Robert David Hall enjoys playing Dr Al Robbins on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, but he’s glad he isn’t a coroner in real life.
Hall has been with CSI since the show’s first season. He was originally brought in for a single scene with former leading man William Petersen (Gil Grissom), but his chemistry with Petersen and his ability to say the complicated medical terms required of a coroner helped the actor earn a longer stay on the show. Ten years later, Hall is still CSI‘s main medical examiner. “All I can tell you is thank God I’m an actor and not a coroner,” the actor told USA Weekend.
“We’re born, we live, we die, and this focuses on the admittedly grislier aspects of that, but I try to be true to the science of it insofar as you can on a 44-minute show,” Hall continued. “I’m a layman—my job on the show is to be the chief medical examiner of Las Vegas, but also to act as that interface between the audience and the science. I feel like Mr Wizard in a way.”
Playing a coroner means dealing with death on a daily basis for the actor. “I still remember the first time I walked in there and I knew I was playing the character of Dr Robbins,” he shared. “They have the tools that a coroner uses—the knives, the saws, the drills—and it suddenly hits you how end of the line this place is. There’s no pain pills or novacaine—this is the body shop of anatomy. It does make you think about mortality a little bit, although I try to have fun with it. I’ve tried to make my character a little bit like my father with a slightly weirder sense of humor. My dad passed away years ago, but he was in World War II and he taught me that somebody always had it worse off and somebody had it better off than you, and that death was part of the whole experience. The finality of the actual morgue is a strange thing.”
Storylines that remind Hall of his own past affect him more than the rest of the show’s fictional scenarios. “I myself was injured very badly 30 years ago in a fire, and we’ve had a few episodes where people were burned and those are the only times I’ve ever had a moment’s pause,” he explained. “Again, even though people love to be entertained by fiction, most people understand the difference between reality and an hour TV show. I do. Sometimes I’ll meet people in public life who’ll say, ‘You know, you could never solve a crime that quickly,’ and I’ll go, ‘I think most people know that.’ And people don’t fall out of airplanes and land on the Las Vegas strip too often, either.”