Imagine you’re auditioning for the leading role on a crime drama series. Now, obviously, the show isn’t going to have too many lighthearted moments, but you might not expect the level of darkness that Law & Order: SVU covers. Named for the “Special Victim Unit” of the NYPD, the show revolves around especially horrific crimes that require a higher level of expertise. Detective Olivia Benson and her team not only have to solve more difficult cases but also console traumatized victims. It takes as much empathy as it does skill to be a good detective within the unit.
When Mariska Hargitay first received the script for the show, her agent didn’t think she’d want the role. With such an intense premise, playing the part of an SVU detective requires immense emotional commitment. However, this didn’t phase the future Law & Order: SVU star.
In an interview with TV Insider, Hargitay recalled the conversation with her agent.
“My agent called to say, ‘I don’t know if you’ll be interested in this because it’s very dark subject matter.’ When I read the script, however, I felt it was such a truly pioneering show,” Hargitay remembered. “I was shocked at first. I had to ground myself and be brave.”
Now, over twenty seasons later, Hargitay’s name is synonymous with that of the show. She is also one of the only remaining actors from Law and Order: SVU‘s first season.
‘Law & Order: SVU’ Star Is Real Life Victim’s Advocate
One of Olivia Benson’s best qualities on Law & Order: SVU is her ability to connect with victims of heinous crimes. A victim of rape and kidnapping herself, Benson has seen her fair share of trauma, and she’s not afraid to share that when she has to. That’s why so many wronged people that come through the NYPD feel they can trust her. However, Benson’s empathy also tends to be her downfall, as she takes on the pain of others as her own. Her passion may motivate her to catch the criminal, but it does cost her some sleep at night.
Benson’s bravery and advocacy for others have even inspired her actress, Mariska Hargitay, to become an ally for rape and abuse victims in real life. In 2004, five seasons into Law & Order: SVU, Hargitay started the Joyful Heart Foundation. Through education and advocacy, the foundation seeks to end sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse across the globe.
While this may seem like a herculean feat, Hargitay has already begun to make a difference by expediting the testing of backlogged rape kits. She even produced a documentary, I Am Evidence, to raise awareness about the crisis of untested evidence. Although Hargitay only plays an SVU detective on TV, it seems she always had the heart of one even before the show began.