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Mariska Hargitay Previews 'Gray,' Talks Detective Benson's New Mother Role

by Chris Harnick, posted Nov 15th 2010 4:30PM
Mariska HargitayAfter 12 seasons, 'Law & Order: SVU' Detectives Olivia Benson (Mariska Harigtay) and Eliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) have put away hundreds of rapists, protected countless children and solved more "ripped from the headlines" crimes than you can imagine.

In the Nov. 17 episode, a young college girl accuses a classmate of rape during a university's Take Back the Night-esque rally. Benson and Stabler, who are speakers at the event, step in to crack the case.

"The episode is called 'Gray,'" Hargitay told AOL's TV Squad. "It's about the gray area of what is rape and what is not, what's consensual and what happens, how gray things become when people drink. The fact is, non-consensual sex is rape. It's an issue that comes up when somebody is drinking."

The Emmy-winning actress sat down with TV Squad to discuss the very prevalent and sometimes-ignored issue of college date rape, her Joyful Heart foundation and what's ahead for Olivia Benson this year.

Why do you think it's important for a show like 'Law & Order: SVU' to tackle an issue like college date rape?

Well, I think it's important because it gets people talking about issues that people shy away from naturally. It's what 'SVU' does; it's what Joyful Heart does. It's all about starting a conversation about things people are scared of, things that people in the past have swept under the carpet for those reasons exactly -- they're scared of it, it's icky, whose fault is it. We have to look at ourselves, we have to look at our kids, we have to look at our friends and we have to look at the choices we make. It's really an amazing episode to make people think about the decisions that they make and how they're going to feel about them the next day or the subsequent day after that.

There's a part of this episode where they talk about the buddy system, which is something that we at Joyful Heart talk about. You can't get college students to stop drinking, you can't get them to not drink, which is understandable. But what you can do is get them to think about the ramifications and to figure out how they can protect themselves in the same vein that one does in terms of driving.

You go, "Okay, I can't drink and drive." That's just the facts. "So what do I do? Well, I want to drink. Well, I'll take public transportation or I'm not going to drive, there's going to be a designated driver." We talk about it in the episode and it's something that Joyful Heart has suggested -- if you're going to drink, have a friend with you. Have one of you guys say, "Okay, I'm going to be in charge tonight. If we go together we're going to come home together." Just to make sure that you feel safe.

Mariska Hargitay at the White HouseWould you say that's your message to students? Use the buddy system?
I think that my message to students is drinking impairs our judgment. That is a fact. You've got to take precautions if you want to do that, you have to find ways to take care of yourself so you don't put yourself in situations where you can't protect yourself.

You never hear anybody say, "Oh I smoked a joint then I killed my wife. I smoked a joint then I couldn't drive a car." You know what I mean? [Alcohol] causes fetal alcohol syndrome, it makes people make dumb choices, it makes people violent. People don't smoke a joint and then beat the sh-- out of their wife, right? They get drunk and then batter their wives. It's something people need to think about.

There are a lot of girls in this episode that say, "I wish I had never gone out; I wish I had never gone drinking." The point is, the smart person thinks: "How's this going to affect me? What are all the outcomes?" Okay, "If I want to go out and get a buzz," that's fine, that's your choice, "But how can I do it responsibly? And how can I do it so tomorrow morning I feel good about myself? I had a really great time last night, I feel great. Look myself in the mirror. Boom, let's get on with the day." That's my message to girls.

Do you think universities need to do more?
I do, absolutely! I think this starts a dialogue. The kids, these great hungry minds that are at these universities, I think by talking about it they're arming themselves and empowering themselves. Even guys knowing about it and saying, "How can we protect?" There's a certain kind of person that takes what isn't theirs. And there's a certain kind of man that would never. I think it's all about talking and engaging this dialogue, putting it out there so people are really careful and taking preventative measures. When we are inebriated and when we're hammered we make different choices -- no one is exempt. The fact is, this is a human behavior, this is how people behave. So, how can we protect ourselves? For me, I want women and men to protect themselves. It goes both ways too, it goes for men too and I think that's really important for people to understand.

Things happen -- people change who they are and I think it's so sad when it's people who are good people. They can get into pack mentality. There are a lot of bad things that happen when people are drunk. I think the more you talk about it, the better it is. Also, awareness about it. If people see friends getting hammered all the time, they should be aware of it and see the signs, maybe help out a friend and reach out to somebody. A lot of times it is like a cry for help. These are issues that ruin people's lives, so what do we have to do? We have to talk about it.

What have you been up to with your foundation, Joyful Heart?
Oh my gosh, a lot. It's been very exciting right now. We've just taken on the rape kit backlog, we just did an episode about that, we just put up a new Web site called endthebacklog.org. Basically, we are on a mission to end the backlog and help and aide people get justice for the crimes that were committed to them. [We] really send a message to victims that their cases matter and to perpetrators that they will be penalized for what they do. Right now in the justice system, only one out of five rapes even go to trial. It's really sad and we need to change those numbers around. For many reasons, because of this gray, it's a he said, she said [situation]. Again, in this script there's a whole part about how they didn't go to the police, they go to the campus police. The campus police -- obviously universities have a different agenda which is to go, "Let's work this out here, we don't have to go to the police." But the fact is that may be best for the universities, but that's not indeed best for the victim or the perpetrator. It's important to talk about this, that's why this episode is so important. Kids can talk about to their parents, so parents know what's going on, so parents can talk about it with their kids.

Mariska HargitayWhen kids go to the college, it is a free-for-all. The rules change. Nobody is watching out for you going, "Baby, I want you home by 12 o'clock because I care about you." It's really hard to self-govern and keep yourself safe. It's a new set of skills. Yes, some people are parented great and they really get that in their upbringing, some people didn't get it for whatever reason. I think it's really important for people to be aware that bad things can happen, especially when you drink. You're putting yourself in a high-risk situation that care and precaution needs to be taken. I think it initiates a life-saving dialogue.

Back to 'SVU,' what do you want to see happen with your character, Olivia Benson, this season?
I get a kid. You'll see this, I get [Maria Bello's character's] kid and it's been a really exciting time because after 12 years we see a whole different side of Benson. Her life is fulfilled in such a proud way, it has meaning and it's a whole different deal now. It's a whole different playing field. I would like to see that develop.

The mothering side?
On a personal level because she is a mother, that's her whole m.o. in life, being this mother lioness/protectess.

Certainly the character has done it with victims on several occasions.
I would love to see her thrown into a different world with different colors and different chords.

For more on 'Gray,' check our Mariska Hargitay's guest blog post with video interviews featuring Christine Lahti and Allison Siko.

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Pavla

I love SVU (Law and Order - Special Victims Unit) for someone... especially for the hidden meanings and showing us how life could be sad, dangerous...I appreciate all the effort which is behind the show.

January 10 2011 at 3:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
seneret vanessa

je m'appelle Vanessa Seneret,j'ai 19ans et je suis une fan de toi je d'adorer tros,je veux devenir une actrice/réalisatrice ces mon rêve et je conte bien le réaliser,et c'est grâce a toi et a mes autre star que j'adore que je vais y arriver.gros bisous je t'adore tros tu est une actrice génial qui joue très bien.merci bis

November 30 2010 at 4:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Antonio

I love SVU and I love Mariska Hargitay. SVU is the best drama on display. Mariska is my love. In addition to good stories I'm glad to see this great actress acting. Mariska is beautiful inside and out.

November 19 2010 at 8:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Anne Carol

I can not understand how anyone can criticize the essence of this episode. SVU is a fantastic show and has helped many pessoas.Ele is educational and addresses controversial issues of public interest, with great dignity. And Mariska Hargitay? I'm kneeling in front of this woman. It is not only a beautiful and talented actress. She is a great woman, generous, selfless and great humanitarian spirit. But as anyone in the world is unanimous, it will always be someone to criticize and find fault. But what matters is that the fans love the SVU series and its fantastic pair of detectives. Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler are always on the side of truth and justice.

November 19 2010 at 6:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Denise F of Staten Island

ABC AND CBS SHOW FULL EPISODES OF ALL THEIR SHOWS AND PROGRAMS, COULD SOMEBODY TELL ME WHY NBC DOESN'T DO THE SAME. HULU.COM AND NBC HAVE LAW AND ORDER SVU BUT ONLY SHOW YOU CLIPS OR EXERPTS. WITH THE ECONOMY THE WAY IT IS, MOST PEOPLE ONLY HAVE A COMPUTER (NEED IT TO LOOK FOR WORK, HELLO) AND NOT CABLE TV. I AM DISAPPOINTED WITH THE CEO/PRESIDENT OF NBC IN THAT THIS BOTTOMLESS RECESSION WERE IN THAT HE/SHE DOESN'T TRY AND GIVE BACK TO THE PEOPLE AND PROVIDE THEM WITH FULL SHOWS/EPISODES. I MEAN THE RATING ARE STILL THERE UPON INFANCY OF AIRING THE SHOWS, YOUR JUST AIRING THEM LATER ON HULU.COM AND THE NBC NETWORK. YOUR STILL GETTING THE RESULTS OF THE RATING UPON INCEPTION, YOUR JUST GIVING BACK TO THE PEOPLE A DAY OR SO LATER. THINK ABOUT IT.

November 18 2010 at 7:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tom

As far as marajuana causing someone to go beserk, I and my partner responded to a home where the husband killed his family because no one would give him a piece of their ring ding.

November 18 2010 at 7:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ellen

Universities and colleges bear some responsibility for these crimes. My daughter attended an urban university where anyone could enter and leave a freshman dorm at any hour. Her roommate entertained men at will, and my daughter was "sexiled" to the library. Like most other students, she was reluctant to assert her rights because of peer pressure. There were RAs but no one was in charge. When I was in college, we had single sex dorms with housemothers, and curfews with sign -in/sign-out procedures for overnight absences. Men were not allowed beyond the front lobby. It did not feel like a jail, but rather, we felt that our privacy and safety were honored. College freshmen are not adults, and the colleges and university must assume their responsibility in providing a safe and secure environment for their students.

November 18 2010 at 3:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Julia

I've watched SVU since it started in the late 90's. In some cases the crimes were " ripped from the headlines" and I enjoyed the actors. As I got older, I began to look forward to the show, because of the "gray" areas. I felt that I was being educated and probably learned a few things about the law and being a woman alone in a large city. I find the above comments about the show being "leftist" troubling. It tells stories about horrific crimes and how the police solve them. How is that leftist? In most episodes the perpetrator is caught and convicted. The female District Attoney's usually throw the book at the murderers, pedophiles and rapists portrayed on the show.

November 17 2010 at 10:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
latinguytony

L&O SVU is a great show and covers a lot of topics that MOST should pay attention to. The 'opinions' of most here so are 'skewed' as to be unbelievable. This episode sounds interesting. To address the issues of life at college will be challenging. To portray it accurately is the point. How many of us have 'been there', how many of us have 'done that' and then quietly keep it to ourselves for fear of being judged. Someone called the show 'liberal and left wing' aren't those terms mutually exclusive ? Why is it that someone always says that TV shows have 'agendas' ? TV is mere entertainment and thats ALL nothing more nothing less. To use it to inform about the dangers and things that are 'current' in our society should be applauded not critiqued. I am a loyal viewer and will continue to do so.

November 17 2010 at 9:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
A Concerned parent

To me it is not gray -- Once someone says no, the sex that occurs after that "no" is a crime. It's no longer sex, it's rape. If a person is passed out and awakens to someone having sex with them, no consent was given and again, that's not sex, that's rape. Rape is a felony crime.

November 17 2010 at 9:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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