Mariska Hargitay is known by most for her role as Detective Olivia Benson on NBC’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. But the talented actress’s journey leading up to this is nothing short of inspiring.
Humble BeginningsMariska has definitely had to work hard and face many demons in her life in order to get where she is today. That being said, the Law & Order actress actually comes from a family of celebrities. This stunning actresses journey to stardom is nothing short of inspiring.
Famous MotherMariska Magdolna Hargitay is actually the daughter of one of the most popular actresses of the 1950s – Jayne Mansfield. Probably best known for being one of the first Playboy playmates, Mansfield was a true legend. Eventually the superstar decided she had enough fun, choosing to settle down, get married, and had children. One of those kids happened to be Mariska. Her father on the other hand…
Father UniverseHer father who happened to be a famous Hungarian actor was named Miklos Hargitay. Better known as Mickey, he is best remembered for being crowned Mr. Universe in 1955. After Jayne and Miklos hit it off in the 50s, they tied the knot and chose to build a family together. Mariska Magdolna can thank her father’s roots for her name, which is the Hungarian version of Mary Magdalene. She was raised Catholic.
Sibling LoveMariska wasn’t an only child. She also had two older brothers, Miklos Jr. and Zoltan. She also had a half sister from Jayne’s first marriage – Jayne Marie Mansfield. She also had a half-sister from Mickey’s first marriage by the name of Tina Hargitay. Although she maintained a good relationship with all her siblings, things started to heat up in the Hargitay household…
A House DividedWith all of their increasing fame, fortune, and celebrity life, Mariska’s parents found it difficult keep their marriage going. So in May 1963, Mickey and Jayne went to Mexico and had a quick divorce. However, an American judge deemed the divorce invalid. It turns out that this separation actually occurred before Mariska was even born. And despite a brief attempt to rebuild their relationship, it never quite worked out. But the changes didn’t stop for newborn Mariska…
Rapid ChangesJust a few weeks after Mariska’s birth, her mom married for a third time, this time with filmmaker Matt Cimber. The duo had previously met at a 1964 production of the play Bus Stop. Together, the couple had another child, Antonio “Tony” Cimber. This meant that Mariska had yet another half-sibling in her life, bringing the total up to five. But none of these changes would affect Mariska quite like the events that would transpire a few years later…
A Horrific TragedyOn June 29, 1967, Mariska was sleeping in the back of a car alongside her mother Jayne, her new boyfriend Sam Brody, and her brothers, Miklos and Zoltan. Then, the car crashed while they were driving down Route 90. Thankfully, the three kids all survived the crash with minimal injuries and Mariska came out with a zigzag scar on her forehead. Unfortunaely, the driver, Brody, and her Mother did not survive.
The AftermathAt just three and a half years old, she was oblivious to the events that had transpired. She had no idea that her mother had perished in the crash. At this point, Mariska and her brothers were taken in by their father Mickey, who was now married to his third wife, Ellen Siano.
Haunted LegacyTo this day, Mariska has been quick to distance herself from the shadow cast by her mother and her untimely death. She has been so quiet about being Jayne Mansfield’s daughter that she has repeatedly shut down interviewers for comparing her to her mother. However, when it comes to her father, Mariska only has good things to say. She once said during her youth, “my dad was Mr. Universe, so it would be fun for me to be Miss Universe.”
College YearsMariska didn’t let these tragic circumstances control or influence her life. When it came to her early years, she was a star in high school, excelling in many fields including: athletics, cheerleading, student government and most importantly, theater. She had such a passion for acting that after graduating from high school in 1982, she did an acting course at UCLA.
Miss Beverly HillsThis was when Mariska started to truly come into her own. During her freshman year, she already had an agent and a string of respectable acting roles to boot. To top off her fantastic college experience, she was even crowned Miss Beverly Hills USA. It was a tremendous achievement for the young woman. And it’s safe to say that Jayne Mansfield would have been incredibly proud of her daughter.
Moving Up In The WorldHer achievement as Miss Beverly Hills USA would pave the way for even bigger things for Mariska. The following year, she competed in the Miss California USA pageant. Although she didn’t win, she did finish in a respectable fourth place. Nobody can blame Mariska for finishing runner-up to Julie Hayek, who would go on to win Miss USA in 1983. One thing was for sure though – Mariska was a class act from day one.
MTV Is CallingJust a year later, Mariska made her debut on MTV. The music channel was in full effect, releasing music videos and becoming one of the biggest providers of 80s pop music. In Ronnie Milsap’s hit single, “She Loves My Car,” the young actress starred in the music video as the pop star’s girlfriend. Mariska helped make history for Milsap as it was the first country music video to appear on MTV. It was the start of a truly promising career.
A Taste Of HollywoodIn 1984, Mariska got another big break in her career when she was cast in her first ever Film role. She won a role in the horror-comedy movie Ghoulies. The story revolved around a group of demonic creatures that manifested themselves in a variety of creepy ways. They would terrorize whoever entered the house in which they were summoned. Although the film wasn’t much of a commercial success, it developed a cult following and put Mariska on the map.
First ShowOriginally, Mariska was a strictly theater actress and didn’t really want to be on TV. However, CBS contacted her in 1986 and offered her a role in an up and coming show by the name of “Downtown”. It was an offer she simply couldn’t refuse. She was cast as a parolee who helps the LAPD crack down on crimes. Unfortunately it did extremely poorly and was discontinued after just one season. Mariska didn’t let that get her down though.
Many RolesThe actress would star in a long string of TV shows over the next ten years. Some of her most notable roles included Carly Fixx in soap opera “Falcon Crest”, Angela Garcia in “Tequila and Bonetti” and Didi Edelstein in the sitcom “Can’t Hurry Love”. She also had minor roles on classic shows such as Seinfeld, Baywatch and In The Heat Of The Night. But there was one role -though it didn’t catapult her into superstardom- that did stand out for other reasons.
Power RangersOne of Mariska’s most profitable career choices came in the mid-nineties when she replaced Gabrielle Fitzpatrick as Dulcea in the “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” movie. Fitzpatrick was forced to undergo surgery and needed time to recover leaving the role open for Mariska. However, the creators decided to bring her back. So they took out Mariska’s scenes from the final cut and reshot them with Fitzpatrick instead.
A Huge OpportunityShortly after this, NBC was about to start production for its new crime series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Auditions were underway to cast the two main leads for the show and Mariska, who had been recommended for the role of Detective Olivia Benson, ended up on the shortlist for the final round. Other candidates included Samantha Mathis and Reiko Aylesworth. Also, Tim Matheson, John Slattery, and Christopher Meloni were being considered for the role of Detective Elliot Stabler.
The Big MomentIn the final round, Mariska and Christopher Meloni recited a scene together. When the auditions were over, one of the producers enthusiastically said, “Oh well. There’s no doubt who we should choose – Hargitay and Meloni.” The panel thought that the pair’s chemistry was absolutely electric and unanimously decided that the two were the ideal choice for the lead roles. Mariska and Meloni were cast as Detectives Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler, and the rest is history.
Love In The WorkplaceIt seemed like both Mariska’s professional and private lives were going equally well at the same time. And even though the two seemed to be oddly intertwined, the actress didn’t seem to have any problem with it. Alongside her was Peter Hermann, who was cast in a recurring role as Defense Attorney Trevor Langan. After a couple of years on the show together, the pair hit it off and on August 28, 2004, they got married in Santa Barbara.
Good News ArrivesEverything seemed to be going well for the star. She was the co-lead of a hit crime series and she had married the love of her life. In the Summer of 2006, Mariska was forced to take some time off from Law & Order due to her and her husband expecting their first child. She gave birth to August Miklos Friedrich Hermann on June 28, 2006, through an emergency c-section. Despite her elation over being a mother, Mariska missed the show a lot.
“Undercover Assignment”In the months building up to the birth of August, Mariska took some maternity leave. And in order to fill the void left by her departure, the producers cast Connie Nielsen as her temporary replacement. For six episodes, Nielsen portrayed Detective Danielle “Dani” Beck, covering for Olivia Benson who was, in the context of the show, “on an undercover assignment.” Although fans enjoyed Nielsen’s performance on the show, they were chomping at the bit to have their beloved Detective Benson return to SVU.
Bittersweet MomentShortly after giving birth to August, Mariska received the ultimate honor when she was awarded an Emmy for her performances in Law & Order. Her acceptance speech really captured what the entire experience meant to her, making sure to thank her father for everything he had done for her. Then, on September 14, 2006, Mickey died from multiple myeloma. Mariska knew that her father was going through a lot, and wanted to thank him for giving her the best upbringing she could have hoped for.
Got Milk?Despite losing her father, Mariska refused to let such a tragic loss bring her down. She knew that there was only one direction to go, and that was forward. Just a few months after his death, Mariska and August were part of a Got Milk? campaign. Other celebrities that appeared on Got Milk? ads included Jessica Alba, Elton John, Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie, to name a few.
The InjuryMariska suffered quite the setback at the end of 2008. In the middle of shooting a scene, the actress was performing one of her own stunts, as she usually did. In the middle of the stunt, she fell and suffered a partially collapsed lung in the process. As a result, she required surgery. Though she returned to the studios soon after, she had recurring chest pains and had to sit out an episode of the show.
Future In DoubtIt wasn’t just physical pains that the actors on the show had to deal with. Law & Order: SVU was undoubtedly a success, and after the show reached its tenth season, it was clear that the fans wanted more of it. However, Mariska and Meloni, who had consistently been the leads of the show, were facing expirations on their contracts after making a staggering $385,000 per episode. At this point, the two leads’ futures were up in the air.
Their FatesLike other actors had done in the past, Mariska and Meloni wanted a sum of the show’s profits. But NBC was furious with the actors’ demands and threatened to fire them if they continued. But then, just two months later, both actors’ contracts were renewed for an additional two years. While Meloni ended up quitting the show after those two years were up, Mariska carried on and continues her role to this day.
Building The Familyin April of 2011, she and her husband chose to adopt a little girl. They attended Amaya Josephine’s birth and took her in shortly after. Just a few months later, they adopted another child – this time, a baby boy. Both Mariska’s career and family were flourishing.
Mariska’s PhilanthropyOne of the most incredible things about Mariska’s journey is her refusal to have the stereotypical lifestyle of a celebrity. Since 2012, Mariska has been earning in the region of $400,000 to $500,000 per episode of Law & Order: SVU. Rather than sit on her millions, Mariska turned to philanthropy. Wanting to give back to the community, she founded the Joyful Heart foundation. The organization has gone on to help victims of abuse in all its forms.