Mariska Hargitay talks being ‘fulfilled’ after playing Olivia Benson for 20 years (Exclusive)

Mariska Hargitay and Detective Olivia Benson go hand-in-hand! The 54-year-old actress opened up to ET on Thursday at the 20th anniversary of Law & Order: Special Victim’s Unit about her connection to her longtime character. 

"We merge. We come together,” she says of the similarities between herself and Benson. "I think we’re each other’s teachers. But yeah, she’s taught me a lot.”

Hargitay says she feels “fulfilled” playing Benson, and didn’t disclose any ending she had in mind for her character. 

"It’s a lesson in being present and to not be thinking ahead,” she notes of the future of her show. "If you asked me 20 years ago, I never thought I’d be here 20 years later, and I am fulfilled and I love my co-stars and it’s an incredible collaboration with the producers and the writers, so I’m really enjoying it."

28 PHOTOS
Mariska Hargitay on 'Law & Order: SVU' through the years
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Mariska Hargitay on 'Law & Order: SVU' through the years
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- Season 1 -- Pictured: Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson -- Photo by: Chris Haston/NBCU Photo Bank
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- Season 3 -- Pictured: Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson (Photo by Craig Blankenhorn/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- Season 3 -- Pictured: Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson (Photo by Craig Blankenhorn/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LAW & ORDER: Special Victims Unit -- Season 1 -- Pictured: (l-r) Christopher Meloni as Detective Elliot Stabler, Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson -- Photo by: Chris Haston/NBCU Photo Bank
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- Season 1 -- Pictured: (l-r) Dean Winters as Detective Brian Cassidy, Dann Florek as Captain Donald Cragen, Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson, Christopher Meloni as Detective Elliot Stabler, Michelle Hurd as Detective Monique Jefferies, Richard Belzer as Detective John Munch -- Photo by: Chris Haston/NBCU Photo Bank
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- 'Disrobed' Episode 13 -- Air Date 02/04/2000 -- Pictured: (l-r) Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson, Christopher Meloni as Detective Elliot Stabler -- Photo by: Craig Blankenhorn/NBCU Photo Bank
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- 'Payback' Episode 1 -- Air Date 09/20/1999 -- Pictured: Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson (Photo by Jessica Burstein/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- 'Dolls' Episode 7 -- Pictured: Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson (Photo by Eric Liebowitz/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- 'Weak' Episode 9 -- Pictured: (l-r) Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson, Mary Stuart Masterson as Doctor Rebecca Hendrix, Christopher Meloni as Detective Elliot Stabler (Photo by Will Hart/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- Season 6 -- Pictured: Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson -- Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- 'Burned' Episode 11 -- Pictured: (l-r) Mariska Hargitay as Det. Olivia Benson, Christopher Meloni as Det. Elliot Stabler (Photo by Will Hart/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- 'Philadelphia' Episode 16 -- Pictured: Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson (Photo by Virginia Sherwood/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- 'Annihilated' Episode 20 -- Pictured: (l-r) Christopher Meloni as Detective Elliot Stabler, Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson (Photo by Will Hart/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- 'Harm' Episode 905 -- Pictured: (l-r) Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson, Christopher Meloni as Detective Elliot Stabler -- Photo by: Eric Liebowitz/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT-- 'Authority' Episode 90017 -- Airdate 04/29/2008 -- Pictured: Mariska Hargitay as Det. Olivia Benson -- NBC Photo: Virginia Sherwood
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- 'Unstable' Episode 1021 -- Air Date 09/23/2009 -- Pictured: (l-r) Christine Lahti as ADA Sonya Paxton, Mariska Hargitay as Det. Olivia Benson -- Photo by: Will Hart/NBCU Photo Bank
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- 'Possessed' Episode 1213 -- Pictured: (l-r) Christopher Meloni as Det. Elliot Stabler, Mariska Hargitay as Det. Olivia Benson (Photo by Will Hart/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- 'Blinded' Episode 907 -- Pictured: Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson -- Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- 'Justice Denied' Episode 1318 -- Pictured: Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson -- (Photo by: Eric Liebowitz/NBC)
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- 'Father Dearest' Episode 1321 -- Pictured: (l-r) Danny Pino as Detective Nick Amaro, James Van Der Beek as Sean Albers, Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson -- (Photo by: Eric Liebowitz/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- 'Beautiful Frame' Episode 1410 -- Pictured: (l-r) Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson, Raul Esparza as ADA Rafael Barba -- (Photo by: Michael Parmelee/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- 'Criminal Stories' Episode 1518 -- Pictured: (l-r) Mariska Hargitay as Sgt. Olivia Benson, Alec Baldwin as Jimmy MacArthur -- (Photo by: Michael Parmelee/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- 'Forgiving Rollins' Episode 1611 -- Pictured: Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson -- (Photo by: Michael Parmelee/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- 'Spousal Privilege' Episode 1608 -- Pictured: Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson -- (Photo by: Michael Parmelee/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- 'Intersecting Lives' Episode 1722 -- Pictured: (l-r) Peter Scanavino as Dominick 'Sonny' Carisi, Mariska Hargitay as Lieutenant Olivia Benson -- (Photo by: Michael Parmelee/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- 'Heartfelt Passages' Episode 1723 -- Pictured: (l-r) Brad Garrett as C.O. Gary Munson, Mariska Hargitay as Lieutenant Olivia Benson, Andy Karl as Sergeant Mike Dodds, Karina Logue as Lisa Munson -- (Photo by: Will Hart/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- 'Sunk Cost Fallacy' Episode 1919 -- Pictured: Mariska Hargitay as Lieutenant Olivia Benson -- (Photo by:Peter Kramer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- 'Mama' Episode 1922 -- Pictured: Mariska Hargitay as Lieutenant Olivia Benson -- (Photo by: Virgina Sherwood/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
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After 20 years, Hargitay still considers her job to be “an incredible privilege,” sharing, “With moments like this, you’re sort of forced to really take it in because I feel like I’ve been in this marathon for 20 years. You know just doing the work everyday and our days are long so it’s been a long and beautiful [journey] to have moments to celebrate it."

Looking ahead, Hargitay is content with staying in the present. 

"I’m thinking about this year and this season and how to make it the best and thinking a little bit about next year,” she says. 

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