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You Probably Forgot Mariska Hargitay Did This Iconic Medical Drama Show Pre-SVU

You know Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson, but she wasn't always her! 

By Chris Phelan

Long before she immersed herself in one of the most iconic roles in modern television history, Mariska Hargitay could be found stealing scenes in a decidedly un-SVU-like classic show.

How to Watch

Watch Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Thursdays on NBC and next day on Peacock.

The award-winning actress has been synonymous with the character of Olivia Benson in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit for the past 25 years – but you already knew that. However, what many fans forget (or may not know at all) is that Hargitay had a recurring role on another legendary NBC series in the mid-1990s!

Mariska Hargitay played a desk clerk in NBC's smash-hit ER

Mariska Hargitay as Cynthia Hooper and Bonnie Bartlett as Ruth Greene in ER

Yes, you read that correctly.

For 13 glorious episodes during the fourth season of ER, Hargitay graced our television screens as Cynthia Hooper, a sensitive and well-meaning hospital desk clerk who — if we're being honest — really wasn't qualified for the job in the first place. But really, that's beside the point. Fans of Hargitay's work on SVU (and that should be nearly all people by now) owe it to themselves to watch the then-33-year-old show off her acting chops in a memorable role that eventually catapulted her to the leading role she's most known for today.

RELATED: A Lost Girl Thought Mariska Hargitay Was a Real Cop and Asked Her for Help (DETAILS)

Hargitay's role in ER is worlds apart from her work on SVU, to say the least. She plays a character completely different from her more famous role but crushes it nonetheless. In fact, we're pretty sure Olivia Benson would eat poor Cynthia Hooper for lunch! 

Regardless, seeing well-known actors perform in their lesser-known roles is always amazing. While her character exited the show after — actually, wait, scratch that, we're not spoiling anything. What else is there to say? Hunt down these episodes, people. There's no excuse for not seeing Hargitay shine a few years before she put SVU on the map!

ER paved the way for NBC shows like SVU

John Cullum as David Greene, Anthony Edwards as Doctor Mark Greene, Mariska Hargitay as Cynthia Hooper, and Bonnie Bartlett as Ruth Greene in ER

When ER burst onto the scene in 1994, it forever changed the primetime television landscape. With an unforgiving focus on gritty realism, drama, and unforgettable characters, the show launched the careers of some of the most successful actors ever.

RELATED: See How Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler Have Changed Since SVU Season 1

You can argue the (at times) controversial subject matter of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episodes wouldn't have even made it to air if it wasn't for the grim — and sometimes horrific — reality of what happens inside a hospital emergency room.

It's fitting that Mariska Hargitay is a common thread that links these two innovative dramas!