Tamara Tunie, <EM>Law & Order: SVU</EM> Tamara Tunie, Law & Order: SVU

A month before the new season of Law & Order: SVU (premiering tonight at 10 pm/ET, NBC) began, TVGuide.com caught up with Tamara Tunie, who plays unflappable medical examiner Melinda Warner. On the set of her directorial debut, See You in September, which is slated for a 2008 release, Tunie talked about her "day job" over breakfast.

Dealing with the deceased has never been a problem for Tunie, who was raised outside of Pittsburgh, where her father was an undertaker, so Tunie "grew up in a funeral home." "As a young adult," she says, "I helped my father by doing women's hair. I've been around dead people — it's not a big deal." Though many of her scenes take place around the victims of gruesome crimes, it never gives her the chills. "I certainly had been in a morgue before, so that wasn't new. I've been seeing dead people since I was a kid," she says with a laugh.

As for SVU's newest detective, Adam Beach (Windtalkers), who joined the cast as Detective Chester Lake after a guest stint last season, Tunie says, "He's a sweetheart. He's really great." Beach adds to the ethnic and racial mix that has always been part of the show's framework. "The cast of SVU really represents the diversity of New York," says Tunie, who has called the city home for 20 years. "You've got me and Ice[-T], you've got B.D. Wong, you've got Adam Beach, you've got [Richard] Belzer.... I love that."

New York actors all famously show up on Law & Order sooner or later, and the See You in September cast is no exception: Most have appeared on Tunie's SVU, including Sandra Bernhard and the movie's stars, Estella Warren (Planet of the Apes) and Justin Kirk (Weeds). "I think that's how it all came about," says Warren on landing the role of Lindsay. "I was cast quite quickly, and it was from the same casting director who did Law & Order." Warren played the memorable seductress-murderer April Troost in SVU's Season 7, opposite Lynda Carter. And Kirk was Eric Plummer in Season 3, an innocent man who spent seven years in prison and had a bone to pick with Detective Benson.

"I got shot dead by Mariska Hargitay," Kirk proudly proclaims of his SVU stint. "And I was a sociopath who killed my babies and collected sperm," says Warren with a laugh. "Tell 'em how," prompts Kirk. "I drugged the men with roofies and got the sperm with a cow prod," admits Warren. "Which I swear to god is a true storyline... though I think there might have been a little bit of leniency on that one."

If there's one thing you can count on with SVU, it's that the storylines are sure to shock.

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