SVU

Hargitay was devastated to lose her 'SVU' partner

Sep. 28, 2011 at 10:34 AM ET

“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” is back from its summer break, but it’s not the same old show it once was. Leading man Christopher Meloni, who played Det. Elliot Stabler for over a decade, is out, as is actor B.D. Wong, and several new faces have joined the drama. Still, one thing hasn’t changed — Mariska Hargitay is bringing Olivia Benson to the squad room, even though she's lost her on-screen partner.

During a Wednesday morning visit to TODAY, Hargitay discussed how she reacted to Meloni’s departure, where Benson is now and why she feels “SVU” is still so important.

“(Meloni) was my partner for 12 years,” Hargitay told TODAY's Ann Curry. “You know, it was really devastating and a huge, huge adjustment (to go on without him). I missed him. And I had a couple of really rough months But you know, the show is in a very exciting place, because there so much newness to the show this year. We have new characters and we have a new showrunner, so everything feels very fresh. There’s all kinds of new dynamics going on, and as an actor, that’s really exciting because there’s so much new stuff to play.”

As for how that “new stuff” will affect her character, Hargitay sees Benson evolving as she learns to live with all of the change.

“For example, with me, Olivia is in a very different place,” she said. “(She was) somebody who was focused on the victims and completely compassionate, and I think we’re seeing a very different Olivia that has different issues to deal with.... With new characters coming in, that brings a whole new set of circumstances.”

The actress is also excited about how the on-screen action can affect real lives off-screen, which is where her Joyful Heart Foundation — a charity focused on creating an empowering environment for survivors of abuse — comes in.

“I started the foundation in 2004, because people were disclosing to me (about their own history of sexual abuse),” she explained. “And I felt like I love that the show is so courageous in dealing with sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse — all issues that people don’t want to deal with.”

In fact, Hargitay hopes the next episode of “SVU” actually encourages people to engage in a healthy conversation about a particular type of sexual assault that’s rarely discussed.

“Obviously, women are the most violated, in terms of statistics, but this show — and the reason I was so excited to come on (TODAY this morning) is to promote the show tonight — not only is it an extremely powerful episode, but it deals with male sexual assault, which is something that people just don’t talk about,” Hargitay said. “It’s scary. We need to talk about it. So this is perfect — a perfect way to start a conversation. And as parents, what we want to do is teach our children how to protect themselves and how to see the signs if something happens. One of the things that’s so upsetting about male sexual abuse with children is that oftentimes it is indeed a role model, somebody you trust — a teacher, an uncle, a priest, whoever it is. So it’s really exciting, because it’s something that happens and tonight is a great way to introduce the subject.”

Learn more about the Joyful Heart Foundation by visiting joyfulheartfoundation.org.

“Law & Order: SVU” airs tonight at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.

Will you tune in to the see the second Stabler-free episode of “SVU”?  Tell us on our Facebook page.

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