Catherine Willows ( Marg Helgenberger) is a beloved legacy character from the original CSI franchise, and she recently returned to CSI: Vegas. Helgenberger has teased she needed an excellent storyline to return to CSI: Vegas.
TV Fanatic chatted with both Marg Helgenberger and CSI franchise creator and producer Anthony Zuiker, who wrote Thursday’s episode. It focuses on love, loss, and grief and even features Catherine’s estranged daughter, Lindsey.
As an avid fan of the series, it was an honor to talk to them. Check out the interview below:
Hello Anthony and Marg. I have been a massive fan of CSI since the original premiered in 2000. What made Season 2 the ideal time for you to come back and revisit Catherine?
Marg: He made me a deal I couldn’t refuse. (laughs)
I wasn’t available during season one because I was doing All Rise. I was jealous since I would love to be back with everyone. Then, it got picked up for a second season, and they reached out to me.
I had to give it some thought because I wanted to ensure there was a valid reason why Catherine would come back, given that the character has aged, and so have I.
This job takes its toll on your being physically, emotionally, and psychologically. It’s a tough job. I talked to Anthony and Jason Tracy, the showrunner, and said, “Let’s do this right.”
I was satisfied with bringing in my idea of honoring all the girls and young women who were inspired become criminalists by watching CSI. Catherine Willows is paying it forward. Catherine has a scholarship program, and we wanted that to play into this season.
Anthony, you wrote this upcoming Catherine-centric episode. What inspired this episode?
Anthony: Well, I have a funny story. So, Marg doesn’t recollect this. We started CSI in 2000, and I co-wrote an episode called Anonymous, and it wasn’t my best effort. I felt terrible because Marg deserves the best episodes. I carried that guilt for over 20 seasons.
So, when we returned for CSI Vegas in season two, I said,” Marg, I’m going to take you to breakfast. I have this idea. I found this micro crochet koala on Etsy. It’s 57 dollars out of Russia, and they’ll find us at the crime scene in the most remarkable episode ever.”
And we started talking, and it was entertaining because it was one of those Anthony Zuiker solo scripts, collaborating with our star, who I’ve been writing for 20 years. It was just her and I across from the table, locking arms and finding something emotionally grueling she could knock out of the park.
It was by far the best CSI experience of my career. It was a very intimate artistic experience between us, and together, we did an episode that I believe is Emmy-worthy for Marg. That’s why we’re talking about it.
And what do you like about this upcoming episode, Marg?
Marg: I’ll piggyback on what Anthony said when we met in our initial meeting at the Polo Lounge. We hadn’t seen each other in a while, and both of our mothers had passed away. I knew Diane, Anthony’s mother, and I adored her. She was a fantastic woman, and I think I reached out to you on Instagram to express my condolences.
But I wanted to express that in person, and I shared that my mother had passed away. I was very close to her, so we had that deep connection at the beginning of that breakfast. It was like an emotional connection and reunion, which I took into it while processing the episode, working on it, and filming it.
It was like we were honoring my mother and Anthony’s mother, even though it’s not about mothers but relationships. It’s about loss, grief, connection, and many deep feelings that Catherine has with her daughter and granddaughter and missing them. It was a gratifying experience working on that.
Anthony: In the particular storyline, Catherine’s daughter Lindsey isn’t speaking to her and blocking her based on some conflict they had, it goes right back to my middle son, who hasn’t spoken to me in 16 months based on a disagreement.
I told him I would write this episode for him about him and me. We have since reconnected in our relationship over the past couple of months. He’s very excited to watch it on Thursday.
The best thing about television for me is that I can work with top-end talent personally with Marg and with some of the things we’re going through emotionally, and we can put on the page in our performances. The audience doesn’t know this is about us, but it helps us hit a profound record in the show, and that’s why this one is so special.
That makes total sense. Can you tease what caused Catherine and Lindsey to become estranged? I always loved their relationship throughout the series.
Marg: It made me think back on the pilot even because we always have aged, as has Lindsey, right? And she was a little girl when the audience first met her, and I loved working, and I’m blanking on that actress’s name right now, that little girl that played Lindsey at the beginning and then, two years later, and it’s Kay Panabaker.
Then, even later, it’s Katie Stevens. Absorbing each of those actresses and what they brought to that role, it’s all part of that whole makeup of my daughter and all the years we had together.
Anthony: The reason they became estranged comes from the CSI series finale. In the finale, Lindsey took the job as a CSI level one to carry on the torch for Catherine and the character.
Come to find out that several years later, as we reconnect with her in CSI: Vegas Season 2 Episode 4, she has unceremoniously left that occupation to choose something unfavorable to her mom. Stay tuned for that.
Will we see more of Lindsey and your granddaughter later in the season?
Marg: I just shot an episode with the granddaughter, and that was fun.
Anthony: The door is always open for Lindsey.
Marg: I hope so. I love working with Katie Stevens.
Anthony: Yeah, she’s excellent, and when she was on set, she was cutesy trying to learn things and doe-eyed in the finale, and then she just came and went toe-to-toe with Catherine in that scene as a disgruntled daughter and hurt mother. And boy, that scene was entirely electric.
Marg: Mothers and daughters. There is nothing like it.
That is true. Which storyline arc was the one that made you come back? Was it the one about finding Grace?
Marg: When I talked to Jason, I liked this idea of Catherine having a mentorship or a scholarship program for these girls and young women and having that be a part of the story.
Then Jason had his idea and the Vegas aspect with my inheriting the casino hotel from my father, played by the late Scott Wilson because there are meeting up with unsavory characters in the gambling world.
So, Jason married the two of those stories. It was his idea to have this woman go missing and then get me back into being a CSI to open up an investigation, which nobody had done, and this girl would just be languishing with no closure. So, God puts Catherine Willows on the job to solve it.
Seeing your work with different actors and characters trying to solve the case has been fun.
Marg: Yeah, it’s been fun working with them. I’m a fan of Paula Newsome. She’d done an episode back in the day. I think she may have done two, but I remember her well because she’s got such a fantastic face, and she has expressive, soulful eyes and is a terrific actress.
I love what she does with this character of Maxine. She brings so much depth and humanity, and she’s just lovely, and she’s been so gracious towards me, as has the entire cast. Matt Lauria, Mandeep, and the rest are an incredible cast.
Yes, they are. I love having you back. Is there anything else you can tease for what’s coming for Catherine?
Marg: I love when there’s so much at stake. It amps up my focus and the intensity of the character and me as an actress, and there are a couple of other stories that aren’t involved but connected to the gray story.
I don’t know where we’re going toward the end of the season, but I’m hoping we have those because I love the high intensity of the stakes.
Anthony: I think a lure for our existing CSI fans and new ones will be a treat o see this single-A story where Catherine’s thrown in the middle of this and with all the different emotions that go on. I find that CSI is always best when it’s a solitary storyline.
We did that for Blood Drops for [CSI: Vegas] Season One Episode 7. I think that episode turned the whole franchise into the Juggernaut that it is.
I think we’re returning to our original roots with a solo episode that deals with the central character that puts her to the test in every emotion known to man. Marg said I’m exhausted, I’m tired, I’m beaten, and I’m bruised. I’m sore in all the right ways.
That was the best comment that a writer could have. So, we had a ball, and as I said, it’s an Emmy-worthy performance.
Marg: Thank you, Anthony. We did have a really good time. It was a great collaboration.
Anthony: Many tears, too, between moments that got away from us. You have that kind of love and respect when you work as long as we do together. I took away from that shoot in particular that you find yourself never wanting to do not have that experience for the rest of your career.
When I went to Marg’s chair, I said this was our moment. You never want that to end as a writer and actor. That is something that’s just us, ours forever. When we retire from the business, we’ll never forget these moments when it was her and I finding it. That’s pretty special.
Marg: Absolutely, with moms looking down on us.
What a proud moment. Thank you so much for talking with me.
CSI: Vegas Season 2 airs at 10/9c on Thursdays on CBS, and you can watch CSI: Vegas online right here via TV Fanatic.
Laura Nowak is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.
Catherine: Penny, gloves and booties. You and I got the rough stuff … inside.
Penny: Yes, ma’am.
Glove up. Stuff your kits. Call your loved ones. Don’t tell them to wait up. It’s going to be a long one.
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