Before Law & Order, Mariska Hargitay had many fascinating endeavors. This can be traced all the way back to her college years, she won the Beverly Hills USA pageant. And when every new opportunity arose, she grabbed it with both hands. Her first taste of the big time came in the early 80s when she starred in the music video for Ronnie Milsap’s hit single, “She Loves My Car.” Then, she ended up on the big screen for the first time in 1984’s horror-comedy Ghoulies. This is just taster of the journey that Mariska Hargitay went on to get to Law & Order: SVU…
Rocky Road To Fame
Make no mistake about it, Mariska has had to work hard and face many demons in her life in order to get where she is today. But did you know that the Law & Order actress actually comes from a family of celebrities?
Believe it or not, Mariska 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 the actress that every woman wanted to be and every man wanted to be with. But eventually, the superstar settled down, got married and had children. One of those kids happened to be Mariska. But her father was also known by many…
Alongside her superstar mother, Jayne Mansfield, was her father who happened to be a famous Hungarian actor – Miklos Hargitay. Better known as Mickey, the man from Budapest will be best remembered for being crowned Mr. Universe in 1955.
After Jayne and Mickey hit it off in the 50s, they tied the knot and had a family together. And Mariska Magdolna can thank her father’s roots for her name, which is the Hungarian version of Mary Magdalene. She was raised Catholic.
It wasn’t just Mariska who Jayne and Mickey brought into the world. She also had two older brothers, Miklos Jr. and Zoltan. But these weren’t the only siblings that Mariska would have.
She had a half sister from Jayne’s first marriage – Jayne Marie Mansfield. She also had a half-sister from Mickey’s first marriage too by the name of Tina Hargitay. Although she maintained a good relationship with all her siblings, changes would start to take shape in the Hargitay household…
In light of the increasing fame, fortune and celebrity life, Mariska’s parents found it difficult keep their marriage going. So in May 1963, Jayne and Mickey 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 was to no avail. But the changes would keep on coming for the newborn Mariska…
Just a few weeks after Mariska’s birth, Jayne Mansfield married for a third time, this time with filmmaker Matt Cimber. The duo had previously met in a 1964 production of the play Bus Stop.
Together, the couple had another child, Antonio “Tony” Cimber. This meant that Mariska had another half-sibling in her life. The list seemed to get longer and longer. But none of these changes would affect Mariska quite like the events that would transpire a few years later…
Everything changed in the blink of an eye. On 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. However, the accident claimed the lives of the driver, Brody, and Mariska’s mother, Jayne.
As a result of such a horrific experience, Mariska’s life continued to see extreme changes left, right and center. At just three and a half years of age, she was oblivious to the events that had transpired.
She had no idea that her mother had been killed. At this point, Mariska and her brothers were taken in by their father Mickey, who was now married to his third wife, Ellen Siano. Sadly, it wouldn’t take long before she forgot about her mother…
To this day, Mariska has been keen to distance herself from the shadow cast by her mother and her untimely death. She has been so sheepish about being Jayne Mansfield’s daughter that she has repeatedly shot down interviewers for comparing her to her mother.
However, when it comes to her father, Mariska only has good things to say. When she was a young woman, she said, “my dad was Mr. Universe, so it would be fun for me to be Miss Universe.”
Mariska didn’t let these irreversible circumstances dictate how her life was going to go. She knew that she could only affect what she was in control of.
When it came to her formative years, she was a star in high school, excelling in many fields. These included athletics, cheerleading, student government and most importantly, theater. She had such a fervent passion for acting and after graduating from high school in 1982, she did an acting course at UCLA.
Miss Beverly Hills
This was when Mariska started to truly come into her own. During her freshman year, she already had an agent and locked down a string of respectable acting roles. She was a popular character at college.
Then, to top off her fantastic college experience, she was crowned Miss Beverly Hills USA. It was a tremendous achievement for the young lady. And it’s safe to say that Jayne Mansfield would have been incredibly proud of her little girl.
Moving Up In The World
Her 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. And there was no shame in Mariska 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.
Hey Dad, I’m On TV!
Just a year later, Mariska made it onto 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 something truly special…
A Taste Of Hollywood
In 1984, Mariska made another huge stride in her career when she was cast in her first ever movie role. She won a role in the horror-comedy movie Ghoulies.
The story revolves around a group of demonic creatures that manifest themselves in a variety of spooky ways. They terrorize whoever enters the house in which they have been summoned. Although the flick wasn’t much of a commercial success, it developed a cult following and put Mariska on the map…
Originally, Mariska was strictly a theater actress and had no intention of performing on TV. However, CBS came calling 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. The show was a flop and was discontinued after just one season. But it would be the first of many for Mariska…
The actress would star in a long string of TV shows over the next decade. 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 made cameos on classic shows such as Seinfeld, Baywatch and In The Heat Of The Night. But there was one role that, although it didn’t catapult her into superstardom, it did stand out for other reasons…
One of Mariska’s most notable career decisions came in the mid-nineties when she replaced Gabrielle Fitzpatrick as Dulcea in the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers movie.
This was because Fitzpatrick was forced to undergo surgery and needed time to recover. 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. It was a small speed bump, but Mariska was about to bounce back in a big way…
As the new millennium neared, NBC was on the verge of starting 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 Moment Of Truth
In the final round, Mariska and Christopher Meloni recited a scene together. Then, when the auditions were over, one of the producers 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 was history…
Love Of Labor
It 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 have any problem with it.
Alongside her and Meloni 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, Mariska tied the knot with Hermann in Santa Barbara.
More Good News
Everything seemed to be going Mariska’s way. She was the co-lead of a hit crime series and she had married the love of her life. Then, in the Summer of 2006, Marika was forced to take some time off from Law & Order.
This was because she and her husband were expecting their first child. She gave birth to August Miklos Friedrich Hermann on June 28, 2006, through an emergency cesarean section. But despite her elation, Mariska missed being on the show…
In the months building up to the birth of August, Mariska took 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.
Shortly after giving birth to August, Mariska received the ultimate honor when she was awarded an Emmy for her performance on Law & Order. But it was her acceptance speech that really captured what the entire experience meant to her.
She thanked 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 possibly had.
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 Mickey passed away, Mariska and August were part of a Got Milk? advertisement. The campaign promoted the consumption of cows milk, and other celebrities that appeared on Got Milk? ads included Jessica Alba, Elton John, Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie, to name a few.
But Mariska 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 would.
But in the middle of the stunt, she tripped, fell and suffered a partially collapsed lung in the process. As a result, she required surgery. And even though she returned to the studios soon after, she had recurring chest pains and had to miss one episode of the show.
Future In Doubt
It wasn’t just physical pains that the actors on the show had to deal with. Law & Order: SVU was undoubtedly a hit, 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…
Like 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 is still the lead of the show to this very day.
Building The Family
It seemed that whenever good news came Mariska’s way in her professional life, something good would happen at home too. This couldn’t have been any truer when she and her husband adopted a little girl in April 2011.
They attended Amaya Josephine’s birth and took her in shortly after. Then, just a few months later, they adopted another child – this time, a baby boy. They adopted Andrew Nicolas shortly after he was born. Both Mariska’s career and family were flourishing.
Mariska The Kind
One 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.
But she still remains one of the most kind, charitable actors in the world of TV. This was clearly the case when she founded the Joyful Heart Foundation in 2004. The organization aims to help victims of abuse in all its forms.
Fame, Fortune and Family
Somehow, Mariska has proven that celebrities can find a healthy balance between a successful career, a healthy love life, and a warm, loving family.
Since her tragic beginnings, coming from divorced parents and losing her mother, Jayne Mansfield, Mariska has consistently moved up in the world and become one of the most recognizable faces on TV. There’s no telling what could be next for the star of Law & Order: SVU. But one thing’s for sure, her parents must be looking down on her, full of pride and joy.