Law & Order's Christopher Meloni and wife, Sherman, on how they fell in love.
The passionate detective has one solace: his four young children. And that is unfortunate, because his wife recently decided to divorce him. Never anybody's idea of laid-back, he's now in a permanent funk, a darker rage. His partner, Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay), can't seem to help him. It was no surprise, late in the season, that one case unhinged him so totally his boss sent him home. Stabler was, finally, about to crack. Yes, Law & Order: S.V.U. is a TV series, not a reality show. Yes, what Christopher Meloni does so convincingly is called "acting." But, although I knew all that, it was with a certain trepidation that I took a seat on the couch next to this tall, ultra-buffed, dark-browed guy and asked him about… his marriage.
Newsflash: Chris Meloni is nothing like Elliot Stabler.
His "how we met" story proves it.
The year was 1989. Meloni was in Los Angeles, acting in an HBO series he characterizes as "immensely forgettable." The production designer, however, was memorable in the extreme.
Sherman Williams was in her 20s. She had short, bleached-white hair and cat's-eye sunglasses. And she arrived astride a Harley—a female Billy Idol, Sharon Stone's twin sister.
"This I gotta meet," thought Meloni.
So he wandered over. And flirted. And concluded she was an eleven on a coolness scale of ten. But… she had a boyfriend.
Time passed. One afternoon, Chris was driving in the Hollywood Hills when someone called his name. It was Sherman. She was throwing a party, and she wanted him to come. He did. And once again concluded that she was "cool, funny, sexy." But … she still had a boyfriend.
Meloni returned to New York, the city he loves best. But no actor can avoid Los Angeles and, soon enough, he was back. Again, he bumped into Sherman. That knocked him back: "You don't bump into people in L.A." So he left a note at her house.
The stars were, at last, aligned. "But wouldn't you know it?" Chris recalls, with a wry smile. "Just then, three women dropped into my lap. And, you know, three in the hand are worth one in the bush. So I let Sherman slide."
It took another two years for Christopher Meloni and Sherman Williams to start dating. Another six months for them to start living together. And another four years for them to marry.
The wedding took place on the beach in Malibu. The theme was medieval, so there were banners fluttering. A nondenominational minister performed the service. The bride and groom held out their goblets, removed the shot glasses inside, and knocked back hits of tequila. And then, because the bride was working on a movie in Miami, she raced to the airport.
Appearances deceive. With his square jaw and intense gaze, Chris Meloni may look like a serious fellow, but when he was a college kid, he decided, more or less on a whim, to become an actor, and he hopped on his motorcycle and roared off to Los Angeles. (Six weeks later, he was back at the University of Colorado at Boulder.) Sherman Williams, on the other hand, may have looked like a hot biker chick, but she was the daughter of an oil executive, a dedicated student at Cal Arts and Parsons, and a Southern girl with oldfashioned values.
So, what did Sherman see in Chris?
"On our first date,we went to three parties, given by three sets of my friends," she recalls. "The first was in West Hollywood. Every guy there was gay. Chris passed with flying colors. Next we went to a party given by Beverly Hills snootballs. Chris kept his manners in check and held his own. Then we went to a costume designer's party in the Hills, where we drank beers from a tub on the porch. And I thought: I can take him anywhere."
Considering that the guy had disappeared back East for two years, how did she know he'd gotten serious? "There were two concrete steps in front of his house," she says. "Chris had them cut out so I could get my cycle onto his lawn."
His-and-her motorcycles. A struggling actor. A peripatetic set designer. Not the things that usually spell "time to get married." "Yes, but underneath all of Sherman's style, she's very traditional," Chris explains. On both sides, there was a common dream—a house with children.
But not right away. "Without a certain amount of money, there's stress," Chris says. "I know I'm definitely more relaxed with a couple of bucks in my pocket. So, in 1995, I didn't feel I could establish a career as an actor and commit to kids at the same time."
By the time they married, Chris was being pulled back East again. The newlyweds established a rule: no more than three weeks apart.
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