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Ice-T Jokes Mariska Hargitay Was 'Just Another Actress' When They Met: 'It Wasn't Some Holy Meeting' (Exclusive)

"Mariska's just a sweetheart. And I'm very, very lucky to have her as a castmate," Ice-T tells PEOPLE for this week's cover story on his costar

Todd Williamson/NBC via Getty Mariska Hargitay and Ice-T
Todd Williamson/NBC via Getty Mariska Hargitay and Ice-T

Ice-T and Mariska Hargitay may have a friendship that spans nearly 25 years, but that doesn’t mean the rapper-turned-actor had any idea what he was in for when the two first met on the set of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in 2000.

“It wasn't like some holy meeting. She was just another actress to me at that time,” Ice-T, 65, tells PEOPLE with a laugh for this week's cover story. “When I met [Mariska], I had done more work than her. So, I was kind of like the boss when I walked on the set. But then I found out how wonderful she is and how gracious she is, and now I can't think of working with somebody else.”

Ice-T joined SVU as Detective Fin Tutuola in the show's second season, and his performance has since earned him the distinction of being the longest-running male actor on television. The irony is that he originally only signed on to do the series for a few episodes.

Fast forward two decades, says Ice-T, and “SVU was a four-episode stint that ended up 25 years."

<p>Jose Perez/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images</p> Ice-T and Mariska Hargitay on set for season 25

Jose Perez/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Ice-T and Mariska Hargitay on set for season 25

Related: Mariska Hargitay Celebrates 25 Years of Law & Order: SVU and Turning 60: 'This Powerful Woman Emerged' (Exclusive)

Hargitay, who was cast on SVU when she was 35 years old, had previously appeared on TV shows like ER and Tequila and Bonetti, as well as in movies like The Advocate’s Devil (1997), prior to landing her breakout role as Olivia Benson in 1999.

Looking back, Ice-T says he couldn’t have ended up with a better costar by his side for nearly a quarter of a century.

<p>Jessica Burstein/NBCU Photo Bank</p> Christopher Meloni as Detective Elliot Stabler, Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson, Dann Florek as Captain Don Cragen in 1999

Jessica Burstein/NBCU Photo Bank

Christopher Meloni as Detective Elliot Stabler, Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson, Dann Florek as Captain Don Cragen in 1999

Related: Law & Order Reveals What's Keeping Benson and Stabler Busy in Supertease Ahead of Shows' Return

“She's so great. What started with her and Chris [Meloni] and Dann Florek, it was a great place. But when I walked in there? I'm Ice-T, movie star, like, ‘What's happening?’ No, I didn't say that to them. That was just my feeling,” he says, chuckling. “And 25 years — it's very rare that you can work daily with somebody and not get on each other's nerves. But Mariska's just a sweetheart. And I'm very, very lucky to have her as a castmate.”

He continues of Hargitay, who turns 60 on Jan. 23: “She's a wonderful person. Forget Olivia Benson. [But] I think what happened is when she started to do the show, she morphed into Olivia Benson with Joyful Heart and all that kind of stuff. But that's truly who she is."

<p>Will Hart/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty</p> Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson and Ice-T as Fin Tutuola in 2009

Will Hart/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty

Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson and Ice-T as Fin Tutuola in 2009

Related: Mariska Hargitay on Her 'Full Circle Cat Moment' with Taylor Swift: 'It Was a No-Brainer' (Exclusive)

After being inspired by the many survivors who told her the show is the reason they reported their assault or abuse, Hargitay trained to become a rape crisis counselor and later created the Joyful Heart Foundation in 2004 to focus on healing, education and advocacy.

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So, while he and Hargitay are often focused and serious where their work is concerned, Ice-T says there's one thing he really loves about her.

“She’s funny, too,” he says. “We don't get to show funniness on our show. Our show is very dark. But Mariska? I'm trying to get her on SNL.”

Related: Mariska Hargitay Calls 'SVU' Costar Ice-T the 'OG of Friendship' at Walk of Fame Ceremony

And, if Hargitay hosts, Ice-T knows the perfect accompaniment: “I could be musical guest!"

For more on Mariska Hargitay, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now, or subscribe here

Law & Order: SVU returns to NBC for its 25th season on Thursday, Jan. 18 at 9 p.m. ET.

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Read the original article on People.