Mariska Hargitay has played Olivia Benson on Law & Order: SVU for 22 seasons. No other character has appeared on TV for a longer time.
She’s won one Emmy with seven other best lead actress nominations for Law & Order: SVU. Yet she’s most proud of the reaction she receives from the show’s fans. Olivia Benson is only a fictional character, a lieutenant in the special victim’s unit. But she brings good information, especially for the female survivors of sexual assault.
“When I walk down the street and people say, ‘I knew what to do because of watching your show,” the Law & Order: SVU star told the Hollywood Reporter in 2019.
She said show watchers told her things like, “I knew not to shower. I reported immediately. I took myself to the hospital instead of saying forget it, forget this ever happened.’ ”
One thing is for certain: it’s a point of pride for Hargitay.
“That’s what I’m most proud of.”
Hargitay Decorated Law & Order: SVU Office with Mementoes to Strong Women
According to the New York Times, Hargitay decorated her office/dressing room with reminders of strong women. One wall was devoted to Wonder Woman memorabilia. Hargitay also had a table covered with books and souvenirs devoted to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the late Supreme Court justice.
Her Law & Order: SVU office also featured personal touches. There was a photo of her husband, Peter Hermann. He’s an actor she met on the show back in 2002. He played a defense attorney. And Hermann asked her to go to church with him. The two have three children — August, Amaya and Andrew. So without the show, chances are Hargitay might not have met Hermann and started a family.
Hargitay said when she first earned the role of Olivia Benson, she came to New York and did ride-alongs with real SVU detectives. She also did a 40-hour training to become a rape crisis advocate.
She said as soon as Law & Order: SVU went on the air, she started receiving fan letters. They were writing to her, but probably to Olivia Benson.
“And that’s when everything changed for me,” Hargitay said. “These women were disclosing their stories of abuse. I was just absolutely floored.”
Hargitay said when she was on ER, she also received fan letters, but they were mostly about “what’s it like working with George Clooney?”
The letters generated by the plots on Law & Order: SVU, which often were ripped from the headlines, were different.
“Now it was: “I’ve never told anyone this before, but my father’s been raping me since I was 6,” Hargitay said. “Letter after letter after letter. And the same thing that was happening in these letters was happening on the street with women disclosing: “Oh my gosh, thank you. It happened to me, I never told anyone.”
Added Law & Order: SVU showrunner Warren Leight:
“She quickly realized that telling these stories and depicting the journeys of survivors was more than a good part. It was also a great responsibility.”