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The Transformation Of Peter Scanavino From Childhood To Law & Order: SVU

Peter Scanavino has been playing Assistant District Attorney Dominick Carisi, Jr. on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" since 2014 (per IMDb). Scanavino was brought on "SVU" to replace Danny Pino's Detective Nick Amaro, which spurred up a negative reaction for a period of time among the show's fans. But as the seasons passed, Carisi and Scanavino won the show's fans over, and Carisi's relationship with Amanda Rollins (Kelli Giddish) has gained popularity. Carisi is known for being old-school by having a lot of sympathy for crime victims, and by virtue of being a devout Catholic who sprouted from a large Italian family. He has a specific soft spot for kids, and is particularly close to Sergeant Odafin "Fin" Tutuola (Ice-T).

Considering his prominent role on "SVU," it's interesting to see how Scanavino has transformed from his early career to the present. He's taken a few surprising detours since making his theater debut, but all the roads he's traveled have lead him to his role as Carisi.

Peter Scanavino got his start in the theater

Per Us Weekly, Scanavino was born on February 29, 1980, making him a Leap Year baby. Via Broadway.com, he was raised in the small town of Evergreen, Colorado, a place he told the website was "a mountain town of about 5,000 people." He went to Boston University in the hope of graduating with a degree in another profession. Instead, his life changed when he read "The Fervent Years" by Harold Clurman during his freshman year. The book follows the founding and collapse of The Group Theater during the 1930s. Enlivened, he dropped out of college to become an actor.

While Scanavino admits his parents "freaked out" at his choice, he felt like it was a move he had to make. "At that point in my life, I was stuck in a rut and needed to try something bold," he said. "I thought, 'What's the craziest thing I can do?' So I decided to drop out, move to New York and become an actor."

Like many young actors, Scanavino waited tables before making his way to success. But unlike many young actors, he landed a slot at a summer program held at the prestigious Lee Strasberg Theater Institute. He was also mentored by actress Kathryn Grody. One of his big breaks was landing a role in the Broadway play "Shining City" in 2006. On Twitter in 2015, the actor shared footage of himself performing the solo monologue "Drinking in America" at the American Palace Theater from that time period. 

He appeared on several different Law & Order spin-offs

It wasn't long before Peter Scanavino started picking up television roles. His first credited part was on the short-lived Fox drama "Jonny Zero" in 2005. He appeared on the NBC drama "Third Watch" twice and then turned up in three different branches of the "Law & Order" family tree in fairly rapid succession. First, he acted in "Trial By Jury" as Robert Hassel in 2005, appearing in Episode 12 of the series, "Boys Will be Boys."  Next, he was on "Criminal Intent" as Johnny Feist in Episode 2 of Season 5, "Diamond Dogs," also in 2005. Johnny is part of a jewelry heist team with his mother, girlfriend, and sister — and they all steal to support their drug habits.

Next, he was Jim Anderson, suspected of killing his CSU-employed fiancée Daisy Chao on "Law & Order" in 2009. While Anderson definitely cheated on his love, the truth just might be more complicated than anticipated. Scanavino also appeared in dozens of independent features during this time period, such as "Happythankyoumoreplease" as Ira.

He took a break, then appeared in Frances Ha before becoming a Law & Order regular

In 2010, per a biographical note on his acting agency's website, Scanavino trained to become a chef and left the world of acting for a period to pursue his culinary inclinations. He attended the French Culinary Institute in New York and briefly spent time working at the restaurant Blue Hill in New York City. But, soon enough, he was back in the acting game. He popped up in "The Good Wife" in 2012 and the film "Frances Ha," ironically as a chef. He appeared in the Cinemax show "Banshee," NBC's "The Blacklist," and HBO's "The Leftovers" before settling into his role as Carisi.

The actor made his final pre- Carisi "Law & Order" universe appearance in 2013 when he played Johnny Dubcek on Episode 13 of Season 14 of "SVU," "Monster's Legacy." In an ironic moment, Dubcek is interrogated by Rollins and Tutuola about his possible role in the murder of a coach who abused him. Years later, of course, Scanavino would get to act with Ice-T and Giddish in a much more convivial way. Scanavino wryly remarked upon his franchise proclivity in a 2016 interview with E! Online. " 'OK, done SVU, now I've done 'em all. So that's it, it was great while it lasted, guess I can't do that for a while.'"

Scanavino is 'grateful' for his role as Carisi

When the role of Carisi was offered to the actor, Scanavino told E! Online that "I was sitting on my couch wondering what I was going to do next." He described his loyalty to "SVU" showrunner Warren Leight for offering him the role. He added that the part "totally changed my life and I'll be forever grateful." 

And this fortuitous role has gained him many fans on the force. "What I have gotten a lot of is actual cops who would come up to me on the street, off duty, or guys that were on the job and they'd be like, 'I was 20 years on the job and love you. I feel like that's kind of a great compliment to get. I take a lot of pride to get that from some of the real deal," the actor said.

After so many seasons in the part, Scanavino will have many years ahead of him to explore Carisi's inner workings.