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5 Law & Order: SVU Cast Members (& Guests) Who Played Multiple Roles On The Show

It's basically a rite of passage for New York based actors to show up in any of the "Law & Order" shows — and when it comes to "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," the fact that it's been on for well over 20 seasons means that pretty much anyone who's everyone has popped up on the show. From future Oscar winners like Viola Davis — who played a recurring role as an attorney — to featured guest stars like Robin Williams and Cynthia Nixon, actors do short-lived stints on "Law & Order: SVU" all the time. Some, apparently, like it so much they return for more than one round.

"Law & Order: SVU" has been on for so long that maybe actors think we won't notice if they play two totally separate roles in the show... but that presents some problems with cast members who might have played a perp or a victim only to end up working with the detectives in the special victims unit. If you thought you were the only "Law & Order: SVU" fan experiencing insane deja-vu during one of your many marathons or rewatches, you're definitely not alone, and you're completely right — these five cast members and guest stars played multiple roles on the series during its run.

Diane Neal

Long before she worked alongside the main squad as Assistant District Attorney Casey Novak — a role she reprised multiple times throughout several seasons — Diane Neal showed up in an early episode of "Law & Order: SVU" as someone all the way on the other side of the law. Way back in Season 3 of the series, Neal plays Amelia Chase, a high-powered stockbroker who, along with two of her girlfriends, assaults a male dancer at a bachelorette party. When Amelia realizes that her friend Sidney is going to reveal that they assaulted the sex worker, though, she stages Sidney's death... and then turns on the friend who helped her plan the murder in exchange for a lighter sentence.

In that episode, Neal's character is prosecuted by Stephanie March's ADA, Alexandra Cabot — only to take over for Cabot when March's character leaves the show (for the first time, as she also returns to the role). Obviously, this was a great situation for Neal, but it's definitely baffling to see such an insidious and evil character take over and represent the "law" in "Law & Order."

Peter Scanavino

A second cast member who showed up as a villain before he turned into a good guy, Peter Scanavino's first turn on "Law & Order: SVU" was as Johnny Dubcek, a janitor who attacks a school's athletic coach because he claims he saw the coach assaulting a young girl. As it turns out, though, Johnny is a victim of sexual abuse himself, and he saw a situation that wasn't real due to his past trauma. Ultimately, he goes to prison, and the man who assaulted him ends up in a cell nearby... which is a pretty bleak ending. Also, Mike Tyson is in this episode, for some reason.

That was in 2013; just one year later, Scanavino played brand-new detective Dominick Carisi Jr. on "Law & Order: SVU," a headstrong and relatively green member of the special victims unit who often needed different lifestyles and social norms explained to him (presumably so he could be an audience surrogate for those curious about issues like gender identity or women assaulting men). Ultimately, in the show's 21st season, Carisi became an assistant district attorney, following in Casey Novak's confusing footsteps. It's weird enough that Scanavino played a villain just one year earlier, but the fact that he was so prominent in the episode is probably the strangest part. 

Kelli Giddish

Kelli Giddish is the final main cast member on this list to play two characters on "Law & Order: SVU," but unlike Diane Neal and Peter Scanavino, she played a victim, not a villain. In the Season 8 episode "Outsider," SVU detective Fin Tutuola (Ice-T) investigates the rape of a young woman who knows his son and ends up working with Brooklyn-based detective Chester Lake (Adam Beach) to try and track down a serial rapist who's been attacking women throughout different boroughs. Giddish plays a small yet pivotal role as Kara Bawson, another one of the attacker's victims.

Obviously, fans of the series know Giddish as Amanda Rollins, and the actress joined the show in its thirteenth season in 2011 as the Southern transplant who transfers from Atlanta to New York. Rollins remained an essential part of the series for years, with viewers watching her grow as a detective while trying to overcome the standard set for her by her extraordinarily difficult family, and Giddish eventually left the show in 2023, with her character becoming a forensic psychology professor and settling down with Peter Scanavino's Carisi.

Hayden Panetierre

Hayden Panetierre didn't end up as a central cast member on "Law & Order: SVU," but she did appear on the show twice, and she's a pretty recognizable face to fans familiar with anything from "Heroes" to "Nashville" to the modern "Scream" sequels. Panetierre, who kicked off her career in soap operas in 1997 when she was just six years old, appeared in a very early episode of "Law & Order: SVU" during its second season. In "Abuse," Panetierre plays the young Ashley Austin Black, the child of a country star whose brother ends up dead after a traffic incident. When the detectives realize Ashley has strange, unexplained injuries, they start investigating the famous family.

Panetierre later returned in Season 6 for the episode "Hooked" as Catholic schoolgirl Angela Agnelli, who is, apparently, hiding a whole host of violent secrets. As one of the main suspects in the story of a young schoolgirl who ended up in sex work, Panetierre's Angela is involved in shady dealings too, and in the end — years-old spoiler alert! — it turns out she's the one to kill a doctor who "helped" her and her friend while they were leading double lives. Panetierre's characters are radically different, but they both definitely make a strong impression.

Bradley Whitford

Frankly, it's not a huge surprise that someone as prolific as Bradley Whitford showed up on "Law & Order: SVU" more than once; it almost feels like he should have shown up more than two times. Whitford, who you probably know from "The West Wing," "Get Out," "The Cabin in the Woods," or "The Handmaid's Tale," first showed up on the series in 2014 in the Season 15 episode "Reasonable Doubt." In that installment, Whitford plays Frank Maddox, a TV producer who's been accused of inappropriate behavior towards his young daughter... and to make matters worse, his ex-wife and the mother of his child won't cooperate in the investigation. (He did it, and he runs away to France as a result.)

After playing a totally odious villain who hurts kids, Whitford returned to "Law & Order: SVU" in the 2023 episode "King of the Moon" as Pence Humphreys, a man who is happily married to his childhood sweetheart until he experiences cognitive decline and ultimately confesses to killing his wife. This time, as it turns out, Whitford is playing a totally odious villain who happens to be a neuroscientist that's able to fake a dementia diagnosis to kill his wife and get away with it. Between this and the evil dad in "Get Out," Whitford sure seems eager to erase all feelings of goodwill we've got left for Josh Lyman.