‘Law & Order: SVU’: Why Mariska Hargitay Says She ‘Felt the Part’ of Olivia Benson in Her ‘Soul’ When Auditioning

by Leanne Stahulak

For 22 seasons, “Law & Order: SVU” star Mariska Hargitay has played the part of Olivia Benson to perfection. There’s no one else we could see in this role, and apparently, Hargitay feels that she’s right for the character too.

Back in 2018, Hargitay sat down with “Marie Claire” to discuss how she got the role and what it meant to her.

“So, I read the script, and I was absolutely done,” Hargitay confessed. “I didn’t know a lot about sexual assault or domestic violence back then, but I knew I’d never connected to a script more. I felt the part in my soul. When I went in to read for [creator Dick Wolf], I saw other actresses in the waiting room, and I told him, ‘I need you to understand, this is my role.'”

Hargitay certainly made the right case for herself, having played Benson since the first episode premiered in 1999. But another part that contributed to her getting the gig was her chemistry with co-star Christopher Meloni.

“Meloni and I met at the callback; there were three guys and three girls,” the “Law & Order” star continued. “We started talking, and it turns out they’d paired us up, and he’d felt the same way reading the script—like it was a really good fit for him. We went into the room, comfortable in these roles, and everything fit like a glove.”

Meloni and Hargitay worked together for 12 years until Meloni took his leave of the show for contractual reasons. He eventually returned in 2021 for his own spin-off show, “Law & Order: Organized Crime.”

But the absence of her Day 1 co-star really left Hargitay in an unsure place. “I was so sad. So stressed. It was the end of an era. I tried to convince him not to go.”

Little did Harigtay know that Meloni’s absence was exactly what she needed to give her career a boost.

‘Law & Order: SVU’ Star Mariska Hargitay Discusses Why Olivia Benson Role is Important to Her

“Chris leaving truly turned out to be such a lesson of how when one door closes, another door opens,” Hargitay continued.

She went on to discuss how she really grew into herself as Benson in Seasons 14 and 15. The story arc followed a sociopath named William Lewis who abducts Benson.

“That’s when you learn about Benson’s psychology, what she’s made of,” Hargitay said. “The scenes were painful to shoot—scary, uncharted territory, and so raw—but I felt such an incredible responsibility to go there and tell that story.”

She continued, “I wanted to show the ugliness, fear, and inhumanity. But also what survival is, what inner strength is, our resourcefulness, what we’re capable of, and what we will do to survive. I know a lot of people can’t watch those episodes. And even for me, every time I go back, I’m like, Wow. Because you have to shut off a part of yourself to tell these stories.”

One of the most important stories “Law & Order: SVU” tells is the importance of listening to and understanding victims of sexual assault. Hargitay feels that the show and her character approach the sensitive topic in a good way, especially given Benson’s backstory.

“One of the things that really drew me to the part was the fact that Olivia had this very rich backstory of being a product of rape. And her personal story was important because the audience was kind of metabolizing these crimes through her and Stabler.”

To this day, “SVU” continues to change and evolve with the times. We’ll see Hargitay as Benson in action again this coming Thursday, Sept. 23.