For many actors, being pigeon-holed as one character is something they try and avoid. Not Mariska Hargitay.

The Law & Order: SVU star, director and executive producer is now in her 21st season playing Olivia Benson—sorry, that's Captain Olivia Benson now—and has never shied away from being forever-associated with the character. In fact, she downright embraced it early on.

"I am so grateful and in love with this character that I am so blessed to play," Harigtay told E! News at the Paley Center premiere event for SVU season 21. Hargitay has previously said the lines blur between where ends and Benson begins.

"This character is to me heroic and something that our culture needed, somebody who fought for women and who elevated women's voices and who bears witness to such pain and there is great healing in that," an emotional Harigtay said.

"I feel very privileged and blessed to have grown in this character and get to affect as many people as I have been privileged to affect in my life," she concluded.

Hargitay has been with the NBC drama since it started in 1999 and said she continues to be challenged by the role. In an interview on Late Show with Stephen Colbert, she recalled being moved by the script.

"I read the script and I just—I knew in my gut that I had to do this role. I had never been so excited about it. And the thing that was interesting is that my agent called me, and he said, ‘Maris, you know it's very dark subject matter. I don't know if it's your thing. I don't know if it's going to be your bag, it's super dark,'" Hargitay said. "I read it and just, you know, chills. And I knew I had to do it."

Without the show—and her calling—life would be very different for Hargitay.

"Without Law & Order: SVU, I would've not been awakened to the epidemic of sexual assault and domestic violence, I would not have started The Joyful Heart Foundation…I would not have made I Am Evidence, I would have not met Peter Hermann. And my life would be very different," Hargitay told E! News.

Law & Order: SVU airs Thursdays, 10 p.m. on NBC.

(E! and NBC are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)

We and our partners use cookies on this site to improve our service, perform analytics, personalize advertising, measure advertising performance, and remember website preferences. By using the site, you consent to these cookies. For more information on cookies including how to manage your consent visit our Cookie Policy.