Mariska Hargitay, actress, producer and co-founder of Joyful Heart Foundation

Mariska Hargitay, actress, producer and co-founder of Joyful Heart Foundation


Mariska Hargitay is an American actress, producer and activist. Best known for her role as Detective Olivia Benson on the NBC drama series "Law & Order", she has been a prominent figure in the entertainment industry for decades, as well as an outspoken advocate for women's rights and gender equality.


Born in 1964 in Santa Monica, California, she is the daughter of actress and Hollywood Golden Age icon Jayne Mansfield and Hungarian-born actor and bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay.

Hargitay grew up in Los Angeles. She acted in plays at Marymount High School and studied theater at the University of California. She dropped out of school six months before graduation to focus on her budding career.


She began her career in the 1980's with numerous small roles in television series and films. In 1997, she became known for her role as Cynthia Hooper on the popular NBC medical series "ER".

1999 was the year of her breakthrough. She lands the role of Detective Olivia Benson in "Law & Order", a character she has played for more than twenty years. The show is praised for its portrayal of sensitive and controversial issues, such as sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse.

The serie changed her life even more as it was on set that she met her husband, with whom she has since started a family.


In 2018, on the show's 20th anniversary, Hargitay spoke to the newspaper 20 Minutes about her character and what the serie has given her over the past two decades.

From the very first script, "I loved the complexity of the character: her ferocity, her strength, her fears, her irrepressible need for justice and her wounds. The fact that Olivia Benson exuded both strength and vulnerability spoke to me right away. That's where her desire to right the wrongs comes from. It was all there in the first script, right from the start."

Her character is now considered a feminist icon, and Hargitay agrees. That's precisely the reason she was drawn to the character. "Twenty years ago, she was a strong woman. In life, my mantra is: feel the fear, but do it anyway. Olivia is scared but she moves forward no matter what, because there are the victims. She has overcome so much, she is the child of a rapist. Her origin is linked to violence and that's why she fights it, why she became a cop. And despite everything, she still has hope and things she believes in."

Incidentally, as a fan of the character, singer Taylor Swift invited Hargitay in 2015 to appear in her "Bad Blood" music video.

Hargitay also admits to having been very surprised and overwhelmed by everything the show has taught her. From the statistics on sexual assault and violence, to the very hard stories of certain episodes, it has been a real human transformation and she is happy that the series has been able to open up discussions and liberate some voices through the topics that are treated. "I didn't expect the show to transform me as a person to this extent, it has made me an activist of sorts! When Dick Wolf hired me, I was happy because I had a lead role and it fit me like a glove. [...] we now have [...] this foundation that means so much to me and gives me the opportunity to have a voice, to bring change, help and positivity. And to think that this is all coming from a TV show, it's very surprising."


Throughout her career, Hargitay has received numerous awards for her performances. Among them, she was nominated for eight Primetime Emmy Awards and won one in 2006 for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. She has also received a Golden Globe and a Gracie Allen Award, among others.


In addition to her work as an actress, Hargitay is an outspoken advocate for women's rights and gender equality. In 2004, after receiving numerous letters from rape victims since the beginning of "Law & Order", and moved by their suffering, she founded the Joyful Heart Foundation. This non-profit organization provides support and resources to victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. The Foundation also works to raise public awareness of these sensitive and controversial issues and to promote policies to prevent violence and abuse.


In her 2018 interview with 20 Minutes, she spoke out about these difficult topics, which are rightly addressed in "Law & Order", and the Me Too movement. "I think we should be grateful for these individual acts of courage from all these incredible women who have spoken out. If things are changing in America today, it's because of the sum of those acts. I'm glad I'm experiencing this and that our series has helped open up discussions about this topic. My foundation is focused on changing the way we respond to these issues of sexual violence. These issues have been around for a long time, but they are no longer swept under the rug. We need to educate girls, boys, and teach them that if a situation seems awkward or unwelcome, that’s because it is."


Her Foundation also works on various educational and advocacy issues: organizing conferences that give a voice to the victims, initiatives to engage men in this struggle, helping to promote access to justice and addressing the problem of unanalyzed rape kits.

In fact, she is an advocate for these rape kits, which are used to collect evidence from victims of sexual assault. In 2017, she was called to testify before Congress on this issue. She has also worked with legislators and law enforcement officials to promote the analysis of these kits, which can provide crucial evidence in the prosecution of sexual assault offenders.


In addition, Hargitay has been involved in several campaigns to combat domestic violence and support abused children. She has also worked with several sexual assault and violence programs and organizations, such as the Mount Sinai Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention program, Safe Horizon, and the Rape Crisis Treatment Center in Santa Monica.

In 2010, she produced and starred in the documentary "No More", which aims to raise awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault. The film features interviews with survivors and advocates, as well as public figures such as Presidents Joe Biden and Barack Obama.


Hargitay has also supported the Girl Scouts of the United States of America, a youth movement for girls and young women, and participated in NBC's "The More You Know" campaign, a series of educational commercials. The latter was awarded the Peabody Award in 1993, for serving as "a model national public service campaign to provide a range of useful information to its vast television audience."


In 2006, following the death of her father from multiple myeloma, Hargitay became an honorary member of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. She also supports the ALS Project, which aims to find a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and the James Redford Institute for Transplant Awareness.


In recognition of her activism, Hargitay has received numerous awards. In 2018, she was awarded the Humanitarian Award from the Women's Media Center. She was also honored by organizations such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).


Mariska Hargitay's acting career and activism for women's rights have made her a powerful voice in Hollywood and beyond. Through her work with the Joyful Heart Foundation and other organizations, she has made a significant impact in the fight against sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. Her dedication to these causes is an inspiration to many and highlights the importance of using her platform to create positive change.


© Photo : Objectif Festival