Hargitay has even carved out a certain peace about losing her mother when she was just a toddler. “I used to say, ‘I wish I knew her more. I was only three.’ And a friend said, ‘All you have to do is look in the mirror.’ It sounds so weird, but there’s a truth in it. And it gave me peace and understanding that we’re half of our parents. It sort of quelled some of my angst, or unrest, or need. So much of who I am is my parents—all three of them. I am grateful for all three. My son always goes, ‘Mama has two mamas.’He calls [her stepmother] Ellen ‘Grandma.’ He calls Jayne ‘Mama’s mama.’ He’s so sweet. He’ll say, ‘You don’t have your mom and dad, but you have me and Daddy.’ And I say, ‘Yes, I know, that’s all I need.’ ”
That’s not exactly true. Like most working mothers, Hargitay craves more of one thing: time with her family. For 12 years, she has pulled 15-hour days on SVU. And right now her husband is performing eight shows a week as a sympathetic German officer in the Broadway hit War Horse.
By the time she had Amaya in her arms, Hargitay knew that as a mom she wanted to do things differently her second time around. “August came to work with me every day for the first eight months,” she explains. “But with Amaya, I just didn’t want to bring her. It’s so gross on set. I love the show. I really do. But I had no life.
“When we began negotiations for this season,” she continues, “I asked for a four-day workweek.” She got the deal. And even though Hargitay describes Meloni’s departure from SVU as “like losing a limb,” she says she loves the new team. Danny Pino says he’ll be forever grateful to her for easing his jangly SVU screen-test nerves by greeting him with a hug instead of a handshake, and watching former Cold Case star Pino and Hargitay “interview” a “suspect” together onSVU—well, you’d think they really are detectives and have been partners forever.
Hargitay says she is delighted that she and her new costars have onscreen chemistry, and she is thrilled to be working a bit less. “It’s still hard,” says actress Debra Messing, a friend of Hargitay’s who recently moved into her apartment building. “The other day Mariska called and said, ‘August has a fever, and I’m stuck on set. Will you check on him?’ ” It wasn’t that Hargitay didn’t trust her babysitter; she just wanted a sort of “auntie” to look in on him. “So I ran up to her apartment and took his temperature and gave him [children’s] Advil and snuggled with him,” adds Messing. “Then I took pictures of us and sent them to her so she could see he was OK.”
While Hargitay and I are talking in her sitting room (and taking frequent breaks to admire Amaya—“She smiled!” “She frowned!” “Ooh, ooh, did you see that face?”), the front door opens, and a babysitter leads in two children. The clearly besotted Hargitay cries out, “August!”
It’s her son and his cousin Lexi (Hermann’s sister and her family are visiting from Germany). Hargitay kisses both kids and proceeds to quiz them about the merits of the movie Winnie the Pooh, which they’ve just seen. August, a boy with impossibly large and expressive eyes, reports on a scary part. Then, as if communicating by telepathy, the children simultaneously disappear, then reappear with umbrellas, which they open over our respective heads, announcing that they, the umbrella holders, are invisible.
“Ahhhh,” Hargitay sighs. “This is the stuff I live for.”
It’s true, Messing says. Despite Hargitay’s professional success—the best-actress Emmy and Golden Globe; the record-setting salary (at reportedly $395,000 an episode in 2010, she was the highest-paid actress on primetime television); the groundbreaking, woman-championing role—intimacy is the real stuff of the actress’s life.