appropriate description when Leight gets into the meat of the storyline, explaining, “She’s deep into it at an underground gambling club, which are illegal in New York and someone outs her to the club’s management and since she owes them money, they have their hooks in her. At that point, they own her, and they know that they can destroy her career with one phone call or a picture of her gambling illegally. She’s left trying to get out of this while not compromising her integrity as an NYPD detective, and that’s impossible to pull off. The descent she’s on is really tough to watch.”

Giddish adds that “Rollins is in such a horrible place and she does things that the audience will be gasping at in order to save her job and her life.”

When Giddish joined ‘SVU’ three seasons ago, the show was considered a strict procedural, but things have clearly changed and the drama has shifted in a manner that allows for more personal character development within the narrative. Giddish not only accepts this move but has embraced the challenges that it brings, saying, “As an actor you’re always happy to be able to play the personal stories that define your character. It’s so great to be this new character and come on the scene and have some huge faults that you have to get over. There are some big characters defects there. Our episodes still have a case with a beginning, a middle, and an end, but when the audience gets to see more personal details, what each character struggles are, it informs the cases too."

Leight admits that he wasn’t the least bit nervous about putting Giddish’s character in such peril because he knew the actor would be all in. “What’s fun about Kelli is that the more challenging the script is, the more she wants to dive into it. To her credit, she never worries about how her character’s going to come off with the audience. She doesn’t have that self-protective gene that many actors have and let me be clear that that’s a good thing. See, on our show, we have a hard time casting bad guys – the actors don’t want to be the bad guy. With Kelli, she’s a good girl, she’s on our team, we root for her, but she’s like, ‘let me do some bad stuff.’ She’s just got that attitude that she just goes for it. So when I was planning this I told her that we were working on something that would put Rollins whole career at ‘SVU’ in jeopardy and she’s basically just said, ‘bring it on.’”

Also appearing in this episode are guest stars Sherri Saum and Donal Logue who both seem, like Giddish, to have no fear of portraying less than savory characters.

Saum, currently starring on the ABC Family drama, “The Fosters,” actually used social media to garner Leight’s attention about her desire to be on ‘SVU.’

“I saw Sherri on Twitter,” explains Leight. “She said that she wanted to play a bad guy, and I’d done [the show] ‘In Treatment’ with her so I tweeted her immediately and said, ‘can I hold you to that,’ which clearly I did, and she came and really brought it.”

Giddish describes working with Logue, whose credits include “Vikings,” “Sons of Anarchy” and “Terriers,” as both exciting and inspiring. “I love an acting partner who’s completely in the moment and really figures out what the scene is about,” explains Giddish. “He plays someone that Rollins has to deal with in a very intimate, personal way and he was brilliant. I think the audience is really going to see what an incredible performance he turns in and how thrilling it was for us to work together. I absolutely enjoyed every minute of working with Donal.”

Leight promises that “Gambler’s Fallacy” doesn’t look like any ‘SVU’ or any “Law & Order” that viewers have ever seen. “It’s just a very different kind of storytelling,” he explains. “I really think our devout viewers, as well as anyone who’s new to the show, so everyone who tunes in, really, will find this episode surprising, compelling and satisfying. Clearly, we strive for that in every episode, but in this one in particular we’ve modified the way we present what’s happening and I think in the end we’ve not only accomplished, but exceeded, what we set out to do with this story.”

While this particular situation is harrowing for Rollins, Giddish surmises that her character’s personal challenges are far from over. “We still don’t really know why Rollins got transferred from Georgia to New York. There’re definitely some ghosts there that could out and haunt her later. There’s tons of stuff to delve into, and I’m looking forward to that.”

Just as Detective Rollins must constantly battle against the negative forces that seek to consume her, the powers that be behind season 15 of ‘SVU’ continue to up the ante when it comes to strife, tension and struggle, both within the confines of the work environment - that perpetually unstable squad room - and on a personal level for each of the detectives, who are all fragile in their own way. There’s been no letdown in the amount of drama poured out in each episode and that trend is unlikely to change, at least for the time being, as Leight reveals that an upcoming episode is ‘going to blow everyone out of the water.’ He teases that, “If everything goes well – it’s the audience’s worst nightmare.”

Obviously, it’s not just Rollins who's deep in it; clearly everyone who watches ‘SVU’ better grab onto something sturdy, for it seems we’re all headed down into that hole too.

This week’s hashtag = #RollinsInTheDeep

“Law & Order: SVU” airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on NBC.

For more articles about television, please subscribe above to receive an e-mail each time this column is updated with new information. Feel free to submit comments, ideas, or event information via this site, or directly to Anne Easton at You can follow Anne on Twitter using the handle @anne_k_easton

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