Mariska Hargitay is truly grateful to Olivia Benson — no, not Taylor Swift’s rich cat — but the badass character she’s played for the better part of 24 seasons of NBC’s Law & Order: special unit for victims.
“I’ve been doing this for so long, and the character is me — it’s part of me. I couldn’t play it if it wasn’t,” Hargitay told The Cut this week. “I did so much work in the beginning when I learned about these issues — law enforcement, sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, trauma — that I’ve spent the last 24 years studying them. That studying continues, but I’ve spent the last 24 years 24 years also dug myself out trying to understand my own inner landscape and what parts I give to that character and what parts that character has unlocked in me.
For all the gritty parts of playing Benson, there’s an advantage.
“This character taught me so much,” said Hargitay, who won an Emmy in 2006 for the role. “I’ve become a more complete person, a more self-aware person. I want to inspire people to have the strength to look in the mirror, go deep and know that they can bear the pain and get to the other side so they can achieve what they want, especially the peace they crave.”
As a result of what she learned, Hargitay founded the Joyful Heart Foundation, whose mission is to stop sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse and support the victims, in 2004.
Hargitay said it’s her family, including her actor husband, Peter Hermann, and their three children, that enable her to move beyond the disturbing topics she often focuses on at work…most of the time. Sometimes the lines between the two blur, like when Richard Belzer, a colleague and true friend died on February 19.
Immediately Hargitay issued a statement:
More than a week after Belzer died, Hargitay is clearly just as heartbroken.
“He was more like family — when you work with someone and know someone so intimately,” Hargitay said. “When you’re together all day every day, when you’re tired, when you’re all different parts of yourself with someone, you really get to know someone so intimately. So it’s brutal.”
So the two were more than “friends” – a term Hargitay doesn’t use lightly.
“Friendship is everything to me. I value my friendships the way I value family. True friends — long-term, the lifers — become apparent pretty quickly. Friendship is about showing up. It’s important to stand up for people and say, ‘You matters. Our relationship matters. Your artistry matters. Your work matters.”
Hargitay directed the first SVU episode aired after Belzer’s death, and she dedicated it to him, holding a card just before the credits.
The Dick Wolf drama is currently on hiatus and returns with new episodes on March 23.