‘Law & Order: SVU’ Star Mariska Hargitay Explained Important Role Father Played in Her Career

by Allison Hambrick

Law & Order: SVU icon Mariska Hargitay revealed how her father’s encouragement inspired her successful acting career.

“The message I got from my father was that life is hard, but you just don’t quit,” the SVU star said in an interview. “I’d get an audition and he’d say, ‘How hard are you going to work for it?’ So I pushed myself even when I didn’t feel like pushing myself. I acted confident even when I wasn’t. And slowly… I became more confident. If you kick fear to the side, the payoff is huge.”

The SVU actress learned from a young age that life was often unfair. When she was only three, her mother, actress Jayne Mansfield, died in a crash crash. What’s worse, Hargitay and her two older brothers were in the backseat during the tragedy. After the accident, they all went to live with their father, former Mr. Universe Mickey Hargitay.

“I think I learned about crisis very young,” Hargitay once explained. “I learned very young that sh— happens and there’s no guarantees. And we keep going. Then we transform it.”

To Hargitay, the most important thing is to keep going. As an actress, wife, and mother, she certainly has a lot on her plate, but she wears it well.

“I felt like an octopus being pulled apart in so many directions,” the actress said. “Sometimes when you’re in those moments, it’s a lot. And you’re like, ‘How am I going to climb this mountain?’ But here I am today going, ‘It was a kick-a— week.’”

Law & Order: SVU Star Hopes to Make Change

Because of her character Captain Benson’s role as a “champion of healing,” Hargitay became inspired to live up to that legacy. The Law & Order: SVU star started the Joyful Heart Foundation back in 2005.

 After being on SVU for several seasons, Hargitay “wanted to answer—really answer—those letters, to address the suffering they described, and honor acts of courage they represented.” The foundation provides services such as retreats for survivors and vicarious trauma therapy for professionals. Hargitay’s other primary goal is to end the backlogging of rape kits. She was horrified upon discovering that over 225,000 kits were never tested.

“At Joyful Heart, we are leading a nationwide effort to enact comprehensive rape kit reform laws across the country,” Hargitay wrote. “Because behind every kit is a person—a sexual assault survivor—who matters. This [Giving Tuesday], please join us in our work to enact real and lasting change that ensures a pathway to justice for survivors.”

Because of the grim nature of SVU, Hargitay said that she “had to ground [herself] and be brave” to take on the role of Olivia Benson. The storylines can be tough to process, and that’s why she cares so deeply about helping victims.

“The show is about the worst things people do to each other in the darkest part of humanity, which means many stories are difficult,” the SVU actress explained “But when a child suffers — those hit us hardest.”