“My Faith Pulled Me Through”
By Sheila Weller: Hargitay’s life is full to the brim now — so full that when she and Hermann actually get out to the movies every three weeks or so, “we sit there in the movie theater before the movie starts and say, ‘Wow! We’re at the movies without kids!’ about 50 times to each other. People look at us like we’re weird — except,” she quickly adds, “if they’re parents, in which case they’re doing the same thing.”
Given her nonstop schedule, Hargitay finds that reconnecting with Hermann isn’t the only necessity for her; a few daily moments of utter stillness are also essential. “I try to give myself a little bit of time every day to sit quietly,” she explains, “and I end up in the bathtub as often as I can — that’s a real sanctuary for me.”
Many of her closest friends also have young children — including her showbiz pals Maria Bello, Debra Messing, and Ali Wentworth. She’s happy they’re all in the same overstuffed boat. The advice, empathy, and sheer silliness those women and other friends add to Hargitay’s life has been a godsend.
“No matter where you find yourself in life, there’s always a friend who has gone through pretty much the same thing,” she marvels. “After we adopted, it was remarkable how many people had great thoughts and tips for us. And my friends are all so incredibly loving and hilarious; I inevitably end up laughing when I talk to them. I would say in that department, I am a very lucky girl.”
It was in that same spirit of gratitude for her blessings that Hargitay launched her Joyful Heart Foundation eight years ago, to help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault as well as child abuse. The thriving organization has so far served 5,400 victims (2,500 in the last year alone). Among its latest projects: lobbying to get the massive backlog of untested rape kits processed so thousands of American women whose rapes have gone unsolved may finally have justice, safety, and closure. In the past two years, Hargitay has testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security; Joyful Heart joined forces with the Obama administration on the critical issue of processing the rape-kit backlog and worked to encourage cities as diverse as Detroit and Los Angeles to get caught up on investigating unsolved rape cases.
Hargitay started the foundation because so many people thought she so credibly portrayed Olivia Benson that victims and their friends and relatives would write her touching, personal letters, sharing their stories with her. Her mission — to provide help beyond that of her on-screen portrayal — became clear. “Olivia’s been like a teacher to me,” she says of her role. “Talk about a lioness! And she doesn’t have kids, but what a mother.”
And here we are, having come full circle, discussing Hargitay’s own upbringing by her own “mom,” Ellen Hargitay, who never gave birth to any children. “What makes a mother?” Hargitay asks, pausing for a moment. “I think a mother is somebody who will kill to protect you, somebody who will love you and make sure that you’re always OK. I’ll take inspiration and information from wherever I can get it, whether that’s from my character, from my husband, or from my dad [who died in 2006], who always said, ‘Mariska, you can learn from anyone and everyone. From people who are older than you and people who are younger than you.’
“See, I got the rough stuff out of the way early,” she concludes, with a sad nod to a photograph of her late mother, the glamorous Jayne Mansfield, in pride of place in the dining room. “I learned at a very young age that anything can happen. And that works both ways, good and bad. I get that life is a gift.” The loss of her birth mother left her, at 3½. years old, with “a broken heart and a lot of fear.” She overcame both with hard work, she says. “But trust can take you a long way. And my faith takes me a long way. And I think that our pains, our vulnerabilities, and our insecurities can fuel us to be better. To try harder. To dig deeper.”
Hargitay pauses for a moment. “Adoption was a bumpy ride–very bumpy,” she says, as a huge smile lights up her face. “But, God, was it worth the fight.”
“I think God runs the show. Completely. Life proves it every day: He runs the show”
The birth mother changed her mind. “It was nothing short of devastating,” Hargitay recalls
Baby boom Hargitay cradles son Andrew while daughter Amaya cuddles nearbyPlaytime with son August