‘Law and Order: SVU’: How Does Mariska Hargitay Escape From the Show?

So many dark dramas are on TV nowadays, and it opens the door to examining how cast members escape the depressing plot lines they have to deal with during long months of the year. One of those shows potentially sliding actors into a depression is Law & Order: SVU where stories about rapists and other sexual predators make us want to give up on humanity.

At the head of all this is Mariska Hargitay who has to put in considerable dramatic work when tackling the scripts. As Lt. Olivia Benson, Hargitay is now playing one of the longest-running characters in TV history, something we hope continues indefinitely.

Because of the subject matter, though, Hargitay reportedly does have a way to escape. It’s a useful roadmap for other actors if a disturbing show bleeds a little too much into their real lives.

Hargitay makes the stories in ‘SVU‘ very personal

Mariska Hargitay at a film festival
Mariska Hargitay | Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

In a recent Parade interview, Hargitay makes it clear SVU continues being a socially important show for so many women in real life. She says the series proves you can heal from vicious sexual attacks, including finding support from numerous sources and people.

To show how much the show has become a part of Hargitay’s life, she started her own foundation to help women find the support they need after a sexual crime occurs. Her organization is called the Joyful Heart Foundation, now in existence for 15 years. Through this org, Hargitay sees the real-life struggles women have gone through in dealing with cases SVU deals with every week.

Acting on a show you know has plots based on reality can easily start to wreak havoc on your mental health. The fact that Hargitay’s Benson has to be at the center of each case and sometimes do some very morose scenes, you can imagine what it’s like going home at the end of the day.

Ironically, as Hargitay points out in her Parade interview, she initially never thought SVU would be a suitable project for her. During the 1990s, when she was still looking for a big break, she was aiming toward doing more comedies.

Creating her own studio sanctuary for mental health reasons

There’s an admittance by Hargitay in her Parade interview about still finding it difficult to deal with the material SVU presents to her and viewers. We all know they’ve predicted many future sexual crime scenarios, including the Jeffrey Epstein case. While Hargitay does have a great and happy family life (with her husband Peter Hermann and their kids), working on-set can become a grueling mental challenge.

To counteract this, Hargitay reportedly created her own little sanctuary in NYC’s Chelsea Studios. In her own private dressing room, Hargitay has set up a bit of a serene sanctuary by setting up pictures of happy things in her life to unwind.

During times when she can escape the set, this is where Hargitay goes to tune out when not with her family. Putting up pics of her kids, books that she loves, plus a pic of her Hollywood Walk of Fame star, places her in a more inspired frame of mind.

Seeing her do this makes us wonder if other actors are doing the same thing as TV dramas continue to take on dark themes we see all too often in the real world.

What are other actors doing to escape their own shows?

Just look around on TV and you see actors doing incredibly dark things on shows from The Walking Dead on AMC to Euphoria on HBO. Playing bleak characters with even bleaker situations can easily screw you up mentally without some definite reinforcements to take you back to a joyful life.

We don’t know what those actors do to keep themselves sane on or off the set. Let’s just hope they happen to see Hargitay’s Parade interview and take it to heart on what’s necessary to not take their work with them after-hours.

In Hargitay’s case, she’ll likely still have a little bit of SVU with her for the rest of her life thanks to her foundation and her personal involvement in it.