‘Law & Order: SVU’ Only Planned to Keep Ice-T For 4 Episodes But the Rapper Made a Lasting Impression

It was always an unlikely union. How could a rapper whose reputation had been built — or tarnished, depending on your perspective — by a hit called “Cop Killer” seriously portray an officer of the law on one of America’s most popular crime dramas? It sounds like the punchline to a joke and not an actual casting decision, but that’s exactly what happened when Ice-T snagged the role of Detective Fin Tutuola on Law & Order: SVU. The role proved so popular that most people today probably recognize Ice-T not as an edgy rapper but as the face of investigations and justice from the “elite squad known as the Special Victims Unit.” 

When Ice-T was originally brought into the role, it was only supposed to be a four-episode run, but the impression the rapper made on the creators left him playing the part for far longer than anyone expected. 

Ice-T as Fin Tutuola on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit | Virginia Sherwood/Getty Images

‘Law & Order: SVU’ has been a wildly popular spin-off

The original Law & Order series, from crime drama creative extraordinaire Dick Wolf, originally premiered in 1990. The series ran for an impressive twenty years before finally wrapping up in 2010. Over the years, the successful series has seen many spin-offs. Some have been long-standing and well-received and others were short-lived experiments. Law & Order: Trial By Jury lasted only one season, and Law & Order: LA had a similarly abbreviated run amid poor ratings. Law & Order: Criminal Intent was among the more popular spin-offs, running from 2001 to 2011. 

None of those other iterations, however, can hold a candle to the success of Law & Order: SVU. The Special Victims Unit handles sex crimes and crimes against children, and the New York-based drama premiered in 1999 and has outlived the original series with the twenty-second season premiering earlier this year. 

Several actors have spent years on ‘Law & Order: SVU’

RELATED: ‘Law & Order: SVU’ Originally Had a Different Name That Was Nixed For Inclusivity

Like many long-running dramas with an ensemble cast, lead actors have come and gone over the years. The series has also been a proving ground for many talented actors looking to get their start in the business with a flashy guest appearance. Notably, several of the top stars on the series have been in their roles for years. 

For many years, the show revolved primarily around the detective work of Olivia Benson (played by Mariska Hargitay) and Elliot Stabler (played by Christopher Meloni). Supporting roles included medical examiner Dr. Melinda Warner (played by Tamara Tunie) and FBI psychiatrist Dr. George Huang (played by BD Wong) as well as other officers and lawyers operating within New York City’s criminal justice system. 

Eventually, Detective Stabler moved on — though he’s returning in a future spinoff of his own — leaving Hargitay’s Detective Benson as the longest-running main character. To date, Benson has appeared in 482 episodes and is widely regarded as the star of the show. Right behind her, however, is Detective Odafin “Fin” Tutuola. Ice-T has played the part for an impressive 459 episodes and is still an active cast member. 

Ice-T’s part on ‘Law & Order: SVU’ lasted far longer than expected

Prior to being cast on SVU, Ice-T’s biggest claim to fame had been a controversial rap career. After a rough start to life that included losing both parents as a child, the rapper took on the moniker Ice-T as a play on the concept of growing up “cold” and the initial of his given first name, Tracy. He rose to fame in the West Coast rap scene with a crime-ridden persona and hits including the infamous “Cop Killer.” To this day, Ice-T continues to make music with his metal band Body Count, but acting has definitely become his primary path to fame. 

As Screen Rant reports, Ice-T originally worked with Dick Wolf on the series New York Undercover and then as a pimp in the Law & Order movie. Initially, Wolf brought Ice-T in for a four-episode trial run on SVU, but it was clear right away to everyone involved that Ice-T had found a part that would last. He’d moved to New York before those four episodes even finished filming, and he’s been playing Detective Tutuola ever since.