Kelli Giddish's Life And Career From Childhood To Law & Order: SVU

It's one thing to join the cast of a somewhat successful series after it's been on the air for a couple of seasons. Joining a beloved hit show after it's been on the air for over a decade is an entirely different ball game. But Kelli Giddish was up for the task, and thanks to her charm and talent, she won over fans.

Giddish, known for playing Detective Amanda Rollins on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," began her TV career in 2005 as Di Henry on "All My Children." That was the role that made her a household name. But before that, she was treading the boards in a production of "Bobbi Boland." "I was in a Broadway play with Farrah Fawcett. I think that was my first really huge break working with a really big director," Giddish told Smashing Interviews Magazine. Little did she know that break would lead to nearly two decades in the television industry.

From high school plays in the South to Broadway stages in New York, Giddish did the work and earned her place in Hollywood.

She was born and raised in Georgia

Unfortunately, regional accent bias is a real thing, and many Southern-born actors have to navigate the stereotypes, typecasting, and judgment thrown their way. As A-lister Billy Bob Thornton, who was born and raised in Arkansas, once said in The New York Times, "I didn't really get auditions when I was coming up in Hollywood. They either wanted me to play a hillbilly or a killer, sometimes at the same time!" 

While some acting coaches or managers might encourage an actor to hide their drawl, Georgia-born star Kelli Giddish has not ditched her accent completely — though it may dip in and out. Asked about her Southern accent, she told Smashing Interviews Magazine, "I think I can turn it a little bit off. I think the sensibility of being a Southern woman has definitely helped. So it's not the accent. It's the sensibility, I think, that carries through more than anything else."

When she first took on the role of Amanda Rollins in "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," Giddish tried to conceal her accent to fit the character's backstory. However, the powers that be decided to change course. As Giddish said in the interview, "I think my character on 'SVU' is originally from Pittsburgh or something. But when I got the role, they were like, 'No. Just make her from Georgia.'" How peachy.

Her family encouraged her to become an actor

Many young people are discouraged by their loved ones when they say they want to be an actor. There is the fear that you not only won't succeed, but will fail spectacularly, so best not to take the risk. However, in Kelli Giddish's case, it sounds like the opposite happened. "I actually wanted to study physics or astronomy or something like that, but my parents sat me down in high school in my senior year and said, 'Are you sure you don't want to do theater?'" she said to Smashing Interviews Magazine. Evidently, her mom and dad recognized her talent early and were eager to see where it took her.

Her parents weren't the only ones who wanted to see the "Law & Order: SVU" actor pursue the performing arts. According to, Giddish's grandparents also played a big role in fostering her interest in theater. And by all accounts, her bond with her family has stayed strong since she got her big break. "I know that I couldn't talk to my grandmama, Theodosia, before any auditions in my 20s because after talking to her, all of a sudden, 'Hey' had nine syllables in it," she told Smashing Interviews Magazine.

She did a lot of theater growing up

Kelli Giddish's mother got her involved with theater at a young age. "My mom was a teacher, and at her school, there was a lady named Yatesy Harvey, and she ran a community theater," she told Smashing Interviews Magazine. "My mom was like, 'Kelli, my friend is bothering me about having you audition for a play, if that's something you want to do.'" That got the wheels in motion. As the future "Law & Order: SVU" star told, she auditioned for her first play when she was eight. And it sure sounds like she wasted no time realizing she loved performing.

Giddish worked with Harvey through high school, and the TV actor recognizes the impact Harvey had on her life and career. Giddish's father also gave credit where credit was due. He told, "[Harvey] taught Kelli acting techniques, but more importantly instilled confidence, poise and the pursuit of excellence."

Those years in theater not only set the foundation for her career, but gave Giddish important tools — literally. "We really had to make the sets ... you had to know how to do all of it, and the whole experience just really inspired me and really gave me a good base as to what I was going to go on to do," she shared with Forsyth County News. And to think, this all got started because her mom passed along a colleague's message.

She went to University of Evansville in Indiana

According to her University of Evansville profile, Kelli Giddish graduated in 2002 with honors from her Theater Performance major. It was, once again, her family's support that kept her going those years in college and afterward when she moved to New York. Even though Giddish had other ideas for a degree, she landed on acting after receiving the encouragement of her parents. "'Are you sure you don't want to do theater?' I said, 'You guys are not supposed to be saying that!'"

"I was very supported. Every college performance I was in, my parents would come up to Indiana to see it. It's just been a huge supportive family. Of course, without that, I couldn't have moved to New York," she told Smashing Interviews Magazine. In 2017, Nita told Forsyth News she wasn't worried about her daughter or where she would land because she knew the strength she had in her to pursue her dreams and achieve them.

She moved to New York to try her luck

After graduating college, Kelli Giddish knew the next logical step would be to move to New York and try her luck. As previously mentioned, she was in a Broadway play with Farrah Fawcett, her big break. During this time, Giddish realized that the experience helped her understand the industry wasn't just about acting. "You can be talented, but if you don't have the backbone and the wherewithal to take rejection over and over and over again and still believe in yourself, you're not going to make it," she told Forsyth News. "Because I had them, I had that. So I stuck with my [acting]."

However, New York wasn't all that glamorous when she first arrived. In the beginning, she told Smashing Interviews, she couldn't have survived the craziness of the industry if it hadn't been for her family's support and belief in her. Giddish's success comes from her perseverance, never giving up, and her family's undying support.

She was part of several TV shows

The decision to try her luck in New York was the right move. "Then the next thing was 'All My Children.' I was like, 'Oh, God. I get to eat steak now,'" she told Smashing Interviews. "I was so happy. Really, it's a very fertile training ground for what I have come to do now." She got to play Di Henry for two years and gained the experience she needed to take on her next task.

Then came "Past Life." In 2010, Fan Bolt asked Giddish how she had become involved in the project. Giddish said, "I really, really loved the character and went right in for it ... I went in and tested and it went from there. They had found Nick Bishop and so it kind of just rolled into a project from there." The show aired for one season, where she played Dr. Kate McGinn for nine episodes.

That's when she moved on to be Annie Frost on "Chase." For this role, she needed different training, she told TV Overmind. Instead of working with an acting coach, Giddish went to the source and spent time with Houston Marshalls, learning just like her character, they were more interested in catching bad guys than filling out paperwork.

She joined Law & Order SVU during season 12

True "SVU" fans will recall Kelli Giddish had a guest star role on the show in 2007. However, she will go down in Wolf Entertainment history as Detective Amanda Rollins. In 2011 came the big announcement as she and Danny Pino joined the cast. Dick Wolf told Hollywood Reporter, "I'm very pleased that we have two amazing actors joining the cast. I know this combination will give us the opportunity to explore the world of "SVU" with new eyes."

When Chris Meloni left, fans were terrified the show wouldn't be what it used to be. But the two new detectives proved the show could still go strong. Giddish found out they were looking for new people to join the show and decided to audition. She shared with Smashing Interviews, "I'd lived in New York, and I loved New York, so I came out here to screen test. I did the screen test with Mariska with Dick Wolf watching."

That screen test led to years of funny moments on set with who Giddish believes is the funniest star on the show: Mariska Hargitay.

She became a mom while on SVU

During her time on "SVU," Kelli Giddish grew as a person and a professional. While Amanda Rollins faced many challenges and became a mother, so did Giddish. She gave birth to her first son in 2015 and her second in 2018. "I've never felt more supported in my life as when I was pregnant and working on this show. I had my kid, and they gave me all the time I needed, but, of course, I love to work, so I was going, 'Excuse me, I'm waiting to come back to work.' They let me set the pace, and that's not something that ever happens in TV," said Giddish about her experience with the show and pregnancy (via Distractify).

As she told Smashing Interviews, her sons are aware of what she does and why people recognize their mother at the store. However, she isn't the only one people may recognize from "SVU" as her son, Ludo, played one of her daughters. At first, she told E! News, she was afraid of what people may think of this, but the showrunners convinced her it would be a great idea — even if her son played her daughter.

She will be leaving SVU during season 24

Before the 2022 fall televison season began, Kelli Giddish announced her departure from "SVU" through an Instagram post. "I wanted to address the chatter I've seen online and let everyone know that this will, indeed, be my last season on 'Law & Order: SVU,'" she wrote. "Playing Rollins has been one of the greatest joys and privileges of my life."

Rollins was shot during the premiere episode and dealt with the aftermath during the season. Every episode is a clue to the detective's very soon departure. David Graziano, the new showrunner, addressed the fans' concerns. "All I'll say is Kelli has handled this with the most incredibly classy comportment," he said (via Variety). She is, without a doubt, one of the finest industry professionals I've come across in my 24 years of writing television. I'm saddened by her looming exit. It'll be my lucky day if I ever get to write for her again." Deadline reported Giddish's last episode will air on December 8th.