‘Law & Order: SVU’: How Much Does Mariska Hargitay Make Per Episode?

It can be easy to hear about the unbelievably high salaries of the top-earning actors and think that everyone in the industry is just rolling in cash, but the truth is that acting salaries — especially for those on TV — can be widely variable. Salaries for a film role are usually going to sound more impressive, but top earners from a television series are amassing ongoing paychecks month after month and year after year. 

At the same time, stars go through slumps and have to climb their way into high-paying gigs just like the rest of us, so some find themselves taking low-paying work along the way to more lucrative fame. 

For Mariska Hargitay, who has made her name as Detective Olivia Benson on Law & Order: SVU, her salary has certainly grown over the years. How much is she making per episode now that the series has been going on so long?

Mariska Hargitay stepped into ‘Law & Order: SVU’ role in 1999

Mariska Hargitay
Mariska Hargitay | Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

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Dick Wolf’s Law & Order franchise is a juggernaut in the entertainment industry. The original series — called simply Law & Order  — premiered in 1990 and ran for 456 episodes before concluding in 2010. The franchise produced several spinoffs, and some were more successful than others. 

In 1999, one of those spinoffs was Law & Order: SVU, and the show — which focuses on sex offenses and child victims in New York City — has outlasted its predecessor to become one of the longest-running crime series on television today. The show was renewed for its 24th season, which is expected to begin airing in fall 2022. 

Hargitay has been in a starring role the entire time. She plays Detective Olivia Benson who, for many years, worked alongside Christopher Meloni’s Detective Elliot Stabler. When a contract negotiation dispute had Meloni leaving the set after the 12th season, Hargitay’s long-standing identity as Detective Benson became even more important for the stability of the show. 

Detective Olivia Benson has defined Mariska Hargitay’s career

RELATED: ‘Law & Order: SVU’: Olivia Benson Once Slapped a Suspect in the Face

The role was definitely a breakthrough one for Hargitay. A quick look at the star’s filmography shows that she started acting in the mid-1980s, but it took a while for her roles to pick up steam.

She slogged through small parts and mostly unknown TV movies before landing some guest appearances on series like BaywatchSeinfeld, and Ellen. In 1995, she got a recurring role in the TV show Can’t Hurry Love, and 1997 saw a big break with a recurring part on the very popular ER

When she stepped into the role of Detective Olivia Benson a few years later, however, her career changed forever. Since then, Hargitay has almost exclusively played the New York detective, bringing the role to life in crossover episodes for Dick Wolf’s Chicago P.D. and even for an episode of Saturday Night Live

Mariska Hargitay has an impressive net worth

It’s rare for an actor to have such a single-minded focus on a particular role, but it has paid off for Hargitay — literally. The star is worth an impressive $100 million, and it’s almost entirely due to her work on the crime-fighting series.

Of course, she hasn’t always been able to command top dollar for the important role of playing Detective Olivia Benson, but now that the show is so far along and with such a dedicated fan base, each episode pays Hargitay quite a hefty sum. 

As StyleCaster reports, Hargitay’s salary — at least for 2018 and beyond — has been an impressive $540,000 per episode! Hargitay has also worked to give back through her charity the Joyful Heart Foundation, “an organization she established in 2004 to support survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse.”