Mariska Hargitay Reveals How a Nun Influenced the Course of Her Life: 'She Really Saw Me'

Hargitay, who first started acting in high school, is now the star of the longest-running primetime drama in TV history

<p>Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images</p>

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

As she celebrates 25 years on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and becoming the longest-running character on a primetime drama series, Mariska Hargitay shares how a teacher in high school was the first one to see her as an actress.

“I didn't start acting until junior year of high school,” says Hargitay, who turned 60 on Tuesday. “I wasn't interested. But in junior year, my history teacher Sister Margaret — who I loved — said, ‘I think you should try out for a play.’"

“She saw me,” says Hargitay of her beloved teacher from Marymount High School in Los Angeles. “She always saw me, my soul.”

Hargitay adds with a smile, “Well, the funny thing was I used to get in trouble for talking. She's the first person who called me an extrovert. I was also an athlete, so I think she was looking for how to channel that energy. She knew I had this little engine. And then she told me to try out for the play, and I got the lead and I loved it so much.”

Related: Mariska Hargitay Applauds 'Work Mothers' Jane Fonda and Ellen Burstyn: 'They're the Advocates in Me' (Exclusive)

<p>John Lamparski/Getty Images</p>

John Lamparski/Getty Images

Thanks to Sister Margaret's encouragement, the same continued to be true: Hargitay got the lead again during her senior year.

"She loved to laugh, and she was such a whole person because she loved God and she was this authority figure," recalls the actress and the founder of Joyful Heart, "but she was so human and so accessible that made me feel so safe with her."

Related: Mariska Hargitay Celebrates 25 Years of Law & Order: SVU and Turning 60: 'This Powerful Woman Emerged' (Exclusive)

Hargitay continues of Sister Margaret: "She wasn't an intimidating nun that you were scared of. She was part of the squad. She was part of the team, and I just always felt that she really saw me and took an interest and understood me and was so loving about everything. Inclusive, kind, nurturing.”

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Law & Order: Special Victims Unit airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.

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