SVU’s Jamie Gray Hyder talks about joining long-running show
There’s a new officer patrolling the streets of New York City on NBC’s long-running crime drama Law & Order: SVU, which chronicles the lives of the Special Victims Unit of the NYPD, an elite squad of detectives who investigate crimes of sexual assault, child abuse and domestic violence.
Actress Jamie Gray Hyder, who portrays officer Kat Azar Tamin, joined the show in its 21st season and became involved with the show like any other actor or actress would—through a taped audition.
“You treat every audition like it can change your life because it can, but the second you’re done with it you sort of have to let it go because if it doesn’t pan out, you don’t want to spend all this time worrying and feeling anxious,” Hyder explained. “So I got a request for a self-tape audition, which I did with my coach and submitted it like you would do with any self-tape. A few weeks later, I get a call saying that I’m still in the mix. When I heard that I got so excited because I forced myself to forget about it. Eventually, I got the call saying that I was the one and that they were going to try me out for a few episodes. After that went well, they decided to bring me on full time and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity.”
Hyder explains Tamin as someone who is independent, stubborn, driven and extremely caring, which are all qualities one would want in an officer.
“I know for a lot of the viewers, they probably feel that they want to get to know her a little bit more,” Hyder said. “Personally, she seems a little bit guarded, but I think if you look at the moments in the show when she gets emotional or angry or upset, I think that’s a really big clue to what drives her. She really wants to serve as a voice for those who are underrepresented in her community and in the law enforcement system. I think that’s where you really see her heart come through.”
Drawing similarities between herself and her character, Hyder said that they both had to find their way into a new cast and squad.
“Our situation mirror each other especially in the beginning as Kat was trying to find her way through this new squad, I was trying to find my way in this new cast,” Hyder said. “I think it made if very easy to draw from my own life in that way when it came to feeling like you have to prove yourself, but not overstep. You want to become friends with the people you’re working with and be respectful of what came before you.”
This season, fans will get to learn more about Tamin and see her grow into herself more as a person and officer.
“Fans will learn a lot about me with my personal life in an episode where you get a glimpse of her after work atmosphere,” Hyder said. “Beyond that, I think fans will start to see her settle into her place a little bit more. I think that her instincts will mature and I think you’ll see Kat calm down a little bit and focus once she feels confident in the group.”
Most of SVU’s plot lines are ripped from the headlines, which deal with real life situations that are serious in nature. Reflecting those real life stories is something that means a lot to Hyder.
“This job as an actor can be very self-serving if you let it be,” she said. “However, I see it as an opportunity to really have a platform for change and to work on a show like SVU where we really are dealing with these difficult and very real issues makes the job so much more meaningful for me. I believe with social media there can be a very harmful value system that’s playing out right now in the world and for those of us who have a platform whether it’s in life or online, we have a responsibility to use that platform in a positive manner. A show like this really allows us to not only illuminate a lot of issues through our subject matter, and as individuals it gives us as actors a platform to really lobby for change.”
So what is it like to work with a cast that includes someone like seasoned actress Mariska Hargitay?
“I feel like I’ve gained family members,” Hyder said. “They’ve all been huge mentors for me. I have a really good time with everyone. My relationship with Mariska is very much like Kat and Olivia’s relationship. She helps with advice along the way. If I have an issue or a question, I go to her. She’s happy to help and to answer any questions. When you’re dealing with such heavy subject matter on a daily basis, it’s really important that we take the moments in between to laugh and lighten the mood. I think with all of us together that’s very apparent.”
When Hyder is not filming, she is busy working with an array of charitable organizations that deal with veterans and mental health.
“When it comes to dealing with specific organizations, I work with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI),” Hyder said. “I work closely with the Call of Duty Endowment, which is an organization funded by Activision, that I started working with during Call of Duty and they work to put veterans in high paying full time jobs, which is a really important process of the transitioning or coming out of active duty. I also work very closely with the Student Veterans of America, an organization that provides liaisons for more than 1500 campuses across the country that serve to aide in the transition of the post-service veterans who want to pursue higher education.”
For the time being, Hyder is wrapped up in SVU, since the show films 10 months out of the year.
“I have been lucky to work regularly since July and that’s a big gift as an actor to work on a steady job,” she said. “In my downtime, I hope to find a few small projects that I can contribute to and I’ll take whatever free time I have to continue supporting the people and organizations that are out there that are doing the good work for the rest of us.”
Watch Law & Order: SVU on Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.