Marg Helgenberger knows her way around a morgue better than most actresses in Hollywood.
Best known as crime scene investigator Catherine Willows on the long-running crime drama CSI, Helgenberger has spent her fair share of time riding to homicide scenes with on duty police officers and speaking to coroners and forensic scientists about the intricacies and complexities of their job.
With her new role as Emma Brooks in the psychological thriller Mr. Brooks, one would assume Helgenberger is particularly drawn to fare featuring crazed killers and crime fighters trying to solve puzzle-like murder mysteries.
But in fact the Emmy-winner (China Beach) admits she’s fallen in love with her murder-investigating characters based more on the quality of script and richness of roles than the television or film project’s genre.
Still, the enduring popularity of the crime drama isn’t lost on the 48-year-old.
"I think people are mostly fascinated with the darker nature of themselves because I think they’ll obviously never explore it to the point where some of these characters do in film and television so this is maybe a trip down that road to perhaps understand or vicariously live through that character," Helgenberger says.
The actress hangs up her investigator’s gloves in Mr. Brooks, playing the loving wife of the titular character (Kevin Costner), a serial killer in constant struggle with his alter ego Marshall (William Hurt) who wants him to continue their murderous spree. The meticulous Mr. Brooks manages to control his urges for two years, but ultimately kills again, this time sloppily exposing his identity to a voyeuristic neighbour (Dane Cook).
When he threatens to expose the upstanding businessman’s secret, Mr. Brooks takes the trigger-happy neighbour under his tutelage and promises to teach him the ins- and-outs of premeditated murder. All the while a tough detective (Demi Moore) is on Mr. Brooks’ trail, trying to find clues to help her solve the series of puzzling murders.
As Helgenberger points out, it’s not just film and television fans who are intrigued by the work of police detectives‹the professionals themselves, she says from experience speaking to real-life police crime fighters, walk into challenging (and often gruesome) situations every day and continue coming back for more.
"When I speak and meet with coroners, what a task that is doing autopsies day after day after day and witnessing what they must, they too are endlessly fascinated by their job," Helgenberger says.
"The stakes are high because they’re real. There’s either a homicide or suicide or something that has to be determined or not. Then once it is determined many times you’ve got the family to deal with."
The popular Helgenberger might have to deal with irate fans if she decides to leave CSI when her contract on the show expires next year. Although she’s non-committal when asked whether she’ll be returning for season nine, the Nebraska-native isn’t willing to bury Catherine Willows just yet.
"As long as people that are involved with the show care as deeply as they do and as long as I still feel there’s something I can explore in the character or in relationships, I’m happy to sit down and have a discussion with people about it."
It’s no secret that Helgenberger was displeased when CSI was franchised into two spin-offs and says that the cast "weren’t told the truth" about the similarities between the original show and CSI: Miami and New York before they debuted in 2002 and 2004, respectively.
"It became clear early on they were pretty much going to clone the show," she laments.
"Then they cloned it again and God knows there’s how many shows that do exactly what we do. That’s out of my hands, there’s nothing I can do about that. They’re all business decisions so all I can do is do the best job I can and hope the best for everyone involved with my show."
- Mr. Brooks opens in theatres next Friday