How Mariska Hargitay’s Persistence Paid off in Landing Her a Role on ‘ER’

Mariska Hargitay is known for her portrayal of Detective Olivia Benson on Law & Order: SVU. But before she was a cop on the streets of New York City, she had a role on ER. She explains how she managed to get the role when it seemed like all hope was lost. It turns out she didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and her persistence paid off.

Mariska Hargitay didn’t think she’d get the role on ‘ER’

Mariska Hargitay
Mariska Hargitay | Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images

Hargitay spoke on Inside the Actors Studio in season 20, episode 3 of the series. In a video of a portion of the episode on Bravo’s website, Hargitay talked about her audition for a role on the hit series, ER. Hargitay played Cynthia Hooper as Dr. Mark Greene’s (Anthony Edwards) girlfriend in season 4 of the show.

It turns out that Hargitay didn’t think she had a chance of getting the audition based on her competition for the role. But that just lessened the pressure of the whole thing, and she did an excellent job on her audition, and she knew it too.

“So finally I get this audition to go on ER, and I work really hard on the audition. And I get there, and it’s six blondes in the room,” Hargitay recalls. “Like beautiful blondes. And so I go, ‘Oh wow. Well I guess this isn’t going to happen.’ And it just took all the pressure off me. And I went in this interview, and had so much fun on the audition, and I was super prepared, not going to lie. But you know, it’s that thing of you do your work, and then you hit the flow. And then you’re in the flow and it’s a wave, and all you’re doing is riding it. So, I left the audition, and I was high as a kite. I was so happy because you know that’s rare when we really leave an audition going, ‘I killed it.’ Now we would say, ‘#Killedit.’”

How Hargitay’s persistence paid off in landing her a role on ‘ER’

Anthony Edwards, Mariska Hargitay, and Bonnie Bartlett on 'ER'
Anthony Edwards, Mariska Hargitay, and Bonnie Bartlett on ‘ER’ | Alice S. Hall/NBCU Photo Bank

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Hargitay would later learn that she didn’t get the role, and her “heart sank,” but she had another audition the next day, which she went to, and she says it, “couldn’t have been worse.” The casting director, John Levey, spoke to her about it, and she explained that she didn’t really want that part. But she did however, inquire about the ER role.

“‘But why didn’t I get ER?'” Hargitay recalls saying. “‘This is ridiculous.’ I said, ‘Let’s go to John Wells’ office right now.’” Next, she goes and speaks to John, the executive producer of the series, and asks him how she did in her audition.

“He said, ‘You were awesome,’” Hargitay continues. She goes on to ask why she didn’t get the part, and she says John told her: “‘I have a vision for this part. And I like to cast closer to type. And the character was a very weak, fragile, fragmented, nervous girl. And you’re very strong. You’re not exactly the type.'”

Hargitay recalls saying, “‘Hold on. You’re telling me that I acted it better than anybody and I’m not getting it because I’m not that way in real life?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah.’ And by the time I got home, they had called and offered me the role.”

She didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and instead, tried to find out why she didn’t get the role when she knew she did so well in the audition. After that, Hargitay found herself playing Cynthia Hooper, and making a real name for herself in a huge role for her at the time. Her persistence paid off because she didn’t settle with the results, and instead, went to the top to try and find out why she didn’t land the part. It gave her the spot on ER, and the rest is history.