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She’s simply arresting.

Mariska Hargitay, who plays tough as nails Det. Olivia Benson on “Law & Order: SVU,” expresses only one concern during a wide-ranging interview. She doesn’t want to take credit for one of the most seismic shifts on TV — the rise of tough, compassionate, and drop-dead gorgeous lead women in traditionally male-dominated crime dramas, like “CSI” “The Closer” and of course “Scandal.”

“Olivia opened the door,” Hargitay says. “At the time, I don’t remember any other characters like that. I am very excited and happy when I see other characters like this. I say the more the merrier, baby. I don’t want it to be an anomaly. Let there be all strong, amazing women and I am so happy to know there is an appetite now.”

“Special Victims Unit” — the last of executive producer Dick Wolf’s “Law & Order” franchises which once dominated NBC — kicks off its 17th season with a grisly two-hour show Sept. 23 and Hargitay is front and center.

Likening her to others who have played characters in prime time for decades – James Arness as Matt Dillon in “Gunsmoke” for 21 years and Kelsey Grammer as Frasier on two shows for a total of 20 years, “SVU” showrunner Warren Leight says Hargitay is the only woman and the only one whose character made a difference.

“I don’t think James Arness changed the world views of cattle wrangling,” Leight says. “I loved Frasier but it is not as if we developed keen insight into psychiatry because of Frasier. Somehow there was a synergy between her and that role and what was going on in society and the empathy she brought to it and the perseverance she brought to it.”

Hargitay was not always taken as seriously.

“When I came in there, I don’t believe people understood how good she was,” Leight says. “And everyone thought it as about the chemistry she had with Elliot (Christopher Meloni) and people did not understand she could carry the show on her own.”

The only major change for the new season is a renovation to their squad room set — which was Hargitay’s idea, a perk to being the show’s star and its occasional director.

“When I started directing, I got nuts about my office,” she says.

Her personal space is a far cry from the functional sets at the show’s homebase, Manhattan’s Chelsea Piers studios. Framed Carolina Herrera sketches of gowns Hargitay has worn adorn walls in the outer office. Inside, a modern art painting takes up one wall and photos of her children (sons, 4 and 9, and daughter, 4) and husband are on other walls.

Behind a curtain are black and white photos of her glamorous mom, Jayne Mansfield.

A small room holds a day bed and an air of serenity. Hargitay, 51, knows how critical that is.

“My biggest challenge right now and what I’m really trying to change is sleep,” Hargitay says.

Like every working mom, Hargitay talks about trying to strike the elusive balance. She has this huge role, kids, husband, actor Peter Hermann, whom she met on this show, and her charity.

Hargitay started Joyful Heart Foundation 11 years ago to help victims of sexual abuse. After working on a show about the most depraved predators, Hargitay says she needed to help.

She has become such an advocate that she was with leaders like the Vice President last Thursday when they announced $79 million for tackling the backlog of rape kits necessary to prosecute criminals.

“Mariska became so associated with these issues,” Leight says. “And there she was yesterday with Vice President Biden, DA Vance and Attorney General Lynch … and she belonged there. She changed our awareness of what survivors go through and how society views rape victims. Her character and she have begun to make actual changes in the way society views sex crimes.”

In pure Biden fashion, he leaked that Benson will be promoted this season. She is a sergeant but becomes lieutenant.

On the season premiere of “SVU” Jefferson Mays is medical examiner Dr. Rudnick, who gets a sickening surprise. Dallas Roberts returns as serial killer Gregory Yates, and it’s a contest, which could never have a true winner, as to who is creepiest.


In case you missed it, Taylor Swift debuted her new single, Bad Blood at the Billboard Music Awards tonight, which Mariska made an appearance starring as Justice. You can watch below 🙂


For Mariska Hargitay, separating herself from her role as sex crimes detective Olivia Benson can be a difficult task.

“Being around that subject matter every day seeps into my consciousness,” says the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit star. “When I first did research for my role on SVU, I couldn’t believe the statistics of abuse – and the letters that came in from viewers disclosing their own stories.”

She adds, “I was proud to be on a show that was going into new territory, but I knew I wanted to do more to help survivors heal and reclaim their lives.”

So in 2004, roughly five years after her SVU debut, the 51-year-old founded the Joyful Heart Foundation – a national organization that has served more than 14,000 survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence and the professionals who help them.

While the organization is taking big steps in advocating for justice (through the movement to test the hundreds of thousands of backlogged rape kits), Hargitay says that simply joining the conversation is a way that everyone can help raise awareness.

That is why she is so proud of Joyful Heart’s participation in the NO MORE initiative – which includes a PSA campaign that she directed involving more than 75 celebrities, athletes and public figures in an effort to “engage bystanders” and “break the social stigma” of abuse.

Most importantly, though, Hargitay – like her TV character – encourages listening to survivors with compassion.

“The experience of sexual assault and domestic violence can be extremely isolating,” she says. “So simply listen without judgement. I always have to remind myself that I don’t have to be an expert. I just have to care.”

For more of our interview with Mariska Hargitay, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday


NBC has renewed five dramas for the 2015-16 TV season, including the newly relocated sophomore thriller The Blacklist, the plucky Friday genre series Grimm (currently in Season 4) and the third-year procedural poised to launch 1,000 spinoffs, Chicago Fire.

In fact, ChiFi‘s first offshoot, the freshman drama Chicago P.D., is among NBC’s other pick-ups, as is schedule stalwart Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which will be entering Season 17.


ODE TO JOY: Neiman Marcus teamed up with the Joyful Heart Foundation, founded by actress and advocate Mariska Hargitay of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” for its 10th anniversary celebration. Neiman’s presented The NO MORE Lounge at Joyful Heart’s bi-annual Joyful Mele gala Sunday night in Hawaii, where Hargitay started the foundation. Neiman’s also sponsord Joyful Mele.

The event raised more than $500,000, all of which will be reinvested to support Joyful Heart’s work in Hawaii.

When Hargitay started playing Detective Olivia Benson on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” 16 years ago, the content of the scripts and the statistics around violence and abuse opened her eyes to the epidemic of sexual assualt, domestic violence and child abuse. She founded Joyful Heart in 2004, with the intention of helping sexual assault survivors heal and reclaim a sense of joy in their lives.

Following the program, Hargitay and the Joyful Heart Foundation’s guests continued the celebration with deserts and dancing at Neiman’s sponsored NO MORE Lounge, featuring DJ Samantha Ronson, also at the Kahala Hotel & Resort. The NO MORE symbol and color were incorporated into the serving platters, fixtures, floor coverings, lighting and flowers. In addition, the NO MORE print campaign was on display, which featured more than 50 celebrities and public figures urging people to end the silence and excuses around domestic violence and sexual assault. In addition to Hargitay, those featured in the campaign include Amy Poehler, Andrew Rannells, Bill McComb, Katie Couric, Courtney Cox, and Debra Messing.


Question: Do you have anything on Chicago Fire? I just watched Seasons 1 and 2 and am dying for it to start back up again! Any scoop? —Devin
How about a little Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D. scoop with a side of Law & Order: SVU intel? The Windy City-based sister shows will host a major crossover in the first half of the season, and then again in the second half. “We want to be as ambitious as we were last time,” says executive producer Matt Olmstead. “Last year, we also did a crossover with SVU that we liked a lot. We’re exploring a possible crossover with them as well. [We] definitely want to do at least one, perhaps two big crossovers, involving any combination of the three shows.”


THE 15TH YEAR OF THE LONG-RUNNING SERIES THAT CHRONICLES THE LIFE AND CRIMES OF THE SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT OF THE NYPD IS COMING TO DVD! Created by Dick Wolf (Law & Order), and starring Emmy Award winner Mariska Hargitay. Co-starring Danny Pino, Ice-T, Kelli Giddish and Raul Esparza. All episodes from the 15th year of the hard-hitting series.

A 5-DVD set has been announced for Law & Order: Special Victims Unit – The 15th Year, scheduled to be in stores September 23rd. Priced at $44.98 SRP, the episodes include guest stars like Lauren Ambrose, Leslie Odom Jr., Ashanti, Clay Aiken, Taylor Hicks, Shiri Appleby, Greg Germann, Mel Harris, Chazz Palminteri, Rosanna Arquette, John Benjamin Hickey, Constance Shulman, Jonathan Silverman, Laura Wiggins, Sophia Bush, Donal Logue, Alec Baldwin, Katie Couric, Bradley Whitford, Samantha Mathis, Jeffrey Tambor, Ann Curry, Geraldo Rivera, Emma Greenwell and others. Here’s the cover art featuring Mariska Hargitay, and an Amazon pre-order here.

The Law & Order franchise has established its own unique production schedule, which involves the series regularly staying in continuous production after the end of the season to bank a few episodes for the following season. The plan this year was to film three additional episodes for veteran crime drama Law & Order: SVU‘s upcoming 16th season, launching in the fall. But, after finishing two of them, the show has decided to scrap the last one due to exhaustion on the part of the cast, particularly star Mariska Hargitay, with the shelved episode to be shot with the rest of Season 16 when the show returns from hiatus. Season 15 is being hailed as one of the series’ strongest, with Emmy winner Hargitay getting notices for her nuanced acting. But it’s been a grueling season, with a lot of emotional performances that has taken a toll on everyone, especially Hargitay, who is the center and the heart of the show and who also made her directorial debut on SVU this past season. Most drama series do 22 episodes a season at the most, Law & Order: SVU produces 24. “In the last 12 months Mariska appeared in 26 episodes, directed one, produced two benefits that raised millions of dollars for her Joyful Heart Foundation, and is also the full-time mother of three young children,” L&O: SVU creator/executive producer Dick Wolf said. “Even a Super Woman needs a break sometime. Instead of shooting 27 straight episodes, we will begin our hiatus and go back to our normal production schedule.” Averaging a 2.5 adults 18-49 rating, SVU ranked as the No. 4 NBC scripted drama this past season, up by 21% in 18-49 and by 17% in total viewers from last season.


Mariska & Peter attend the Just Before I Go Premiere during the Tribeca Film Festival at the SVA Theater on April 24, 2014 in New York City. I’ve added 3 HQ pictures to the gallery. Keep checking back for more!

Just Before I Go Premiere
April 24, 2014


In the moments after William Lewis’ death, Sergeant Benson (Hargitay) is rescued by the SVU squad, but her torment continues. The Internal Affairs investigation of her actions is deemed inconclusive, and with no evidence to corroborate her story, Prosecutor Derek Strauss (Greg Germann) convenes a grand jury and calls for Benson’s arrest. With increasing pressure from Lt. Tucker (guest star Robert John Burke) and Lt. Murphy (Donal Logue) to save herself any way she can, Benson must choose between her convictions and her badge. Also starring Ice-T (Detective Odafin Tutuola), Danny Pino (Detective Nick Amaro) and Kelli Giddish (Detective Amanda Rollins). Also guest starring Elizabeth Marvel (Rita Calhoun), Bill Irwin (Dr. Lindstrom), Michael Potts (Sgt. Draper), Tamara Tunie (M.E. Warner), Curt Bouril (Det. Carlson) and Nikki Estridge (Det. Delano).

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