Poppy Montgomery (Without a Trace) stars as NYPD detective, Carrie Wells, in CBS’s new drama Unforgettable. She has a flawless memory and can not only remember every moment and emotion of her life, but is physically incapable of forgetting them.
Think this is a far-fetched premise for a series? Actress Marilu Henner, who starred on the classic sitcom Taxi, is one of a handful of people who has Superior Autobiographical Memory, who can remember every day of her life. She is a consultant on the series.
Poppy Montgomery spoke with the TV Critics at their tour about her new role and if she wishes she had the ability to remember every moment of her life.
Coming back to the law enforcement genre in terms of the character, Samantha Slade was pretty much buttoned down, though she certainly had her own style on Without a Trace. I would imagine it was important for you to be able to change up the character substantially in revisiting that profession?
Oh, yeah. I wanted to do everything differently, which is why my hair is flaming red.
Carrie doesn’t start out as a cop in the pilot as she had left law enforcement. She was gambling and in underground casinos and really living a pretty isolated existence.
So what was interesting to me is, when she comes back into it, she comes back in in a much looser way. She basically doesn’t conform to the rules of that world. She won’t wear suits. You’re not suddenly going to see me buttoned down and be part of the team.
She separates herself, and I like that. I like that lone-wolf kind of quality she has and the recklessness that she has.
Without a Trace certainly had a lengthy run. You could have another long run with this. What’s your thought on that as far as the length this could go?
It would be great. I love television because you get to explore characters in a way that you can’t anywhere else, because you don’t have the time. Over seven years of Without a Trace, Samantha Spade got shot, had a baby, hooked up with Jack. I think she slept with everyone in the office!
That was a seven-year run where I got to really experience that character on so many different levels, and I’m excited to do that with Carrie because she’s so complex. They’re learning more and more about this memory ability.
There’s not much known about it. So as they learn more, we get to incorporate that into the show.
How much is Carrie’s memory spotlighted in this?
The memory comes into it a lot, it’s constantly throughout. I was talking to Marilu Henner about this. She says you can run across the surface of a memory, or you can choose to dive into it with this ability.
A lot of times Carrie will run across the surface of it until she has to dive into it, and that’s where it comes into play in terms of solving crimes and going into what she really saw versus what she wants to remember on the surface of things. But it’s working so far, the scripts are really very creative.
Can you explain the condition for me? Is it like autism? Or is it something you can click on and click off? How much does it overwhelm an individual?
I asked Marilu about that. I said to her, ‘While you’re engaged in a conversation with me, are things constantly triggering memories that just keep unraveling?’
The way she explained it is that she can turn it off, but if she wants to dive into it, it’s sort of like pulling up the chapter menu on a DVD and picking a chapter and watching it like a film. But it’s autobiographical memory.
It’s not like a photographic memory. It’s not like you can look at a page of numbers and know what’s on there. It’s what you’re interested in.
How hard is it to shoot the scenes where you’re revisiting a crime scene to re-engage your memory, watching yourself?
I’m walking around myself so the marks are very specific. Sometimes I bump into myself. [The director] was like, ‘Your hand is in your head. You’ve got to move over.’ Sometimes I’ll be circling around [myself], and he’s like, ‘You just walked through your stomach.’
They can put it right up on screen right there, the first part, [and then] the second part. It’s like a dance. But we got it really fast. We are really getting it down to a science.
From talking to Marilu, what’s your own feeling as far as if this would be a blessing or a curse to have? Do you think, ‘Boy, I wish I could do that’? Or are you thinking, ‘Thank God I can’t’?
You know, when I talked to Marilu, it’s something I’d love to have. I think it depends on the individual, because she’s so positive and it’s really a great gift. She’s got this amazing energy, she’s extraordinary. So when I’m opposite her, I’m like, “Damn, I wish I could do that.”
We had lunch, and I couldn’t remember what I wore, what I ate, or anything, and I just saw her, and she told me. She’s like, ‘You had a tank top on. You had salmon. You didn’t really eat it. It was a Monday. You were late.’
Then you see some of the other people who have it whose lives are more troubled, so I’m torn. I’d like to have it for a day and try it out and see what I think. Then I’ll get back to you!