Joyful Heart in the News

Mad About Mariska

June 17th, 2010
Hamptons Magazine
Jo Piazza

Trying to nail down Mariska Hargitay for an interview is a lot of work for everyone involved. It’s a cliché to talk about how busy celebrities are and how amazingly they juggle life, love, work and charity, but Hargitay is one cliché worth talking about. In the midst of 12- to 15-hour days of physically grueling shoots for Law & Order: SVU, Mariska finds time to be a hands-on parent to her four-year-old son, August; push the envelope to grow the Joyful Heart Foundation, her charity for survivors of sexual and domestic abuse—and chat with a reporter to explain how she has time to do it all.

Working out the kinks of being a California-to-New York City transplant has been a process for Hargitay. She misses the beach all the time. She grew up in Los Angeles, the daughter of Hollywood royalty: actor and professional bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay and iconic actress Jayne Mansfield. But Mariska has been on the East Coast since she landed the role of sex-crimes detective Olivia Benson on SVU in 1999. More than a decade since leaving behind her life in Los Angeles, she has married actor and writer Peter Hermann and given birth to her son. Now Hargitay, 46, finally feels settled here, something she attributes largely to being able to escape to the couple’s home in East Hampton.

“We just finished our house two years ago, and we spent a lot of time decorating it and making it our home. It’s been nice to get domestic in new ways, because New York can be a little relentless and make you go stir-crazy. I treat going out to our house as a way to decompress. For me it’s my oasis,” she says, after finishing up a marathon taping of SVU in a rush to get the final episodes of the season in the can, episodes that included guest star Sharon Stone as Assistant District Attorney Jo Marlowe. “It was great working with Sharon. We’ve been so blessed with the guest stars we’ve had on the show. Sharon has done more than 40 movies and she has some fantastic stories. She was incredibly committed to the character.”

Actress and advocate Mariska HargitayMariska, Peter and August travel to Long Island yearround, whenever the actress gets a break in her shooting schedule. Once they make that escape out of Manhattan, they spend their days enjoying the beach, bike riding and cooking with friends. Even at his young age, August knows that going to the Hamptons is the family’s happy time. “I just have so many great friends out there that I have a whole other life I get to enjoy when we go,” Hargitay says. That life includes relaxing with massages and facials from Naturopathica Holistic Health Spa, eating breakfast dosas at Hampton Chutney Co. and preparing for parties by grabbing some bean dip and Key lime pie from Round Swamp Farm. Over the past couple of years, her houseguests have gotten a little too excited by visits to The Monogram Shop in East Hampton. “We have towels, bath mats, napkins, everything you can think of with the name of our house on them,” she laughs. “It makes it feel real.”

Portraying Olivia on SVU for so many years has left its mark on Hargitay. Acting out story lines that involve some of the most heinous crimes a human being can commit against another person can wear on one’s soul. From the start of her time with the show, Hargitay has received letters from survivors of abuse who, after watching her help women on the small screen, felt comfortable opening up to her with their own stories. The letters didn’t say, “I love your show. Can you send me an autographed picture?” Women were disclosing their stories to her, many for the first time—in letters like, “I was raped when I was 15. I’m 40 now and I’ve never told anyone.”

After five years playing Olivia, Hargitay did something that reconciled her complicated feelings about her role and helped women in need: She started the Joyful Heart Foundation, an organization that helps survivors of abuse heal and reclaim their lives. “Joyful Heart was my way of dealing with what we did on the show. I felt like I really had something to offer. Olivia is a lioness and you feel safe with her, which is why the people who wrote me the letters felt safe talking to me,” Hargitay says. “Now that the issues were out there on television, it became acceptable to talk and start a dialogue about.

Having a child of her own opened up her heart even more. “It completely changed everything. I think it changed all my work,” she says. “You understand things in a deeper way when you become a parent. Someone once said to me, ‘When you’re a person, your heart is on the inside. When you become a mother, your heart is on the outside and you feel everything deeper.’” Hargitay knows this sounds trite. She doesn’t care. “I experienced all of those clichéd things that everyone always tells you about when you become a parent,” she says.

She has taken that experience and fully applied it with Joyful Heart. Unlike many celebrities who just sign checks and put their names on a nonprofit, Hargitay is hands-on. She’s not only the founder and president, but she also works as a rape counselor and engages in group-therapy sessions. Once a week the foundation’s executive director, Maile Zambuto, spends an entire day on the set of SVU to conduct Joyful Heart business in between Hargitay’s takes.

But now that it’s summer, it’s time to relax. The actress has only two months to completely unwind before heading back to work on July 15. “I want to do nothing but eat well and hang out with my husband and my kid,” Hargitay says. “It’s my time to recalibrate my soul.”

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