Fans of NBC’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit are familiar with the high-intensity drama of the show, but during this season’s thirteenth episode the stakes were ratcheted up even higher. The abrupt exit of beloved Assistant District Attorney Rafael Barba (played by Raúl Esparza) was a shock to many, and his exit was further compounded by the arrival of lead prosecutor Peter Stone (played by Philip Winchester). But for those familiar with the ins and outs of Law & Order, we knew we should trust and respect a directive from District Attorney Jack McCoy. With that, the SVU team had a new ADA in Stone, and this season we’ve come to learn more about his character through his interactions with our favorite crime-solving crew. We had the chance to speak to Winchester about what it was like to join this tight knit team, and how fans have reacted to his arrival. Read our interview below, and catch new episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Wednesdays at 9/8c on NBC.

Your introduction to the show and to viewers was abrupt and intense! What has the reaction been like from fans?

Well it’s been mixed, which I think is great. Our showrunner and writer on the show Michael Chernuchin created my character over on Chicago Justice, and he said something to me that really rang true. He said, “I think good television happens when half the viewers throw their shoe at the TV at the end of the episode, and the other half cheer.” So that’s sort of been my mentality around my introduction to this show. Half the people have accepted me into the fold, while the other half have been like “Who the heck is this guy?!” I love that, because it’s instant drama! All I have to do is come in and say the words, and there’s all this tension that the audience has essentially created, which is great.

How did it feel getting back into Stone’s shoes? You’ve played this character before, but how has the transition from Chicago Justice into Law & Order been for you?

It’s been fairly seamless. I had a huge chunk of time off. I was in Montana, and I was able to be a father and a husband again for a while. You know, build a deck, and do things like that, that you do in Montana. Coming back is always a bit jarring, like “Oh, yeah, that’s right. We’re working now, gotta get into work mode!”

But again, Michael Chernuchin who created this character, just walked in and said to me, “Hey, I have some great stuff for you!” What was interesting was that right away Benson and Stone were butting heads. Stone was essentially trying to get one of Benson’s best friends fired. So we had all of this tension and drama going into it, but it was organically built into the fabric of the show. Over the course of the season, we’ve been able to get to know each other a little better, and build the personal relationships that we have now, off camera, which influences how we appear on camera.

I just had to be okay with the fact that I was jumping into someone else’s playground. I mean, Mariska has been doing this for 19 years! And Ice T, Kelli [Giddish], Peter [Scanavino], and Raúl [Esparza] were together for years! Raúl was just amazing too, and he was an absolute gentleman. We had all these days in the courtroom together, and he showed me the ropes—he didn’t have to do that. There are a lot of actors who would have just said, “Hey, welcome to the show! Good luck.”

There seems to be a great sense of comradery with the cast, both on and off screen.

We are ridiculously silly off camera! You wouldn’t believe the fun we get into.

Well that’s what I wanted to touch on. You’re tackling really heavy subject matter on the show, so how are you able to keep some levity on set?

I think humor is definitely a coping mechanism for me, especially that dark gallows humor. So we have a lot of that going on!

And the cast welcomed you with open arms!

They really did. When I saw myself included in a teaser for the show for the first time I was like, “Oh, my god. It’s really happening! It’s a big deal!” I was so excited to be on the show that has the ‘bum-bum’. That was like my highlight! That goes on my resume now. Nobody can take that away. The ‘bum-bum’ is forever there.