Mariska Hargitay
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Mariska Hargitay

Mariska Hargitay
Mariska Hargitay @ Make Believe On Broadway (cropped).jpg
Hargitay in 2011
Mariska Magdolna Hargitay[1]

(1964-01-23) January 23, 1964 (age 56)
Alma materUniversity of California, Los Angeles
OccupationActress, director, executive producer
Years active1984–present
(m. 2004)
Parent(s)Mickey Hargitay
Jayne Mansfield
RelativesJayne Marie Mansfield (maternal half-sister)
Mariska Hargitay Signiture.svg

Mariska Magdolna Hargitay (; born January 23, 1964)[2][3] is an American actress best known for her role as New York Police Department Captain Olivia Benson on the NBC drama series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Hargitay has starred in the show since 1999, and is the longest running cast member. For her role on the show, Hargitay has received multiple awards and nominations, including a Primetime Emmy and a Golden Globe. The daughter of bodybuilder and actor Mickey Hargitay and actress Jayne Mansfield, Hargitay made her film debut in the 1985 horror comedy film Ghoulies and her major television debut in the 1986 adventure drama series Downtown. She appeared in numerous roles in film and on television throughout the late 1980s and 1990s before being cast on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Hargitay's work on that show led her to found the Joyful Heart Foundation, an organization that provides support to people who have been sexually abused.

Early life

Hargitay was born at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, the daughter of actress and 1950s-era sex symbol Jayne Mansfield. Her father was the Hungarian-born former Mr. Universe, Mickey Hargitay. Her first and middle names are Hungarian and refer to Mary Magdalene (Mariska is a diminutive of Mary). She was raised Catholic. She has two older brothers, Miklós and Zoltán, and three half-siblings, Jayne Marie Mansfield and Antonio "Tony" Cimber (from her mother's first and third marriages, respectively) and Tina Hargitay (from her father's first marriage).[]

Hargitay's parents divorced in May 1963, but a judge later found their Mexican divorce invalid. They reconciled a few months before Hargitay's birth in January 1964, but soon separated again. In August 1964, her mother successfully petitioned the court to rule the Mexican divorce legal. A few weeks later, Mansfield married the director Matt Cimber, who had directed her in a 1964 production of the William Inge play Bus Stop.[] By the summer of 1966, however, Mansfield and Cimber had filed for divorce. On June 29, 1967, Mansfield was in an automobile accident on a stretch of U.S. Route 90 between New Orleans and Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. The accident ripped off the top of the car, instantly killing Mansfield;[4] her boyfriend, Sam Brody; and the driver. Asleep in the back of the vehicle, Mariska, then three-and-a-half years old, was left with a zigzag scar on one side of her head. Her brothers, Miklós and Zoltán, escaped with minor injuries. After the death of their mother, the three siblings were raised by their father and his third wife, Ellen Siano.[5][1] Hargitay dislikes comparisons with her famous mother and, at age 18, said, "My dad was Mr. Universe, so it would be fun for me to be Miss Universe".[6] Hargitay has said that the early loss of her mother left "a hole in my life that won't ever be filled. I will never get over it. I will always be a girl who lost her mom".[4]

While a student at her Catholic secondary school, Marymount High School, Hargitay was active in cheerleading, student government, athletics, and the theater program.[7] She enjoyed acting and enrolled at UCLA after graduation from high school in 1982. That same year, Hargitay was crowned Miss Beverly Hills USA.[8] By the time she was a freshman in college, Hargitay had an agent and several small roles to her credit. She attended UCLA School of Theater Film and Television where she was a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma.[9][10] She left before completing her degree.[1]

Hargitay attended Groundlings Theatre and School in Los Angeles.[11]


After Hargitay was crowned Miss Beverly Hills USA,[8] she competed in the Miss California USA pageant the following year and placed fourth runner-up to Julie Hayek, who was later crowned Miss USA.[12] In 1984, she appeared in Ronnie Milsap's music video for "She Loves My Car" (The first country music video to appear on MTV).[13] A year later she had a small role in the horror film, Ghoulies.[14]

Hargitay said in 1986 that she never thought about doing television until a role on the one-hour adventure drama series Downtown was offered.[14] In fact, life was extremely tough for her trying to start her career as a Hollywood actor.[4] Her entire life she was constantly being compared to her mother, people would mention that her hair color should be different simply because of her mother's hair color.[4]In 1988, she had a recurring role as Carly Fixx in the soap opera Falcon Crest.[13] She portrayed police officer Angela Garcia in the 1992 series Tequila and Bonetti, and appeared in an episode of the fourth season of Seinfeld. Two years later, Hargitay portrayed Didi Edelstein, the sexy next-door neighbor, in the 1995 sitcom Can't Hurry Love, which starred Nancy McKeon. In 1997, Hargitay played detective Nina Echeverria on the drama series Prince Street, and had a recurring role as Cynthia Hooper during the fourth season of ER.[]

Hargitay has appeared on numerous other television programs, including: Freddy's Nightmares - A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Series; Ellen; All-American Girl; Baywatch; Cracker; Gabriel's Fire; In the Heat of the Night; The Single Guy; Wiseguy and thirtysomething. Her voice is featured on the 2005 video game True Crime: New York City.[]

Hargitay also had a minor role in the 1995 film Leaving Las Vegas. She briefly replaced Gabrielle Fitzpatrick as Dulcea, in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie, although her scenes were cut from the film when Fitzpatrick recovered from her surgery and returned to the film.[15]

Hargitay on set of season 12 of Law & Order: SVU in August 2010

In January 2007 she and her son, August, appeared in a Got Milk? advertisement.[16]

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Casting for the lead characters of NBC police procedural television drama series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit occurred in the spring of 1999. Dick Wolf, along with officials from NBC and Studios USA, were at the final auditions for the two leads at Rockefeller Center. The last round had been narrowed down to six finalists. For the female lead - Detective Olivia Benson - Samantha Mathis, Reiko Aylesworth, and Hargitay were being considered. For the male role - Detective Elliot Stabler - the finalists were Tim Matheson, John Slattery, and Christopher Meloni. Meloni and Hargitay had auditioned in the final round together and after the actors left, there was a moment of dead silence, after which Wolf blurted out, "Oh well. There's no doubt who we should choose - Hargitay and Meloni." The duo, who Wolf believed had the perfect chemistry from the first time he saw them together, were his first choice. Garth Ancier, then head of NBC Entertainment, agreed, and the rest of the panel assembled voiced their assent.[17] Hargitay trained as a rape crisis advocate to prepare for the role of Benson.[18] She has portrayed Benson since 1999.[19]

During the last months of her pregnancy in 2006, she took maternity leave from SVU, and was temporarily replaced by Connie Nielsen, who portrayed Stabler's temporary partner Dani Beck.[20][21]

In May 2009, after the show's tenth season, Hargitay and Meloni's contracts expired when they were reportedly making $375,000[22]-$385,000 per episode.[23] During negotiations in April for a new contract, the duo attempted to receive a percentage of the show's profits as other high-profile Law and Order actors had done in the past. It was rumored that NBC threatened to replace Hargitay and Meloni if they persisted in their demands.[24] However, two months later it was officially reported that both their contracts had been renewed for two more years.[23] When the thirteenth season was about to air, initial reports indicated that Hargitay would appear in only the first 13 episodes.[25] However, NBC chairman Bob Greenblatt later clarified that she would be in every episode of the season.[26]

As of August 2012, Hargitay was earning approximately $400,000[27]-$500,000 per episode.[28]

Personal life

Hargitay in May 2007

Hargitay speaks five languages: English, French, Hungarian, Spanish, and Italian.[29]

On August 28, 2004, in Santa Barbara, California, Hargitay married Peter Hermann, an actor whom she met on the set of Law & Order: SVU,[30][31] on which he plays the recurring role of Defense Attorney Trevor Langan. On June 28, 2006, Hargitay gave birth to their son, August Miklos Friedrich Hermann, by an emergency caesarean section.[32][33] In April 2011, she and her husband adopted a baby girl, Amaya Josephine, and attended her birth.[31][34] In October 2011, she and her husband adopted a baby boy, Andrew Nicolas Hargitay Hermann, who had been born in mid-2011.[35][36]

Her father died in 2006 from multiple myeloma in Los Angeles, California, at age 80.[37][38]

Health problems

In late December 2008, Hargitay suffered a partially collapsed lung after taking a fall during a stunt on the set of SVU. She underwent surgery in January and returned to work shortly afterward.[39] On March 3, 2009, she was hospitalized after suffering from chest pains related to the injury.[40] She missed one episode on SVU tenth season.[41]

Charity work

Hargitay reading Oh! The Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss at the 2010 White House Easter Egg Roll

Hargitay is founder and was the president of the Joyful Heart Foundation, an organization established in 2004 to provide support to survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse.[42][43] According to Hargitay, she was inspired by an encounter with a school of dolphins that surrounded her while she was swimming off the coast of Hawaii at the age of 15. The encounter, which had ignited profound spiritual feelings within her, was one that Hargitay hoped to share with others. As of November 2010, the Joyful Heart Foundation has sent over 5,000 women and children on therapeutic programs in New York, Los Angeles, and Hawaii, which combine yoga, meditation, massage, journaling, and swimming with dolphins.[18] Hargitay said,

I started getting fan mail from survivors who felt a connection to Olivia. In many of these letters, people would disclose their personal stories of abuse--some for the very first time. I remember getting the sense that many were living in isolation with so much shame, but the shame belonged to the perpetrators. I wanted to help find a way to help people reclaim their lives and live them with a renewed sense of possibility and hope. And that's what we work to do every day at Joyful Heart.[44]

Since Hargitay received these letters from women, she knew that she had to use her platform to do something really special.[4] Her character, Olivia Benson, was heavily involved in rape and domestic violence cases in New York; in many episodes she defended the women, because she knew the trauma that they had experienced. [4] The women that watched the show felt a connection with her, which led them to send her letters because they thought she could do something with them. She in fact did; Hargitay became a certified rape counselor. [4] With this, she was able to talk to these women, make them feel better and let them know that they are not alone; she helped the victims to be able to live their lives again.[4]

According to Hargitay, the Foundation has raised $20 million and helped approximately 5,000 survivors as of April 2011.[45] Reference to the Joyful Heart Foundation was worked into episodes of Special Victims Unit, via a necklace containing two pendants representing the Foundation that Hargitay's character began wearing in the show's 13th season.[46] The Foundation partners with several brands to create products supporting their cause, including Me&Ro, Michael Stars, and AZIAM's Wife Lover Tanks.[47]

Back in November 2009, Hargitay and the Joyful Heart Foundation built healing and wellness kits for women that suffered domestic violence attacks and were currently in the Los Angeles County's domestic violence shelters.[48] They created enough kits to give one to each woman, around 600 women.[48] In California, the domestic violence services budget was in a major crisis, since it was severely cut shelters were forced to turn women away because they couldn't afford to keep them. Mariska and her foundation fought this cause and donated money to try and show how important it is that these women have shelters that they can go to in order to feel safe.[48]

Hargitay has worked with Michigan Police and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy to raise awareness about the statistics of untested rape kits. While planning to produce a documentary called Shelved, about the thousands of untested rape kits, Hargitay called this lack of testing "the clearest and most shocking demonstration of how we regard these crimes in our country."[49]

Hargitay appeared in the 17th season of NBC's The More You Know public service announcements in 2006,[50] and again in the spring of 2009.[51] She is an honorary board member director of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.[52]

On September 27, 2011, Hargitay donated $100,000 to her alma mater, the UCLA School of Theater Film and Television for scholarship.[53]

In 2012, Hargitay campaigned for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).[54]



Year Title Role Notes
1986 Downtown Jesse Smith 14 episodes
1988 In the Heat of the Night Audine Higgs Episode: "...And Then You Die"
1988 Freddy's Nightmares - A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Series Marsha Wildmon Episode: "Freddy's Tricks and Treats"
1988 Falcon Crest Carly Fixx 15 episodes
1989 Finish Line Lisa Karsh Television film
1989 Baywatch Lisa Peters Episode: "Second Wave"
1990 Wiseguy Debbie Vitale Episode: "Romp"
1990 thirtysomething Courtney Dunn Episode: "Fathers and Lovers"
1990 Booker Michelle Larkina Episode: "Black Diamond Run"
1990 Gabriel's Fire Carmen Episode: "Windows"
1991 Adam-12 Michelle Brown Episode: "Anatomy of a Rape"
1992 Tequila and Bonetti Officer Angela Garcia 11 episodes
1992 Grapevine Katie Episode: "The Katie and Adam Story"
1993 Hotel Room Diane Episode: "Getting Rid of Robert"
Episode: "Blackout"
1993 Blind Side Melanie Television film
1993 Key West Laurel Episode: "Less Moonlight"
1993 Seinfeld Melissa Shannon Episode: "The Pilot"
1994 Gambler V: Playing for Keeps Etta Place Television film
1995 All-American Girl Jane Episode: "Young Americans"
1995-96 Can't Hurry Love Didi Edelstein 19 episodes
1996 Ellen Dara Episode: "The Mugging"
1996 The Single Guy Kate Conklin/The Mounted Cop Episode: "Mounted Cop"
Episode: "Kept Man"
Episode: "The Virgin"
1997 Night Sins Paige Price Television film
1997 Prince Street Det. Nina Echeverria 6 episodes
1997 Cracker Det. Penny Hatfield Episode: "True Romance 1"
1997 The Advocate's Devil Rendi Television film
1997-98 ER Cynthia Hooper 13 episodes
1999 Love, American Style Wendy Segment: "Love And The Blind Date"
1999-present Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Detective/Sergeant/Lieutenant/Captain
Olivia Benson
458 episodes
2000, 2005 Law & Order Detective Olivia Benson Episode: "Entitled"
Episode: "Fools For Love"
Episode: "Flaw"
2004 Plain Truth Ellie Harrison Television film
2005 Law & Order: Trial by Jury Detective Olivia Benson Episode: "Day"
2010 Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List Herself Episode: "Kathy with a Z"
2011 Barefoot Contessa Herself Episode: "Sweet Charity"
2014-16 Chicago P.D. Sergeant/Lieutenant Olivia Benson Episode: "They'll Have to Go Through Me"
Episode: "The Number of Rats"
Episode: "The Song of Gregory Williams Yates"
2015 Chicago Fire Episode: "We Called Her Jellybean"
2015 The Jim Gaffigan Show Herself Episode: "Maria"
2017 Nightcap Herself Episode: "Guest in a Snake"
2019 Saturday Night Live Lieutenant Olivia Benson Cameo


Hargitay attending the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards on September 21, 2008. She received eight consecutive Primetime Emmy Award nominations from 2004 to 2011, winning once in 2006.
Year Title Role Notes
1985 Ghoulies Donna
1986 Welcome to 18 Joey
1987 Jocks Nicole
1988 Mr. Universe Herself (Mickey Hargitay's daughter)
1991 Hard Time Romance Anita
1991 The Perfect Weapon Jennifer
1991 Strawberry Road Jill Banner
1993 Bank Robber Marisa Benoit
1995 Leaving Las Vegas Hooker at Bar
1999 Lake Placid Myra Okubo
2001 Perfume Darcy (as Marishka Hargitay)
2006 Tales from Earthsea Tenar Voice
2008 The Love Guru Herself Cameo
2017 I Am Evidence Lea Documentary

Video games

Year Title Role Notes
2005 True Crime: New York City Deena Dixon Voice


Year Title Episodes
2014- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Criminal Stories (2014)
Padre Sandunguero (2015)
A Misunderstanding (2016)
Sheltered Outcasts (2016)
Motherly Love (2017)
Mea Culpa (2018)
She Paints for Vengeance (2020)


Year Title Notes
2014-present Law & Order: Special Victims Unit seasons 15- Present
2017 I Am Evidence[55] Documentary

Music videos

Year Title Artist Role Ref
1984 "She Loves My Car" Ronnie Milsap [56]
2015 "Bad Blood" Taylor Swift Justice [57]

Awards and accolades

Hargitay won an Emmy and Golden Globe for her role as Detective Olivia Benson. She received UCLA's TFT Distinguished Alumni Award in 2011 and was honored at the school's June commencement ceremony.[53] Hargitay was awarded with the 2,511th star of the Hollywood Walk of Fame on November 8, 2013. Her star was placed next to the star of her mother, which is located at 6328 Hollywood Boulevard.[58]

All awards and nominations are for the television show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, except for the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards, won by Taylor Swift and all of the celebrities that appeared in the music video for her song "Bad Blood".[59]

Year Award Category Result
2000 Satellite Awards Best Performance by an Actress in a Series, Drama Nominated
Viewers for Quality Television Awards Best Actress in a Quality Drama Series Nominated
TV Guide Award Favorite Actress in a New Series Nominated
2004 Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series Nominated
Gracie Allen Awards Individual Achievement for Best Female Lead - Drama - Series Won
Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Nominated
2005 Golden Globe Award Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Drama Won
Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Nominated
2006 Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series Nominated
Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Won
2007 TV Land Awards Favorite Lady Gumshoe Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series Nominated
Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Nominated
2008 Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Nominated
2009 Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series Nominated
People's Choice Awards Favorite Female TV Star Nominated
Gracie Allen Awards Outstanding Female Lead - Drama Series Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Drama Nominated
Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Nominated
2010 Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series Nominated
Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Nominated
People's Choice Awards Favorite TV Drama Actress Nominated
2011 People's Choice Awards Favorite TV Crime Fighter Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series Nominated
Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Nominated
2012 Muse Awards New York Women in Film & Television Won
TV Guide Award Favorite Actress Nominated
2013 Star on the Walk of Fame Television Won
2014 People's Choice Awards People's Choice for Best Dramatic Actress Nominated
Gracie Allen Awards Outstanding Female Actor in a Leading Role in a Drama Won
TV Guide Award Favorite Actress Nominated
2015 People's Choice Awards Favorite Crime Drama TV Actress Nominated
MTV Video Music Award Video of the Year Won
2016 People's Choice Awards Favorite Crime Drama TV Actress Nominated
2017 People's Choice Awards Favorite Crime Drama TV Actress Nominated
Gracie Awards Actress in a Leading Role - Drama Won
2018 People's Choice Awards The Drama TV Star of 2018 Won


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External links

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Music Scenes