HEART OF HOLLYWOOD INTERVIEW
Aired July 3, 2010
Please note that for some reason the interview began abruptly, mid-question in fact, and then had the same abrupt restart after the commercial break so there are small portions of the interview missing.
Marg: ….It’s rare that you get it…
Joe: It takes time to grow your audience.
Marg: Yes, yes. But this…there was clearly an audience that had an appetite for it because we were put on a… initially, our time slot was what they refer to as, you know, ‘Death Slot’. It was Friday night at nine or ten or something like that.
Joe: Friday night is a bad night.
Joe: was a bad night…
Marg: Yeah, it’s probably the worst night that you can be put on anyway. It surpassed anybody’s expectation and then within, I’d say, half a season we were moved to, which is still considered the hottest night on television, Thursday night. And it was a move that Les Moonves made, which was pretty risky, because it put us opposite all the big hits that they had at the time, Friends and ER, and we clobbered our competition and the rest is history.
Joe: ER…poor George Clooney. You were his gal pal for a while on that show.
Marg: Yeah I was. I did four episodes in the second season, which was a lot of fun. I mean he was…you’ve probably met him and interviewed him.
Joe: I’ve met him. Yes, I have.
Marg: Yes and he’s very gregarious and funny and smart and all those things. In fact, I just bumped into one of the producers of the show at the time. And he said, “You know, you’re the only one, while he was on ER…you were the only one that got him to take his shirt off in those love scenes.” He refused to take off his t-shirt with every other love interest he had on that show. He takes his shirt off for features, but he wouldn’t take it off for TV.
Joe: Did you know that?
Marg: I didn’t know that until this producer told me last week.
Joe: You know what…he reminds me of Cary Grant. He’s the closest thing to Cary Grant.
Marg: Yes, I agree.
Joe: And you, Marg Helgenberger, remind me, and I must tell you this, of Rita Hayworth.
Marg: My goodness, that’s high praise!
Joe: Yeah, and I mean it.
Marg: Oh, thank you.
Joe: The look, the talent, the everything that you have going for you.
Joe: When you started this show, was it overwhelming the lingo you had to learn for CSI?
Marg: I wouldn’t say that the amount of the medical jargon or the…
Marg: All the forensics stuff, but the science. At times it’s like Shakespeare. You kind of learn it by rote because it’s not something that just will come to you or you can’t ad-lib really. But, on the other hand, I don’t play a Medical Examiner. The gentleman who plays our coroner, Robert David Hall…my God, he always has the tricky stuff to memorize. So I take my hat off to him every time I play a scene with him. But the hardest thing about a new television series are the hours. It takes a lot of effort on everyone’s part, for every department to try and figure out what the show’s about and what the tone of the show is. And, you know, getting the chemistry right between the cast and trying to do it so you’re not working around the clock. But, nonetheless, it’s kind of typical for all hour episodic shows.
Joe: It’s hard work.
Marg: I would say you average sixteen to seventeen hours a day on a new show.
Joe: Now. you did soap as well. You came out of college, you did the soap opera.
Marg: Right. Ryan’s Hope.
Joe: Ryan’s Hope. Is this more difficult? Because they say soap opera work is the hardest work in the world. Learning seventeen to twenty five pages a day. Is this as hard as that… CSI?
Marg: It’s harder in a different way. It’s harder in that the hours are, at least on our show, because especially in the beginning, because the show’s about a group of criminalists that work the graveyard shift in Las Vegas. So whenever we strived to have those nighttime locations…but that means you’re shooting until three or four o’clock in the morning, which is very hard to do. I know there’s people that are night owls and they prefer to shoot at night. I’m not one of them. And especially at the time when I got the show, my son was nine, you know, so I was getting up in the morning with him to get him off to school.
Joe: After working all night?
Marg: Yeah, so it was hard.
Joe: Oh Marg. Wow.
Marg: Yeah, it was hard, but the soap operas are difficult in that it’s a new script every single day, and the material is not always inspired in that it’s something fresh. You feel like you play the same scene over and over again. Don’t feel I’m talking out of turn. I’m certainly not being….with all due respect to everyone that’s worked on daytime, they can probably understand what I’m talking about. They can relate.
Joe: The thing that impresses me most about soap operas is the fact that they have to hold that shot at the end of every shot.
Marg: Oh boy, did we hate that.
Joe: How do you do that?
Marg: I hated it, and I don’t think there’s anybody who enjoys it. And it’s that, what people always refer to, as having egg on your face. You know, because I mean, now an acting teacher will tell you ‘Well, you shouldn’t be bothered by that. You should be in the moment, and until they say cut. you stay active, your thoughts stay active.’ But, nonetheless, it’s still hard to do because you know that the scene’s over. You know that they’re read to and because the close up on your face like somebody just dropped a bomb on you. You know, a ‘verbal bomb’, and you have to like ‘Oh God’, so I don’t even know if I have any tips other than what the acting teacher or acting coach will tell you to do, ‘stay in the moment.’
Joe: You graduated from one of the greatest acting schools in the country, Northwestern University, right?
Marg: I did.
Joe: Did you go through their drama…? I didn’t know. It said you went to Northwestern. I just assumed you went through their drama program.
Marg: Yes, correct. Well, I transferred there from a state college in Nebraska where I am from. So I spent my last two years at Northwestern in their, which was then called, the School of Speech, which is now called the School of Communication. And yes, it still is a terrific school. I’m still involved with the school. I’m on their advisory council, and I love speaking with the Dean of the School of Communication, Barbara O’Keefe, to find out what’s going on. And sometimes I go back and I will work with the students. That, I always enjoy that. Especially when they…they had then, the MFA program. All of the graduate students had written a play, and we got to do all these stage readings with them, and for them to see how this worked on its feet with professional actors. That kind of thing is really fun. I enjoy it… working with the students.
Joe: Can they take away the awesomeness of your, or to them, your stardom, when they work with you at this school, or is it hard to reach them? Does it take a while for Marg to get connected to these kids?
Marg: For me, it doesn’t.
Joe: You’re a superstar. You know, to them, we’re in Hollywood, you know. You assume everybody’s like this, but when you go back to Northwestern, and they see someone who’s so well known, been in major motion pictures, been on the biggest show in television for many years, are they overwhelmed by you when you go back?
Marg: I don’t sense that they are. Most of the students at that school are very driven, and most of them know that they want to go into the entertainment industry, so perhaps they might be somewhat intimidated in the beginning, but I think because they usually…they know the questions to ask, or they, as I was just talking, ‘the play’s the thing’ — the thing, the words are the thing, so that is what they focus on. And it’s a limited amount of time, so we really try to utilize our time as best as possible. And also, there’s a lot of well known alums that return to the school and either work with the kids or are available to pick their brains in some way or another.
Joe: Lets go back. Tell me about the young Marg. Marg Helgenberger growing up in Nebraska.
Marg: Yes. North Bend, Nebraska. Population twelve hundred.
Joe: Didn’t they do a TV series about North Bend, Nebraska? Twelve hundred really?
Marg: Twelve hundred. Yeah.
Joe: And what were your dreams as a little kid, Marg?
Marg: Wow, you know, my dreams as a child…I kind of knew at a young age that I wanted to experience the world, certainly not necessarily stay in the state of Nebraska. I didn’t really have any designs on becoming an actor, probably not until I got to be in my upper teens. And I sort of fell into that because my English teacher in high school was starting a speech and drama program, and she was recruiting kids. Because in the speech and drama program, essentially you work on…whether it’s duet acting or interpretation of drama. You would perform opposite, at these various tournaments, I guess…these speech and drama tournaments against people in your conference.
Joe: That’s Nebraska. Great football team.
Marg: Yeah. Well, they had been in the Big 8 for four years and then they’re in the Big 12, and now they just left the Big 12 to go to the Big 10.
Joe: Which is now gonna be the Big 12.
Marg: Yeah, exactly. Go figure. It’s so bizarre.
Joe: I know. It’s all about the money. I hate to say it…I have to say it. Where would the educational system be without the sports to support it with all these great programs?
Marg: Yeah. I know, I know. And I guess somewhere while I was in High School and performing in plays that I’d been recruited for…like many kids, you get bitten by the bug. It just kind of sneaks up on you. But I was never one of those kids that was play acting or doing any of that when I was a young child. But it was a great outlet for me. Even though when you go to a small…you’re from a small town, and the school is very small too. The extracurricular activities you get involved in are…there’s many that you get involved with just to elevate the boredom, you know.
Joe: All of a sudden my mind went to 4H Club and things like that.
Marg: Well, I had…many of my friends were in the 4H club. I was in the band, both the marching band and the stage band, and the concert band.
Joe: What did you play?
Marg: I played the French horn. I wasn’t particularly that good of a player.
Joe: You do not look like a French horn player.
Marg: Which is a hard instrument to play.
Joe: I know. That’s what I’m saying. That’s a tough, tough instrument.
Marg: Yeah, and I sort of got roped into it. But I have to say, my late father was insistent upon all of his kids learning an instrument. I’m glad that he was that insistent. I have a brother who played the trumpet and a sister who played the trombone. I have enormously fond memories of being in the band when I was in junior high and high school. And I wouldn’t have had those experiences if my father hadn’t been so insistent upon us playing an instrument.
Joe: Northwestern is in Chicago?
Marg: Just outside in Evanston.
Joe: That is like a big town to you.
Marg: Oh yeah.
Joe: What was that like…the transition?
Marg: That was fun. The harder transition, I think for me, was just Northwestern itself because it was an academically challenging school, and even though I was a good student at the state college, I didn’t really apply myself that much and I was mostly doing plays and musicals and having a good time. Going to class, of course, not always, all the time, but anyway…And I was with kids that were from, not only from all over the country, but all over the world, and they knew what they wanted to be. You know, professional actors or directors or film makers, whatever in the industry. And I was still just kind of a babe in the woods. Just everything was…I was awestruck by a lot of things. So… but Chicago, even though it’s a large city, it felt like just a big Mid-West city, which it still is.
Joe: Nicest people in the world come from Chicago. They’re really friendly.
Marg: They are. They’re very friendly. They love their city. They love to have a good time, and it’s a beautiful city. I love the architecture throughout the city and with the lake there, of course.
Joe: There’s only one thing wrong with Chicago.
Marg: The weather.
Joe: Winter. It’s the coldest place in the world.
Marg: Yes, yes.
Joe: When you went to Northwestern, was that by design? Did you have s scholarship, or did you know this is the school I want to got to because this is the profession I want to be in?
Marg: Again, it was another thing I kind of fell into. My high school boyfriend was applying to the medical school. Well, they had a program which may still exist – it was three years pre-med, three years medical school at Northwestern so you got to skip two years. So that was what he was applying to. He said, ‘Would you like me to get you an application for their school of speech? Because I know they have a good school.’ I said, ‘Sure. Okay.’ And then I started, like, investigating, and as it turns out, I got in and he didn’t. I mean, he was applying to a program that they only take a handful of students. Anyways, it was kind of a life-changing experience for me actually.
Joe: You were discovered during your college years to go to New York, right? By the soap.
Marg: That’s right. I was in a production of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ at Northwestern, and there was a casting agent that was a talent scout for ABC daytime television in the audience that night. And she called me in to interview. She wanted to see me the next day and mentioned that I’d be perfect for soap operas – ‘Are you interested?’ And I said, ‘Well, you know, thank you. I’m flattered.’ I had a quarter left at school, and I really wanted to finish. You know, because it was important to me to get my degree. So, as it turns out… People have told me I have good karma. I guess, I kind of do. But, like, two weeks after I graduated, I’m not joking, this woman called me to say, ‘You know there’s this part available on Ryan’s Hope. I’d love to have them fly you out for a screen test. Are you interested?’ And before I could really give it a whole lot of thought, I, you know, I didn’t have an agent or anything. It was a whirlwind. Next thing I knew, I was packing up and moving to New York.
Joe: Now that had to be fantastic for a girl from Nebraska, twelve hundred people, to New York City.
Marg: I couldn’t believe it happened that fast. Because my plan was to stay in Chicago, because you know, it’s a very, still is a very, active theater town and great talent in that community. So I… wow… but you know life takes you where it needs to take you, I guess.
Joe: Were you in shock? What’s it like? You’re coming from college, Northwestern…you come from a small town in Nebraska. You hit New York, and you probably had to go to work right away…
Marg: Pretty much.
Joe: Or did you have a period of adjustment, to get comfortable.
Marg: No. I was dating a guy that was living in New York. He had gone to Northwestern, and I crashed with him for a little while. But he lived in a, pardon my French…It was just a dump. I couldn’t wait to get out of that place. As it turned out, one of the stresses on the show had a sublet. She had recently gotten married and she wanted to hang onto her apartment. She and her husband found a place.
Joe: Safety net.
Marg: And it was one of those illegal sublets, which I, of course, they never turn out well usually. It was a cute apartment on West End Avenue, upper west side. I remember one time just like moving up…I bought a standing lamp. I was taking the three flights up and the landlord of the building said, ‘Who are you and what are you doing?’ and then I felt like I was being used as a pawn, you know. Because that landlord wanted that tenant out.
Joe: Sure. So the rent will go up.
Marg: Yeah. I just chalked it up to one of those ‘Welcome to New York’ stories. It could have been a lot worse.
Joe: You did the soap opera for quite a while, right?
Marg: I did it for three years, three and a half years. Something like that.
Joe: Was it fun?
Marg: You know, at time it was. At times it was kind of tedious. You know, it’s funny people on soap operas, they…I don’t know…there was an attitude about it, almost like a defeatist attitude. The tedium had gotten to them. I don’t know, it was kind of odd. That surprised me and I didn’t know what to make of that.
Joe: It’s almost like a unique part of it, well all of it – television, movies and, you know, soaps – almost three different classifications of work.
Joe: You’re all actors, but the work is so different in each medium. Movies, you have all the time in the world. You’re doing an hour dramatic show every week – it’s got to be boggling different. But daytime television is like you’re there, you’re out. You’d better know your lines. You don’t have time for retakes. Boom, you’re gone. So it’s almost like you’re playing three different sports.
Marg: Right. I mean and that’s…you brought up how it’s you’re no… seldom do you retake or reshoot anything. They always…I remember the producers, they always got upset if you weren’t up on your lines and you just say ‘Okay we have to cut here.’ It always would irritate them if you cut, because nobody would cut. The director wouldn’t cut, the camera operator, no one.
Joe: Did you have the cheat sheets then?
Marg: You know what they did have, teleprompters. I never liked them. I never used them. Some actors that was like a security blanket, they really relied on them. I hated it because it meant that they weren’t…I mean, I understand if you don’t… there’s a lot of dialog…but when you feel like you’re not…your acting partner isn’t connected with you… I always felt like it was acting in a vacuum. It always bothered me.
Joe: Yeah. Interesting because if you’re reading, you’re not thinking about the emotion, I would imagine.
Joe: You know, it becomes rote.
Joe: Rather then emotional or real.
Joe: Did you have time when you were doing the soap to do any theater in New York?
Marg: You know what? I didn’t. I worked with a childrens theater company called Ta-Da, which is actually still in existence. They were in their infancy back then in the eighties. I enjoyed that quite a bit. They were all kids.
Joe: Were you teaching the kids how to work?
Marg: Yes, and I was helping. I was working with the kids along with the director and the artistic director of the company, at the time. You know, it was funny when I was doing the soap opera, it can feel like almost like a bit of a factory.
Joe: Churn it out.
Marg: Yeah. They didn’t want you to do extra takes. I don’t know, I felt a little bit like ‘What’s this?’ After having done, like, Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, Chekov… so working with children gave me an opportunity to… I thought maybe that was what I wanted to do, was maybe just devote myself to children’s theater. So I was glad I had that outlet. And I did a few readings. I didn’t do any plays while I was in New York. I regret that. It’s a little difficult with your schedule. That’s kind of what the difficulty of having a television series too that’s a big hit, which makes you feel incredibly secure that you don’t have to… ‘where is the next job coming from?’. But, on the other hand, you’re limited to what else you can do.
Joe: Did you get to enjoy New York at all? As a young gal, I mean, you’re in New York…
Marg: Of course.
Marg: Of course. Early twenties, single..
Joe: Having fun.
Marg: You bet.
Joe: What brought you out to Hollywood?
Marg: I was cast…
Joe: We are chatting with Marg Helgenberger. Let me fill everybody in because I’m getting lost in the conversation here, and I forget to do my job.
Joe: What brought you out here, Marg?
Marg: What brought me out initially was I was cast in a short-lived series called Shell Game that starred Margo Kidder, and we just did six episodes. It didn’t last long, but it brought me out to Hollywood, and I reconnected with a man who I had met in New York. An actor who I ended up marrying, Alan Rosenberg.
Joe: He was head of SAG, right?
Marg: That’s right, yes. He was president of SAG for four years at a very tumultuous time sadly.
Joe: Yeah, it still is.
Marg: Yeah, yes it is.
Joe: We’ll get it all straightened out one of these days.
Marg: Yeah. Gotta have faith, I guess, right?
Joe: Oh boy, without that where would we be?
Joe: So, you come out and you do the show. Is she [he’s referring to Margo Kidder here] alright now? I hope she is.
Marg: I haven’t heard anything about her in a while.
Joe: I heard good. I heard she was really up on her feet and really doing very well.
Marg: Oh good, I’m glad.
Joe: This is a tough town sometimes.
Marg: Absolutely .
Joe: And success doesn’t always make it better. Sometimes it makes it a lot worse.
Marg: I agree. I recently read the book Day of the Locust
Joe: Oh yeah. Sure.
Marg: I started a book club about twelve or thirteen years ago, something like that. And that was our selection last month, which…Wow that is one sad story…and disturbing. I mean brilliant writing, I think, but it made…yeah, because he got really a lot of the desperation in Hollywood and people’s, you know, what they do to strive for fame and success. Oh boy.
Joe: It gets tough. It gets tough.
Joe: Back in the studio, I’m Joe Sutton. Greg Widerman, what would we do without you? This woman, Marg Helgenberger, my gosh there’s no bigger star in Hollywood. She’s been the star of CSI, which is the number one show in the world, and she’s the boss next year, her eleventh year. Have you ever heard a nicer person on this show? She’s humble, she’s sweet, she gorgeous, she’s talented. It’s so nice when you get to chat. I feel like I’m blessed when I get to meet these people and really chat and see how marvelous they are. Marg Helgenberger will be back in just a moment. I’m Joe Sutton, the Heart of Hollywood.
Joe: Marg Helgenberger, Wow, what a woman. I don’t think anybody knew if she was coming back for the eleventh year of CSI, so we’re announcing it here. Marg Helgenberger will be back for the eleventh year of CSI.
Joe: Lets get back to our show. Marg Helgenberger, CSI.
Joe: So, what was the first thing and job in Hollywood that made you feel ‘I can do this. I can compete with these people and I can have a great career here’?
Marg: I would have to say China Beach, which was the series that was, what I consider, my first series.
Joe: You won an Emmy for that show, right?
Marg: Yeah, I did.
Joe: Oh, I’m looking at it. By the way, we’re sitting in Marg Helgenberger’s home on the west side of L.A., and your home is beautiful.
Marg: Thank you.
Joe: It reflects you beautifully, and I forget…we start chatting and I don’t even let our audience know where we are. There it is. Oh my God. how beautiful.
Marg: Yeah, so I would say that series, I think, was the one that I was lucky enough to get cast in. And it was a part that was really juicy. You know, it was one of those that…
Joe: Yeah, You played a prostitute.
Marg: Yeah, so there was a lot of opportunity for all kinds of scenes that depicted what was going on in Vietnam at the time. It was really well written, and it was a wonderful cast. And I played a lot of my scenes with Dana Delany. We were kind of the quintessential ‘good girl, bad girl’ relationship. Beause she was the angelic face that the soldiers always looked up to when they were injured. It was a great relationship actually. The characters were really Yin and Yang, but they understood each other, really respected each other. We had a lot of fun.
Joe: Erin Brockovich. I mean, you were magnificent in that.
Marg: Thank you.
Joe: I don’t want to insult Julia Roberts in any way, but your role really stole that movie. She won an Academy Award for it, but it was the first time I really noticed Marg and I said ‘Wow this woman is…you’re beautiful’. I mean, that had to be a rough, rough role to grab.
Marg: Yes, it was in some ways because yes, I was playing a woman who had a hysterectomy due to this chromium that was in the water supply outside Barstow from the PG&E plant. And then she finds out midway in the story that she’s got to have a double mastectomy. But what I liked about the character was that she was…always had like a sunny disposition. She always looked at the glass half full and wanted to believe the best in everyone. So this one scene, in particular, I remember I played with Julia, because I had…it wasn’t that many scenes, but they were all real, like, kind of important to the story because they forced the story to kind of turn. Anyway, so there was a scene in which Julia’s character, Erin Brockovich, comes to me and says that, you know…she shows me all this paperwork and these doctors that they said, ‘Well, this is what’s in the water supply’ and I just can’t quite comprehend what she’s telling me because she says, ‘Well, no, that’s not what I was told. Our doctors said this, that and the other thing.’ And Julia says, ‘Those doctors were paid by PG&E.’ And that’s like Wow…the devastation that woman felt right then and there. And the betrayal, the deep betrayal, and exposing her children to that. It was powerful. It was really powerful. But working with Steven Soderbergh was a really great experience because he’s a director that is so very clear on what he wants out of something, but doesn’t over-explain anything. Certainly does not over-direct which can get in the way, you know. In fact, I talked with Julia about it too. She said he was just so clear with everything, and he was always picking up scenes. I was glad I was prepared when I arrived because my stuff was shot in, whatever, ten to twelve days or something like that.
Joe: Did you shoot it in Barstow? Did you actually go out there?
Marg: Yeah, we did.
Joe: Yeah, it was very real.
Marg: We did, in fact. My double-wide was about three or four hundred yards from the PG&E plant. You could see it out the window in this double wide we shot in. Yeah, the visuals in that movie were incredible. Really good DP. Ed Lachman was the DP on that. I remember Steven would come to me and say, ‘You know, we’re moving along pretty quickly.’ You know he always operated a camera too.
Joe: I didn’t know that.
Marg: Yeah, at least in this film he did. And he said, you know, ‘Are you ready to shoot that scene that we were going to do tomorrow’ (or the next day or whatever). I said, ‘Yeah I think I can do that.’ So we would, yeah, get three or four pages out of the way that were for the next day.
Joe: Did the soap background help you with things like that? That you had such a demand to know lines for the soaps that when you moved into movies and television, CSI, that Marg was ready for this.
Marg: Well, you knowm what actually I think it wasn’t so much that training, I think it was that I related to this character, particularly because my mother was a cancer survivor and had a double mastectomy back thirty years ago. But, just her disposition, I could relate to it.
Joe: And we know she’s great because she was just here last week with you.
Marg: That’s right. My mother, Kay Snyder. Yes, she went home yesterday actually. Anyway, so I kind of just used a lot of her mannerisms as well as another relative of mine. So I really had an affinity to the character. Plus, also I had a feeling that, I think, I had been told that Julia doesn’t really like to rehearse that much, or practice as she refers to it. So I think, you know, that I’m going have to be prepared no matter what because I don’t want to keep her waiting. I want to be able to give it my all, be my best, from the moment I arrive on the set.
Joe: Preparation. Was it rough to get that role? I mean, what was the process to get what I thought was a brilliant role?
Marg: Thank you. Actually, it was.
Joe: I say that because, you know, you had to have a certain look, and you are a beautiful woman and you had to portray a woman that didn’t look so great.
Marg: Right. Hair and makeup and wardrobe left a lot to be desired.
Joe: An acting ability, a little bit. Just a little bit Marg.
Marg: Oh boy. So my manager called to say, “There’s this part in Erin Brockovich that I think you’re perfect for, but Steven doesn’t. He’s not going to be meeting with you. They said ‘Will Marg be put on tape?’ and I said, ‘No, she needs to meet with Steven.'” And I just kind of interrupted my manager and said I’ll be put on tape. I don’t care. You know, it’s fine with me. My ego really doesn’t get bruised about that thing. So I went and read with the casting director Marjorie Simkin, and whatever, you know, like three weeks passed, and my manager said…she was so excited…”You’re not going to believe it. I’m on cloud nine!” So, yeah, who knew? I guess he liked what I did.
Joe: What’s that wait like?
Marg: I didn’t even give it…because I was in the middle of shooting a pilot at the time. A pilot that didn’t end up going, that goodness, because otherwise…the next year I did CSI. And that, that pilot was shooting up at Berkeley actually.Berkeley and Oakland area, so it was between…I had a few days off so I came back down to audition, to read for Erin Brockovich and then I went back up to shoot so it really didn’t phase me. I didn’t really think about it because I was in the midst of working on something.
Joe: Do you forget that test? Do you forget?
Marg: Yeah and no. I mean, there’s nothing you can do when you’re put on tape and you feel like ‘Okay I…’ and she gave me a ‘Do you want to change anything? Now’s the time.’ ‘No, I’m good with what I did.’ So, I just kind of leave it at that point because there’s too much beating yourself. Too many actors, including myself…you come home at night after a day and go ‘That’s how I should have done it.’ You know, and it still happens to me. ‘Oh wow, I missed that.’ Especially when you’re working fast on TV. It’s just you get tired, or it just doesn’t hit you until later.
Joe: When they approached you on CSI, I mean, you’re working with Jerry Bruckheimer. Is that like, you know, I have my film career going, do I want to do television? Did that ever come to your mind? Do I want to stick with film or do I want to do television? Overnight in television, you’re a big star. You can do four or five or six films before people really recognize you and say ‘That Marg Helgenberger. Wow, what an actor.’
Marg: No, because at that point, I was wanting to do a series that shot in Los Angeles because of my son. I was…I spent the nineties, a good part of the nineties, after I did China Beach, in Canada or elsewhere. I shot something in New Zealand, I shot something in Europe, I shot something all over the United States. But I just was really tired of traveling, because I couldn’t take my son out of school every single time, and it was not fair to him to be away from his school, his friends, his after school projects, rec sports, all that stuff. So I really wanted a series in Los Angeles, and this is one that I thought…this is a unique fresh idea. You know, it’s like Sherlock Holmes of the twenty-first century.
Joe: Yeah. Is Jerry Bruckheimer…was this his first television show? I’m not sure.
Marg: You know, I think it may have been his second effort, but the first one, I don’t know the name of it. I bet you Jerry doesn’t even remember the name of it. Yeah, but this one like…Wow, just started an empire for him.
Joe: I love it. He has so many good films.
Marg: Oh, certainly he had in films. Yeah, but this was, you know, all of a sudden, he’s got the domination of both film and television.
Joe: I don’t know how people do it. I don’t know how they do all the work. Bill Petersen, this was his, if I’m not mistaken, this was his concept.
Marg: No, it actually was created by a guy named Anthony Zuiker, who is a Vegas born and bred guy who came up with this idea. It sort of came about when he, he and his wife actually, were fans of a show that was on, I think, the Discovery Channel called The New Detectives. I don’t even know if it’s still on or not. but it was a program like one of the 48 Hours or The First 48, the shows in which they do re-enactments of real crimes and The New Detectives referred to criminalists.
Joe: Like the beginning of reality TV. You know, Cops, Real Cops, stuff like that.
Marg: Yes, yes. So I started watching the show The New Detectives, and I have to say that even though they were re-enactments of these crimes and how they were able to follow the evidence, how they were able to catch the person, it was almost more terrifying than seeing, like, the real graphic episodes that we shoot on CSI. Just the way it was told – the narrator’s voice, and also it does add a lot of weight to it. You know, this was a real crime, because obviously you have compassion for the victims and the victim’s families. So I don’t even know why I got off on that tangent.
Joe: No, understood. We’re chatting about getting into the show and doing it and the uniqueness of it. Have you ever been overwhelmed by the graphics of the show? I mean some of that stuff I have to watch, you know, with my fingers over my eyes. It’s like watching a horror movie.
Marg: There have been a few times in which it… and knowing, of course, that it was all prosthetics and make up and fake blood and whatever…
Joe: I know that, but I still can’t watch.
Marg: But yes, there have been a few times in which I had to actually get out of the room, and it was just too graphic for me. And many times, they have to shoot in a way that they know they’ll get on the air because some of it is just way too bloody and gory, you, know for nine o’clock because a lot of our fans are kids, believe it or not.
Joe: Sure, I believe it.
Joe: Wow, do you ever come home and have nightmares about this stuff or dreams about this stuff?
Marg: Occasionally I do. Occasionally.
Joe: Because I do.
Marg: I would have to say the psychological ones, the ones that get under your skin more are the ones that probably I have the nightmares about more than the ones that are somebody being bludgeoned to death.
Joe: We went from Bill Petersen to Liev Schreiber and then Mr. Fishburne, Laurence Fishburne.
Joe: Is Laurence coming back this year?
Joe: So it will be Laurence…now you are his boss.
Marg: Yes, I am.
Joe: You’re the big guy. What’s it like to be the big cheese on that show? It’s got to be an amazing feeling.
Marg: Yeah, I’m enjoying it. This last year, well since Billy left, which was like midway through the ninth season, Catherine’s been in charge. And I think it took Catherine a little bit of time to figure out where she stood in terms of her position of power. But by our last season, our tenth season, I don’t think she doubted her abilities. I think she really was confident and also other members of her team saying ‘You can do this. What you don’t have is yourself. That’s what he relied on, what Billy’s character relied on was you. You’re having to do both of it.’
Joe: How has the character that Marg Helgenberger plays in CSI changed…Catherine over the last ten years?
Marg: Well, mostly I would say I’ve gained a lot more wisdom and certainly maturity, and I would say less…I’m drawing a blank right now. It’s funny how playing a character for as long as as I’ve played, you find how you’ve matured as a person that sometimes leads into the character. And whatever good qualities that character has, you hope are reflected in you. You know, just that fine line between…because especially those first few seasons, I felt like I was spending more time playing Catherine than I was playing myself.
Joe: Just being Marg, right?
Marg: Just all those things. My character on the show is a mother as am I. Our children are similar ages. I have a daughter on the show, I have a son in real life, but nonetheless, I know what teenage experience is like.
Joe: It’s pretty scary.
Marg: Yeah. Yes, definitely. And the empty nest syndrome, which Catherine is going to be dealing with this coming season. So I’ve been able to draw a lot of my personal life into the character as well.
Joe: Has Catherine and Marg kind of come into one being, and I don’t mean that you not the actor when you do Catherine, but you know, have the personalities come closer than they were ten years ago?
Marg: I suppose to a certain degree. Certainly Catherine’s leadership skills and her ability to think on her feet and being direct are qualities that I really hope rub off on me because I, for whatever reason, I don’t feel that I’m a natural born leader in my real life. It’s been a great experience these past ten years.
Joe: You’re now immortal. That show will be on and on and on and on. It’s an amazing process.
Marg: I just found out a couple weeks ago it’s still the number one show in the world. In fact, I’m going to Rome on Saturday to a television festival. I’ve never been before, to any festival. I’ve been invited quite a few times, but I don’t know, I’ve declined for whatever reason, you know. I couldn’t make it. So I’m looking forward to that.
Joe: Marg, when the hiatus comes, do you even look for a film that you might do or are you so exhausted from the year that you just need to be Marg Helgenberger and chill for a while?
Marg: Well, my representatives certainly try to. They are always looking, throughout the year, in fact, throughout the season, for something that will work out for me. And they are very aware that I would prefer…it’s got to be something worth my while. Obviously an interesting part, interesting cast and script. I’ve done a few since I’ve been on the show. I did Mr. Brooks. I did In Good Company. A film with Val Kilmer that unfortunately didn’t get released. It was an Indie film, but I liked the part and I enjoyed working with Val. But it is challenging. It presents a challenge to mostly…to the filmmakers because I think they don’t want to…I think they hear ‘Oh, a TV schedule. Well, I don’t want to work around that.’ You know what I mean.
Joe: Yeah, It’s tough.
Marg: And I understand that. But also, like yeah, by the time the season ends, I’m just…I just want to live my life. I just want to hang out, see my friends, maybe do some traveling, go to yoga class.
Joe: You’re going into your eleventh year. I can imagine that every year is different. Do you have to prepare yourself to get back into work? Do you have to like, ‘Okay this is my plan for this year.’ Is there a plan this year for Marg Helgenberger for CSI?
Marg: There is, a little bit. I actually just met last week with the producers and all the writers. I went to Universal, which is where we shoot the show. There were a few new writers that had been added this year and Anthony Zuiker, who created the show, is back for the first four episodes and he’s quite a unique character. So they were giving me an update on what was happening on what the stories are they’re breaking for the first few episodes, which sound pretty great, and also there’s some special guest stars that are going to be, that I think a lot of people…I don’t think I’m at liberty to say who they are because a couple of them are big stars. But anyway…we didn’t get into the specifics of it, but there’s…I probably shouldn’t say anything either. Well, depending on what I… how I want to exit the show. I’m still deciding this season. I’m going to decide, somewhere mid-way through the season or before…I need to make a decision if I want to have this be my last season.
Joe: So you’re the Phil Jackson of…you know who Phil Jackson is?
Marg: Of course.
Joe: Okay. You’re the Phil Jackson of television. Isn’t that a great position to be in? You know you can go on, or you can say ‘That’s it.’ And you’re not doing it for why he’s doing it, for health reasons. Thank God.
Joe: Because I would imagine this could be a walk in the park for another ten years.
Marg: Yeah, it seems to have a lot of life in it still. And the thing I guess I’m most happy about the show is that it still has retained its quality and the people involved. A lot of the people that were in it since day one, including the executive producer Carol Mendelsohn, still really really care about the show and care about the quality.
Joe: She’s a powerhouse.
Marg: She’s amazing. I mean, honestly. I’m just in awe of how she’s been able to guide this ship, as well as the other two spin offs that she was sheperding for a while too, along with Anthony and Ann Donahue of the Miami and New York shows.
Joe: What’s it like when you see CSI:Miami and CSI:New York? Do you feel like you’re the parent ship?
Marg: You know, in the beginning, I think we were all a little miffed that all of a sudden…we thought we had this great thing going, really special, and they decide to franchise us, which it takes a little bit of the specialness out of a show that really became a phenomenon, a monster. And so… but it was out of our hands. I understand the business reasons behind it. It was really ingenious. It was a show that people couldn’t get enough of, so they figured ‘Okay, well, we’ll just do another one and then another one because they still can’t seem to get enough of it.’
Joe: If you say okay, you know, I’ve had enough. I don’t want to do this anymore. Would it be another series or movies? What would you like to do?
Marg Well, I’d prefer to do a variety of things. Yeah, features. That would be great. Theater. I haven’t done like a full blown production play in a long time.
Joe: What would Marg Helgenberger love to do on stage? If I said you could pick any play you want…
Marg: I played Blanche Dubois when I was in college at Northwestern.
Joe: Street Car, sure.
Marg: Yeah, and that’s one of those roles that I’ve always thought… because at the time when I was in college, I was too young to play Blanche Dubois in a real production. But in college everybody’s too young. So not that I’m…now I’m getting to old to play Blanche Dubois! So anyways, that’s one of those parts I would love to maybe tackle again. It’s one of the most challenging ones in the history of plays, but it’s a good one.
Joe: You were talking about your mom and surviving cancer. When you’re not working, what are the things that you get involved in?
Marg: Well, I’ve done a lot with breast cancer research and awareness. As you said, my mother’s a thirty year breast cancer survivor and lives back in Nebraska still. Once a year I always go back and do a benefit for the Nebraska Medical Center. I was just there in April and that was for a new facility that was being built and the money was being targeted specifically for it. It’s called the Life Renewal Center, a center inside the cancer facility that would be for any kind of cancer survivor, but, in particular, women, so they can try on wigs and massage therapy, and whatever kind of cosmetic tips. Because there are a lot of things that when you’re undergoing treatment that change your skin – this, that and the other thing. So that was in April, and I was one of the hostesses for Revlon Run/Walk for a Cure at the Coliseum.
Joe: Here in Los Angeles.
Marg: I’ve also hosted the Susan G. Komen…I’ve done a lot for cancer research and awareness. I’ve also done quite a bit of fund raising for a facility that’s out in the valley for kids that are wards of the state. It’s a residence and school called Penny Lane. Kids that are, I guess, on the fringe are another one of my causes.
Joe: God bless you. That’s so great. You know what I love about this town is community. All the good that we all do. It warms my heart. Because you really…thank God you have a beautiful career, a beautiful family, a beautiful life and you still take the time to help people that aren’t as fortunate as you and I love it. I love being part of that.
Marg: Well, you know, it’s one – that’s one of the benefits of being ‘quote unquote’ a celebrity is that your involvement in a particular cause can bring a lot more awareness to it. Or a lot more money to the cause than if you hadn’t gotten involved. So you feel your own selfish reasons, ‘Oh, I’m really being very helpful here to the community.’
Joe: Oh, that’s great.
Marg: Oh, it’s awesome, and the great rewards too are going to the cancer wards and visiting and seeing just how much you brighten their day. I visited a lot with returning Iraqi/Afghani vets both at Walter Reed and down in San Diego and Camp Pendleton. They’re incredibly grateful that you take the time to be with them. And I’m the one that’s grateful for them.
Joe: Have you been to Rome since this show started?
Joe: You have. What do they do to poor Marg Helgenberger in Rome? Those guys must go crazy. How much protection do you need?
Marg: Well, it’s funny because I mentioned the show’s the number one show in the world. I get recognized probably more often in Europe than I do here. I mean in LA, there’s so many celebrities that nobody really pays attention, which is one of the nice things. You can, kind of, just live your life, and New York too is kind of like that.
Joe: Otherwise you’d never be able to buy toothpaste. You’d never be able to go shopping.
Marg: Yeah, and obviously there’s some people that can’t. They’re just a mega watt star. They draw crowds where ever they go.
Joe: Poor Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley, two guys that just come to mind right now.
Marg: Oh yeah. So, anyway it’s all flattering. I guess once that were all to stop, that’s when it would be irritating.
Joe: I can’t believe it, Marg. We’ve done almost an hour, and I have to make time for our commercials and stuff like that. Can I say thank you so so much for taking the time?
Marg: It was my pleasure, Joe.
Joe: And good luck with the eleventh, twelfth and how many years you want on CSI.
Marg: Thank you.
Joe: Marg Helgenberger, you’re a gift. You really are. Thank you for this time.
Marg: Thank you, Joe. I had a good time talking with you.
Joe: God bless you always.