Marg Helgenberger Interview by Tim Nasson
Forty-nine year old Mary Marg Helgenberger (pronounced with a hard ‘G’, unlike the name Marge) is an Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated actress. Helgenberger is known for her role as Catherine Willows on “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” and her role as KC Koloski in “China Beach,” the latter for which she won an Emmy.
Marg Helgenberger stars opposite Kevin Costner on the big screen in “Mr. Brooks.”
Helgenberger was born in North Bend, Nebraska to Roman Catholic parents Hugh, a German, and Kay Helgenberger, Irish. One of her first jobs, as a teenager, was spending her summers and her Christmas breaks working at the meat packing plant where her father was employed Helgenberger played the French horn in her high school (North Bend Central High School) marching band. Until she went to college, Helgenberger wanted to be a nurse like her mother. Helgenberger earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
Helgenberger started as a local news weather girl in her native Nebraska. The news producer felt her name was too long and made her change it to Margi McCarty.
A scout for the soap opera Ryan’s Hope discovered Helgenberger when she performed as Kate in a University of Nebraska-Kearney production of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, in the summer of 1981. Helgenberger debuted on the series in March 1982 playing Siobhan Ryan Novak, until 1986. Although she was actually the third actress to play the role, she is the one most identified with the part.
Her first major television role was on the period drama China Beach, where she played KC Koloski, a hardened prostitute who catered to the servicemen on base. Helgenberger won an Emmy for the role (Supporting Actress) in 1990.
She later won critical acclaim for her portrayal of Patsy Ramsey in Perfect Murder, Perfect Town: JonBenét and the City of Boulder.
She is now best known for her current portrayal of Catherine Willows, the lead female character, in the television series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation which began in 2000.
When CSI first started filming, Helgenberger visited the Clark County Coroner’s Office (Las Vegas) to see how things were really done. She even viewed autopsies that were being performed.
Helgenberger has stated that she was angered at the franchising of CSI. She has also stated that she is unlikely to stay past her current contract on CSI which ends in 2008. She says that she often plays hacky sack with the guys during their free time on set.
Helgenberger got the chance to act with her husband, Alan Rosenberg, again when he guest starred on CSI, season 5, “Weeping Willows”.
In 2005, Universal Studios submitted Helgenberger in the best supporting actress category for the Oscars for her performance as Ann Foreman in her 2004 movie In Good Company.
In mid 2006, Helgenberger’s home town of North Bend, Nebraska, population 1213, renamed the street on which Helgenberger had her childhood home ‘Helgenberger Avenue’.
While not appearing in-frame, she is the unrequited love interest of the bespectacled amphibian Buddy in Mark Heath’s “Spot the Frog” comic strip.
In 1984, Helgenberger met Alan Rosenberg, a guest actor on Ryan’s Hope. The two became friends and started dating in 1986. They married in 1989 and have one son, Hugh Howard Rosenberg (born October 21, 1990), named after Helgenberger’s father, Hugh Helgenberger.
A result of her mother’s 27 year battle against breast cancer, Helgenberger and her husband Alan Rosenberg have become very involved in the fight against breast cancer. They host the Marg and Alan’s Celebrity Weekend every year in Omaha, Nebraska and have done so since since 1997.
Wild About Movies sat with Marg Helgenberger in Los Angeles, recently, in the early afternoon on a weekend morning, where she talked not only about her new film “Mr. Brooks,” but also her long running role on television’s “CSI.”
Wild About Movies: How did you come to this role?
Marg Helgenberger: Just the typical fashion in that my agent had given me the script and was a fan of it. He said it’s a really cool script, Kevin’s attached to the title character. It was one of the few scripts that I read that 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 type of humor. The fact that Kevin was attached to the part was especially intriguing to me because he’s mostly known as a heroic, kind of iconic good guy or if a bad guy, 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 disturbed and diabolical. 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 cool and I felt like I was in such wonderful company with all the actors – I was, I am.
Wild About Movies: Did you have a particularly favorite scene to shoot?
Marg Helgenberger: 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, what’s this, 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. Here I am with these two actors, these intense guys and here I am just talking about 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 you are on top of each other almost, 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?
Wild About Movies: So how did you stay oblivious of William Hurt?
Marg Helgenberger: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.
Wild About Movies: As the mother in this film, if you could put yourself in your character’s position, where would your feelings lie in terms of how to protect your daughter?
Marg Helgenberger: 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, but wow!
Wild About Movies: Do you know what may be in a sequel or series of this movie?
Marg Helgenberger: 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.
Wild About Movies: Do you think your character knew what was going on?
Marg Helgenberger: No, no. I do believe that Emma 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.
Wild About Movies: Was this shot during last season’s “CSI” hiatus?
Marg Helgenberger: Yes, well, partially. I actually shot some of it while shooting CSI and then came back to finish this…they gave me a week and a half off.
Wild About Movies: Did you do anything over this current hiatus?
Marg Helgenberger: 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.
Wild About Movies: When do you go back to CSI?
Marg Helgenberger: About mid-July. It will be here before I know it.
Wild About Movies: Are there any storylines that they are going to continue?
Marg Helgenberger: 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.
On another note, Helgenberger says of “CSI”…”Some days can be rough because there are a lot of night hours. Some locations are really gross.”
Wild About Movies: Can you compare the serial killers on CSI and Mr. Brooks as a serial killer?
Marg Helgenberger: 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, smart – very, very smart — and someone you wouldn’t suspect because he’s Portland’s Man of the Year. Man of the Year cannot be a serial killer. My husband can’t be a serial killer.
Wild About Movies: Danielle’s real life sister plays your CSI daughter…
Marg Helgenberger: It was just a coincidence. I had gone on to do Mr. Brooks at the end of last season and they were talking about replacing my daughter on the show because she was too young and they wanted to give me a teenager to play off of because a teenager give you a lot more than a young kid does, right? So I’m down there in Shreveport and I meet Danielle and her mother, Donna and Donna says, ‘Do you know that my other daughter has been cast as your daughter on CSI.’ I had no idea. I found out from the real mother. When I returned, I met Kay, her other daughter who is just as beautiful, sweet and smart and confident. So it’s great. I did a good job raising those girls (laughter).
Wild About Movies: Are you going to have a lead role in the upcoming CSI as you did last season because of William Peterson’s departure during the series?
Marg Helgenberger: 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 4 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 everybody’s game. That I look forward to so anything is possible.
Wild About Movies: Are you trying to break away from your character on CSI – what exactly are you looking for?
Marg Helgenberger: 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…that’s what I’m asked to do. So yeah, something unexpected and someone who wouldn’t be glamorous…like a regular person.
Wild About Movies: Would you like to do a comedy?
Marg Helgenberger: Oh yeah, I’d love to do a comedy. Absolutely. Comedy is challenging. People have a real knack for it and I’d look forward to it.
Wild About Movies: Do you share your scripts and have your husband look them over before you accept a role?
Marg Helgenberger: 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.
Marg Helgenberger Trivia
Helgenberger continues to be included in lists of Hollywood’s Most Beautiful. In 2003 she was listed on People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People”.
She was also listed #16 on VH1’s 40 Hottest Women over 40.
She was named number 15 of The 25 Most Attractive (Famous) Women in America in 2004.
She was featured in Esquire Magazine’s “5 More Women We Love” in 2002.
In 2003, Helgenberger was asked to pose in Playboy Magazine but turned it down.
Helgenberger and Jorja Fox sang Stand by Me as a duet for What a Pair 4!! This is an annual charity event to raise money for breast cancer research.
In 2004 she ranked number 35, 30, 29, 20, 17, 12 and 9 on The Glamour Girls Hot 100 due to her movie In Good Company and her TV Guide cover. She was on the list for about 10 weeks and spent 1 week on the top ten. She is the 4th oldest woman to be in the top ten.
Helgenberger’s character, Catherine Willows, along with the character of Gil Grissom, was named number 82 in “Bravo’s 100 Greatest TV Characters”.
CSI co-star Gary Dourdan’s nickname for Helgenberger is “Margalicious”.
Helgenberger’s production company “Don’t Call Me Marge!” is her humorous jab at people’s mispronunciation of her name.
On March 2006 her character Catherine Willows was named number 6 on The Star’s Top Ten Hottests TV Characters.
In 2007, Helgenberger was named one of the most pleasant celebrites on E! online’s Answer B!tch Q&A page.
On March 2007 Helgenberger was named one of the sexiest TV stars of 2007 by TV Guide Magazine.
Marg is known for throwing great parties.
She loves the Steely Dan song “Babylon Sisters” for the lyrics “Drive west on Sunset to the sea,” which she and her husband did on their first date.
At one time both Helgenberger and her husband Alan Rosenberg had successful series on CBS. Helgenberger: CSI (2000 – present) Rosenberg: The Guardian (2001 – 2004).