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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Why Mariska Hargitay Didn’t Mind Playing Olivia Benson for So Long

Law & Order SVU star Mariska Hargitay has shown no signs of slowing down after 25 years of playing Olivia Benson. But playing a character as long as Hargitay has runs a risk of being typecast. It was a risk, however, that Hargitay didn’t seem to care about.

Mariska Hargitay embraces being Olivia Benson

Mariska Hargitay exiting a car.
Mariska Hargitay | Raymond Hall/GC Images

Not even Hargitay would’ve imagined she’d end up playing SVU detective Olivia Benson for so long. The character has changed Hargitay’s life in more ways than one, giving her the kind of acting career she strived to achieve for decades. Then Olivia Benson would go on to motivate Hargitay’s activism, inspiring her to create the Joyful Heart Foundation. Joyful Heart would go on to help real victims of sexual and domestic abuse, allowing Hargitay to personally reach real-life people who needed help.

It’s why Hargitay could only be grateful being associated with her character for as long as she has.

“This character is to me heroic and something that our culture needed, somebody who fought for women and who elevated women’s voices and who bears witness to such pain and there is great healing in that,” she told E! News. “I feel very privileged and blessed to have grown in this character and get to affect as many people as I have been privileged to affect in my life.”

Mariska Hargitay called leading ‘Law & Order SVU’ an exciting but beautifully uncomfortable rebirth

Hargitay and Meloni’s Elliot Stabler were once seen as the core duo of SVU. But after Meloni left the series, it was up to Hargitay to helm the long-running procedural. This was another critical change for Hargitay, who felt she was playing catch up with Meloni in the beginning of the show. But ultimately, this new direction might’ve made Hargitay’s character even stronger.

“As I became more comfortable with the character, you saw this powerful woman emerge,” she once told People. “In a way, it was a rebirth, and that was powerful and exciting and beautifully uncomfortable to reckon with one’s own power.”

She’d grown to admire her character so much, that she often looked towards Olivia Benson for guidance in times of crises.

“There’s a thing WWOBD, what would Olivia Benson do? The fans would always talk about it, and one day, it hit me,” she added. “I also have those moments where I’ve sort of slipped into her. If there’s a crisis, I just take over and lead like that. Being strong and fearless. It’s sort of this perfect feminist story.”

Olivia Benson gave Mariska Hargitay a lesson in being present

Perhaps one of the most understated lessons Olivia Benson gave Hargitay was how to get caught in the moment. Some might’ve been curious about when the show might end, or when Hargitay might retire. But Hargitay narrowed her focus to each season of SVU, only concerning herself with the show’s quality.

“It’s a lesson in being present and to not be thinking ahead,” she once told Entertainment Tonight. “If you asked me 20 years ago, I never thought I’d be here 20 years later, and I am fulfilled and I love my co-stars and it’s an incredible collaboration with the producers and the writers, so I’m really enjoying it.”

At the same time, Hargitay’s enjoying herself so much on SVU, that she doesn’t see the show ending anytime soon.

 “I can’t imagine the show ending, and can’t imagine not going on this journey with my cast, my crew. I have so much to look forward to. And I’m still growing. I like that you can be so many things at one time. It’s learning to give yourself permission to be all of yourself,” she said.

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