Born on January 23, 1964, she is the fourth of Jayne Mansfield's five children. Mansfield had divorced Hungarian-born former Mr. Universe Mickey Hargitay (and would again in 1964), yet they were living together when Mariska was born. While actor Nelson Sardelli claims to have fathered her (her dark features in contrast to those of the sons Mansfield and Hargitay had would seem to support this), Hargitay, apparently, never questioned the child's paternity and raised her as his own.
On the night of June 29, 1967, Hargitay and two of her brothers were asleep in the back seat of the car their mother and her boyfriend, lawyer Sam Brody, were riding in when it smashed into the back of a tractor-trailer. Mansfield, Brody, and their driver were killed instantly. Had the children not been lying down, they, too, would have been killed. But, miraculously, they escaped with minor bruises. Hargitay, who has no memory of the accident, was left with a zig-zag scar down the side of her head.
Hargitay majored in theatre at UCLA and began her acting career by appearing on the television series Falcon Crest in 1987. She learned her father's native language, Hungarian, but also speaks fluent French and Italian.
In SVU's freshman season, in 1999-2000, Hargitay earned nominations from the Viewers for Quality Television for Best Actress, from the TV Guide Awards for Favorite Actress in a New Series and from the International Press Academy for Best Performance by an Actress in a Drama Series. She was also 2004 SAG Nominee.
In 2004 and 2005, Hargitay's portrayal of Detective Benson on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit garnered her Emmy nominations in the category of Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.
Hargitay was named one of People Magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" in 2005.
Hargitay co-founded an organization called the Joyful Heart Foundation to help women who have been sexually assaulted. This charity gives victims an opportunity to swim with wild dolphins in Hawaii as water therapy.
In addition to her own Joyful Heart Foundation, Mariska has worked with the Mount Sinai Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention program, NBC's “The More You Know” campaign, Safe Horizons advocacy project, Santa Monica Rape Crisis Treatment Center, Project ALS, Girl Scouts of America, and the James Redford Institute for Transplant Awareness. She is a certified rape crisis counselor.
- Plain Truth (2004) (TV)
- Perfume (2001)
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999) (TV series)
- Lake Placid (1999)
- Prince Street (1997) (TV series)
- The Advocate's Devil (1997) (TV)
- Night Sins (1997) (mini series)
- ER (1996) (TV Series)
- Can't Hurry Love (1995) (TV series)
- Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
- Gambler V: Playing for Keeps (1994) (TV)
- Bank Robber (1993)
- Blind Side (1993) (TV)
- Tequila and Bonetti (1992) (TV series)
- Sutoroberi rodo (1991)
- The Perfect Weapon (1991)
- Hard Time Romance (1991)
- Finish Line (1989) (TV)
- Falcon Crest (1981) (TV series) (1988)
- Mr. Universe (1988)
- Jocks (1987)
- Downtown (1986) (TV series)
- Welcome to 18 (1986)
- Ghoulies (1985)