Ice-T on When He Realized the Cultural Impact of ‘Law and Order: SVU’

Law and Order SVU Season 20 (Credit: NBC)

Ice-T’s character on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has been bringing rapists and child molesters to justice for almost 20 years.

But the rapper-turned-actor says it took awhile before he realized the cultural impact of the long-running NBC series.

“I thought it was a cop show, and it took about a year or so of people saying ‘thank you’ to realize that it was therapy for a lot of people. These are survivors,” Ice-T told The Associated Press Thursday at the Tribeca TV Festival in New York.

Read More: ‘Law and Order: SVU’ Started a ‘Cultural Shift,’ Mariska Hargitay Says

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit premiered in 1999, and will kick off its 20th season later this week.

The Dick Wolf procedural centers on a special unit in the NYPD that investigates sexually related crimes. Ice-T joined the cast at the end of the first season and has been playing detective Odafin “Fin” Tutuola ever since.

Over the years there have been many cast changes. But two stars who’ve remained are Mariska Hargitay as detective and now Lt. Olivia Benson,  and Ice-T with his witty one-liners.

Read MoreNBC Orders ‘Law & Order’ Spinoff on Hate Crimes

The actor admits the storylines, particularly those involving children, can be difficult to watch. But he says viewers should keep in mind that the actors are simply playing roles.

“Of course it’s disturbing, the stuff people do to kids, some of the weird stuff that’s going on out there. We’re not really doing it, we’re acting,” he said.

In addition to Ice-T and Hargitay, Kelli Giddish, Peter Scanavino and Philip Winchester round out the cast this season.

Season 20 of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit premieres Thursday, Sept. 27 at 9/8c on NBC.