In Law & Order: SVU 24×10 “Jumped In,” Maurice Compte returned as Captain Mike Duarte. As we’ve already seen, he’s definitely a different kind of cop than, say, Olivia Benson. (Then again, who isn’t?) Now that Duarte has returned and will be with us for a the remainder of the multi-episode BX9 arc, we had a lot of questions about who this character is, how he became that person, and what’s next.
As Compte reminded us, last time we saw Duarte, “he was saying, ‘like, forget this rape case. Let’s go after BX9, let’s turn people, let’s flip people.'” That immediately sparked some frustration, to put it kindly, from Liv. It didn’t exactly let up in “Jumped In,” either. But, to Duarte, “this is bigger than one rape case.” And even if we see a little bit of a different element to him in this latest episode as he’s giving Detective Muncy some tough love in an early scene, don’t expect him to lose track of what’s most important to him. “That goal of his to bring down BX9, I don’t think has changed at all,” the actor told us.
And if it seems like Duarte’s uncaring because of that, we have to consider that some of his persona relates back to the things that have shaped him. “Whatever attitude he may have, it’s like, ‘well, why can’t you be kind all the time?'” But sometimes, the world forces you to be tougher. “It’s like, ‘well, because if I’m kind all the time, I’ll get my wallet stolen.’ You come in with certain things that, out of context, seem brash. And I think that’s part of Duarte’s kind of character and charm — that he has been raised in this world. He’s lived there as a cop for years.”
That characterization doesn’t only come from working in the NYPD either. As Compte told us, Duarte “grew up in that neighborhood, and he’s seen it become something that it was never meant to become. I think when you’re latin, you’re hoping for things to get better, but to see it get progressively worse” has an effect on a person. “A lot of the times with these latins, because I’m latin myself, you have your grandparents living in those neighborhoods, and seeing them moving into this unsafe environment creates a level of deep anxiety in you that sometimes lends itself to just creating a certain persona.”
The “deep anxiety” Compte referenced contributes to the work. Which, of, course, raises the question of how Duarte is going to pursue his goal of taking down BX9. Since his reputation precedes him, should we expect to see some bad behavior now that he’s on his own turf? Referencing Olivia’s accusations from last time we saw this character, Compte joked, “I think Duarte has his own gang process, where everybody gets to push a suspect off a building, and that’s how they get initiated into the Bronx.” Luckily, that’s not happening.
With that being said, don’t expect the remainder of this case to play out the “Manhattan” way either. We’ve already seen, with Benson and Bruno’s differing approaches to trying to get a rush at the lab in SVU 24×10, that this part of the City has its own way of doing things. Expect to see more differences going forward. Differences that may or may not shed light on our less-than-glowing negative first impression. While “out of context, [Duarte’s] methods can seem questionable,” there’s more to this story than a black and white view. For Compte, “when they go into this lions’ den and see what Duarte is faced with on a day to day, you start to understand Duarte in a different way.” As he also noted, “you can’t put a person that lives uptown in the Bronx…You can’t compare their experience to a person that lives midtown in Manhattan.”
Later, he added more to this idea of how different worlds and experiences bring better understanding. “There will come to the point where you will say, ‘we are not in Manhattan anymore.’ And then, you see Duarte differently. Because you understand that the methods that work in one place may not necessarily work in another.”
On Duarte’s dynamic with Benson and what it’s like playing that with “icon” Mariska Hargitay
As we’ve seen in both “Jumped In” and “The One You Feed,” Captains Duarte and Benson have vastly at-odds approaches to doing the work. That creates a really entertaining opportunity for the characters to engage in a battle of wills. So, what does Duarte actually think about Benson? Well. Maurice Compte finally put the picture in our heads into words. “She is an Alpha, he’s an Alpha, and that’s always very attractive to one another.”
He went on to add, “when you’re a person like Benson, and you meet somebody that doesn’t back down and cower off but just stands there and same with her, you kind of cock your head and squint your eyes. And you’re like, ‘huh. Okay. You’re not doing the same things most people do. I want to explore you more.’ There’s a bit of that as well, where we’re feeling each other out throughout. And I think that that creates its own tension, for better and for worse.”
Sure, watching these two Alphas sizing each other up is really fun for viewers. But… What’s it like for Maurice Compte to work those scenes out with Mariska Hargitay? The simple answer is “it’s Mariska. [Laughs]. It’s amazing — it’s Mariska.” The longer one…We’re just going to quote in full.
“It’s more than she’s.…an icon. When you’re working with somebody on those kind of intimate scenes and levels…It’s really her level of humanity. She radiates something that is just beautiful, and attractive, and you just want to be around all the time. And it’s like…There’s a sense of…the connections with Mariska are very genuine. And by the way, I mean, I’m sure you’ve heard this said a thousand times before, but Mariska is Mariska through and through. She’s very real. She’s as approachable to come and take a picture with you as she is to turn around and tell you how it is. You’re either a person that’s totally into that. Or you’re completely put off and scared by that.”
Relating it back to both the characters and real life, Compte added, “and I think Duarte loves that. I love that. So, I love being around Mariska. I find her to be a fascinating human being, and her story is fantastic.”
Compte on what’s to come for Duarte in Law & Order: SVU‘s BX9 arc
So, SVU 24×10 ends on a very intense note, and it’s pretty clear that Captains Duarte and Benson have a plan for ousting BX9. But…what should we expect to see, going forward, as viewers? While Compte didn’t give us a lot of detail on Duarte and Benson’s plan — and, honestly, we wouldn’t want major spoilers — he did bring up some harsh realities and a broader view of what success might mean. Basically, we shouldn’t expect to wrap it all up with a nice, little bow.
“Well, I think the thing to understand is that when you’re dealing with BX9, it’s literally like taking out a corrupt government from a country. You can take out that corrupt government…but you just leave a vacuum for another corrupt government to come in. You don’t change these things from that outside way.” Instead, “you have to change the hearts and the minds of the people, little by little, and give them different options. So, I think that however big this becomes, this is only the beginning of a much larger dialogue.”
As part of that dialogue, viewers should consider what “creates these kind of environments where people feel marginalized enough to feel that they need to join a gang. Where people feel unseen enough, where they need to kind of find solace in other people in these dark places. I mean, so much work needs to be done as a society in order to be able to have people feel kind of connected, and free enough, and safe enough to do what they wish.”
It’s not just society at large that needs the change, either. According to the actor, “it also comes down to the individual’s responsibility to be able to create that within himself. So, this whole gang thing is amazing. But it’s the beginning of a much larger dialogue that I think will and should ensue as we move forward.”
Mentioning moving forward, of course, led us to ask if we can expect to see Compte beyond this BX9 arc. “That’s up to the creator gods of the show,” he told us. “Right now, Duarte and me are very similar: We just look at the next step. We put one foot in front of the other, and we just keep it going that way.”
Maurice Compte’s bottom line on Captain Duarte and SVU
We’re always interested in knowing exactly what an actor wants viewers to know about their character as a bottom line. Especially when it’s someone like Mike Duarte, who isn’t at all like our “usual” series hero series. For Compte, “the main thing is just to understand that inside every dark person and every dark situation that we meet, especially with people, there’s a being in there that’s trying to find their own light. That gets lost a lot of the times.”
Law & Order: SVU and its Captain, however, are just special, though. Because that light Compte references is something Liv is always looking for. “I think that’s the beauty of Benson is that she still sees that.” The same idea applies to the series at large. During our conversation, the actor really got to the heart of why so many of us are still here, 24 seasons in. “That’s been the magic of the show for so many years, is that it shows the potential of a better place arising from all of this. There’s a hopefulness to the show.”
Perfect note to end on, no?
Don’t miss Maurice Compte’s next appearance as Captain Duarte in Law & Order: SVU on Thursday, January 12, at 9/8c on NBC. We’ll see him again in episode 24×12.