There’s no stopping the CSI juggernaut, not even the loss of the lead investigator. When Grissom (William Petersen) left, Langston (Laurence Fishburne) was there to lead the team. Now he’s left and D.B. Russell (Ted Danson) is leading the crime scene investigators of Las Vegas.
We’ve seen Danson get serious recently as Arthur Frobisher in Damages. He’s still most famous as a comedian, in Cheers, Becker and still Curb Your Enthusiasm and Bored to Death. Danson left his Martha’s Vineyard summer home early to get to work on CSI and speak with the Television Critics Association about it this summer. He joins the show beginning this season’s premiere, Sept. 21 on CBS.
Q: Is it easier to play a character closer to yourself or is that even harder?
TD: I find drama really, really, really relaxing. I find it not easier in a bad way, but comedy is hard. Comedy is like this is not funny, this is not funny, this is not funny. You have to find the right funny everyday and when you do a drama it's the writing, it's the directing, it's the editing, it's the director of photography that makes the drama. You have to show up and be real in the moment and that's kind of your job. It's a different kind of job.
Q: So, then what about Curb?
TD: That's just if you can take a full day of Larry David.
Q: What terminology are you learning for this show?
TD: More than I can even re[member]. You can almost see smoke coming out of my ears in some of these early scenes, wrapping my brain around all the new technology. But that's fun. I mean, it really is fun. I've been doing a lot of character work and this is not as character driven a piece. It's mystery and science driven, but just to literally figure out, you almost feel like a real CSI person, kind of, in that you're trying to wrap your brain around as an actor all of this information and have it make sense. So it's a great discipline and I'm having a lot of fun.
Q: What could you say to me that I would have to look up?
TD: Oh, nothing right now.
Q: Were you a fan of the show before?
TD: I was. Billy Peterson and I did a film years ago, and then right after that he got this. So, I watched for a while to see how he was doing and everything, and then I've been watching a lot of the episodes. The last two episodes last year I thought were through the roof, unbelievable.
Q: What is it like coming into an established ensemble?
TD: Coming in I'm so grateful. There is no fear or anxiety on the set. You walk in and everyone is relaxed and happy to be there. The crew is so fast and so good that going to work is just pure work and pure joy, as opposed to that new anxiety of starting something out.
Q: What as your decision about getting back into a full time TV schedule, because your cable shows obviously don’t do 22 a year?
TD: I know. I went from a gentleman actor to this full time. The last two weeks, I was staring at the ocean in Martha's Vineyard, kind of humming to myself. And within a week I went to my first autopsy, real one, in Las Vegas. And now I'm looking at CSI, and I'm training myself not to say, "You have a great show," but to say "we." So it's all happening incredibly fast, but it's some of the most fun I've had, this last couple of weeks. It's such a bright group of people, a great crew, great cast, great writers. And in a funny way, somebody pointed this out to me the other day, that a sense of humor, looking for funny, takes a certain kind of intelligence or whatever. It's the same brain that kind of looks for clues and solves things. So I feel at home in a funny way, even though I'm not doing jokes. I really feel like I have walked into this perfect situation for me.
Q: Were you surprised to be offered the role of a crime solver, and how does it feel to be one?
TD: Well, they still won't give me a gun, so it's not that farfetched, yet. Yeah, I was surprised. I was thrilled, happy, surprised. Truth is, I mean I'm trying to sound intelligent, my jaw is kind of hanging down still a little bit from the newness of all of this. But, the character was described to me - and to put anything out is probably risky because this is week one. For me to talk about a character is insane - but that he was kind of the Phil Jackson coming in to handle a group of incredibly bright people that were on a slippery slope because of things that happened in the last season and that I'm a family man and I'm being brought in to make the team work as well as possible. And that rings a bell with me, even though I've never played a detective or anything. That kind of trying to hold a crazy group of people, whether they're crazy bright or crazy silly, is something that I've done before and I kind of respond to. So it makes sense to me in a funny way.
Q: How are you similar to D.B. Russell?
TD: I'm discovering that as we go, so it's kind of a made up answer. But one of our advisors on this show came from Vietnam, was a policeman, real CSI. He did everything, hardcore, dark, saw it all. And one of my problems that I had when I first approached this was I had these rose tinted glasses that I go through life on. I have a pretty blessed, amazing life, and I kind of avoid the dark side. Here are people that jump feet first into a real part of life, which is death and people who aren't good people, dark, dark, dark. How do you do that and keep some sense of joy in your life? This advisor, who is just brilliant and helpful to me, said he saw the fragility of life every day. None of the people, none of the victims the day before or hours before thought that they might end up dead today. So he saw that vividly every day, and he said, "I chose to go in the direction of celebrating every moment of my life. If I'm exhausted, I'm going to still get up and go be with my kids and my wife. I am going to be grateful for every day, every moment, and live my life one day at a time." Well, that is, like, brilliant. We should all be doing that. But he's doing that while observing the darkest of the dark, and that was really helpful.
Q: Was going on archeological digs as a kid similar to being a CSI?
TD: I grew up around skulls. My father was an archaeologist/anthropologist in Tuscon and then later in Flagstaff, Arizona and we would go on these digs. And as a four or five-year-old, I would get to play around in the ancient trash heaps, and you would find a skull, and you would be whisked away. So I grew up around skulls. Once when I was 11 years old, this is my bad CSI story, I was out playing with my buddies in the woods. We were playing army, and we came across a skull that had a patch of hair and a little round hole here and a bigger hole here, and the archaeologist's son went, "Oh, cool. Let's play Romans and Gauls.” Stuck it on the end of a pole, and off we went for the rest of the day. Came home, told my father, he went through the roof. Went through the roof, went looking for it with the police the next day, couldn't find it. Five years later, one of my buddies was up hiking in the same area, found that same skull again, brought it back to the museum where my father was working, put model clay on it and then drew a sketch of what the face would have looked like after molding clay on it, put it in the newspaper, and they identified him. That's my little CSI story from a kid. Isn't that cool?
Q: What was the autopsy you went to when you got the role?
TD: Jesus, Lord, the autopsy. Oh, man, that was like sticking my finger in a light socket. I was vibrating for days. I mean, I was sitting there holding somebody's skullcap while they weighed his brain. It was intensely real, and to not sound overly something, had kind of a spiritual impact on me. Here's what happened, I went back to the hotel and looked in the mirror and went, “Thank you, body. Thank you. Thanks for everything you do.”
Q: Can you talk about your schedule? Once this is done and they pick up the fourth season of Bored to Death you'll immediately go back to that set?
TD: Yeah. I have a busy year and a half, but then thank God that I have a busy year and a half.
Q: Are you one of those guys that has to work?
TD: No. I can do nothing really well, really easily. So, it's going to be an adjustment. Mary [Steenburgen] and I love hanging around, making each other laugh all day. So, this will be new because Mary has a show in Nashville that's coming up. So, we'll have to work to find each other.
Q: Was D.B. Russell pitched to you as a lighter character?
TD: Now they have no choice, but no, the character existed. It was all ready on the page and then they found me.
Q: Was it the character that drew you to it or the show, the fact it's been on twelve years?
TD: All of the above. One of the perks is that I get to be home. One of our kids is going to have a baby, and so I get to be a grandfather and to be home. I love going to work everyday on an ensemble piece and this is such a bright show. It's the number one watched show in the world. That's pretty astounding and irresistible.
Q: You've played some dark characters against type in recent years, but this seems like you're more to what brought you early success. Do you feel like that's true?
TD: You know what, you start out from zero every time you start a new job. So, I'm faking it. I really am. I'm discovering. Everyday I'm learning stuff on this job.
Q: Is there anything to be learned from Laurence Fishburne's experience, what happened there?
TD: Well, he's one of my heroes. He's one of our best actors around, and so I mean I watched a lot of what he did just because I wanted to see how good he was. But then I basically have to let Laurence and Billy go and try to figure this out for myself, that kind of thing. I don't know if I have any great lessons to learn other than to appreciate. It's hard. This is hard. It's not this kind of character driven stuff. It's a procedural. It's a mystery. It's science that propels you through the story. So, to pull that off and be believable and interesting, I'm astounded with those guys, all of them. It's an amazing cast of people who do that.
Q: When you think about all the characters you've gotten to play over the years do you marvel at all the people you've gotten to be?
TD: I'm very lucky, but that's where I wanted to be. That's what I went to school for, to be a character actor.