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Mariska Hargitay on Her ‘Tough Love’ Relationship With Dick Wolf: ‘He Makes Me Stronger’

By Emma Chance | Celebrity | May 1, 2024 |

By Emma Chance | Celebrity | May 1, 2024 |


After 25 years of playing the most recognizable detective on contemporary television, the lines between Mariska Hargitay and Olivia Benson are blurry, and she’s okay with that.

“When a little girl can’t find her mother in a pocket park in New York City, she inexplicably runs crying straight into the arms of Mariska Hargitay,” opens a recent profile of the actress for Variety. “Though Hargitay’s in the middle of shooting a scene from ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,’ she doesn’t hesitate. She scoops up the child and begins circling the playground for the missing mom.”

This was bound to happen. She knew the role was the right fit from the moment she was sent the pilot all those years ago.

“My manager goes, ‘Dick Wolf has a new show. It’s a spinoff, but I don’t know if it’s going to be up your alley—it’s very dark.’ I read it and I just remember going, ‘This is my show.’”

Then she and Christopher Meloni, who would play Elliot Stabler, read together, and the rest is history.

“Mariska and Chris looked like they had been working together for five years,” Dick Wolf said. “She’s America’s sexual-violence detective. She and Chris, as Benson and Stabler, reshaped the way America thinks about sex crimes. As a result, Mariska has turned into the only true female icon on broadcast television.” A powerful statement, but Wolf is famous for those, at least according to Hargitay.

“Dick is also a very straight shooter,” she said of Wolf, comparing him to her father who taught her “The truth sets you free.”

“He’s tough as nails, but I’ve also learned a lot from him,” she added. While they have an “excellent relationship” with “beautiful, mutual respect,” and are “extremely close, like family,” she says they’ve had some “gnarly negotiations.”

“He’s said things to me that are almost paternal over the years, but tough. When I say tough, I mean, tough love. There’s no coddling.”

She said he once threatened to fire her for cutting her hair and has told her “There’s no crying in TV.” But she thinks that push-pull has made her “a warrior in a way,” adding, “He makes me stronger.” Sure, it’s been “ugly at times” but she can “do hard things now.”

“I think in the beginning of the show, I had to fake a lot of it. I was still learning it. Now I fit into these shoes. It’s been a magnificent journey. I have learned to advocate for myself, ironically, from Dick.”

Haven’t we all, Mariska. Haven’t we all.