As the star of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Mariska Hargitay may be television’s hardest working woman—onscreen and off. Star, wife, mother, and activist are just some of the roles she undertakes. But, how does she define herself? In an exclusive interview, Hargitay shows us how being talented in the entertainment industry is only part of what is takes to create a well-rounded, successful life.
It’s been a long day for Mariska Hargitay. Her 3-year-old son August woke up early and she had a hectic location-filled shooting day that also included meetings for her Joyful Heart Foundation. Busy working mom? That’s just a fraction of what defines Hargitay. She’s a role model for not only fans of her award-winning, hit NBC television series, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, but also for the many people whose lives she has touched. For the 45-year-old New York-based actress, it’s just another day in paradise.
Hargitay is an anomaly and many consider her to be the thinking man’s sex symbol. Yet, she’s a very funny person who makes her living immersed in heavy drama. She plays a tough woman when her real persona couldn’t be any more loving and gentle. Having grown up in Los Angeles, with much time spent in Texas, she now seems like a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker. She is a woman of depth who is genuinely grateful for all she has been handed and all she has created.
When Hargitay was in Texas recently for the Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards to accept the posthumous award for her 1950s-era movie star mother, Jayne Mansfield, she returned to a state that welcomed her with open arms. This writer has known Hargitay since decades ago in Los Angeles where she was a struggling actress, and as pals through mutual friends, even considered living in her guesthouse high above Sunset Boulevard near the border of Beverly Hills.
With her auditions for myriad pilots and guest roles, there was no foreseeable long lasting fame and fortune on the horizon to many beyond Harigitay’s close circle of family and friends. In Hollywood, where planes, buses and cars drop off ambitious would-be talents every day, Hargitay might have become yet another acting statistic—talented, but lacking the luck needed to make it happen. But, Hollywood didn’t yet comprehend the intensity of Hargitay’s commitment and fortitude, which runs in her blood. "If you tell yourself you're strong, you're strong. If you tell yourself you're weak, you're weak,” suggests Hargitay. “It's life lesson Number One. If I told myself I couldn't be an actor in the most competitive industry in the world, I couldn't, but I told myself I could do it."
Being the child of pop icons can work for or against anyone born into it. In the 1950s, Jayne Mansfield, often compared to her contemporary, Marilyn Monroe, was a platinum blonde bombshell with a traffic-stopping figure that revved engines of male audiences of the era. Her husband, Hungarian-born Mickey Hargitay, came to public prominence in the post war era as Mr. Universe 1955, then as the husband and manager of Mansfield. As far as “perfect” Hollywood couples go, physically, Mansfield and Hargitay made for a striking pair in a town that specializes in beautiful pairs. They were also a couple who understood the value of publicity and staying in the public eye.