In showbiz, where youth and novelty are often prized, Mariska Hargitay has proved there is still room for a classic. The Law & Order: SVU actress, who will turn 60 on January 23, is as popular as ever.

Mariska feels that playing Olivia Benson for more than two decades has made her wiser. “This character has taught me so much. I’ve become a more whole person, a more self-aware person,” she says. “I want to inspire people to have the strength to look in the mirror, go deep and know that they can tolerate the pain and get to the other side so they can achieve what they want.”

Certainly, that’s been Mariska’s own journey. After losing her mom, silver screen siren Jayne Mansfield, in childhood, Mariska dreaded the future. “Her mom died at 34 years old, and her grandfather also died at 34. For years, Mariska held onto the fear that something bad was going to happen to her,” says a friend. “Turning 60 represents something big to her.”

Mariska wed actor Peter Hermann in 2004 and became a mom of three. “All I ever wanted was to be a mom and to have this family, because mine was broken apart at a very early age,” she says. “These things are so sacred to me.”

Mariska Hargitay is seen filming at the "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" set
Jose Perez/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

This August, the couple will celebrate their 20th anniversary, but instead of heading off on a romantic vacation for two, the entire family is coming along. “They try to go on one big trip together every summer,” says the friend. “She’s happiest when they are all together.”

Mariska admits she feels blessed. “Together we’re this whole, happy, joyful, chaotic, crazy unit,” she says. “I’ve never known anything more right.”