SVU Storyline That Sparked Her Real Life Passion (Exclusive): Stephanie March Reveals Law & Order

For Stephanie March, life has truly imitated art

Published Time: 04.07.2024 - 20:31:09 Modified Time: 04.07.2024 - 20:31:09

For Stephanie March, life has truly imitated art.

The actress is perhaps best known for her recurring role as Assistant District Attorney Alex Cabot on NBC’s Law & Order: SVU, a character she played in more than 100 episodes over eight years on the show.

But, it was a singular 2010 episode that really spoke to March in particular — and still does.

In "Witness," Cabot leaves her job in New York City for the Democratic Republic of Congo after a particularly trying case convinces her that she needs to help women and girls who were being sexually exploited in Africa.

While chatting with PEOPLE, March recalls the episode instantly. 

“Yes! When I left to go to Congo? I remember it very clearly. And it was kind of stuck in my head at the time. And so I have to believe that to some degree, everything happens for a reason. That's part of the reason I was so interested in the Panzi Foundation,” she says of her offscreen decision to work with the organization, which seeks to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war while also supporting survivors in the DRC.

"I felt like my passion really was to advocate for women and girls who are survivors of sexual violence, and how sexual violence deprives us of our body autonomy and often our legal rights and our right to work," says March, who also serves on the board of the Panzi Foundation.

March recalls first landing the SVU gig in 2000 (Cabot was a series regular from seasons 2 through 5, and March continued to reprise the role through 2018), and while she quips now that the show might have "some sort of future-telling or time-traveling device in there — SVU the Oracle!" she says, the experience really did impact her. 

“I'm not sure that when I got the job, I intended for this to happen, but once I had the job, I became pretty deliberate about it because the subject matter I found disturbing and compelling. It was just not something I could put away when I came home at night from work,” she explains.

“So, I became quite deliberate in my choices of how I wanted to participate and how I wanted to use my voice," she adds. "And I have been lucky enough to find a few places where those interests intersect, and I'm very passionate about it."

March also serves on the board of OneKid OneWorld, an organization dedicated to increasing access to education and opportunities for women and girls especially i -

n Kenya and Central America.

"It's all a part of the same philosophy, really, which is women and girls in school, women and girls empowered to have body autonomy, women and girls in positions of governments and power so that they can be in charge of legislation and their own communities and their own lives," March says.

"I feel really strongly about this. In Africa, there are 1 billion people under the age of 25, which to me is an extraordinary number. Because the future is there — all of these bright, young, smart, interesting, motivated people. I just feel like in 25 years, that's where the world is going to be. And to support the young women in that part of the world is to make a future that I wish maybe we had more of now."

As for her own future, this year alone marks not only a big milestone for March, who will celebrate her 50th birthday on July 23, but also for SVU and the Panzi Foundation.

SVU is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and Panzi is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and I think, well, that makes 50. That makes me,” March muses. “So, I'm in the right place at the right time.”

Law & Order's longtime leading lady Mariska Hargitay (Olivia Benson) has become one of March’s closest friends in real life, too, though the pair didn’t actually meet on the set of the series.

“I had the teeniest part in the play called Death of a Salesman in 1999. I was in Chicago and it was transferred to Broadway and I was lucky enough to go with it to New York. And she came backstage — she had been cast and they had started shooting, or maybe it was even the first season — but she had seen the play and she came backstage to say hello to Brian Dennehy," March recalls of Hargitay.

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"A thousand people came backstage, all of these actors, but this woman who really nobody knew yet, she stopped me short. I thought, 'Oh my God, this woman has such presence.' I mean, she was just magnetic. I remember thinking, 'Who is this person?' And then cut to a year later, it's Mariska and it's SVU. And she's really had that glow ever since. She's just really striking.”

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