Mariska Hargitay Biography

Children's Activist, Television Actress (1964–)
Actress Mariska Hargitay has made a name for herself playing Olivia Benson on the TV hit ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.’

Who Is Mariska Hargitay?

The daughter of Hollywood legend Jayne Mansfield, Mariska Hargitay was born on January 23, 1964, in Santa Monica, California. She attended UCLA but dropped out to pursue an acting career, a move that would be slow in paying off. After landing some minor roles on TV and on the big screen, Hargitay took a recurring role on ER before landing the role of a lifetime as Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The role propelled her to stardom, earning her a Golden Globe and an Emmy. Hargitay has also started a charity inspired by the subject matter of her hit show, and her Joyful Heart Foundation has been helping victims of sexual abuse since 2004.

Mariska Hargitay 600x487

Mariska Hargitay at the Joyful Heart Foundation in 2013. Photo: s_bukley /

Early Years

Famous Mother, Bodybuilder Father

The daughter of Mickey Hargitay (a Hungarian-born bodybuilder and former Mr. Universe) and Hollywood legend Jayne Mansfield, Mariska Hargitay was born on January 23, 1964, in Santa Monica, California. When she was three years old, Hargitay and her two older brothers were in a car with Mansfield riding between Biloxi, Mississippi, and New Orleans, Louisiana, when the car rammed into the back of a tractor trailer. In the course of the accident, Mansfield and two other adults were killed while the children suffered only minor injuries. The incident affected Hargitay greatly, and she said in an interview with Good Housekeeping, “Sometimes I can't believe I'm not a drug addict or an alcoholic. I would lapse into catastrophic thinking a lot, where I was just convinced that the worst thing would happen.”

Movies and TV Shows

'Falcon Crest'

Hargitay moved in with her father and grew up in Beverly Hills, later attending Marymount High School, an all-girl Catholic school. After being named Miss Beverly Hills in 1982, Hargitay studied theater at UCLA, making her TV acting debut on Jane Wyman's Falcon Crest in 1984. It wasn’t long before Hargitay was dropping out of college to pursue her acting career full-time, and in 1985 she made her first appearance on the big screen in Ghoulies. Despite Hargitay’s Hollywood pedigree, though, her career didn’t take off easily. She appeared on Downtown, a TV series, in 1986 and a movie called Jocks a year later before landing a recurring role back on Falcon Crest in 1988. But at this stage of her career, film roles generally proved elusive.  

The 1990s proved challenging as well, with the early years of the decade seeing Hargitay on the short-lived cop show Tequila & Bonetti (opposite a dog) and in TV movies such as Blind Side and Night Sins. She also appeared in a walk-on role in the 1995 film Leaving Las Vegas.

'ER' and 'Law & Order' 

In 1997 Hargitay got a glimpse of what was to come for her acting career when she landed the recurring role of Cynthia Hooper on the hit hospital drama ER. The role lasted through the 1998 season and provided a perfect segue into the role of a lifetime on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a new spinoff of Law & Order, which had been a hit show for nearly a decade at that point.  

Hargitay was soon to inhabit the role of Olivia “Liv” Benson, a New York City detective who focuses on sex crimes. Benson became a force on the show, and SVU, as it became known, was a big hit with audiences right out of the gate, often drawing more viewers than the original series. For her portrayal of Liv, in 2005 Hargitay won a Golden Globe, and the following year she took home the Emmy for Lead Actress in a Drama Series.

Husband & Family

When she’s not working on SVU, Hargitay is busy with her family and various causes. She married actor Peter Hermann, whom she met on the SVU set, in 2004, and two years later she gave birth to their son, August. They adopted a daughter, Amaya, in 2011, and soon after adopted another son, Andrew. Taking the lesson’s learned by Liv Benson to heart, Hargitay has established the Joyful Heart Foundation, which provides recovery help for victims of sexual abuse.

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!