|When it comes to falling in love, some people charge out of their corner only to bet KO'd in the first round. Others try to dodge longer. When you meet Mariska Hargitay, the 40-year-old co-star of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and her husband, actor Peter Hermann, 37, who has a recurring role on the show, it's easy to see who plays to which type. Hargitay is energetic and expressive, flipping her short, chestnut hair back and forth as she speaks and jumping frequently to retrieve props to help tell a story. The actress isn't afraid to share intimate details about herself with a stranger (as her large, hazel eyes pool with tears) or correct a stranger's bungled pronunciation of a name. "I have to tell you how to say that," remarks Hargitay, dressed in jeans, a snug-fitting tank top and fur-trimmed boots and sitting in the dining room of her New York City townhouse. The porcelain tea service and delicate finger sandwiches laid out before her may appear at odds with her forthright attitude, but if she notices the irony, she doesn't let on. |
Hermann, who shows up an hour later, is too personable to be called shy. Still, when the 6-foot-5 groom is asked a question, he pauses several moments before dispensing a thoughtful, metaphorical answer. "I think some lightbulbs work on a switch, and some work on a dimmer and just get brighter," he says, explaining how his love for his wife has evolved.
When they met on the set of Law & Order: SVU in November 2001, Harigtay hoped to throw a switch rather than turn things on gradually. "I thought he was Superman," says the actress. "He wears these glasses on the show that make him look like Clark Kent." To break the ice she tried making a joke, but "he didn't think I was funny. He totally shut me down," she says with a laugh. Things went slightly better several months later, when the two became engrossed in a lengthy discussion about religion, which culminated in Hermann's suggesting they attend church together the following Sunday. "I just about passed out when I saw him there," says Hargitay. "I thought, That's my husband."
Hermann took a bit longer to come around. "Our early dating life consisted of trying to figure out whether we were dating," he says. "We would go out to eat, take walks and have endless conversations--part of the dialogue would be about trying to decide our romantic status. I think I knew she was the one long before I realized I knew." Says Hargitay, "I understood we were dating the whole time! I can be brash, but Peter plays his cards a little closer to the vest.
The couple found themselves on the same page on Valentine's Day in 2003, when they surprised each other with the same gift: a book of photographs by British artist Andy Goldsworth, who creates sculptures out of natural objects. (They had seen a documentary about the artist on the night Hermann first told Hargitay he loved her.) A proposal followed a little more than a year later at Strom King, a sculpture park in Moutainville, N.Y., that includes a serpentine stone wall Goldsworth built. Kneeling next to it Hermann pulled out a weathered platinum band set with nine evenly spaced round diamonds, designed by N.Y.C. jeweler Karen Karch for Push. The style symbolizes the idea that even though the couple will encounter rough patches, there is always a happy moment up a head.
The first sparkling sop along the way: the Unitarian Historical Chapel in Santa Barbara, where the pair wed on August 28, 2004, in front of 200 guests, including Hilary Swank, Chad Lowe, Jodie Foster, Joely Fisher and Hargitay's SVU co-star, Christopher Meloni. The bride wore a Carolina Herrera dress, to which she pinned a locket--a gift from Fisher--containing photos of her mother, actress Jayne Mansfield, and grandmother. Hargitay chose the gown's blush color ot honor Mansfield, who favored the hue. Just as unexpected was the couple's seeming role reversal: As if to prove how far they had come in mitigating their differences, says Hermann, "I recited my vows so loudly you could have heard them in Oregon. But Mariska's were quiet and small."
The ceremony ended with a 12-member gospel choir walking down the side ailes of the church while singing a raucous rendition of "Aint No Mountain High Enough." Afterward, guests (who had been treated to a weekend of events, including a Mexican-theme buffet on the beach the night before) traveled to a private estate in the nearby Montecito for the reception. There, planner Yifat Oren had played up the lush setting--complete with a swan pond and vine-covered arbor--to suggest an enchanted forest. The seating-card table was decorated with moss and magnolia branches; dining tables were dotted with Depression glass vases of dahlias, roses, lilies of the valley, grasses and fruits.
After dinner a band launched into R&B favorites, and guests celebrated a couple whose differing romantic styles once might have seemed inauspicious. But if Hargitay had ever doubted Hermann's commitment, she didn't on this day. At the buffet the night before, in fact, he was literally head over heels, jumping on a trampoline Oren had rented for the event. Says Hargitay with a smile, "He ended up breaking it."