Chris Meloni: 'The Stain of Slavery Permeates Almost All of Our Interactions'

PHOTO: Chris Meloni in character as August Pullman in the new series "Underground" on WGN America, Season 1, Episode 1 . PlaySteve Dietl/Sony Pictures Television
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Chris Meloni, who is starring in the new slave thriller "Underground," said he still feels America is dealing with the effects of slavery although it was abolished in the U.S. in 1865.

"The issue of race is...something we have yet to figure out and I think the stain of slavery permeates almost all of our interactions," he told ABC News. "It's almost like (post-traumatic stress disorder) PTSD."

The actor said although his ancestors arrived in the U.S. "at the turn of the century," as a white man he still recognizes the effects slavery has on modern-day race relations in America.

"I was recently in London and this...literally was a slap in the face," Meloni, 54, recalled. "I found myself watching whites and blacks engaging in the...easiest manner and there was something -- it was natural. That's what it felt like. There's a naturalness and I kept seeing it. You'd see a white guy [with a] black girl, and you didn't know who they were. Were they friends? Were they colleagues? Were they lovers? And to me at least, [it felt like] they don't have the patina. They don't have the residue of slavery."

In "Underground," the John Legend-executive produced series set to premiere on WGN America on Wednesday, Meloni portrays August Pullman, a single father with his own secrets.

"I say he's a man in conflict. I say he's a man who hears the voice of morality...whispering to him, but financial circumstances dictate that he does what he does best," Meloni hinted.

The actor clarified that he doesn't view "Underground" as a slave series. Instead, he said the series, which follows slaves as they search for freedom on the Underground Railroad, is "a very contemporary tale that resonated with the aspects of what we're still dealing with."

Meloni is not a stranger to serious fare. He portrayed detective Elliot Stabler, a police detective investigating mostly sexual assault crimes, on the long-running series "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" for 12 seasons and 272 episodes.

Show-runner Warren Leight told The Hollywood Reporter last month that he had discussions of possibly bringing Stabler, as portrayed by Meloni, back to the series for its series finale. The series, currently in its 17th season, was just renewed for another season so those plans were put on hold.

Meloni told ABC News he's "open to everything," including a return to the series.

"I've always been open," he continued. "I've been asked that before and I gave the answer,'I have no idea what they're talking about' and people thought that was a dismissal of it all and that's not how I meant it. Until I hear [from the series] then I'll have something to talk about, but it was never, in any official capacity, brought up to me."

"I bear no ill will towards the people, the series or anything," he added.

Meloni, who left the series in 2011, but whose absence was explained without him the following season, said he does regret how his departure was handled for the fans' sake.

"I think it could've been done far more elegantly," the Emmy Award-nominated actor said. "If you ask people to live with two people for 12 years, especially when these two people are heroes -- and by heroes I mean their job is to protect women and children...and there's some kind of chemistry between them and all of a sudden there's a divorce without any separation or chit chat, then I think you've pulled out the rug out from people."