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"She is one of my favorite actors that I've ever worked with, and we got to build something really beautiful together and really learned together because our characters had quite a journey," Hargitay, 58, told Entertainment Tonight on Monday.
Hargitay has starred on SVU since the show's debut in 1999 and now serves as an executive producer on the series. Reflecting on Giddish's early days as a series regular in season 13, she acknowledged, "It wasn't so easy at the beginning, and then we just fell into this beautiful safety, trust."
Added the Emmy winner: "I'm gonna miss her a lot, but she's a lifelong friend and I'm just glad that our paths crossed, and I know they'll continue to cross."
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He noted that calls "from higher up" resulted in Giddish's exit: "It came from the top of the mountain, you know?"
He continued, "When I heard about it, I called to check on my pulse, like, 'What's going on?' But this is the business we're in, and they shuffle the deck occasionally."
Octavio Pisano, who joined the series last season, also commented on the "bittersweet" moment the cast is facing.
"When I came to the show last season, Kelli was the first one to kind of take me under her wing, and most of my scenes in the earlier episodes were with her," he shared. "So her and I have a bond."
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Giddish has played Det. Amanda Rollins on SVU since 2011.
She released a statement on Instagram Aug. 24 confirming that "this will, indeed, be my last season on Law & Order: SVU."
"Playing Rollins has been one of the greatest joys and privileges of my life," she wrote. "I've been so fortunate to be a part of the Law & Order family for the last 12 years. There is simply no other character on TV like Rollins. She's grown and changed, and I have as well. I started on this show when I was in my late 20s and I'm grateful I got to spend so many of my adult years with Rollins in my life."
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"I'm so excited to take all the things I have learned in my time on SVU and put them toward everything that's next to come," Giddish wrote.
Pisano, 36, also touched on his costar's next steps, telling PEOPLE: "Obviously I'm really sad, but I'm truly excited about the next chapter in her life because she's an amazing talent."
Ice-T, 64, summed up up the SVU crew's feelings: "Kelli will be missed."
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Law & Order three-hour season premiere crossover event begins Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.