MARG HELGENBERGER AT THE TOP OF HER GAME
Soap Opera Update
June 18, 2002
By Nelson Branco
Ex-Ryan’s Hope star is one of nighttime TV’s most successful leading ladies!
“As long as a series is fun and creative, I can log in the hours,” says the talented Marg Helgenberger in response to why she loves working on TV.
Thanks to her entertaining and critically acclaimed role of Catherine Willows of CBS’ hit CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the actress is practicing what she preaches.
Although the former China Beach actress (she played a hooker named K.C.) earned an Emmy for her role, it wasn’t until she landed the lead role on the CBS sleeper hit that she became a household name. After the first season on the air, Helgenberger earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.
Her Soap Past
But for soap fans, Helgenberger has been a household name for quite some time now. Ever since she burst onto the soap screen as the most memorable of the infamous Siobhans on Ryan’s Hope, she’s held a special spot in soap fans’ hearts. For Helgenberger, TV work is just as fulfilling as film, if not more, considering the lack of strong roles for women on the big screen. She genuinely adores the genre, and although she understands why so many actors shy away from TV, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. “It’s funny, because a lot of time people forsake television series because it can be a grind. Near the ninth or tenth month, everybody is burnt out, but every day on China Beach was an adventure. I like series work. I like to become a family for nine or ten months,” says the actress, who is married to The Guardian‘s Alan Rosenberg.
Bringing CBS to Number One
CSI is a fast-paced drama about a passionate team of forensic investigators trained to solve crimes the old-fashioned way – by examining the evidence. They are on the case 24/7, scouring the scene, collecting the irrefutable evidence and finding the missing pieces that will solve the mystery. Catherine is a single parent living in Las Vegas, who has to juggle the job she loves while raising her child. In its second season, CSI has consistently been in the top three in the ratings, sometimes earning the number one position as the most-watched show on TV. With the deadly combination of Survivor and CSI, CBS has taken the must-see title away from its rival network, NBC.
Solving the Crime in the Nick of Time
For Helgenberger, the part of Catherine came just at the right time. However, even she didn’t realize how big the show would become. “It was such a great part that it was hard to find another one that could be as interesting and challenging. And hopefully, I know this one has the potential to be that. There were many reasons, obviously. This was geographically desirable, because it shoots here in California. I loved the script and I love the people involved, like Jerry Bruckheimer and William Petersen (Gil),” she says.
Working with one of film’s most successful producers was also a highlight for Helgenberger. The actress worked with the superstar producer on the film Bad Boys.
Bruckheimer attributes the success of the show to its stars, most notably Helgenberger. “We’re on the biggest night of television, which is very exciting for us. It’s a tribute to our cast, and they have made the characters interesting. When you find talented people, you let them do what they know how to do…and they’re doing an amazing job. It’s always about story and character and themes – those are the important things. If we do that well, then the audience will be entertained,” the producer explains when asked why the show is such a hit. The unparalleled success of CSI has led CBS to make plans to create a CSI franchise a la Law and Order, sometime next year.
According to Helgenberger, research played a large role in understanding her character. The actress says that she hung out with police officers and detectives to understand the world her character investigates. “The research is a blast. One of the great things about being an actor is you get to vicariously live through these people’s lives and risk your life,” she says, laughing.
The scientist and detective sleuthing is the part of CSI she most enjoys. “We are criminologists, and so we do all the painstaking stuff. We collect fibers, saliva samples, prints and so forth. You have to be excruciatingly careful with what you are collecting because it can be all thrown out if you screw up, but I don’t want to imply that the show is plodding. There is a lot of action, too. There are obviously times that my character is going to be in jeopardy and I’m going to have to make fast decisions. I love that kind of energetic kind of acting – anything where you can put action behind words. It’s lot more fund to watch and it is more fun to play.”
With a new legion of fans on primetime, and a growing one on daytime of old and new because of her Ryan’s Hope exposure on SoapNet, Helgenberger is arguably at the height of her fame. Case closed.