‘Law & Order: SVU’ Star Mariska Hargitay Struggled with Debt Before Show Took Off

by Allison Hambrick

Though it is hard to imagine a time before Law & Order: SVU was on the air, there was one. For Mariska Hargitay, that was a time of struggling and scraping by. The actress revealed that she was deeply in debt before the start of the show.

“I had a house and car I didn’t want to lose,” Hargitay says. “And I had a lot of credit card debt.” Unfortunately, this led her to become financially dependent on her then-boyfriend.

“When we broke up, he said I owed him 60 grand,” Hargitay revealed. “I’m a payer-backer. So as soon as I could, I paid him off. Now I have learned to hang on to my money. I have a nest egg, and I don’t buy above my means.”

Additionally, Hargitay is grateful that SVU afforded her the opportunity to give back. Playing Benson “fulfills [her] as an artist and rewards [her] even more as a human being,” while opening her eyes to the hardships faced by survivors.

 “It is powerful and life-affirming to extend my hand and my heart to those who are in need,” said Hargitay.

Moreover, to audiences all over the world, Benson, and Hargitay herself, are synonymous with healing and growth. She is a renowned philanthropist, having established the Joyful Heart Foundation in 2005. The foundation provides support service for victims, and it lobbies to end the backlogging of rape kits.

How Much Does the Law & Order: SVU Star Make Per Episode?

After over 20 seasons as Captain Olivia Benson, Law & Order: SVU star Mariska Hargitay is one of the most popular television actresses. Additionally, Benson is the longest-running primetime live-action character in American television. This title was previously held by Matt Dillon from Gunsmoke, Frasier Crane from Cheers and Frasier, and John Munch from SVU and Homicide: Life on the Streets.

Benson is an icon. Playing one of the most recognizable characters on television made Hargitay one, too. She has a fair number of fans, both famous and otherwise. Perhaps her biggest fan is superstar musician Taylor Swift. Not only did Swift name her cat after Hargitay, but she invited the SVU actress to appear in the star-studded “Bad Blood” music video.

Even so, Hargitay’s net worth is projected about $100 million. In addition, the actress has raised more than $20 million to support victims of sexual assault through her foundation.

So how much does Mariska Hargitay actually make per episode of SVU? According to TheThings, the actress receives $450,000 for each episode. While that is quite a chunk of change, it actually isn’t a lot compared to some of the highest recorded salaries for lead actresses. For example, Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, and Courteney Cox made $1 million per episode by the final seasons of Friends.