Ted Danson says he was “thrilled and happy” to join the cast of CSI this season, “and really surprised.” The hit CBS procedural drama has been on the air 11 years, and the addition of Danson helped give it a fresh look with a familiar face.
Fitting right in with the ensemble, Danson explained, “My first week on the set found my character, forensic scientist D.B. Russell, coming in to handle a group of incredibly bright people who were on a slippery slope, because of things that happened in the last season. I was brought in to make the team work as well as possible. That rings a bell with me, even though I’ve never played a detective. Trying to hold a crazy group of people together, whether they’re crazy bright or crazy silly, is something that I’ve done before and I respond to.”
That’s a reference to the crazy group he worked with on the long-running sitcom Cheers. He’s played a lot of roles since those days. In addition to CSI, recent projects have included the cable shows Bored to Death and Damages. But he is always quick to admit that “it was Cheers that got me all the acting jobs.”
Danson also gives credit to a fellow who has helped him with his CSI character, a policeman who is used by the crime lab in an advisory capacity. “He is just brilliant and helpful to me. He’s a man who saw the fragility of life every day. He pointed out that none of the people, none of the victims, the day before or hours before, thought that they might end up dead today. 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.’ That’s a brilliant way to live life, and we all should be doing that,” Danson said.
After doing several episodes of Damages with Glenn Close, Danson had some time off last year and was relaxing with his wife Mary Steenburgen at their home in Martha’s Vineyard. That’s when he got the phone call from the CSI producers. “Within a week I found myself inLas Vegas, looking at my first real autopsy. It all happened incredibly fast, but it’s some of the most fun I’ve had. It’s such a bright group of people, a great crew, great cast, and great writers.”
He added, “Somebody pointed out to me that a sense of humor takes a certain kind of intelligence. And it’s the same brain that 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.”
Playing someone who deals with bodies and autopsies is nothing new to Danson, who said he is the son of an archaeologist who went on digs inArizona.
“I grew up around skulls,” Danson revealed. “My father was an archaeologist/anthropologist inTucsonand then later inFlagstaff. And we would go on these digs. At about five-years-old, I would get to play around in the ancient trash heaps, and you would find skulls.”
Danson delighted in telling the story of a “CSI adventure” he had when he was 11-years-old. “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 the archaeologist’s son went, ‘Oh, cool. Let’s play Roman and Gauls.’ Stuck it on the end of a pole, and off we went for the rest of the day. I came home and told my father and he went through the roof. We went looking for it with the police the next day and couldn’t find it.”
Five years later, one of his buddies was up hiking in the same area, found that same skull again. Danson remembered, “He brought it back to the museum where my father was working, put molding clay on it, and then drew a sketch of what the face would have looked like. They put it in the newspaper, and they identified him. Isn’t that cool?”