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The Classic Actresses Who Won Emmys For Their Small Law & Order: SVU Performances

It might easily be argued that in its 23-season run on NBC, "Law & Order: SVU" laid claim to a portfolio of famous guest stars unmatched by any other primetime procedural. Its ongoing resume of such stars includes Hollywood heavy-hitters like Alec Baldwin, Viola Davis, Whoopi Goldberg, Sarah Paulson, Cynthia Nixon, Elizabeth Banks, Robin Williams, John Stamos, and Zoe Saldana, (among many others), as well as classic stars such as Carol Burnett, James Brolin, and Henry Winkler (via Insider). In Season 5, even four-time olympic gold medalist Serena Williams got in on the action, to say nothing of the many now well-known actors whose careers got a major assist from their time on the series.

Unsurprisingly, many of these stars were given the better part of their given episode's narrative meat, and some of them went on to take home Emmys for their performance. Notably, a few of these stars first made a name for themselves in the '50s and '60s, so that by the time they lent their expertise and talents to "SVU," they'd already given several critically-lauded and celebrated performances. 

Ellen Burstyn stole the show as Stabler's mother in Season 10

Though she's since gone on to reprise her role in seven episodes of "Law & Order: Organized Crime," Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn first appeared in the Dick Wolf universe as Elliot Stabler's (Christopher Meloni) mother Bernadette Stabler in Season 10, Episode 3 of "Law & Order: SVU" (via IMDb). The episode, titled "Swing," gives audiences some insight into Stabler's often traumatic childhood, and Burstyn's Emmy-winning performance as a woman whose bipolar disorder went undiagnosed and untreated for the majority of her life is at once heartbreaking and relevant. The episode is the first time audiences learn of Kathleen Stabler's (Allison Siko) struggle with her own mental health, and her moving interaction with her grandmother "Bernie" is among the season's most compelling.

Of course, long before Burstyn brought context and humanity to the brick wall that is Detective Elliot Stabler, she'd been wowing audiences and critics alike with a resume that began with a litany of television appearances in the '60s, a career-defining role in 1973's "The Exorcist," an Oscar-winning performance in Martin Scorsese's "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," and Oscar-nominated turns in Robert Mulligan's "Same Time, Next Year" in 1978 and Daniel Petrie's "Resurrection" in 1980.

Unlike many a classic star, Burstyn's career never actually wained. In 2000, she earned an Oscar nod for her performance in Darren Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream," and in 2016, she starred in five episodes of Netflix's Emmy award-winning "House of Cards." Given her extensive and celebrated resume, it's no wonder she steals every scene she graces in "Organized Crime." 

Ann-Margret blew audiences away in Bedtime

Season 11, Episode 18 of "Law & Order: SVU" was absolutely littered with famous guest stars, including Jaclyn Smith of the original "Charlie's Angels," classic soap and television star Morgan Fairchild, "The Nanny" regular Renée Taylor, and "Baywatch" veteran Susan Anton (via IMDb). But only one of the episode's many guest stars, Ann-Margret, took home an Emmy for her performance. In the episode, the two-time Oscar nominee plays a woman so consumed by a traumatic past love affair that she remains suspended in a kind of arrested, alcohol-fueled development that turns her into a modern-day Miss Havisham.

Like Burstyn, Ann-Margret's celebrated career spoke for itself, so her performance in the police procedural was relatively small potatoes compared to all she'd accomplished prior to the episode's air date in 2010. She kicked-off her career in the early '60s with starring roles in classics such as "State Fair," "Bye Bye Birdie," "Viva Las Vegas," and "The Cincinnati Kid." In 1972 and 1975, she earned Oscar nominations for her performances in Mike Nichols' "Carnal Knowledge" and the Ken Russell-directed rock opera "Tommy," respectively. In 1984, she nearly took home the Emmy for her memorable take on Blanche DuBois in John Erman's lauded rendition of "A Streetcar Named Desire" (via IMDb).

Ann-Margret has also remained relevant and appeared in numerous present-day film and television projects, most recently starring in Michael Lembeck's "Queen Bees" — a film that puts a whole new spin on the eternally-relatable "Mean Girls" narrative, and, incidentally, also stars Burstyn.

Leslie Caron and Lily Rabe teamed up in Season 8

Like "Bedtime," Season 8's "Recall" boasted a number of guest stars, including "American Horror Story" darling Lily Rabe, "The Nanny" lead Charles Shaughnessy, and "Gossip Girl" actor James Naughton (via IMDb).

In addition to these well-known names, the episode starred classic French actress Leslie Caron, who took home an Emmy for her portrayal of a long-silenced rape victim, Lorraine Delmas. In "Recall," the team struggles to convict successful attorney Martin Trenway (Shaughnessy) of rape, despite having eye-witness testimony. Lorraine, who's kept silent about her assault for decades, comes forward, and her testimony combined with the clothes she held onto from the time of the crime help force a guilty plea out Trenway.

Though she's best-known for her break-out role opposite Gene Kelly in 1951's "An American in Paris," her titular role in Vincente Minnelli's 1958 hit, "Gigi," and her 1962 Oscar-nominated performance in "The L-Shaped Room," the star boasts a career littered with memorable portrayals. In 1954, she earned her first Oscar nom for her (again, titular) role in Charles Walters' "Lili," with a performance that ultimately won her the BAFTA award for Best Foreign Actress.

Caron is more recently recognizable for her role alongside Johnny Depp in Lasse Hallström's "Chocolat," and for her portrayal of Countess Mavrodaki in ITV's series "The Durrells." Her heartbreaking testimony on "SVU" may have earned her an Emmy, but like Burstyn and Ann-Margret, it was just the icing on the cake of an already wildly successful career.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).