Sep. 25, 2013 at 11:35 AM ET
When "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" returns for season 15, the drama will pick up right where it left off last season — with Det. Olivia Benson staring down the barrel of her own gun as a rapist holds her life in his hands.
Some fans might find it hard to watch the beloved character face such dire straits, and it's no wonder. Even actress Mariska Hargitay found it hard to play a part in it.
"It was, without a doubt, the most difficult episode I ever shot in 15 years, and it was unlike anything I've ever done," she confessed during a Wednesday morning visit to TODAY. "I have to tell you, after 15 years, to be nervous and scared and excited to go to work — it's a pretty great thing."
Hargitay explained, "When you're acting, your body doesn’t know the difference (between) acting or being in reality," and that's what presented the challenge.
"I think you pretty much play the what-if game (to capture the scene)," she said. "It's just about believing it. I think that's why you study your whole life to be focused and be present. And for me, with the work that I do with Joyful Heart, I've had the opportunity and the pleasure to work side-by-side with so many real-life survivors that I know their stories. ... The bar is set high to keep it real and have integrity about how scary that would be."
That challenge is part of what keeps Hargitay coming back to the role of Benson year after year — that and "great writing" and simply having a character she's "fallen deeply in love with." But that's not to say she doesn't think about what her next big role might be.
"I think about it all the time," she said. "I want to do comedy!"
In fact, in the past, the actress has expressed an interest in hosting "Saturday Night Live" one day. Until a comedy opportunity like that comes along, catch more of her serious side when the season premiere of "Law & Order: SVU" airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. on NBC.