Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, 13.21 - Danny Pino and Mariska Hargita
Episode 13.21 "Father Dearest" - Detective Nick Amaro (Danny Pino) and Detective Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) ©2012 NBCUniversal Media

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is now in its thirteenth season on NBC. The exceptional drama stars Emmy winner Mariska Hargitay as NYPD detective Olivia Benson, who is part of an elite squad that investigates sexual crimes. As a product of rape herself, and a witness to her mother’s grief, she can personally relate to each victim she tries to help.

Mariska spoke with us about her series at NBC’s press day in Los Angeles.

Are you surprised at the level of quality this show is able to maintain as long as it’s been on?

Episode 13.21 "Father Dearest" -Detective Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) ©2012 NBCUniversal Media

I think one the reasons that the show is so successful and has done so well is because of the level of commitment and investment. Everybody cares so deeply and is so invested, myself included. Here after 13 years, I love it.

Can you reflect on how Olivia has changed from the beginning of the series?

Olivia was, as I was 13 years ago, a different person. This was new to her. She was a rookie cop with a lot of heart and passion, a need for justice and a need to fix her past.

She was single-focused and excessive in that way and somebody whose life was utterly and tragically out of balance because all she had was her work, as many women do that are working.

She has really developed and grown into a lioness and is somebody who doesn’t just want justice but needs it. I think she’s grown to seek balance and has a lot more wisdom and sees things from a different point-of-view, but is also looking more internally, as we should and nurture ourselves.

How has she changed you?

Episode 13.21 "Father Dearest" - Detective Nick Amaro (Danny Pino), Detective Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Taylor Barnes (Sarah Hogrefe) ©2012 NBC

The show has made me a very strong woman. I’m born and raised in Los Angeles. I went to a Lakers game last night, and that was very exciting for me.

New York is a tough city, and it’s changed me. I feel like I can handle anything now. The hours of the show are pretty relentless. I’m kind of a badass now, and I wasn’t when I left LA. But I think it’s made me a better mother.

It’s made me deal with crisis better. I go into cop mode!

Over the years of doing the show, have you heard from women who have been through these horrible crimes about how much the show has meant to them?

Every day. That’s why I started the Joyful Heart Foundation. Our mission is to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse.

Our mission is to shed light into the darkness that surrounds these issues which is what the show does, and that’s why I am so proud to be on a show that has so much courage to talk about things in a way that deals with them, makes them okay to talk about.

It’s something that needs to be talked about.

Law & Order: SVU is on Wednesdays on NBC (10-11 p.m. ET) with the Season Finale: May 23, 2012.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter. More by Judy Sloane