Ted Danson on visiting autopsy to prepare for CSI: "Like sticking my finger in a lightsocket"
LOS ANGELES -- Since Cheers served its last call, star Ted Danson has played a few dodgy roles -- from the egomaniacal, Ken Lay-ish CEO villain of FX's Damages to the egotistical magazine publisher on HBO's Bored to Death.
But his new gig as graveyard shift forensic technician supervisor D.B. Russell on CBS' CSI may have required Danson to take his most extreme step. Viewing an actual autopsy.
"Jesus...It was like sticking my finger in a light socket," said Danson. speaking to TV critics here during a press conference promoting his joining the cast of long-running forensic hit CSI. "I was vibrating for days. I’m sitting there holding somebody’s skullcap while they weighed his brains. It was intensely real and not to sound overly something – but it had kinda a spiritual impact on me."
Even in his first press conference, Danson strikes a different pose than the man he replaced as CSI's top name, film actor Laurence Fishburne. Where Fishburne was guarded and careful, seemingly skittish about answering the simplest questions, Danson is open and honest, eager to talk about the latest surprising acting challenge in a recent career filled with them.
"There is no fear and anxiety on the set," said Danson, who just completed his eighth day of filming. "You walk in and everybody is relaxed and happy to be there. Going to work is just pure joy, as opposed to that anxiety of just starting something out."
And the comparison to comedy work? "Comedy is hard. Comedy is like – you have to find the right funny every day. When you do a drama, you just have to show up and be real in the moment and that’s kind of your job...(On Curb Your Enthusiasm) that’s just (finding out) can you take a full day of Larry David."
CSI executive producer Carol Mendelsohn said Danson character is a married father of four who moves to Las Vegas from Portland, Ore. to supervise the CSI crew. His character -- raised by hippie parents and schooled in a van -- gets Marg Helgenberger's character Catherine Willows demoted. This move also makes it possible for Helgenberger to leave the show after this season -- something she had planned to do last season.
"The odds this is my last season -- its pretty strong," said Helgenberger, despite assurances from Danson that they will try to change her mind this season. "They've always left the door open for me, but i think it is. Definitely."
Mendelsohn said Danson's character will be more of a detective than science geek. "We wanted Sherlock Holmes, not a science nerd," she said, laughing.
And Danson said that, while he watched predecessors William Petersen and Fishburne, his work must stand alone. "I watched a lot of what (Fishburne) did just because I wanted to see how good he was. But then you basically have to let – I have to let Laurence and Billy go and try to figure this out for myself kind of thing. I don’t know if I have any great lessons to impart other than to appreciate – it’s hard, this kind of character-driven stuff. I'm astounded."