After eleven years on the air, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has a new face. Ted Danson (Cheers, Damages) joins the show this season as DB Russell, the new CSI Supervisor. But unlike stuffy forensic scientists, he’s a family man, son of hippie parents, who reads crime novels and looks at every crime scene as it if were a story waiting to be told.
Ted Danson’s enthusiasm for the series and his role was evident when he spoke to the TV Critics at their tour this summer.
Obviously you’ve done drama before. I don’t know if you’ve ever solved crimes before. I can’t think of any instance where you have. Were you as surprised as maybe we were when they approached you, that you got cast in this?
Well, they still won’t give me a gun yet, so it’s not that farfetched. Yeah, I was surprised. I was thrilled and happy. Truth is, I’m trying to sound intelligent, [but] my jaw is hanging down still a little bit from the newness of all of this.
This is week one, so for me to talk about a character is insane, but he was [described to me] as kind of the Phil Jackson (one-time coach of the Lakers) coming in to handle a group of incredibly bright people that were on a slippery slope, because of things that happened in the last season.
I’m a family man and I’m being brought in to make the team work as well as possible. And that rings a bell with me, even though I’ve never played a detective. Trying to hold a crazy group of people together, whether they’re crazy bright or crazy silly, is something that I’ve done before and I respond to.
What do you feel like you have in common with this Russell?
One of our advisors on this show came from Vietnam, was a policeman, real CSI. He did everything, hardcore, dark, saw it all. And one of my problems that I had when I first approached this was I had these rose?tinted glasses that I go through life on. I have a pretty blessed, amazing life, and I kind of avoid the dark side.
Here are people that jump feet first into a real part of life, which is death and people who aren’t good people. How do you do that and keep some sense of joy in your life?
This advisor, who is just brilliant and helpful to me, said he saw the fragility of life every day; none of the people, none of the victims the day before or hours before, thought that they might end up dead today. He saw that vividly every day, and he said, ‘I chose to go in the direction of celebrating every moment of my life.
If I’m exhausted, I’m going to still get up and go be with my kids and my wife. I am going to be grateful for every day, every moment, and live my life one day at a time.’
That is brilliant. We should all be doing that. But he’s doing that while observing the darkest of the dark, and that was really helpful.
What’s the thought about getting back to a full-time series schedule? The other shows, like Damages, didn’t work you consistently all the time through a TV season?
I went from a gentleman actor to this! The last two weeks, I was staring at the ocean in Martha’s Vineyard, humming to myself. And within a week I went to my first autopsy, real one, in Las Vegas. And now I’m looking at CSI, and I’m training myself not to say, ‘You have a great show,’ but to say ‘We.’
It’s all happening incredibly fast, but it’s some of the most fun I’ve had.
It’s such a bright group of people, a great crew, great cast and great writers. Somebody pointed this out to me the other day that a sense of humor takes a certain kind of intelligence. And it’s the same brain that looks for clues and solves things. And so I feel at home in a funny way, even though I’m not doing jokes.
I really feel like I have walked into this perfect situation for me.
Being the son of an archaeologist, do you feel being around bones as a child helped you with this character?
I grew up around skulls. My father was an archaeologist/anthropologist in Tuscon and then later in Flagstaff, Arizona. And we would go on these digs. And as a four? or five-year-old, I would get to play around in the ancient trash heaps, and you would find a skull, and you would be whisked away.
This is my bad CSI story. Once when I was 11 years old I was out playing with my buddies in the woods. We were playing army, and we came across a skull that had a patch of hair, and the archaeologist’s son went, ‘Oh, cool. Let’s play Romans and Gauls.’ Stuck it on the end of a pole, and off we went for the rest of the day.
I came home and told my father and he went through the roof. We went looking for it with the police the next day and couldn’t find it.
Five years later, one of my buddies was up hiking in the same area, found that same skull again, brought it back to the museum where my father was working, put model clay on it and then drew a sketch of what the face would have looked like after molding clay on it, put it in the newspaper, and they identified him.
That’s my little CSI story from a kid. Isn’t that cool?