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Christopher Meloni turns 54 years old this week. He’s best known for two roles — Detective Elliot Stabler on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and inmate Chris Keller on Oz. We don’t see as much of Meloni these days (since he’s busy at work on the Wet Hot American Summer reboot), but he’ll always be Stabler to his most rabid fans. Here are some facts about Meloni:
1. His instant chemistry with Mariska Hargitay: Of his former Law & Order: SVU co-star, Meloni told the AV Club the chemistry was “immediate.” The show runners were so impressed by the actors’ mutual rapport that they were both hired 30 minutes after their joint screen test.
2. The scene he’s most proud of during his career: Meloni revealed an interesting take on his best work. He’s most proud of one of his Oz scenes, during which he turns around and moons fellow actor Lee Tergesen. He calls it a definite “highlight” of his career.
3. Mistaken identities: With his half-Italian good looks and deep, gravelly voice, Meloni has been confused with actor Elias Koteas as well as a time-travelling, younger Robert DeNiro.
4. Fake vs. real tattoos: For SVU, Meloni wore a fake arm tattoo of the U.S. Marine Corp emblem (which contains the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor). In real life, Meloni has a cubist representation of Christ’s crucifixion on his left bicep. He also has an authentic butterfly tattoo on one thigh.
5. Previous professions: Before he made it big as an actor, Meloni held various odd jobs, including bartender, bouncer, and personal fitness trainer. That last one should come as no surprise to his fans.
6. All of those SVU episodes blended together: Meloni admitted to the Daily Beast that he can’t recall many details about his 12 seasons: “Sh*t … I did 270 of them, and … I don’t know. I can’t remember too many of them, to be honest. There’s just been too many perverts.” In Meloni’s defense, his schedule was exhausting. He usually worked 5 or 6 days per week for 14 hours at a time, 9 months out of the year.
7. Comedic vs. dramatic roles: Although Meloni’s most famous and enduring roles involved him playing very serious characters, his true love is making people laugh. In fact, he recently stated, “comedy is priceless.”
8. He can fly: Meloni trained to fly a small plane and received his pilot’s license at the encouragement of John Travolta. Who knew these two were friends?
9. A football star: In 1978, Meloni served as quarterback and led his high school team (St. Stephens and St. Agnes School in Alexandria) through an undefeated season. He was subsequently inducted into his school’s Hall of Fame.
10. Charitable work: Meloni does regular work with Mariska Hargitay’s foundation against domestic violence: “I didn’t get into acting to be a public service announcer or an advocate and yet, by virtue of this show and how we handle the subject matter that we’ve been given, that’s kind of how it’s evolved in certain ways.”