Fans of “Law & Order: SVU” are going to want to sit down for this.
Long-time cast member Raúl Esparza has left the series after six seasons as fan favorite Assistant District Attorney Rafael Barba.
Showrunner Michael Chernuchin confirmed the exit in a statement released Wednesday.
“It has truly been an honor writing for Raúl,” Chernuchin said. “The power, sensitivity, and morality he brought to the character of Rafael Barba never failed to elevate our scripts. Raúl is family and we look forward to seeing his talent shine in new projects. As for Barba, ‘SVU’ fans may see him again soon.”
The 47-year-old stepped into the ADA role in Season 14 as a recurring character before being bumped to series regular in Season 15. ADA Barba was the squad’s fourth full-time ADA, one of only three male ADAs in the show’s 19-season history — Harry Connick Jr. and Linus Roache both had four-episode stints — and was the the second longest running ADA in the franchise after Diane Neal’s Casey Novak.
“I’ve done six seasons; I felt like it was time to go,” Esparza told EW. “I had explored a lot of what I thought Barba was about. I just felt it was time to move on. I was also feeling like the role has changed over the years in a way that has been an interesting experience for me.”
Still, there’s hope yet for those who are keen to see return Barba sparring with — and ultimately assisting — Lieutenant Olivia Benson again. After all, as Esparza said, his character — whose final episode debuted on Feb. 7 — “absolutely doesn’t need to die, because it’s not like [he’s] leaving on bad terms.” A return is definitely not off the table.
“I’m really rooting for the opportunity to make television history with the series. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that’s part of what we all hope for, that NBC manages in the end to get a record-breaking series on its hands with potential 21 years,” Esparza said.
“Also, this doesn’t always happen when you work with people, but I became friends with Mariska [Hargitay] and she’s part of my life now,” he added. “I don’t just miss the role, I miss her, so any opportunity to get back into a room with her is valuable to me. Part of the reason I became Barba, and that it turned into the show that it did for me, was the way I hit it off with her, and that was surprising.”
“I look back at some of my episodes when I first started: I’m not bad, I’m good, that’s great,” he shared. “But then I see stuff now and I’m like, holy s**t, I’ve learned so much about how to do this [acting] thing.”
In Esparza’s final episode on Wednesday, ADA Barba — SPOILER ALERT — left the district attorney’s office after getting too entrenched in a right-to-die case and ultimately pulling the plug on a brain dead child. He was charged with a crime, and although he was acquitted, he decided to bow out. Phillip Winchester’s character ADA Peter Stone, who originated on the short-lived “Chicago Justice” series, will be taking on the job in the future.