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It’s the sign of a true actor when the audience can get so lost in the work they forget their even watching a show. Sometimes this is the result of innate, raw talent, while other times it’s because the actor shares real-life similarities with the character they are playing.

After 21 seasons, Mariska Hargitay is so in sync with Olivia Benson, often it’s hard to picture her in any other role. Hargitay is an experienced actress who has been in the business for over three decades, so it’s no question she has talent. But when it comes to her Law & Order: SVU role, it may be the actress’s personal experience that allows her to identify so closely with the on-screen character we know and love. 

‘Law and Order: SVU’ continues to draw fans in 

Mariska Hargitay Law & Order: SVU
Mariska Hargitay as Lieutenant Olivia Benson in ‘Law & Order: SVU’ | Virginia Sherwood/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

It seems like just yesterday NBC debuted the Law and Order spinoff based on New York City’s own special crimes unit. It’s hard to believe the show started over 20 years ago. Hargitay plays Captain Olivia Benson who leads her team to investigate sexual assault cases. Part of the draw of the show is much of the episodes revolve around real-life cases. 

Like its predecessor, SVU manages to balance the emotional cases with the complex personal lives of the detectives. It culminates in an award-winning drama that has created a tremendous following. Going into its 22nd season, the series shows no signs of slowing down. It was recently renewed for three more years and continues to be one of the network’s top performers. 

Hargitay is the heart of ‘Law and Order: SVU’

Olivia Benson isn’t just the team’s lead, she is the soul of the special victim’s unit. Olivia is a strong woman and a powerful advocate for victims of sexual assault. Having experienced trauma in the past, she is able to empathize with victims and offer guidance in a way that makes her a vital component of the team.

Hargitay is the daughter of actor Mickey Hargitay and the late Jayne Mansfield. In her early career, she competed in Miss California (her father was Mr. Universe) and shortly after, began acting.  In 2004, she married actor Peter Hermann, whom she met while filming SVU.

Though she’s most recognized for her role on SVU, the actress has also appeared on ER, Can’t Hurry Love, and Prince Street. Today she holds the title as the face behind the longest-running character on a live-action primetime television show. 

How does Hargitay relate so closely with her character?


Why Mariska Hargitay Almost Quit ‘Law & Order: SVU’

There are so much vulnerability and honesty in the way Hargitay plays her role in the hit television show. How does she become so in sync with her character? While Olivia Benson fights for victims on screen, Hargitay is an advocate for victims of assault behind the scenes. 

In 2004, Hargitay was trained as a crisis rape counselor. That same year she founded the Joyful Heart Foundation to help victims of sexual assault. Since the show began in 1999, she has not only worked to connect with fans and victims who have reached out to her but has also dedicated her life to advocating for sexual trauma survivors. 

Hargitay is so invested that she’s constantly asking, “How can I do more?” When she heard about the injustices women were facing because of the backlog of rape kits across the country, she made it the mission of her foundation to tackle the issue. 

They say that sometimes you’re born to play a certain role. There is no question Mariska Hargitay was destined to portray Olivia Benson. Through her work both on and off the scenes, it’s clear the actress appreciates the true importance of her work.