When I arriveat Mariska Hargitay’s apartment in New York City, I am afraid I have the wrong address. Next to the door is a beat-up Spider-Man scooter, and as soon as I ring the bell, feet pound and a woman screams, “Just a minute!” When the door finally opens, I am greeted by a baby’s butt.
“Come in, come in,” Hargitay calls out in her husky-lusty voice. She swings the infant, a coffee-colored dumpling in a pink gingham sundress, to her hip and offers me her free hand to shake. I take it but step back. Unlike any other famous person I’ve ever met, Hargitay is bigger than I expected—basketball player tall, with swimmer’s shoulders and Michelle Obama biceps. And unlike the emotionally damaged detective she plays on TV, Hargitay is smiley. Super smiley. Or maybe the baby has cast some sort of spell on her, because when I introduce myself, the Emmy winner responds by introducing not herself but her six-month-old daughter, whose name is Amaya.
Of course, Hargitay is within her rights to be a little dazed right now. A new baby is only one of the changes she’s adjusting to. The other is the near-total revamp of the TV series she has starred in for 12 years, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Last spring her costar and close friend Chris Meloni left the show; his absence was filled by not one but two actors, Danny Pino and Kelli Giddish, each at least a decade younger than Hargitay. Andre Braugher, whose most recent credit is TNT’s Men of a Certain Age, also joined SVU as a defense attorney. And with the exit of executive producer Neal Baer, Warren Leight took over as an executive producer andshow runner.
With all the transitions, there were even rumors that Hargitay’s own role in the series might change. But as she settles onto a sleigh sofa in a sitting room painted the red-orange of a Hawaiian sunset, Hargitay really wants to talk about what is literally pressing on her heart: her daughter.
The long road to this baby begins with Hargitay’s love life. Despite some serious relationships, she was still single at 38. (“They were great guys,” she says, “but it wasn’t right.”)Then the multilingual, Yale-educated,green-eyed, block-jawed, six-foot-five Peter Hermann ambled onto the Law & Order: SVU set to take on a recurring role as defense attorney Trevor Langan. “I just knew,” Hargitaysays. “He was so my opposite. A thinker rather than a let’s-do-everything-now person. A gentle giant who reminded me of my grandpa”—an association that made Hermann pause when he was hoping to get her to go out with him.
They married the year Hargitay turned 40. Though the couple wanted children, they decided to spend a year simply enjoying being together. “We were both very OK with making a family through biology or adoption,” she says. “Or both. I don’t know where it comes from in Peter, but for me it probably comes from being raised by my stepmother. She didn’t carry me in her tummy, but she was the one who was there. And she’s the one who is still here.”
In 2005, Hargitay became pregnant, and the next year she gave birth to the couple’s son, August. She says she and her husband “would be perfectly happy to have another biological child,” but another pregnancy hasn’t followed.
In early 2010, the couple met with an attorney and began the process of adopting. The lawyer warned them it would be arduous, and he was right. “People give up their babies for various reasons,” she says. “And like anything in life, you’re dealing with a whole spectrum.” One woman sent them regular updates on a pregnancy that they later learned had never existed. Another sent them results of prenatal tests that had never been taken. Still another couple changed their minds after the baby was born. “But the conversations we had with those parents were profound and beautiful,” she says. “Really, I felt lucky to be part of their story. It was a really happy ending.”