1. John Gallagher Jr.
Where You Know Him From: The Newsroom as Jim Harper
Episode: “Lead” (Season 10, Episode 15)
Before he became the adorable, fast-talking Jim on Aaron Sorkin’s latest creation, he was Jeff Lynwood on SVU. Benson and Stabler knew there was something off upon first meeting him, but they had no idea what they would later uncover. Turns out sweet, socially awkward Jeff was poisoned as a child after chewing on toys made with lead paint, causing his mind to stunt in growth. Thus, he was found not guilty for murdering his abusive doctor by mental defect. Silver lining, I guess?
2. Kelly Bishop
Where You Know Her From: Gilmore Girls as Emily Gilmore
Episode: “Persona” (Season 10, Episode 8) and “Zebras” (Season 10, Episode 22)
Soon after the beloved CW dramedy Gilmore Girls ended, family matriarch Emily Gilmore became no-nonsense attorney Julie Zimmer. In her first appearance, she defended a cold case murderer accused of killing her first husband and emerged victorious. In the season 10 finale, she somehow managed to get her client’s case dismissed on a technicality. Honestly, she could have still been playing Emily Gilmore, just with a law degree. She even does her infamous eye roll (pictured above) during arraignment. Score.
3. Emily VanCamp
Where You Know Her From: Revenge as Emily Thorne (also probably Brothers & Sisters or Everwood)
Episode: “Dependent” (Season 8, Episode 14)
At first, Emily VanCamp seems to be her usual vicious, Emily Thorne-self as teen Charlotte Truex. She’s accused of murdering her mother after being ID’d as the perp by her father, who was also attacked. But, turns out she was just high on drugs that night and only thought she murdered her mother. It was actually her older, sleazy boyfriend Ryan, who was also there that night. If he hadn’t died accidentally during a fist fight with Stabler, Emily Thorne would have totally kicked his ass.
4. Ian Somerhalder
Where You Know Him From: The Vampire Diaries as Damon Salvatore
Episode: “Dominance” (Season 4, Episode 20)
Unsurprisingly, Ian Somerhalder was one of the most intense guest stars ever. Although he was obviously not a dark, handsome, brooding vampire, he was still pretty dark in this chilling episode of SVU. He made our skin crawl as Charlier Barker, the cold blooded murderer who had eerie control over his father and younger brother. There’s even talk of incest, but I won’t get into that. Just know that he’s a pretty great actor.
5. Paul Wesley
Where You Know Him From: The Vampire Diaries as Stefan Salvatore
Episode: “Wrong Is Right” (Season 2, Episode 1) and “Ripped” (Season 7, Episode 4)
I might as well mention the other Salvatore brother next. Before he became sensitive and smoldering Stefan on CW’s hit show, he played two different characters on SVU. In his first appearance, he played a victim of sexual abuse by his best friend’s adoptive father. He gets more screen time, and rightfully so, in his second appearance as Luke Breslin. Luke was the teenage son of Stabler’s old partner who was under suspicion for attacking a classmate. Not only did Paul Wesley’s stellar acting make this episode memorable, but it hit home because of the mirror image Stabler saw in Luke. Turns out his old partner was beating on his son, causing him to take steroids under the pressure of his father’s expectations. In the process, Stabler ended up remembering the similar things his own father did to him as a kid. Heavy stuff.
6. Kyle MacLachlan
Where You Know Him From: Desperate Housewives as Orson Hodge (also probably How I Met Your Mother as The Captain, Sex and the City as Trey, etc.)
Episode: “Conscience” (Season 6, Episode 6)
This is one I’ll always remember. Not only is the plot utterly twisted, but it’s one of those episodes where you can’t decide who was morally right. Those are always the best episodes of SVU. Kyle MacLachlan plays Dr. Morton, the father of a murdered young boy. Cue the sympathy card. But the case takes a surprising turn when it turns out he was murdered by his sociopathic 13-year-old neighbor Jake. Jake’s antics ultimately cause a distressed Dr. Morton — in a scene that happens so fast you’ll have to rewind — to shoot the boy point blank in the courthouse. Yet somehow, we still feel sympathy for this grief-stricken father. But after he’s acquitted of murder charges, he reveals that he shot Jake on purpose because he didn’t believe a boy like him could be helped. What!? Like I said, this one’s a head-scratcher.
7. Sarah Hyland
Where You Know Her From: Modern Family as Haley Dunphy
Episode: “Repression” (Season 3, Episode 1) and “Hothouse” (Season 10, Episode 12)
So, a lot of actors played multiple characters on this show, including Sarah Hyland. She was only 11 during her first appearance as a young child believed to have been sexually abused by her father after her older sister comes forward. She takes an edgier role in her second appearance as tightly wound prep school student Jennifer Banks, whose roommate has been murdered. It doesn’t take long for Benson and Stabler to figure out that Jennifer did it out of jealousy for the roommate beating her out in grades. And thanks to Sarah Hyland, it’s absolutely chilling to watch Jennifer spiral out of control and admit the truth.
8. Chad Lowe
Where You Know Him From: Pretty Little Liars as Byron Montgomery
Episode: “Pique” (Season 2, Episode 20)
Aria’s dad is full-on creepy in this early episode of SVU. He plays Jason Mayberry, the security guard of the building where a murdered Veronica Tandy once worked. This episode not only gets seriously dark, but it marks the first appearance of fan-favorite recurring character Dr. George Huang. Jason provides the perfect platform for George to start explaining the complexities of a damaged (and, in this case, murderous) psyche. And it’s all thanks to Rob Lowe’s lil’ bro.
9. Sarah Paulson
Where You Know Her From: American Horror Story as various characters
Episode: “Shadow” (Season 11, Episode 12)
A perp on SVU kinda seems like the perfect role for Sarah Paulson, don’t you think? The casting director thought so too. Here she plays Anne Gillete, the daughter of a an elderly wealthy couple who have been (what else) murdered. It seems like a typical murder-suicide, until further clues point to Anne. She’s also being followed by another detective on a “shadow operation” for suspicion of fraud. Turns out Anne killed her own parents for the money. Ouch. But would we expect any less wickedness from Sarah Paulson?
10. Jennette McCurdy
Where You Know Her From: iCarly as Sam
Episode: “Contagious” (Season 6, Episode 11)
This is another memorable episode in my opinion, only because the ending is so unexpected. Little Jennette plays Holly, a car accident victim later found to have been sexually abused. She tearfully points the finger at family friend and gym coach Mark Dobbins. It seems like an open-and-shut case when other young girls start to come forward with the same story. But it isn’t until the very end when we find out the perp is actually…
11. Zach Gilford
Where You Know Him From: Friday Night Lights as Matt Saracen
Episode: “Contagious” (Season 6, Episode 11)
Yes, sweet and sensitive Matt Saracen is the heartless child abuser in this episode. It’s just too sad to even talk about. Let’s move on.
12. Norman Reedus
Where You Know Him From: The Walking Dead as Daryl Dixon
Episode: “Influence” (Season 7, Episode 22)
He once again portrays the ultimate bad boy. In this episode of SVU , he plays Derek Lord, a local personality known to be against psychological treatment. He convinces a deranged bipolar teenager (Brittany Snow) to stop taking her medication (even though she ran over, like, nine people with her car without it). We later learn his unconventional beliefs stem from his scarring experiences in a mental institution. But I think the most important thing here is that Norman Reedus has had the same haircut since 2006.
13. John Stamos
Where You Know Him From: Full House as Uncle Jesse
Episode: “Bang” (Season 12, Episode 22)
Yes, Uncle Jesse has become a reproductive abuser. What does that mean, exactly? He’s obsessed with getting women pregnant and spawning children. Typical behavior includes poking holes in condoms and really freaking out “Full House” fans.
14. Kate Mara
Where You Know Her From: House of Cards as Zoe Barnes
Episode: “Pixies” (Season 2, Episode 9)
Again, another actress that totally fits the bill of an SVU perp. She nails her role as Lori, an uber competitive gymnast who, in a fit of rage, kills her teammate with a brick. At least she didn’t push her front of a train. Too soon?
15. And just because… Jesse McCartney
LOL what. Go home, Jesse McCartney.