Marg Helgenberger has been playing Catherine Willows on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation from its inception in 2000, when she co-starred with William Peterson. Since 2008, she has been sharing the screen with Laurence Fishburne, who played Dr Raymond Langston.
This season she has a new leading man, Ted Danson, who portrays DB Russell, the head of the Seattle Crime Lab who has been brought in to replace Catherine as the new CSI Supervisor.
Everyone expected last season to be Helgenberger’s finale on the series, which was immediately addressed at the TV Critics tour.
Last year you mentioned that you thought it was going to be your last season. Did you get a second wind, and does that second wind have anything to do with Ted Danson being cast? I’m curious to know what it was that gave you a renewed enthusiasm for the show.
This was something that was talked about through the middle to end of last season. Carol (Mendelsohn, the show’s executive producer) had asked if I was planning on leaving after last season.
She had mentioned to me at some point in midseason if there’s any way that we could perhaps wrap it up in the beginning of the next season? She said, ‘It’s more exciting for us as the writers and for the viewers.’
The combination of that information, and me having a hard time letting go, honestly, of this show and this group of people, I said, ‘Yeah, maybe I still need it as part of the process. I’m not done yet playing this character. I’m not done yet letting go.’ So that’s why I decided to extend it a little bit.
Are you saying this is your last season?
Ted said he was going to try to make you stay.
(she laughs) I look forward to hearing their scenarios of how they can engage me to return. Right now I’m still feeling that this is it. It’s a hard show to leave, because everyone is so amazing to work with. We laugh a lot. It’s a high quality show. It’s the number one show in the world. It’s got a lot of pluses to it.
I still feel committed to the fact that I want to switch it up and see what else is out there. I’ve been meeting with a lot of theatre producers hoping that I can explore that side of my acting ability. Obviously I’m not closing the door to any kind of other television or film work, but something as magical as CSI comes along once.
Is your former co-star William Peterson an inspiration in that way?
Yeah, because he comes from the theatre and actually he grew up in Evanston and I went to college in Evanston, Northwestern University, which has a great theatre program. I did a lot of plays there and musicals, and I’ve been itching to get back on the stage.
It’s been hard because of the commitment to this show and then raising a son, who is now twenty, and a production assistant on CSI. He was nine when I started on the show.
That’s one of the cute things about being on the show this long, a lot of the crew members’ children who were all little kids at the time are now working as staff and that’s what makes it even more of a family. It makes it even harder to leave.
What is the dynamic between your character and Ted’s?
You mean, am I pissed off that I’ve been demoted? Yeah. There’s a little bit of resentment there. But Ted’s character so far is pretty endearing, and he really has a unique way of looking at a crime scene. It’s a nice kind of fresh perspective, and I think it kind of gets under Catherine and everybody’s skin a little bit in a good way.
I think Catherine’s very intrigued by him. Catherine ultimately is a team player, and took some liberties at the end of last season in the way the crime was solved. She’s one to admit it, that things were done and this is the fallout.
Can you talk a little more about your dynamic with Ted in this? When somebody new comes in all the dynamics with all the characters change slightly.
It was interesting, because I didn’t have any idea who they were going to hire to replace Laurence, which was kind of a shock, none of us expected that. I really enjoyed working with Laurence very much, he’s a wonderful actor and we shared a lot on and off camera.
Ted was such a refreshing idea. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s so completely different.’ I’m a fan of his acting and a fan of him as a person. I’ve known him in social situations.
We actually have been in a project together before, but we didn’t play any scenes together. It was a miniseries, called Thanks of a Grateful Nation, about post-traumatic stress disorder having to do with the [Gulf] War in the early nineties. It was a great project.
So I said, ‘Bring it on.’ I was so excited he was the chosen one and so far it’s been a blast, he’s got such a great, easy going manner and he’s so curious and eager to jump into this group of people who have been together for eleven years.