After 24 seasons, there are bound to be some familiar faces on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Let's take a closer look at which celebs have made a very special cameo on the iconic show over the past two decades.
One of the best parts about watching re-runs of Law & Order: SVU is seeing all your favorite A-list celebs make cameos early in their careers. It's almost as though we've seen some of these actors grow up, right?!
So, let's start with an all-time favorite: Sarah Paulson, whose first acting gig was on the original Law & Order in 1994. A few years later, she returned to the series during season 11 for the episode Shadow, where she played Anne Gillette, the daughter of a well-off couple that was mysteriously murdered.
Another famous face who appeared on the NBC show very early on is none other than Hayden Panettiere. Most famously known for her starring roles in Bring It On: All or Nothing or Nashville, Panettiere was actually a child star back in the day, with a two-time appearance on SVU.
In fact, her Law & Order debut dates all the way back to Season 2, back in 2000, where she played Ashley Austin Black, a young victim in the episode Abuse. She made her second appearance a few years later during Season 6's episode, Hooked when she played Angela Angelli, a high school girl who was connected to a murder case.
Believe it or not, before Bradley Cooper was an Academy Award nominee and Grammy award-winning artist, he was playing Jason Whitaker on Law & Order: SVU. The actor made his film debut in the comedy Wet Hot American Summer back in 2001 and was known for his role as Will Tippin in the TV series Alias that ran for five years in 2001.
In 2004, Cooper appeared in SVU, playing a rather charming lawyer who worked with a rather dodgy client, but in the end, it's disclosed that the client's well-off family was paying Cooper to cover for them the whole time. Cooper's career took a dip thereafter until his breakout role in The Hangover in 2009.
Without a doubt, Viola Davis is one of the most beloved and well-accomplished actors of all time. However, way before she was a recipient of the Triple Crown of Acting, she had a long list of credits playing small supporting roles in various television series, with Law & Order: SVU being one of them!
In 2003 during the show's fourth season, Davis played Donna Emmet, a defense attorney who went up against the District Attorney's office on multiple occasions, which led her to appear on the show seven times. The last time we saw Davis on SVU was in 2008, the same year she received her first Oscar nomination for her role in Doubt.
We most famously know her for her role as Miranda Hobbes on Sex and the City, but the truth is, Cynthia Nixon actually won an Emmy for her role as Janis Donovan on SVU. For her award-winning role, Nixon played a character who struggled with Dissociative Identity Disorder, which meant she played a wide variety of different identities.
Nixon actually appeared on the show three times, first in 1990, years later during the show's ninth season opening episode, Alternative, and finally during the final season of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. During her last Law & Order cameo, the SATC star played a Broadway director alongside Patti Smith.
Not only was Nixon nominated for an Emmy, the late Robin Williams was too nominated for a Primetime Emmy award for his outstanding cameo. Williams wowed audiences with his role as Meritt Rook, an anti-authoritarian activist who completely defies authority during the series' 200th episode in season nine.
In fact, this episode was based on a true story, which further examines the Milgram experiment. The social psychology experiment considers how far people will go to obey an authority figure despite going against their own conscience.
From her iconic role as Karen in Mean Girls to Sophie in Mamma Mia!, Amanda Seyfried is one of those actors that can do it all. However, right before her career exploded with the release of Mean Girls in 2004, Seyfried was playing a victim on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
During the season's sixth season, Outcry, Seyfried played Tandi McCain, who accuses construction workers of a heinous crime. However, in classic SVU order, we see that Tandi begins to switch her story a few times, resulting in a messy and complicated trial.
During the height of his time playing Jess Mariano on Gilmore Girls, Milo Ventimiglia decided to hop networks for a quick cameo in Law & Order: SVU during season five's episode, "Escape." During his one-time appearance on the show, he played Lee Healy, a young man who accuses his stepfather of sexual abuse.
However, in true SVU fashion, the tables quickly turned, and things were not so simple, and in reality, he was actually involved in a secret relationship with his cousin. Yikes. Years later, Ventimiglia took on the role of a lifetime playing Jack Pearson in the heartwarming series, This Is Us.
Jennifer Love Hewitt
Jennifer Love Hewitt began her career in the '80s with her role in Kids Incorporated and quickly became known as one of Hollywood's bombshells for her role in the classic '90s slasher film I Know What You Did Last Summer. Years into her career, the actress joined the SVU family for her role as Vicki Sayers during the show's 12th season.
Hewitt's character was attacked by the same man four times in 15 years, making many question the truth behind her allegations. But Benson does everything she can to find and convict her attacker. The Heartbreakers star told Collider that playing Sayers "became a soulful journey through something that I could never have imagined."
This country superstar actually made her acting debut on Law & Order: SVU during the show's 13th season! The Somethin' Bad singer stepped into the role of Lacey Ford, a young woman who was assaulted by a TV producer, and is guilted into saying it was consensual in order not to jeopardize her career.
Lambert told TV Guide that she "really had to really transform my personality, which I wasn't sure I could do until I got on the set and sort of just tried to put myself in her shoes." She said, "I had to really pull from my gut on this whole role I was playing because I'm a very strong, confident person," while the character is "naive."
He may be one of the most successful musicians of all time, but little did we all know Questlove actually had another dream all along! In an article from 2013, the artist shares a list of 25 things audiences may not know about him for Us Weekly, one of which being his desire to be on the famous drama show.
"It's my fantasy to play a dead body on Law & Order," Questlove said in the article. So, just a year later, the famous drummer appeared as an uncredited corpse on the show. Law & Order: SVU star Ice-T tweeted a photo of the musician as the corpse, captioning it, "SVU Behind The Scenes: This corpse looks strangely familiar..."
Let's add Pitch Perfect star Brittany Snow to the list of famous faces on SVU! Snow appeared on the show during its seventh season alongside Walking Dead actor Norman Reedus. Snow plays Jamie Hoskins, a woman who struggles with bipolar disorder who accidentally gets herself into a horrible situation.
Snow later explained to People that mental health has always been something she has struggled with, specifically her relationship with unrealistic beauty standards and food. After some time receiving the right help, Snow advises others in her position to "talk to anybody. Maybe the first step is just to talk to a friend about it. Probably they'll relate in some way."
After playing Marissa Cooper on The O.C. for years, Mischa Barton went in a different direction with her role in SVU. Barton appeared in Season 11 of the show as Gladys Dalton, a pregnant former prostitute who becomes an important piece of an investigation.
After agreeing to testify, Gladys gives birth and gets out of town, leaving her baby with Detective Benson. Years after her time on The O.C., Barton confessed to having a tough time playing Cooper and having to turn down roles because of the hectic filming schedule.
Regarded as one of the best tennis players of all time, Serena Williams decided to dip her toes into a few other talents during the past two decades. The four-time Olympic gold medal winner took a shot at acting, with one of her first gigs being her time on SVU.
However, she didn't have to stray too far from herself, as Williams played an athlete (a basketball player), Chloe Spiers, in season five of the series. In the episode, Williams unwillingly gets filmed doing a strip tease at a club when the footage makes it online. To make things more complicated, the guy who posted it suspiciously gets murdered.
Melissa Joan Hart
She's best known for her iconic role as Sabrina on Sabrina the Teenage Witch back in the '90s, but Melissa Joan Hart also made a quick cameo on our favorite drama series. Back in 2007, Hart appeared on the show during its 9th season, playing a high school teacher.
Hart was interested in joining the SVU cast for an appearance and later explained that she was friends with Mariska Hargitay, aka Olivia Benson. I've made friends at Lifetime, and now I can go to them," she said. "It's important to have those connections with people you have a chemistry with and that you trust."
Who doesn't love Martin Short? From his revolutionary days on Saturday Night Live to his hilariously brilliant role on Only Murders in the Building, Short is known as the funny guy, so when he took on a darker part playing Sebastian Ballentine on SVU, audiences were intrigued!
During the show's sixth season, Short played a psychic who helps the detectives look for a kidnapped teenager. However, as Detective Elliot Stabler guessed it, Short's character was actually a sexual predator. Now that is just a totally different role for him!
This Desperate Housewives alum was looking to "get out of the house" after her time on the beloved series and try her hand at something completely different with SVU. "I heard it was a great show," she said. "I don't watch much television, so it wasn't something I knew about." However, she explains she loves Mariska Hargitay!
"We're sort of around the same age, so I've watched her start ... I have a lot of respect for her, and I always follow her," Cross said after deciding to return to TV following Desperate Housewives. As far as her character? Cross plays Charmaine Briggs, a woman accused of abusing her much-older husband.
One of our favorite ever guest appearances on Law & Order: SVU goes to Hilary Duff. Although she will always be Lizzie McGuire in our hearts, the Disney queen channeled her inner mother playing Ashlee Walker, a single mother accused of harming her missing 11-month year old daughter.
However, it turns out her daughter's death was caused by the measles and an unvaccinated classmate. Entertainment Weekly applauded the How I Met Your Father star for her transition from child star to adult actor writing, "her performance was good, a model of restraint."
Another comedic legend, Kathy Griffin, appeared on SVU during the show's 11th season, where she played a lesbian rights activist, Babs Duffy. Griffin took on a more serious role than she typically does for this one, as her character takes on a strong stand against the police advocating for a cause she believes in.
But as far as the role itself? In an appearance on The Wendy Williams Show, Griffin revealed, "I was never so scared in my life having that gig 'cause I haven't had an acting job in a long time, and that's a serious show." It certainly is a serious show!
Although she now famously takes the title of Gamora in The Guardians of the Galaxy movies, Saldana was once a part of the SVU gang! She appeared as Gabrielle Vega, in an episode back during season five, as the daughter of a wrongfully convicted man. As it so happens, she was one of the actors the show had been hoping to land for a while!
According to the show casting director Jonathan Strauss, "Zoe is one I had my eye on for a while." He told BuzzFeed, "It's no secret now, but there's no one like her, and there really was no one like her ten years ago." However, her role was originally meant to be a lot bigger than it ended up being due to her busy schedule.
That's right! Alec Baldwin himself once joined the Law & Order: SVU gang for a cameo during the show's 15th season. Baldwin plays a controversial reporter, Jimmy MacArthur, who is interviewed by Katie Couric herself. The irony is the character is somewhat related to his relationship with the media in real life.
Around the same time the episode came out, Alec Baldwin released a personal episode explaining he was "done" with his life being put in the public eye. So, in true SVU form, audiences saw his character take on some major real-life traits! In addition to Baldwin's guest appearance, Mariska Hargitay made her directorial debut.
Uncle Jesse plays a pretty persuasive criminal! John Stamos joined the Law & Order: SVU cast during season 12, playing Ken Turner, a charming and wealthy venture capitalist businessman who say he wants to help the SVU team. However, the truth quickly revealed itself, and Stamos was not the good guy he claimed to be.
Stamos' character was actually a criminal who wrongfully seduced women under false pretenses. As it is a totally different role for Stamos, he first turned down the role. "I said, 'I can't do this. It makes no sense for someone like me,'" he told TV Line after accepting the role.
As it so happens, John Stamos wasn't the only Full House cast member to have made an appearance on SVU! Bob Saget, too, made a guest appearance on the show years before during the Season 8 episode, Choreographed. Saget plays Glenn, who finds out his wife is cheating on him, and in response, kills that man's wife and frames him for her murder.
Again, Saget was playing a pretty convincing criminal! Years later, Saget admitted that he was already friends with Mariska Hargitay and was a big fan of the show, so landing a spot on the beloved show felt like a no-brainer! The comedian recalled, "It was a lot of fun to play [the bad guy]. When I read that, it was very well written."
The Happy Days actor appeared on SVU in its early days! Winkler made a guest appearance on the show during its third season, playing a character that goes far from his usual role. The Waterboy star played Edward Crandall, a businessman who actually turned out to be cheating his wife out of all her money.
In true SVU form, Winkler's character tries to stage his wife's death as a miscalculated burglary. There's always a twist and turn in this show, that's for sure! For those who are avid fans of the show might be surprised to know that Richard Belzer, who played John Munch on the show, was Winkler's cousin!
James Van Der Beek
Who wasn't obsessed with James Van Der Beek at one point or another? After all, he was Dawson Leery! Besides being a '90s heartthrob, the beloved actor was too on the hit NBC drama show SVU back in 2012, and well, he took on a completely different persona than we have ever seen from him before!
Van Der Beek took on the role of Sean Albert, a man posing to be "Donor 141" in order to take advantage of teenage girls who are hopefully searching for their biological fathers online. However, audiences find out he has some beef with the real donor, which makes everything even more complicated and classically SVU.
Even the iconic Martha Stewart has been a guest star on the famous drama series. The renowned businesswoman appeared on the show over a decade ago, where her character is the principal of an all-girls school. "I'm really a teacher on TV, the host of a show," Stewart told the Huffington Post - so it definitely checks out!
"So it's kind of always invigorating and yet nerve-racking to play a dramatic part. This is my first time on Law & Order. They called, and I accepted. I've been a big fan of Dick Wolf and the entire Law & Order series ever since he started it. Dick's actually a friend," she said.
From his role on Game of Thrones to his time on Narcos and now the hit HBO show The Last of Us, Pedro Pascal has become a household name in the last few years. However, Pascal spent years acting before making it big, and well, like many others, spent some time on the Law & Order set early on in his career.
The Mandalorian actor is actually a veteran of the franchise, as he not only acted in SVU but he was on the original series and the spin-offs, including Criminal Intent. Although Pedro Pascal won the Internet's heart recently as the ultimate "daddy" we now know that he's mastered playing a criminal or two as well.
Before becoming the one and only Haley Dunphy on the sitcom Modern Family, Sarah Hyland was to part of the Law & Order franchise. In fact, she told ET Online that she was "very glad" that she was able to appear on multiple episodes of the show, as it's a "rite of passage as a New York actor" to do so!
Hyland has played multiple characters in Law & Order: SVU, including Lily Ramsey in Season 3 and Jennifer Banks in Season 10 episode. It was during this episode as Jennifer, a teenager who gets charged with a heinous crime, we saw Hyland take on a much darker character than we know her to do!
Sarah Hyland isn't the only actor to believe landing a spot on Law & Order is a true "rite of passage" for New York-based artists. In fact, Elizabeth Banks appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! Years later and told the host that she "really lucked out" with her role on the famous TV show in 2001 at the beginning of her career.
The Hunger Games actress played an adult film star who eventually murders the producer who jump-started her career. During her interview with Kimmel, the host asked how her parents felt about such a role, to which she responded giggly, "I believe that my parents were very proud."
If we're going to mention Martha Stewart, it's only right we mention the one and only Snoop Dogg right afterward! The iconic rapper, too, had his moment to shine on Law & Order: SVU during Season 20, with an appropriately fitting title to the episode, Diss.
The episode focuses on the elite squad known as the Special Victims Unit working on a case surrounding an assault of a pop star. The team figures out there is an ongoing feud with her rapper husband and competing artist, Snoop Dogg. This is definitely a must-watch episode!