• Law & Order: SVU stars Mariska Hargitay as "Olivia Benson"
  • Hargitay won her best-known role way back in 1999
  • But another actress was almost cast as "Benson" instead

Can you imagine anyone else as "Olivia Benson" on Law & Order: SVU?! Of course, the great Mariska Hargitay has filled the role for over 20 years now. 

But the casting process nearly turned out very differently! Let's go back to the beginning and see the other actresses who nearly landed the part of the iconic SVU character.

"Olivia Benson" on SVU was almost another actress

It was the late 1990s, and NBC was planning a new spin-off from their popular series Law & Order. The new show, Special Victims Unit, was seeking a strong female lead detective.

At the time, Mariska Hargitay had been acting in film and TV for about a decade, but she was still looking for her first leading role. The other actresses in the running to play "Olivia Benson" had a similar story.

They were: Reiko Aylesworth, who was relatively new on the scene but had already appeared in a Law & Order episode, and actress Samantha Mathis, who had a film background plus a few starring TV roles at the time.

How Mariska Hargitay was cast on Law & Order: SVU

But it was Mariska Hargitay who won the part. Famously, her and Christopher Meloni's chemistry in the audition convinced the producers to make them "Benson" and "Stabler."

Also interesting:

Though they missed out on "Olivia Benson," both Samantha Mathis and Reiko Aylesworth would later appear in guest roles on SVU, and each have enjoyed successful TV careers.

All these years later, it seems the SVU team made the right choice! Mariska Hargitay has thrived in the role and has even made a difference with activist work off-screen.

See pictures and more in the video above! As well, find out here who nearly played "Elliot Stabler" instead of Christopher Meloni.