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Look Back at Mariska Hargitay's Acting Credits Besides Law & Order: SVU

The NBC star had a host of other credits to her name before taking the role that has defined her career.

By Megan Carpentier

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit star Mariska Hargitay — who has played Capt. Olivia Benson for all 24 seasons of the series — might be the daughter of Hollywood royalty Jayne Mansfield and actor Mickey Hargitay, but that doesn't mean her career was guaranteed. Mariska Hargitay paid her dues as an actor in her own right, working her way up from bit parts and guest spots (including being Girl in a Red Dress in an early music video) to recurring characters, leading roles in short-lived series and, finally, the role of her lifetime. 

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Oh, and she also appeared in a video with her friend Taylor Swift, too.

We combed the archives to get a look back at Hargitay's early roles as well as some of the opportunities that have come her way as a result of playing Benson.

Mariska Hargitay's Early Teen Movie Roles

One of Hargitay's earliest credit roles was as Girl in a Red Dress in the music video for country singer Ronnie Milsap's 1984 crossover hit "She Loves My Car." As seen in the video above, Hargitay's character title was somewhat of a misnomer: She does appear in a red, strapless mini dress with a tiered skirt, but she's also seen in a zebra-print bathing suit and a teal dress. (The car in question also appears to be her character's car, not the male protagonist's.)

That same year, Hargitay had a bit part in the Satanic-themed horror film Ghoulies, playing Donna — a friend of the protagonist who is murdered by demons but later fully resurrected.

RELATED: Mariska Hargitay Received an Honorary Doctorate and Dedicated it to Assault Survivors

Her next role, in 1986, was Joey, one of the three protagonists in the movie Welcome to 18, about three girlfriends who graduate high school and end up working first at a dude ranch and then in a Lake Tahoe-area casino.

She followed that up with the teen comedy, Jocks, about a college tennis team in which she played the main love interest, Nicole.

Mariska Hargitay's Early TV Roles: From Downtown to Baywatch

Portrait of actress Mariska Hargitay (as Jesse Smith) in the CBS series, DOWNTOWN.

Following her string of teen movies, Hargitay landed her first lead, as parolee Jesse Smith in the 1986 cop drama Downtown. Jesse, a former juvenile offender, was one of four parolees assigned to a Los Angeles police officer to help solve crimes. (Robert Englund, who rose to fame playing Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, was another.) The series didn't garner good reviews and ended after one season.

Following her turn on Downtown, Hargitay landed a series of guest appearances, including on the well-received NBC detective series In the Heat of the Night and in the Englund-as-Krueger hosted horror anthology series Freddy's Nightmares.

FALCON CREST cast member Mariska Hargitay (as Carly Fixx).

She then was cast as the recurring character Carly Fixx in the wine-themed evening soap Falcon Crest for parts of Season 7-8.

After Baywatch premiered in 1989, Hargitay scored the role of Lisa Peters in Episode 4 ("Second Wave,") the wealthy girlfriend of lifeguard Trevor Cole (Peter Phelps), who nearly drowns.

She subsequently took guest roles on a variety of other series, including Wiseguy, Thirtysomething, the 21 Jump Street spin-off Booker, and Grapevine.

Mariska Hargitay's Other TV Roles: Seinfeld, The Gambler, and Tequila and Bonetti

Mariska Hargitay (as Etta Place) in the television mini-series, GAMBLER V: PLAYING FOR KEEPS.

In 1992, Hargitay was cast in one of her earliest television cop roles, playing Officer Angela Garcia opposite the titular characters in Tequila and Bonetti (a dog and a former New York City police officer who relocated to L.A., respectively). After that ended, she took guest roles in sitcoms — including in a 1993 episode of Seinfeld in which she played an actress auditioning for the role of Elaine in the character Jerry's proposed show. She also appeared in several television movies, including the 1994 miniseries Gambler V: Playing For Keeps.

Mariska Hargitay as Queen Dulcea in the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers

In 1994, as she revealed in a 2019 appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers, she was cast as Queen Dulcea in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie and flew to Australia for the filming.

However, after spending two months on set without filming a scene, Hargitay said she told producers she wanted to take Christmas off to spend it with her family in the States.

"Finally, around December 21, I said, ‘Hey guys, this is great, but you kept me on hold too long, I’ve got to go. It’s Christmas! I think that’s only fair,'" she told Meyers.

But she didn't precisely ask before she flew home and, following the holidays, producers informed her that they'd recast the part. 

Mariska Hargitay in Can't Hurry Love

Mariska Hargitay in 1995''s "Can't Hurry Love"

The Power Rangers hiccup aside, following a small role as a sex worker in the acclaimed drama Leaving Las Vegas, Hargitay joined the cast of the sitcom Can't Hurry Love as Didi Edelstein, the neighbor of the lead Annie (Nancy McKeon). It lasted for one season.

Mariska Hargitay's Other Roles, from Ellen to ER

Mariska Hargitay and Ellen Degeneres in a scene from "Ellen"

Following the end of Didi, Hargitay continued working, snagging guest roles on Ellen, The Single Guy, The Lazarus Man, Cracker, and a few more television movies. She also got a leading role on the short-lived NBC cop drama Prince Street, playing NYPD Det. Nina Echeverria in 1997.

Mariska Hargitay in ER

That year, she joined the NBC drama ER as the recurring character Cynthia Hooper, a desk clerk who gets involved in a relationship with Dr. Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards). It was one of her last major television roles before joining SVU — though she did have a bit part in the 1999 horror classic Lake Placid, playing the adulterous American Museum of Natural History employee Myra Okubo. (She does not get eaten.)

Hargitay joined the cast of SVU as Benson in its inaugural 1999 season and has been on the show ever since.

Mariska Hargitay in Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" video

In 2015, Hargitay appeared as the action character Justice in the female-centric video for Taylor Swift's song "Bad Blood."

In a 2015 interview on Late Night with Seth Meyers, Hargitay revealed she and Swift met at the Met Gala — and that Swift initiated the encounter.

“I met her at the Met Gala, OK, and I was so uncool. And she's down there, she's like, ‘Hi, I like your show!’" Hargitay told Meyers. "And I'm like, ‘Oh thanks!’ And I didn't know that she was like the second coming, right?” Hargitay teased. “But she was so sweet.”

Swift, of course, had adopted a cat in 2014 and named her Olivia Benson, according to People. (Hargitay and her namesake met in 2015, the magazine reported.)

Hargitay has said the two met up at a Ingrid Michaelson concert in Queens in 2014, according to Billboard, but the Manhattanites Hargitay and husband Peter Hermann were stranded following the show.

RELATED: Watch Mariska Hargitay in Grace Gaustad's New Music Video

"All of a sudden, my husband and I are like, ‘How are we getting home?’ cause there were no cars or anything,” Hargitay told Meyers in 2015.

“She was like a little angel that goes, ‘Oh, do you guys need a ride?'” she added. “And then she drove us home and that was the end of it… I got the text going, ‘Wanna be in my video?’ I was like, ‘Lemme check my calendar!'”

Originally published Jun 24, 2023.