INTERVIEW WITH MARG HELGENBERGER
May 31, 2007
by Thomas Leupp
The 48-year-old mother of three Marg Helgenberger is one of the premier MILFs on network TV, where she stars on the hit show ‘CSI.’ As street-smart criminologist Catherine Willows, she’s capable of making even the most tedious forensics-related dialogue seem sexy. Oh yeah baby, tell me again about the DNA you found on that piece of lint. Oh yeah, you know what I like? But I digress. In the new thriller ‘MR. BROOKS,’ Helgenberger brings her milfiness to the big screen, playing the devoted wife of a closet serial killer Earl Brooks (played by Kevin Costner) and mother to their lovely daughter Jane (played by achingly hot Danielle Panabaker). Last week she stopped by Le Meridien Hotel in Beverly Hills to talk about Kevin Costner, serial killers, and the upcoming season of ‘CSI.’ Check it out.
How did you get involved with this project?
“Just my typical fashion in that my agent had given me the script and was a fan of it, and said “It’s a really cool script, Kevin’s attached to the title character.” The combination that it was one of the few scripts that I read that truly was a page-turner, continued to surprise me and was unpredictable. The characters were compelling which was darkly comic in some places which is my favorite form of humor. The fact that Kevin was attached to the part was very intriguing to me because he’s mostly known as a heroic, kind of iconic good guy or whatever. If they’re bad guys, they have a good side to them.
This character does have some good sides to him, but ultimately, he’s the ultimate bad guy because he’s so diabolical and so disturbed. So it was the combination of those two things. And the experience itself was fantastic. Kevin was just the coolest guy, so interested and supportive and inclusive of my ideas, thoughts and opinions. The process of improvising the scenes was great and just made you feel like ‘Oh yeah, remember when we did this in acting class or in college?’ It was just cool and I felt like I was in such wonderful company with all the actors.”
Did you have a favorite scene that you shot?
“I did. It was the scene in the car after the event in which Kevin’s character is honored and we’re chatting and then all of a sudden, here comes Bill Hurt — William Hurt, rather. It was interesting how are we going to stage this, all of a sudden now, what’s this? Are we in a Steven King film? What the heck’s going on here, what’s the audience going to see, why is she not aware of this guy? So the staging of it, but also the playing of it, because I’m oblivious to him.
Here I am with these two great actors, these intense guys and here I am just talking about the event itself and the speech and they’re doing the plotting. I like car scenes, especially if you like the people that are in the scene with you because they are intimate, physically intimate, because you are on top of each other, you’re stuck inside a car that is attached to a tow truck and there’s nowhere to go. It was a Friday night in Shreveport and we’re shooting and there was a lot of revelry going on around the town. Everyone was in a good mood and it was fun. Both these guys are great, intense and sexy, what’s not to like about all that?”
How difficult was it to act oblivious to William Hurt?
“That was tough, because he’s so damn good and he’s so intense and so sensitive. I was intimidated by him because he’s such a presence and so smart. But he was really sweet and very much part of the process and really likes his fellow actors. And if there’s a sequel, I certainly will be oblivious to him too unless they come up with a clever way of a fantasy sequence where I can actually play off him.”
As the mother, what would your feelings be in terms of how your character protects her daughter?
“If there is a sequel, that’s where they will focus their attention, on the family’s dynamics. Clearly in the scenes I do have in the film, I do talk about our daughter and why she’s not at this event and how disappointed I am and he’s the one who always defends her. That’s clearly the relationship that we’ve had all along. Whatever she does is right. A mother-child bond is greater than a husband-wife bond, far more intuitive and I think someone can be completely smitten by a love for someone of the opposite sex, or same sex depending upon your partner, so I think that’s where the suspicions are going to come from, the daughter’s aberrant behavior. I’m interested to see how it will play out and I know Kevin is interested in seeing that as well and hopefully that will happen. Because what do you do when your child is a murderer? That’s almost worse than having your child murdered. It’s horrible, I can’t imagine what that must be like. I’m not trying to belittle having your child murdered because that must be horrible, bust geez, that’s tough.”
Did you know that they were planning on potential sequels to Mr. Brooks?
“Not really. Way back when we met at lunch, he eluded to something where the two of us would go off in the car falling off into the lake because I know what’s up and instead of giving himself up and me giving him up because I don’t know necessarily if I would give him up out of love, I guess I would not give him up. But he makes the choice, but I don’t want to speak too much because that is something he eluded to but I don’t know if that’s their plan.”
Do you think your character was more aware than she let on?
“In this movie? No, no. I do believe that Emma (her character) was aware of a darkness that he retreats to from time to time. I don’t think the thought ever crosses her mind that he’s capable of murder and a serial type of murderer. I think in every marriage or long relationship, part of what makes it a success is that you allow the person their own differences or their own hobbies and you kind of let them be and give them their space and I think that’s what Emma does. She thinks that it’s business trips or whatever and she just allows that because for the most part, he’s the perfect man.”
What else have you been working on during your time off from ‘CSI’?
“I just did a movie with Val Kilmer called ‘Columbus Day’ and that was a little indie directed by a very talented young guy and a small, but really nice part for me. It was completely the antithesis of what I do on ‘CSI,’ more of a non-glamorous part, a good person but she has kind of a meager existence as the ex-wife.
It’s an odd little story in that he’s a criminal who’s pulled off a heist and wanting to sell what’s inside the briefcase and making deals, he’s waiting in Echo Park and meets up with a young boy and they strike up a conversation that leads up to this relationship which ends up being very cathartic to him and he realizes the importance of people in his life that meant something to him, one of them being his ex-wife. So most of it was over the phone, these conversations in which he’s wooing me back and traveling down memory lane. I eventually do succumb and I come and pick him up at the end of the film. He was great. He was charming and funny and all that stuff.”
Can you tell us if there are any ‘CSI’ storylines from last season that are going to continue?
“The only ones that will continue because this whole season we did this little miniature serial killer and her signature was to leave behind a miniature of the crime scene which was actually kind of clever and interesting and drew you in. It was a good season actually; it was one of our strongest yet. Anyway, they need to wrap that up because one of the central characters was essentially kidnapped and whether she’s coming back or not, nobody knows. Nobody knows.
Can you compare the serial killers on CSI to Mr. Brooks’ character?
“Most of the serial killers on our show have not been carried out for a whole season like this one which was unique. You never knew who this person was – you just assumed this was a guy and it wasn’t, it was a young woman. Unusual, but nonetheless, it was fun to do. Mr. Brooks, elegant, classy, very smart and someone you wouldn’t suspect because he’s Portland ‘s Man of the Year. The man of the year cannot be a serial killer. My husband can’t be a serial killer.”
Will there be more shuffling of the CSI cast, like you did last season?
“I’m not exactly sure. Everyone’s contract is up this year and it will be interesting what happens after this one. They’ve eluded to the fact that if Billy decides to leave that instead of bringing on another guy to replace him, they’ll bring on someone to do four-episode arcs like they did with Liev Schreiber this year, which was awesome. I loved working with him; he was funny, smart, great actor and everybody was inspired by that. Also, when you have new energy, it steps up everybod’y’s game. That I look forward to. So anything is possible.”
When you choose a movie role, are you consciously trying to break away from your character on ‘CSI’?
“That’s what was so nice about this part I did in the Val Kilmer movie because she was so non-glamorous, trying the online dating thing, and I don’t want to say meek because we had great dialogue together, but someone daffy. Sometimes on ‘CSI,’ I’m pretty confident, sassy, self-assured, and cerebral. And that’s what I’m asked to do. So yeah, something unexpected and someone who wouldn’t be glamorous, like a regular person.”
Would you like to do comedy?
“Oh yeah, I’d love to do a comedy. Absolutely. Comedy is so challenging. People have a real knack for it and I’d look forward to it.”
Do you ever let your husband read scripts for roles that you’re offered?
“I didn’t with ‘Mr. Brooks.’ I have with my husband before, certain other scripts, whether I should do them or not. My husband is an actor and I trust his opinion implicitly. He’s got great taste and he’s directed before too. He knows me, he gets me and he knows what I’m capable of, so many times I do show it to my husband, but not this one. This one, I didn’t. This one came to me from my agent who was a fan of the script and Kevin was already attached. The combination of the two really sold it for me.”