LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT: Allison Siko Looks Back on ‘Swing’ - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT: Allison Siko Looks Back on ‘Swing’

November 14, 2023 by  

Allison Siko Swing interview

Credit: NBC

When Give Me My Remote looked back on the classic LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT episode “Swing” in October—with writer Amanda Green, in honor of the hour’s 15th anniversary—it fell during the 118-day SAG-AFTRA strike…meaning actors weren’t allowed to discuss their work (past/present/future) at all.

During that time, Allison Siko, whose Kathleen Stabler was the catalyst for the events in “Swing,” was among the frequent picketers in New York. “I’ve been in the industry basically my entire life,” she tells Give Me My Remote, post-strike. (Siko has been in the LAW & ORDER franchise since 2002, first in SVU and now in ORGANIZED CRIME.) “I remember the writers’ strike that had happened in ’08. And I remember seeing lots of labor movement-type things [throughout the years]. But to actually be a part of it now, as an adult, and understand the ramifications of ‘We need to make sure that stopgaps are in place, guardrails are in place, there’s regulations in place. Because sometimes people in power, you give them an inch, they will take the entire circumference of the world.’”

“Understanding more of the business side, as an adult now, that it’s not just a fun day on set, it’s not just my cool after-school hobby, that this is what I want to do for my life, you look into the details a bit more,” she continues. “I have my little Betty White planter; she’s my goal, a Betty White plan. I want to be in this thing until I can’t anymore—and even then I’ll probably find a way. If that’s what I want to do, then you have to make sure the industry is around to do it.”

Siko points to the ongoing AI threat as a problem for the entire industry. “If you’re using AI completely, then you don’t need as many hair and makeup people on set, as many costumers, as many props masters,” she says. “It starts chipping away at the humanity of the entire process.”


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And while technology will always continue to evolve, “it’s not the threat that the technology is here and will take over, it’s that without regulations, things will be exploited and likenesses will be just taken and used piecemeal,” she says. “And as an actor, it is a thing where there’s an attitude, especially in the States, of, ‘You’re just playing pretend. Be grateful you’re even here.’ Yeah, but at the same time, this is a job. And I would like to be able to pay my rent. I would like to be able to put food on my table.”

“Especially in this crazy world that we’re in, it doesn’t always feel like you can do a lot,” she continues. “I could go be on the picket line and raise my voice to say that this is not okay, this is not fair. And I stand with my union. It felt really cathartic in a way. And it was really important to me, because I can see now that, speaking residuals—taking AI out of the equation—something that I shot when I was younger is getting me more residuals, still, all these years later, than the things I just recently shot.”

“You’re always hustling as an actor,” she allows. “There’s never you sitting comfy. But to realize that, ‘Oh, I’m not as comfy as I was hoping I was gonna be.’ Like, I couldn’t take some time and possibly work on my own project…I’m still applying to side jobs. You wouldn’t think you’d have to do that after filming 11 episodes of network television; you’d hope that it could last through a drought or last through a strike. But I just put my rent on a credit card this month. And I’m hoping there’s still some left before the max to do it again, because coffers are running dry. This strike, in its full complexity, just hit harder, because when you’re an adult in this industry, it is so much tied to the way you earn your living, but it is also really important because it felt like you could actually do something.”

Siko sees a parallel between picketing and the work she is able to do as a performer, especially in an episode like “Swing.” (In the episode, Kathleen was caught breaking into a home. Her family realized, eventually, that she was actually bipolar, which led her father, Elliot, to reunite with his estranged mother, Bernie, in an attempt to convince Kathleen to get help. Though Elliot was unsuccessful, Elliot’s partner, Olivia, was able to convince Bernie—who was also bipolar, but refusing to medicate—to see Kathleen. Kathleen ultimately took responsibility for her actions and got help.)

“I didn’t feel the full effects of that as a kid growing up and doing theater until I did something like ‘Swing,’” Siko says. “To this day I still get people messaging me going, ‘Thank you so much. I felt seen, I felt heard. This episode made me understand my daughter better, my aunt better, have more appreciation for my parents, etc,’ I feel honored to do it, but I also feel fiercely  protective of doing it right. Let’s make sure everybody involved is fairly compensated.”

Here, Siko looks back at filming “Swing”…

Kathleen had been spiraling for a few seasons pre-”Swing.” At what point did you learn she was actually bipolar?
It was a slow burn, to say the least. Because my initial audition for the entire project, I was auditioning for, like, teenager of the week; I went in for an audition for [a guest star role saying,] “I didn’t see Johnny in class, sorry!” 

I went in, I auditioned, and I didn’t hear anything; it was just one of the many auditions that was going on during my time in the circuit as a teen. It was something like four or six weeks later, I heard from my agent who was like, “Okay, well obviously she didn’t get that episode, but they are thinking of recasting the daughter. Would she be interested in that?” And I said absolutely. 

And so it just started as a little happenstance-type thing. So I went in, I did the episode “Popular,” and it’s the one where I’m just on the phone and kind of angsty, and it’s where “But Dad!” started. And so it was pretty much just coded [as] angsty teen, fill in whatever blank you want to. So that’s what I did. 

I did that one, thinking, “Well, that was fun. I don’t know if they’ll ever call me again.” Then I started realizing, oh, in this universe, they bring you back. So it would be like a once a year. thing where, oh cool, I got the call, I got to see my fake family. And then they started calling a little more frequently; it would be like two or three episodes. And that was amazing because I love going to set—I’m like a kid in a candy store. I get really jazzed. 

On top of it, in real life, I’m a goody-two-shoes rule follower…So to live out the “angsty teenage girl getting into trouble” fantasies was awesome. Now I can say I’ve been in the back of a police cruiser, I have been arrested—but there’s nothing on my permanent record. [Laughs.] I’m okay. So that was always fun to do. 

That’s also part of the joy of acting: You get to step into somebody else’s shoes. But I just took it as, “Oh, they’re doing the teenage drinking episode. So you got a DUI, of course. And of course the dad is gonna get her off.” And then they course-corrected later,  where they’re like, no no no [when it was revealed that Elliot pulled strings to prevent Kathleen from getting in trouble]. And I was like, hey, that’s good, they are going to show that somebody in the system, making it easier for you, it’s not always good. 

So that was super fun to do, just point blank. But then they started having a little bit more happening. And I was filming the [season 10] episode,”Trials,” they were dressing me a bit older and a bit sultrier, talking about how I have an inner thigh tattoo. And I was like, “Oh, damn, Kathleen is really cranking it up a notch! This is fun.”

And then it was [during that episode’s production] David Platt, who is an amazing director I’ve worked with a bunch of times, said, “Hey, can I talk to you for a second?” And I said sure. We had a little quasi-meeting where he said, so there’s this new episode that we’re thinking of having you be involved in, but you’d be in a bit more of the episode. And I’m like, “This is amazing. I would absolutely love to be here more. I would be here every day if you let me.”  And he said, “Okay, well, there’s a bit more going on. It’s a bit more intense. Would you be offended if we wanted to send you to an acting coach?” 

And I was thinking, you do realize I’m in school for this right now; I went to school for acting. I’m in the middle of my studies. The lovely people over at Rutgers University, it was the only school that allowed me to keep my day job if they called—most conservatory programs, you’re on lockdown for however many years it is. So I was already going, but obviously I’m cool to learn from whoever. So he said, “Hey, okay, that sounds like you’re game. And we’ll send you to Susan Batson, who is of the Susan Batson Studio—she’s helped many people, like Nicole Kidman and other really wonderful, wonderful performers. And so I got to learn from her for a few sessions, more of the method or Stanislavski tips or techniques. I was in school learning the Meisner [technique], to get really nerdy and acting technical about it.

Then it just was, okay, let her rip, here’s the script. I read it. I’m like, “Oh, my God, I’m in the whole thing. This is amazing.” But I did have that moment of “with great power comes great responsibility.” 

I mean, this is about a huge issue that I don’t want to screw up—this is people’s lives. This is not some caricature and that wasn’t talked about as much when we were shooting it. I’ve always been a very, very empathetic, emotional person and so I was like, “I’m gonna do this. I’m gonna do it right.” And so I went to the library and I found the documentary that Stephen Fry did, THE SECRET LIFE OF THE MANIC DEPRESSIVE. And my non-acting classes were psychology classes, so I was reopening my book to the abnormal psych section. Just trying to do all the things I could to make sure that I had as much info crammed into my brain so that when I did slip into the shoes of Kathleen this time, I could see it through that lens. So I could understand that somebody who’s manic, they’re not necessarily going to think something’s wrong, because they’re gonna feel so good. They’re gonna want to shout from the rooftops and everybody else is like, “Don’t jump off the rooftop, please.” 

So that helped me understand scenes such as the titular one, the swing scene, where not only was it super fun to do because I’m a night owl and we were shooting in New York at 2 AM on a swing set and I was like this is the best. But just to ground it in the reality of this is what sometimes happens to people when you’re in that haze of mania—and also substance abuse at the time to self-medicate. You’re not fully gleaning what everybody else is doing. So when I watch it back and I see Chris [Meloni (Elliot)] and Mariska [Hargitay (Olivia)]’s faces being like “Oh God, no. Come here sweetie, it’s okay,” and I’m just like a kid at Disney World—that’s, as an audience, what makes it scary, She has no idea. And so to really just fly off into that, and live with that as truthfully as I could, under these circumstances, that was really cool. But also, like I said, I understood how important it was to get it right and that’s what I wanted to do.


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Kathleen is in her own world for so much of the episode, and I imagine trying to walk the line of playing the high of the mania had to be difficult. What was it like finding that balance of showcasing her spiraling, which you did so well, without it feeling like a caricature? 
That was something I learned early on in some acting classes. I’ve been doing this since I could function. I am the one who pushed my parents to say, “I would like to perform”—they’re science and math people who were like, “Okay, we don’t know how to help you, but we will.” And God love them, they definitely have been supportive the entire way.

The number one thing in comedy is if you wink at the audience while you’re doing something, the audience doesn’t need to laugh because it’s like, “Oh, you’re doing something. Cool.” So the whole idea is to forget that there’s an audience, actually just try to live it. And that’s the more Meisner training I had; it was part of it. Just fully giving yourself over to the given circumstances of the experience going on. So if this is fully what she’s doing, she’s doing it with 110% of her body, her mind, her everything. There’s nothing else. And then it really was like, they’d say action, I’d give it my all and then they’d yell cu and then I’d kind of power down for a second and just be like, “Okay, let me revamp for the next take.” Because I do like giving my all. 

This was the first time I was there for more than just a day or two. I got to see, “Oh wow, this is what it’s like to do it for the longer day, longer time, and it does take some stamina.” I understood then why every once in a while an assistant would come over to Chris and Mariska and be like, “Here’s a snack.” Or why he’d be doing push-ups in the corner or squats or something—he’s always working out when he’s on set. Now I understood why, because it is a physically demanding job. 

We are the instrument. A trumpet player can put the trumpet down. We keep walking with ours throughout our entire day. So it was the thing—I made sure to try to get a little bit better sleep. I tried to make sure that I was eating okay. Especially knowing that I was going to be in something basically like a bikini, I was like, maybe I’ll go to the gym a little bit to be more comfortable in my own skin. You want to be operating at your optimum, and you do whatever you need to do. 

And, yeah, I just was making sure that if I’m gonna do this, I want to do it as authentically as I can. Because it’s going to be seen by folks who live it and they’ll be able to spot if this is me playing acting at it versus living it.

You have to be very physically vulnerable in a number of scenes, as well, both in scenes where you’re not wearing as much, but also in the scene post-OD as the doctors are pumping Kathleen’s stomach. What was the process like to get into that more vulnerable state?
Well, [the scene where Kathleen is found post-OD,] I was like, “Oh, this is the first time that I’m going to be in my skivvies. This is the first time there’s going to be a gentleman on top of me. And this is gonna be on national television for all the world to see.” And so I started having lovely conversations with the wardrobe department who said, “Hey, this is what we’re thinking, but we also want you to be comfortable. So how about you go out and we’ll give you a little stipend and you pick up something that you feel comfortable in?” And so I went to Victoria’s Secret, because that’s where I knew to go, and I tried on some stuff. And I was like, “Okay, I’ll get a couple of options of what I feel comfortable in.” 

And, mind you, this was in the days before intimacy coordinators. So I was very thankful that everyone was so respectful and so insistent on making sure I was not only physically okay, but like mentally okay. They had like a robe standing by waiting to drape me. It was a closed set, so it was only necessary personnel who needed to be there. There wasn’t like, “Alright, the young one’s getting naked!” There was none of that crap. Once again, with this responsibility, I felt that if I don’t do this as honestly and as truthfully as possible, it’s a disservice to the people who actually have lived in it. 

So I was like, I’m not myself. I am Kathleen. And I mean, it also helps that she’s completely unconscious. It’s like, okay, she wouldn’t be aware of what’s going on, she’ll have to deal with that later. Which is why then in the jail scene, I was able to bring all that, “Oh crap” and shame and let it pour out of my eyeballs, because that was the moment that she would feel it. 

But it was very fun. That’s one of the few times I’ve ever worked with Ice T. So then you just get to meet him and be like, “Hello, sir! I’m…naked.” 

Then that’s also the wonderful thing of having worked so many times with Chris, that, yes, he is not my dad; he is a co-worker. But having worked so many scenes together over so many years, that was a familiarity, kind of a safe space. So the fact that they were like, okay, he’s gonna slap you, he’s going to throw you over his shoulder. I was like, “I feel comfortable with this person, this person is a safe person to interact with.” So I was really thankful that he was the one doing all that instead of, you know, somebody I had never met before for such an important scene so early on in my career. Now I’m just like, yeah, this is part of the job. You meet sometimes, and it’s like, “Hi, nice to meet you. So we’ll be making out over here?” Likem you just have to roll with the punches. But for this particular one, I felt very safe, literally, in the arms of Christopher Meloni. [Laughs.]

One of the most gorgeous scenes of the episode is Kathleen and Bernie’s heart-to-heart in jail. What do you remember about filming that sequence with Ellen Burstyn?
That was a lot. Honestly, as an actor, that was one of the harder days for me. Because you ramp up all this pressure. I don’t know if there’s anybody who’s had to do a presentation and they feel like they get so ready for it, and then some nerves can kick in and they go, “Oh, no,” and you start getting in your own head about it. That’s kind of what happened. 

I had a mini-moment where we took a break or we were changing an angle or changing the lighting, and I went back to the dressing room and I went, “Oh my God, this is a lot.” I had a mini-moment with myself being like, “Can I do that? You’ve been hired to do the job. Suck it up, Siko. Come on. It’s time, you’ve got to be ready for this.” 

So there were definitely some nerves involved. But, you know, I’ve worked with some great people. I’m going to hopefully continue to work with some great people. But at the end of the day, that’s what they are—people. So trying to wrap my head around that there’s this Oscar winner in front of me and she’s giving an amazing performance every take, because every time what she did was entirely different. There was one moment that somebody whispered to me and was like, “Stop watching her. Even though you’re not on camera, you need to act with her.” And I’m like, “That’s right, sorry!” So these were great lessons to learn as a youngster, so you don’t do it now. I’m just like, yeah, you’re in the moment you do the job. Back then, I was like, “Holy crap. She’s amazing.” It was kind of like a master class watching her. 

But then turning the camera around on me, I wanted to give equal [back to her]. And so I want to give props to David Platt, who is an amazing director; he knew how to help ramp things up. We went through the scene one time, and then instead of cutting, he was like, “Okay, let’s go back to one, we’re going to do it again, instantly.” So we got energy levels where they needed to be. God love Mariska. She even pulled me to the side to give me a little acting coaching of, “Think of it this way!” And she didn’t have to do that, it wasn’t in her job description. She was there in the corner, not having to say a single line. But even then, as an actor, was a team player and helping make things happen. And Ellen was just a beautiful, beautiful person to work with. It was kind of funny, because we’re supposed to have this intimate family bond, and I had just met her that day.

Because I didn’t want to get freaked out, I actually didn’t watch any of her previous work. I know she’s famous for THE EXORCIST, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, and I was like, I’m aware she has great credits, but I’m gonna not watch them in preparation. [I just wanted] that when I see her, I just see the woman who is going to play my grandma, so that we can have our own kind of bond without all of that Tinseltown baggage. So it was lovely, because then she was just a person. 

And now, getting to reconnect with her on ORGANIZED CRIME has been lovely because I just was like, “Hi, Grandma!” Whenever I see her, I’m like that’s the woman who plays my grandma! It’s lovely to see her. She’s given me big hugs and I’ve given her big hugs and we’ve caught up on stuff. She’s just such a fiery, beautiful individual. And so that was really beautiful, because even though I was in the jail cell, I was in there with two fierce women. Just the energy radiating off of both of them was enough to give you a contact high of, “Oh, yeah, I can do this.” So all of the training I was getting at school, the training with Susan Batson, David Platt being an excellent director to make sure it was being shaped the way he needed it to be shaped, Ellen doing her amazing job, and Mariska’s little pep talk. I was like, okay, yeah, I got this.

I do feel proud of that now. In the moment, I was like, “I hope this is good.” But now I look back and I was like, “Yeah, we did the job. We told the story. That’s the whole point of this.” And so I tried to hold on to those little touchstones. Any time my acting battery feels a little low, I go back to that. I’m like, “Oh, yeah. Remember you did that thing. And you were with these amazing people and they believed in you. So if they believe in you, suck it up.”

So it was a really beautiful experience. But it was one of those things where it was the job, but also like a life-changing mini-masterclass. It really is one of those hinging points that will always be a day I remember.

Allison Siko Swing interview

Credit: NBC

Where did that fall in the filming of the episode? Had you already had to film the highest points of Kathleen’s mania or was that near the end of production?
[Siko starts to check her binder filled with mementos from the episode’s production.] That’s also the crazy thing that people don’t always realize: That entire episode was shot in eight days. The way that they can work like such a well-oiled machine is mind-boggling and wonderful.

Absolutely. And extra incredible given a number of scenes were extremely long by network TV standards
The beach scene was beautiful and like a play within itself. And [Ellen’s] monologue in the jail cell, explaining the snow falling and the car crash—it’s just such beautiful writing. Amanda Green was wonderful in all of her work. I only got to meet her once, but she’s beyond brilliant.

So according to this [binder]—this might not have been the most updated—but apparently on day seven, I shot the scene in the jail. And then on day eight, I was shooting the swing scene in the playground. 

That’s also the beauty in the puzzle-piecing of what we do—it’s not usually ever shot in order. So it is the kind of thing where you just have to dig in and imagine what might have happened. Imagine what’s going on in that little window of time that the audience is peeking in. Because you might have to be getting a reaction that’s very visceral and strong to something that you’ve not even created yet in the 3D. I guess because I got so much insight into how crappy she was feeling in the jail, I was like, “Oh, we can really go 180 the other way, and really be balls to the wall on the other side of things.” [Laughs.] But you know, it’s the kind of thing that’s the beauty of television as an art form: It’s a little more fluid than people might realize. Things can change at the last minute. Things can kind of adjust so something happens one day and then the next day they might move things around.

I still remember the shower scene part of [the episode]. That was the one I was more concerned about. I was like, “Oh no. There’s water and I’m basically naked.” And they did have coverings for me, I was shielded. But I still remember walking in, being like, I wonder if the water is going to be warm? it’s supposed to look like a shower, but you never know. Like, we were on a soundstage, we weren’t in an actual bathroom, they built the bathroom. But that’s also what I say about working with these people over the years prior to it. All of a sudden I come in and one of the crew guys was like, “Hey, sweetie, I heard it was you. So I made sure to put a heater on it; you’re not going to be in cold water.” I was just like, “Aw, thank you”…It became kind of a family feeling of you taking care of each other. So wardrobe department was really making sure I felt okay.

There was one time when they were draping the shower curtain like a toga and trying to secure it so it wouldn’t fall off in the middle of flailing—David Platt was hilarious, he was like, “Why does she look like she’s in a couture gown? No, no, we have to mess it up a little bit.” That was always the funniest thing, like, in the hospital hair and makeup fixed my hair so much, and they’re like, “She can’t look like Sleeping Beauty—rough her up a bit! Too pretty!” 

It was a group effort. It’s collaborative. It’s not just one person spearheading a thing, it’s everybody coming together. So Amanda Green having the amazing ideas and pulling from her experience to then make sure that what she was writing felt accurate. Then the wardrobe department making sure…there’s that line of, “You look ravishing in dayglo.” Well, they put me in something that wouldn’t vibrate on camera. But Ellen took one look and said, “That’s not dayglo. I would gladly say the line, but she’s not wearing it. So either we can fix the line or we can fix the costume.” And they went yeah, we’re gonna have to fix the costume. So sure enough, really quickly, I went in and we got another jumpsuit that was brighter orange, so that it could all make sense and detract from the audience. Because you never want to pull them out of it because something’s not working. 

The fact that everybody was on their A-game, everybody wanted to make sure that it was going to be done right and safely. [The scene of Kathleen] jumping out the window, I begged, I was like, “Please let me do that, that looks like so much fun.” And they said, “No. We need you in one piece for the rest of this!” So there was a lovely stunt double, and she was jumping out the window…then there are side effects [because] unfortunately, her feet have been labeled as mine on Wikifeet for years now. But then they did find my own feet [eventually].

One of my side things that I do from time to time, I love being a reader at auditions…I’ve been hired on occasion to do that. And the guy who was on top of me for the passed out part [of the episode], he came in one time and we both looked at each other, like, “I know you from somewhere.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s right. You were the lovely gentleman who was very respectful and on top of me that one time. Cool cool cool cool cool.” Being an actor is kind of a crazy circus of how things happen. But it’s when everybody’s on the same page of “let’s make this the best that it can be”—that’s when magic happens.


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It’s extremely rare to play a character for this long on primetime television—and, arguably, that jailhouse scene was the most vulnerable we’ve ever seen Kathleen. How has that impacted how you work with Mariska and Ellen on SVU and ORGANIZED CRIME all these years later? 
It’s like I was saying with Chris—walking into harder material, harder situations, but feeling a grounding of security of, “I know that human. I’ve worked with them before.” They are an amazing team player, but also kind of a safe space. That’s what’s translated as well with these amazing women. It’s not a familiarity of we’ve all gathered for lunch over the years; I hadn’t seen Mariska since I was last on SVU, except I think there was one party somebody invited me to and she happened to be there. But we’re not all like grabbing lunch and being best friends.

But it’s the kind of thing where you walk on set and you go, “Oh, hi again.” And you get to work,  you focus on the work. But there’s that slight ease of “I don’t have to be unsure of what you’re gonna bring. We can all agree that we’re on the same page. We’re gonna work our hardest, give our all, and it’s going to be a safe playground to really try things.” Rather than, “Oh, no. I don’t want to step on somebody’s toes or I don’t want to upstage anybody.” 

You want to make sure that the power dynamics are kept in scenes of who is the character who has a higher status or lower status. But it really comes down to that you can just stop worrying about things and focus on the characters and focus on the moment and what is the moment? And make sure that, like I was saying before, it’s all about authenticity. It’s like we’re trying to capture authentic moments, it’s like lightning in a bottle that in this case is a camera, so that when the audience is watching it, they really feel the feelings, they really go on the ride with us. Because the whole point; the whole point is to tell a story. And when you come back on the set with these powerhouses of performers and just go, “All right, strap in. Let’s go on for this roller coaster ride.” Without that twinge of fear because you’re like, “Oh, I already know this human. It’s exhilarating.” I do love riding roller coasters, and I have to say it’s kind of similar to [the feeling you get on] the top of the first hill whenever you go down, because you’re going, alright, I don’t know what’s in store, but we’re gonna have a lot of fun.

You mentioned this was a turning point for you. What means the most to you about doing this hour?
Probably it was the crash course, in a way, of this is what it’s like to be more involved in an episode. This is what it’s like to work [from the entire episode’s] eight-day shoot, I worked six out of those days. And for most of those days, I was there the whole day. Especially because I was in college at the time, and I was like, wow, this is series regular 101. This is getting the taste of what it means to do this job, day in and day out. And all of us as actors, in the industry, want a job. We want to work so hard. We just pray for that next opportunity. But to actually get a taste of it [and appreciate it because] right after I didn’t have to go do the next episode or to reshoot or something—I had the chance to step back. 

And actually in this case, I had the chance to then go to my next year of college a little late, because I was busy filming this. So I was going back into my studies. I could really look at it from that slightly distant perspective and go, “Oh, wow. Yeah, if I want to do this as my career, it takes stamina, it takes drive. It takes work. It takes diligence. It’s not just fun, make-believe time. There are times when you’re cold. You’re too hot, you’re hungry. You’re tired. It’s not the cozy environment that some people might think of when they think Hollywood glitz and glamor. It’s not that. It is hard work. But then what I also loved about it was—even with all of those newfound realizations—it sparked my desire to do it more. It’s as if all of my life I had been holding a candle to doing this as an actual profession, and “Swing” tipped it over into the raging bonfire it is today.

Is there anything else that stands out to you about the episode? 
It really is moving to me that while we were making it, I knew it was special. I knew it was different. I just didn’t realize how wide-reaching it would affect people. You always want to do good work. That’s just a given. You always want to give your best anytime that you’re lucky enough to be on a set or on a stage or anywhere you’re doing your passion. But the fact that it was such an amazing experience to create and has then rippled over into it being such a beloved episode that people enjoy watching? I’ve ordered coffees and the barista will sometimes write Kathleen on it and say, “Thank you so much.” Like I said, they’ll be like, it helped me feel seen and it helped my parents understand what I’m going through. Or it helped me understand what another family or friend is going through.

I didn’t realize the magnitude of that, and that’s what made me quadruple down that this is what I want to do, because like I said when we were talking about the strike, there’s a lot of times in this world that we see things happening that we don’t agree with, that we don’t like, but we feel kind of helpless with what can I do about it? What can one person do about it? And to be a part of something that did help change the narrative for some people in their personal lives…I think also on a bigger scale, SVU, in general, has done so much through its storytelling over the years to help change societal conversations around sexual assault, around victims actually being survivors and not necessarily victims, and believing people who this has happened to. 

To also be a part of the mental health conversation in such a big way at the beginning of when it was happening—we didn’t see a lot of people dealing with mental health in the way that we were in this episode on TV shows or even in movies. If we did it was more of the caricature or using it as a punch line. This was, no, we’re going to show that it’s hard. It’s not only hard for the person, it’s hard for the family around them. It’s hard for the coworkers of the family around them. It has a rippling effect throughout society. 

I was really happy to be a part of it. And it’s inspired me to want to make more work like that. So I’m always on the lookout, if I can, to audition for things that have messages that I feel need to be heard or aligned with my view of how things could be. And the few things that I’m writing on my own—that aren’t ready for primetime, but eventually I hope to make—hopefully, can leave this floating space rock a little bit better than we found it.


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We haven’t seen Kathleen’s mental health addressed as much on OC. Is “Swing” something you keep on the forefront of your mind when you’re playing her to this day? 
It’s dealt with it a little bit, it’s just put the focus back on Grandma. She had a beautiful line in one of the episodes that we did; she was like, “I’m 82 years old and I can’t figure normal.” And I was able to say, “Grandma, I know.”

Because that’s the thing—we haven’t fully had in-depth talks about it. There was one Zoom at the beginning of everything [as a creative team] just to try to touch base and be like, alright, how’s everybody doing? What do you think the character’s been through, etc. And just to bring into the fold the newer siblings. Just to be like, “Hi, welcome to family. Here’s the dirty laundry in our closet.” It’s the kind of thing you hope that people who have been suffering can find new ways of surviving and thriving. So I’m guessing her therapy and possibly even medicinal cocktail of whatever she’s discovered is working. 

She seems to be handling things. [But] especially in these past few seasons, she’s kind of been more of the rock, taking care of people, welcoming them into her home, looking after things while everything else is falling apart. Which for some people could trigger episodes, could trigger they’re going to not be doing as well. So there was part of me that was like, it’s not written in any of the scripts, anything specifically touching on this, except for we all have to focus on Grandma and make sure she’s okay. But I would constantly have that in the back of my mind like, “Okay, this is a stressful situation. How well are her systems of surviving actually functioning? How much of a mask is she wearing to keep it so that everybody else doesn’t need to focus on her?” Because she took a large chunk of her teenagehood, shining the light on “Pay attention to me, I’m the one screwing up and causing mayhem!” 

So it’s never been explicit, it’s kind of been my own little thing I keep in my pocket. But it is the thing of there might be a time when things aren’t as good and things might break. But how much through wanting to kind of pay for her sins of her adolescence does she let others into that? Or does she do it behind closed doors and, in this case, when the cameras are off? It’s always been something I have in the back of my mind, because as far as we’re aware, there is no cure. And grandma isn’t always doing well. She herself is stressed and then aging—[at Bernie’s age] you wake up every day, you don’t know what’s gonna happen with your corporeal being. So as an actor, it’s something I’ve kept tucked away. It’s not explicitly written into scripts. But it was interesting to be like, oh, I’m glad that they’re including me in this conversation to be with grandma, to be the touchstone of, that’s right; we have this. As she said the higher you fly, the harder you fall. 

We have this odd little connection because of genetics, and also because of our experiences. “You were there for me last time, so of course I’m here for you this time.” We’ll see. I don’t know what’s coming down the pike. I hope to be included in more stories. I really do. I love to go to work. So whatever they want to play with, I’m game. We’ll have to see what’s around the corner.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.


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