Mariska Hargitay avoids taking on sensual roles out of reverence for her mother’s influence and values.

Mariska Hargitay avoids taking on sensual roles out of reverence for her mother’s influence and values.

Mariska Hargitay, best known for her role as Olivia Benson in Law & Order: SVU, had a selective approach to her early career choices. Influenced by her late mother, Jayne Mansfield, Hargitay intentionally avoided more sexual roles.

Staying Away from Sexual Roles

Jayne Mansfield, a renowned sex symbol of the 1950s and 60s, began her career by winning beauty pageants before transitioning into acting. Despite Mansfield’s glamorous legacy, Hargitay took a different route. Although she eventually followed her mother’s footsteps into acting, it wasn’t her initial ambition. It was a high school teacher who ignited her passion for the craft.

“I didn’t start acting until junior year of high school,” Hargitay once told People. “I wasn’t interested. But in junior year, my history teacher Sister Margaret — who I loved — said, ‘I think you should try out for a play.’”

This spark led Hargitay to develop a love for acting. However, her mother’s influence was evident in the roles she chose early on. She consciously avoided sexualized roles, opting instead for tomboyish characters.

“I played lots of tomboys, wearing flannel shirts, jeans, and boots,” she shared with the Los Angeles Times. “On some unconscious level, I was shying away from those sexual roles because of my mother. But as I got older, I changed my mind. I now look forward to doing all kinds of parts, including those that are sexual and sensual.”

Carving Her Own Path

Breaking into Hollywood wasn’t easy for Hargitay. She worked various jobs to support herself while pursuing her acting career. Unlike her mother, Hargitay didn’t want to be seen as a sex symbol. She embraced her unique appearance and set different goals for herself.

“I can never compete, so I don’t try. It’s mega über, it’s legendary, it’s iconic. Being a sex symbol is not my thing; it’s not where I shine,” she said, according to the Joyful Heart Foundation.

Her distinct looks sometimes posed challenges. She was even advised to get a nose job by an executive to improve her chances in Hollywood.

“I said, ‘You get a nose job,’” she retorted.

Her appearance nearly cost her a role in ER. Despite initial resistance from the producers, Hargitay’s determination led to her landing the part of Cynthia Hooper.

“She’s very convincing,” a writer for ER noted.

Landing Iconic Roles

Hargitay’s tenacity also played a crucial role in securing her part in Law & Order: SVU. Faced with competition during the audition, she boldly approached the series’ creator, Dick Wolf.

“When I saw other actresses in the room, I walked into Dick Wolf’s office and said, ‘You gotta be kidding! What’s with the other women? This is my part, sweetheart. Tell them to go home,’” she recalled.

Mariska Hargitay’s journey in Hollywood is a testament to her resilience and determination to forge her own identity, separate from her mother’s iconic legacy. Her selective approach to roles and unwavering self-confidence have made her a standout figure in the entertainment industry.


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