Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay

After more than a decade playing Detective Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Mariska Hargitay says it's about time her character got a promotion.

"I've been doing this character for 12 years and because of the fantastic writing it's really stretched me and challenged me to continue to find ways to go deeper," she says. "With this new promotion ... I'm going to have to excavate a whole new character and define new strengths. I'm scared of it in a good way and that excites me."

SVU's Mariska Hargitay signs deal to return

Hargitay spoke to at the fourth annual gala for her foundation, The Joyful Heart. The actress credits her role on the NBC series for inspiring her to start an organization aimed at helping and empowering survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse.

See photos of Mariska Hargitay

"Random people were disclosing their stories to me," she says. "Our No. 1 accomplishment has been raising awareness and bringing attention to it and making it not something to shy away from, but saying: How can we be brave?"

In the interview below, Hargitay gushes about her baby girl. Plus: Co-star Christopher Meloni says he and Hargitay are Siamese twins removed at birth.