Mariska Hargitay: Confessions of a Late Bloomer

Though Mariska Hargitay didn't become a wife, mother, mega-successful actress, or major philanthropist until she hit her 40s, the Law & Order: SVU star wouldn't have had it any other way.
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A Life with Meaning

It's 7 p.m. on a Friday, and Mariska Hargitay bursts through her trailer door waving a Haagen-Dazs ice cream bar. "I have PMS just like the rest of American women!" she declares. The bar somehow slips out of her hand. She picks it up and stops and stares at it. "Five-second rule?" she asks, then tosses it. "If I were alone, I'd totally eat it," she says with a huge smile.

If Hargitay seems fueled on adrenaline, hormones and, well, sugar, it's because she is. And she makes no apologies. Why would she? Now in her 10th season on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Hargitay is comfortable in her own skin -- she laughs easily and announces that no interview topic is taboo. The Golden Globe and Emmy winner is the highest-paid actress on television, reportedly raking in nearly $400,000 an episode. But this big star is no diva. When she's needed for a scene, she's there on time. "She takes the work very seriously, but not herself," says Law & Order: SVU director Eriq La Salle.

She's equally dedicated to her cause. Moved by e-mails she received from fans who had survived sexual assault, she started the Joyful Heart Foundation, which has given her life newfound purpose. And at 44 she's also savoring her real-life role as a wife and mother. In 2004 she married hunky German-American actor Peter Hermann, 41, whom she met on set. She calls their son, August, 2, "the oxygen in my water." She points to a photo of her little boy with sandy hair and huge blue-green eyes. "I just fall right into those big pools of love."

"I'm so grateful I was given these opportunities at a point in my life when I could really handle it all," she continues. "I got my gig late, got married late, had my kid late -- and none of it came a minute too soon." Growing up in Los Angeles as the younger daughter of legendary bombshell Jayne Mansfield and with a name that didn't exactly roll off directors' tongues -- it's pronounced ma-RISH-ka -- she floundered for nearly two decades. "I just didn't think I was very good," says Hargitay, who scored bit parts here and there. It wasn't until she turned 33 that she landed a recurring role on ER, which helped her nab the pivotal role of Detective Olivia Benson a year later. "I was ready," says Hargitay, who had just ended a relationship. "I started working and never stopped."

Continued on page 2:  A Girl's Girl


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