‘Law & Order: SVU’ season 15 exclusive: Danny Pino on Munch’s retirement, secret Amaro story

Danny Pino -Tonight on “Law & Order: SVU,” we are going to see one of the more significant events in the history of the show with the retirement of Richard Belzer’s character of John Munch. While he will still appear in some capacity here and there, it won’t be with the title of Sargent before his name. Also, think about this: Belzer has played this character longer than any other actor has played a character in the history of live-action, primetime TV. That is quite the achievement, no? He breaks the record set by Kelsey Grammer’s Frasier Crane.

One person who especially had some kind things to say about Belzer’s exit earlier this week was Danny Pino, who plays the part of Nick Amaro on the series. In a lengthy chat, we discussed with Danny everything from his relationship with Belzer to some surprising things on the way for his character, and also about an initiative he took part in with Duracell Quantum in Miami earlier this week, where he helped the company to give back to first responders with a hefty donation of their product.

CarterMatt – Just so that everyone understands just what you were up to this week, why don’t you start by explaining just what you are up to in Miami. (Note: This was conducted Monday, mere minutes after the conclusion of the event.)

Danny Pino – Well right now I’m in Miami-Dade County, and I was invited down to take part in the donation of the new Duracell Quantum battery to the Miami-Dade Police Department and the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department. Being a native son to Miami and Miami-Dade and playing a police officer, for me it was an honor to take part in the donation of 40,000 of these new batteries with this advanced technology.

It rises to another level because my brother is actually a Miami-Dade police detective, so it’s very personal to me today. It’s not only the 40,000 batteries being donated, but the overall campaign has millions being donated nationwide to first responders. To be involved in something like that and to introduce their new web series called Quantum Heroes that Duracell is producing, where they highlight the bravery of our first responders, [is exciting]. And really, it puts the spotlight on these people who are largely anonymous, and do this job without taking any kind of praise. It’s really putting an emphasis on their sacrifice. This Quantum Heroes that we presented today is called ‘Baby Rescue,’ and seeing it play for the crowd here, which was many first responders, was impactful and unflinching as it showed what it really takes to be a first responder.

One thing I’m really amazed about mostly is that as a series regular on a drama series like this, you’re able to even find the time to take on other things. How do you go about deciding what to do?

You’re right in that there’s not a lot of time, but when there are things that you believe in and that are important, especially when it deals with my hometown, [you go for them]. And with my brother being a direct beneficiary of the effort, it was something that you find time to [do]. And it wasn’t easy. There were several dates that had to be shuffled in trying to figure out when I’d be available, and I was just very happy to be able to take part.

Are you guys on a brief hiatus right now, or did you just take a couple of days off?

No. As a matter of fact, we were shooting tandem episodes recently. Essentially it takes eight days to shoot an episode. We started an episode, and after the fourth day of shooting we started another episode on top of it. When the initial episode wrapped, we started a third episode alongside the episode that we recently started. It’s a juggling act, and it requires a lot of focus and preparation just to keep the storylines and the guest cast and the stakes in each scene appropriate and to push the envelope, like we try to do on the show.

That was incredibly challenging to not only to be in tandems, but to try and find an opportunity to be here in Miami to present this donation. I mean, I try to come down to Miami as much as possible. My family is here, and so is my wife’s family. We try to come down as much as possible with our two small children; we think it’s important for them to try and spend time with their family and not spend too much time away.

That must be a nice little way for you to have a little bit of balance in your live. ‘SVU’ is clearly not a show that can be described as ‘light,’ so do you find it a nice little bit of balance to be able to come home after the fact and unwind? Does it help after some of the long days?

[Acting] is just where I function from. I take a lot of pride in what I do. It is incredibly important and it is something that I put a massive amount of attention and focus to. To try and find nuances within the character and the story, that provides the challenges that enliven the actor. That’s what I look forward to; the complicated moments that are in a grey area …  It’s equal parts passion for what I do, and excitement for creating these characters. But always a priority has been my family.

Obviously this week’s episode was a big one with Richard Belzer’s [John Munch] stepping down. What was the mood like working on set? Was there a sense of nostalgia with it?

Richard Belzer is a very complex person. He’s hilarious and irreverent, but there’s also feeling and intelligence. I think that the episode and the scene of his retirement captures not only Munch but Belzer, specifically. It’s not just sentimental; it’s hilarious and ball-busting. It’s complex, and I’m happy that the show not only was able to tip the hat to Belzer for everything that he’s done on the show, but also kept the door open for Munch to come back to the squad room in future episodes. I know from a personal standpoint that he has been a mentor, and from my character’s standpoint Munch was a mentor for Amaro in several episodes.

Have the writers given you any sort of hint specifically as to what is coming up for Amaro, without really giving anything too major away?

There’s going to be a revelatory, impactful episode for Amaro where he is going to be challenged, and a lot of his way of conducting himself is going to change. I’m not being coy and cryptic; I truly don’t know what that is. I think that’s very purposeful on the writers’ part, to keep me innocent as to what that might be. So I’m very excited for that to be revealed. I think this season the tone was set by the premiere, and after seeing what that was, anything’s possible.

You can see the Quantum Heroes video that Pino referenced earlier below; meanwhile, you can click here to watch a video preview for this very-important episode.

Photo: Marc Serota /Invision for Duracell

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