It’s been a little over a year since Liz Vassey, the actress who played the charming and vivacious Wendy Simms, was shockingly let go from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation after five years of playing the role. It was devastating news for the actress and fans alike as just prior to the dismissal, progress was being made between the D.N.A. technician and her co-worker and potential love interest David Hodges (Wallace Langham). For the first time since the unsettling news, Vassey spoke exclusively with CSI Files’ Shane Saunders to discuss the events of the past year.
CSI Files: It’s a little over a year since word got out about your departure from CSI. How are you feeling at this point in time in regards to the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the situation?
Liz Vassey: Well, first of all I would say that the entire experience being there for five years was nothing short of fantastic. I think in a business that’s sort of up-and-down and start-and-stop and different as this type of business is, I think when you get five years on any show you got to be very grateful, so that’s first and foremost… and I am from the bottom of my heart.
I bumped into Wally. Wally and I are still in touch and I saw him recently and we had such a nice time. I see some of the other people from the cast and a lot of the writers and I just love them so. It’s been over a year and I still miss a lot of people on a very personal level just because it’s sort of unreal how kind that set is and how fun it is. Especially considering the subject matter. [laughs] But, it has been a year and I have done some other jobs that I’ve enjoyed and I made peace with it and I think they’ve made peace with it and I don’t bare ill will towards them. I just miss a lot of the people there.
CSI Files: And just to be clear it wasn’t your decision to leave, correct?
Vassey: No, it wasn’t my decision. I’m told that they didn’t know what to do with me creatively. I went in and I requested a meeting to find out what had happened, obviously I was pretty curious. [laughs] And I was just told they didn’t know what to do with me creatively. I have no choice but to believe them. I know it wasn’t the money because I had taken a very substantial pay cut to stay for the season prior to that, and no one approached me to talk about money or anything. I was just informed that they weren’t picking up my option. So they told me it was a creative decision and I’m gonna go with that.
CSI Files: The news leaked in sort of an interesting way in that regard via your Facebook. Did you expect it to circulate outside of your private account so soon?
Vassey: I had heard that [Michael] Ausiello had written something about it which is why I went ahead and wrote something. This is what I had heard–it was hearsay–and I actually didn’t read what he had written until days later. I wrote it just because my friends and my family. I wanted them to know all at once because it’s sort of a strange phone call to have to make. So I just did it so they can read that. I guess so people wouldn’t read it in the news without thinking I was fully aware of what happened in regards to what was going on. [laughs]
I didn’t expect it to move that fast… I never expect anything to move that fast. The news just all of a sudden with Twitter and Facebook, nothing’s a secret for very long. You know, I was surprised, but that was very stupid on my part because everything can travel that fast. I will say I’m overwhelmed by the positive response from the fans and how sweet they were about what had happened. That moved me more than they could possibly realize.
Some other writers had left and that made me a little bit queasy. So I actually called before I went on vacation to Germany with my husband–had my manager call, rather–and find out if I was coming back. And I was told I was. Then I got back three weeks later and woke up the morning we got back in the states and I got a call from my manager going “you’re not.” So, I will say that I believe sometimes you get in a situation and you’re there as long as you’re supposed to be there sort of like this big foot coming to kick you into a different part of your life. [laughs] I try to put a positive spin on things and think maybe it was just time to leave that show and move on to other things. It was handled in an odd manner, but I guess anybody would say that who has ever been let go from any job. I don’t know. It was a very difficult couple of months right after it happened.
CSI Files: There was a little bit of closure with Wendy in “Pool Shark.” What was the genesis behind wrapping up the character in such an abrupt way? Was it ever considered to maybe extend the departure over a few episodes like what occurred with Sara [Jorja Fox] or Grissom [William Petersen]?
Vassey: I was never asked. I had a meeting, I actually did ask that I got–I didn’t even ask if I could come back, I just asked that I got a nice write-off. I said out of respect to my character that I’ve played for five years and out of respect to the fans that liked the character and liked what was developing with Hodges to let me know how you are going to write me out and if you could talk to me about it. I want to make sure it was done in a respectful manner and I want to make sure that it’s not done to–like, I didn’t want to be written out like I had gotten back together with an ex-boyfriend and Hodges was heartbroken, there has to be something a little more positive, like a [job]. So we talked about it. I got a phone call after that meeting and they said they want me to go back and do one episode. I knew it would be really hard to go do, but at the same point, considering I didn’t know that I wouldn’t be coming back, I had gone to the wrap party at the end of the season before and I never got a chance to say goodbye to people. So I wanted to go back and be able to say goodbye specifically to Wally and to a lot of the directors and writers, who I again, was so close to a lot of the people there.
CSI Files: Wendy always wanted to transfer into the field. Were you happy that she was able to reach that goal?
Vassey: Yeah, I was very happy. I was very happy that that happened. I think that the nice thing about that–and I’m not giving any hint and I don’t know a thing about it–but I think the very next thing is a certain character’s gonna be written off in a way where there’s no possibility of them ever coming back. I think if there were a chance for an episode or two and they wanted me to do it it’s kind of nice because my character got trained, I’m obviously a different person now. I think it would be interesting. And I certainly like the fact that as a character she got to be fulfilled professionally and I think there’s a sort of symmetry to the fact that Hodges kept using the lab over her and then she finally got a job and she had to choose the job over him. Y’know, it worked. I was happy with it.
CSI Files: It was certainly nice for the fans seeing you return for an episode. I think it’s fair to say many were stunned and disappointed that they weren’t bringing you back. When it was announced that you would be in “Pool Shark,” it was like a little sign of hope that maybe things would change. They obviously didn’t do so…
Vassey: Nope! They didn’t. [laughs] I don’t know… I feel like Wally and I have really great chemistry. I enjoyed every minute of screen time I had with him. I enjoyed every time I got to work with those writers. I enjoyed everybody, I was obviously very close with the lab rats. I’m not gonna lie: it would be really nice to go work with them in that capacity sometime again. It would be fun to see them again.
Having said that, it has been a year. It’s been nice. I’ve been writing a lot of things. I got to go be on Two and a Half Men for a while, I got to be on Castle, [and] I just got back last month from shooting a movie for a month. So I have moved onto other things and I’m keeping busy with them. I don’t look back, I’m not angry about it.
Yeah, like, I love that Louise [Lombard, Sofia Curtis] got to go back and shoot an episode, I think that’s great. I know she had a great time and everybody there loves her, so it was really cool. So, maybe. It’s like I said, it’s open.
[But let me just say] I was far more angry about other people being let go than myself. [laughs]
CSI Files: The news prompted a petition titled “WE WANT LIZ VASSEY IN THE 11 CSI SEASON!” on Facebook. Did the amount of support on that page ever have any impact as to the producers possibly changing their minds?
Vassey: I don’t know, because I haven’t talked to the people that are left on CSI about it, to be honest. I will say that I was in New York with my husband and my niece Kenzie, I was taking her there for her sixteenth birthday, and she saw it. She showed it to me and we got there reading what people had written and again, I can’t say enough how grateful I am for that support. I make a practice at not looking at what people write about me online because I think it’s a very slippery slope personally. I think it can effect your work and sometimes people write things you shouldn’t read. I try to keep away, but I read that. It was nice that in the grand scheme of things I wasn’t one of the CSIs and I wasn’t carrying the show but for people to care about my character it just meant the world to me. I don’t know if any of the producers read it or it had any effect, but it did on me. It meant so much.
CSI Files: Just prior to all this, you were working pretty heavily both in front of the camera and behind-the-scenes. Not only were you promoted to series regular, but you also worked on a story for “Field Mice” with Wallace Langham. Do you think if your status remained as recurring the outcome of the situation would be different?
Vassey: Maybe. I don’t know, I just don’t know. I’ve thought about it so much from all different angles. I can say this: nobody ever asked about demoting me. When I first came on [in “Secrets and Flies“] I did ten episodes the first year, I think. I could be wrong though, it could be eight. It was somewhere in that ballpark. [laughs] But nobody ever talked to me about the possibility of coming back or something. Which, again, because I cared about these people and have had so much fun on that set, I would of done it. But it wasn’t ever discussed. I don’t know, it was very abrupt and very final.
I will say that getting to write an episode was one of my highlights of being on that show, though. It was an exceptionally fine experience getting to do that with Wally. Going on tech scouts and casting, it was fascinating and especially inspired me to write a lot more.
CSI Files: It was your first teleplay and you did a great job! It was really phenomenal.
Vassey: Thank you. Thanks a lot. I had written a couple times before; I sold two pilots that weren’t made, but it was really great to be able to sell them. Wally had done the same, so we talked about it–we hadn’t even talked about it to the producers. They approached us after doing a commentary for the DVD and they asked! They were like, “you can totally think about it if you want.” It was Naren [Shankar]. He came up and said, “do you want to write? Carol [Mendelsohn, executive producer] is on board if you are.” And we were like “nooo, we want to do it!” It was great, it was an honor to be asked.
CSI Files: If I remember correctly Naren was a big supporter of the lab rats episodes.
Vassey: Yeah, I don’t know if there’s enough words in my vocabulary to describe how much I like that man. He’s great, his wife Cheri is great, my husband and I are very close with them. He did so much for my character. For the lab techs in general, like, I don’t understand how Jon Wellner [Henry Andrew] is not a star of a comedy, I think he’s brilliant. I think every one of those rats down the line in that first show, most of us never really worked together before. I never really had a scene with Archie [Kao, Archie Johnson] before, if I did it was like one line. Sheeri Rappaport [Mandy Webster], we hadn’t worked together really. It all just clicked. I admire Naren for trusting us with that and letting us carry the show. It was so fun and we all took it so seriously. [laughs] It was great. I think the world of every one of those lab rats. They’re all incredibly talented. Even Wally. [laughs]
CSI Files: You’ve worked on a couple projects since. CBS’ Two and a Half Men, the new TV series 9ine; which I hear has been picked up for a second season, and an episode of ABC’s Castle. Was it an easy adjustment to play someone other than the charming Wendy after all five years of playing her?
Vassey: Well, the Two and a Half Men was really interesting. I had done one in the first season as a different character and I came back on to do two this past season, and I showed up and it was funny, my husband goes “Do you think they’ll remember you?” And I walk in and Charlie Sheen had watched CSI a lot. [laughs] A lot of that cast had but it was an interesting welcome, it was really fun. It was really nice to go in and come from a show that was so well regarded and highly regarded and have them welcome me like that.
I just finished a movie in Massachusetts, it’s called Broken Silence. It’s an incredibly emotional movie. I’d say that was the biggest departure because one of things about playing on CSI for five years is that you don’t display emotion a lot of the time. You’re kind of stoic and meticulous and you don’t really wear your emotions on your sleeve in that type of capacity. So going and doing this movie for a month where it was all so emotional was really different and interesting.
Playing a bad guy in Castle was also fun being on the other side of the interrogation table.
CSI Files: Was Broken Silence the film you were just working on where there was the tornado warnings?
Vassey: Oh, yeah! [laughs] I was tweeting about them because we were all scared to death. All of us were either from Boston or from L.A. So we all of a sudden had tornado watches and tornado warnings, we’re all down in the basement with a lovely group of people–great crew–certainly didn’t want to have to go through a tornado with them, but eighty of us were down in this basement. [laughs] It was actually kind of comical. Somebody was like, “get under the stairs!” and somebody else goes, “no, get in the bathtub!” I was like, “have none of you ever been through one of these before?” And everybody was like, “no!” [laughs] It was really the blind leading the blind. I texted my husband saying hey, I’m downstairs ’cause there’s a tornado coming and he thought I was kidding because they hadn’t had a tornado in Massachusetts since 1953. Very strange.
CSI Files: You mentioned earlier about working on a pilot. Is this something you’re just writing or aspiring to star in as well?
Vassey: Hopefully both. I had this idea a little bit ago and it was something that was kind of percolating for a while and I just sat down and wrote it five or six months ago. Then I got a producer attached, so I learned the joy of rewriting a lot. He’s been great, he’s been very helpful. During pilot season somebody read the pilot that I had written and she asked me to come in for a staff writing job on her show should it be picked up. I kind of stumbled into this area a little bit more. I definitely wrote it with me in mind as this character so I hope it works out. We just did our first table read and it was so much fun. It’s been great and very educational.
My husband laughed at me because I don’t sit still very well, but I can sit and write for eight or nine hours straight. He just thinks it’s the funniest damn thing.
CSI Files: One of your first major roles was starring as Emily Ann Sargo Martin in All My Children, a role which also earned you an Emmy nomination. A plethora of soap opera alumni have been invited back to reprise roles since of many daytime suds are being cancelled. Any idea if you’ll be going back for a cameo?
Vassey: No, I would go back–I would do anything on that show. They gave me my start, I was sixteen; I moved up from Tampa, Florida, I was in Hell’s Kitchen with my mom in New York from the age of sixteen to nineteen while I was on it. It was a magical part of my life. Sixteen was a while ago, so to be perfectly blunt I don’t even know producers there anymore, I don’t know a lot of the cast–of course Susan [Lucci] is still there, Michael Knight is still there. But I haven’t worked on that show in such a long time that I don’t even know if I would pull up on their radar, you know what I mean? It’s been so long.
CSI Files: You still keep in touch with Wallace and Jon, do you keep in contact with anyone else from CSI?
Vassey: Well, I just texted Marg [Helgenberger, Catherine Willows] the other day. We had a little texting conversation because she’s getting her Hollywood star, which I think is the coolest thing. Marg is everything any of her fans would want her to be. She’s so talented. We sang together for a charity event and it was just great to get to know her in that kind of context. She’s got a hell of a voice, that woman. I was in Spain on vacation with my husband and she happened to be there in the same tiny, little town on the same night. So we had dinner with her, drank red wine until way, way, way late in the evening. We had a great time. Great lady. So I still keep in touch with her. David Berman [David Phillips] is probably one of my dearest friends. He lives five minutes away from me, he’s shooting a documentary right now actually. So he’s out of the country, it’s weird, I’m going through withdrawals because I usually see him once a week. We’re incredibly close. Still stay in touch with writers Allen MacDonald, David Rambo, Sarah Goldfinger, Naren Shankar, we’re all in constant contact, too.
CSI Files: So, should the opportunity present itself, you would be willing to go back to the Las Vegas Crime Lab, correct?
Vassey: Yeah! Honestly, I know they’re bringing on some new people, that’s been sort of publicized. [laughs] I think with everything that’s going on I don’t foresee that happening. I’m not exactly waiting for a phone call, I don’t really think that that’s going to be in the plan. Specifically, if I got to go back and work more with Wally, I think it would be fun to go back and talk about my time in Portland as a CSI. I think it would be great to go back for a couple episodes.
CSI Files: The fans who continue to send you their support and remain hopeful for your return, what do you have to say to them?
Vassey: Oh, God. Just… thank you. This is such an odd business. My family thinks I’m half crazy for being in it in the first place. It’s a business where you hear far more “nos” than “yeses.” But ultimately, you’re doing it for the fans. You’re hoping the fans like you; they’re the ones that keep you employed and let you have your job. Being appreciated like that and having support like that is more than I can ask for. I’ve appreciated every little nice note or post that anybody has sent me. Huge thanks, love, and a lot of appreciation.
Shane Saunders is a freelance writer and reviewer. His work can be seen on EDGE Network and ShaneSSaunders.com.