Born into a famous family, Law & Order actress Mariska Hargitay was destined to be a star early on. The daughter of actress Jayne Mansfield and bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay stepped onto the acting scene in 1985’s The Ghoulies. It was only just the beginning of Mariska’s transformation in Hollywood to become one of the biggest stars on primetime television.
Mariska, born in 1964, lost her mother when she was 3 years old in a car accident in 1967. After a devastating loss at such a young age, the Emmy winner has continued to honor her mother’s memory.
“My mother was this amazing, beautiful, glamorous sex symbol — but people didn’t know that she played the violin and had a 160 IQ and had five kids and loved dogs,” Mariska told People in March 2018. “She was just so ahead of her time. She was an inspiration, she had this appetite for life, and I think I share that with her.”
As a teen, the NBC star entered the beauty pageant circuit, competing in the Miss California USA pageant. Mariska briefly attended UCLA before venturing into the world of acting in the mid-’80s. Her breakout role came in the CBS drama Downtown in 1986. It led to a slew of other television roles in shows like Falcon Crest, Baywatch and Can’t Hurry Love.
In 1997, Mariska snagged a recurring role on ER, the long-running series that would establish her as one of the top drama actresses on television. Two years later, the California native landed the lead role of Olivia Benson in NBC’s crime drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit opposite Christopher Meloni. Despite her costar leaving the show, Mariska has continued to lead the series after more than two decades.
“I thought I was done when Chris Meloni left, that this season would be my last year,” she told The Wrap in June 2014. “We discussed the arc of the season and what I want the end for Olivia to be. But we are in this arc that has challenged me so deeply, I’m more on fire than I’ve ever been. I thought, ‘There’s more to mine here.’ So Warren [Leight, the show’s co-writer] knows I’ll go anywhere, and he’ll go anywhere. I’m still here because I’m happy.”
In addition to her successful run on Law & Order, Mariska is an activist, Hollywood Walk of Fame star recipient and a mother of three. The Joyful Heart Foundation founder married SVU guest star Peter Hermann in 2004 after falling in love on set. She gave birth to their first child, son August, in June 2006. They adopted their daughter, Amaya, in April 2011, and their second son, Andrew, just a few months later. Mariska has made balancing parenthood and a full-time acting career look easy.
“I have an incredible support system with my husband. He’s an actor so he also understands,” the Golden Globe winner told Us Weekly in June 2018. “I try to keep it organic. The kids come to set all the time. I have worked out my schedule a bit that I have a little more flexibility. I have a great team behind me.”
Keep scrolling to see Mariska’s stunning Hollywood transformation.
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