Though CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has featured a bevy of rotating detectives throughout its twelve season run, one name certainly sticks out amongst the rest: Detective Vartann. Alex Carter plays one of Las Vegas’ finest detectives–in more ways than one, some will argue–but also gets the very high honor of playing a member of law enforcement who shares somewhat of a romantic relationship with a CSI. In an exclusive interview with CSI Files’ Shane Saunders, Carter discusses where his relationship stands with Catherine Willows, name changes, and which CSI star he’s hoping to work with again. Spoilers after the jump!
Alex Carter: That’s a good question, you should ask CBS that. I have no idea. There’s been some changes with writers and producers the last couple years and some cast changes as well. I think transitioning into a new team–when I started the relationship stuff with Marg [Helgenberger, Catherine Willows], it was a couple of specific writers who came up with that idea and those writers are gone. I have no idea what happens behind doors but there has been some transition with writers and I think every time you make that change it might take a while for people to get to know you. I love working on the show so when they call and I’m available it’s always great for me. It’s an easy show to step in and step out of. It’s first rate and everyone is very welcoming and super nice. It’s one of the best and easiest jobs I’ve ever had so for me I’d rather be doing CSI than to go off and do another show.
In 2003 there was a writer, Josh Berman, who I worked with on a big episode. He liked some of the stuff I did and he came up to me and said, “You’re going to be in every episode I write.” He was true to his word. He left the show and went on to do his own stuff. So there’s always that transition.
CSI Files: The status of Catherine and Vartann is clearly undefined. What’s your read on the relationship?
Carter: Well, again, you have to work with what you get. For instance, when I first came back for this episode and not having been in in how many episodes I haven’t been in, you just have to make a decision and say, “I guess we maybe sleep together occasionally; it’s a relationship of convenience.” Obviously we don’t live together and don’t have a true relationship because it doesn’t make any sense if you haven’t seen me in a while. It’s more a result of the realities of the writing in the show. To me, it never made sense to come in and have a really strong episode with her, say something’s happening in the relationship, and then all of a sudden you’re not there for a while; I was confused as an actor. It doesn’t make sense to me either.
CSI Files: It seems Vartann wants something, but Catherine isn’t quite sure…
Carter: Yeah, I think she’s afraid to make that committment. Once again, that comes as a surprise to me. I read the scripts and go, “It appears that I’m a little jealous here.” When I play scenes with Marg, I have nothing but really great chemistry with her. Personally, like when we’re on set, we get along really well and we combine a lot of little nuances into those scenes. Sometimes the scene will ask you to have a conflict, but I can’t really have a lot of conflict with her. [Laughs.] I feel like just maybe kissing her. [Laughs.] I think these two episodes will reveal a bit on that note, but, yeah, my character seems to want more from her.
CSI Files: She was just offered a job in D.C. From what you know right now does it seem like there’s a future for them?
Carter: This script right now that I just read and about to shoot–I thought it was over. I thought, “I’m not sure what they’re going to do with the relationship.” And then I realized when I read it I went, “Oh! I’m definitely going to do the episode after that, too.” There’s a link that allows it to move forward. But in what way and what direction and what capacity? I have no idea. Even when I read the scene that I had with her coming up that we have to shoot I thought, “This is still open ended.” I don’t know where it’s going to go in the next episode. The following episode will be the answer to that I think.
CSI Files: Grissom (William Petersen) and Sara (Jorja Fox) are currently in a long-distance relationship, so it’s somewhat feasible they could end up together…
Carter: Anything is possible. I don’t know what Marg is going to do after she leaves, but everything is open.
CSI Files: Let’s talk about the upcoming episode “Crime After Crime.” Three separate crimes somehow connect to each other. How does Vartann factor in?
Carter: I have some history with one of the cases from the past. I worked on the case as a young detective.
CSI Files: Does Vartann interact at all with Catherine?
CSI Files: Episode Nine–I don’t know if you’re in this one or not–but it introduces a possible new flame for Catherine.
CSI Files: Is Vartann aware of what transpires between her and the FBI agent played by Grant Show?
Carter: I am not in nine or ten, so I definitely wasn’t there for that. There’s a scene that kind of addresses a little bit of that in eleven.
CSI Files: How has the atmosphere on set changed since Marg’s leaving? Is it more melancholy than when you joined back in Season Four?
Carter: When I started on the show she’s exactly the same personality, same person now; so there’s nothing really different about her. She’s sort of steady as a rock. The show itself I think has a lighter, more energetic feel to it. I think Ted‘s [Danson, DB Russell] involvement in the show, everybody just–and I have yet to work with him–but everybody is just raving about him. I think it’s been a real boost to the show in spite of the fact she’s leaving. One might be bouncing off of the other. The time I saw her a couple weeks ago and we talked about her leaving and stuff, I think it’s just a lot of feelings to process and it hasn’t really sunk in. She said, “It’d be different if the entire show was coming to an end; we’d all be going through that together. The fact that I’m leaving and everybody else is staying is something I have to process on my own. And I just don’t know yet, there’s a lot of feelings about it.” But the mood was really great and positive and fun… I think because of Ted. Everybody said that to me. I was looking forward to meeting him and working with him, which hasn’t happened yet. In this episode we will work together. He’s a great guy and a lot of energy and apparently a lot of fun to work with.
CSI Files: Is there anything you can tease about these two upcoming episodes?
Carter: All I know is the episode that I read last night was kind of like a standard CSI episode on steroids. It really had a lot of stuff in the episode in addition to what I guess people expect from the show. It was really fun to read. I caught myself a couple times going, “Wow.” It had a lot to it.
I ran into the director of photography in Larchmont Village a couple weeks ago and he was prepping for this episode. He said it’s great and he was right. When I read the episode I was like, “This is going to be a really great episode.”
CSI Files: Last season’s “Targets Of Obsession” came very close to killing you off! What was your reaction when you read the script?
Carter: I don’t know. I didn’t think they would kill me off. One of the writers told me Marg’s had two relationships on the show–one turned out to be an asshole and the other one was killed. So they said they probably weren’t going to kill me or turn me into an asshole. I don’t know… that was the logic. I don’t remember having any feeling about it.
CSI Files: It’s kind of amazing how far your character has come since “Grissom Versus The Volcano.” Did you ever expect to be on the show for over seven seasons?
Carter: No. I think I left for a season… I was in a show with Grant! I worked on another series and I just wasn’t available. I don’t think I was on the show for a while and then I got a call, “Could you come back and do an episode next week?” I was shocked to get the call because I hadn’t been on the show for a long time. When the show started Ken Fink and Richard Lewis, the directors who did most of the episodes, I worked with them a lot; I had good relationships with them. When I worked with Ken he was really happy to have me on set. Richard Lewis is a really good friend of mine so working with him was really good.
CSI Files: Was Point Pleasant the show you worked on with Grant?
CSI Files: That’s interesting. Elisabeth Harnois (Morgan Brody) was on it as well.
Carter: That’s right. Elisabeth and Grant were on it.
CSI Files: When you first joined Vartann’s first name was “Tony,” and now it’s “Lou.” Why the change?
Carter: Boy, you’re really good man. You’re really good. I worked on the show, did a bunch of episodes, and they never had a first name. I didn’t even really want a first name. They asked me what I wanted for a first name and I was like, “Just keep it Vartann.” Then Anthony Zuiker, who created the show, was on set one day and I don’t even think I had met him. He walked over and went, “Hey, man.” We just started chatting and I thought he was one of the crew guys; he was very low-key, wearing jeans and a T-shirt. Very nice and personable. He goes, “I created your character” and I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about; I didn’t know who he was. [Laughs.] He says, “My wife really likes Michael Vartan who was on Alias. She really likes him so I created this character and called him Vartann.” Then I realized it was Anthony and he created CSI. So he created that name because his wife liked Michael Vartan. The first name… I don’t know. It was Tony at some point and Lou… I don’t know how all that stuff went down. I really don’t.
AUDIO FEATURE: Press ‘Play’ to hear Alex’s favorite moments from the show.
CSI Files: Speaking of personal connections, I bet the sex scene in “Blood Moon” was a really boring day for you.
Carter: [Laughs.] That was a lot of fun. Forget the scene; Marg just likes to laugh and have a good time. That was fun and easy to do. When you like somebody, everything’s fun. The sex scene was actually really funny. We laughed a lot. When you’re uncomfortable or nervous then it becomes a lot of work. With her it was a lot of fun for a lot of reasons. She’s just great to work with. I’ve never seen her raise her voice, I’ve never seen her get pissy or angry at something, she respects everybody’s decision. Anybody on that call sheet comes up and has something to offer or has a question, she gives them the same amount of respect as she would to the director. She’s one of a kind. We had a lot of fun and laughs with that scene.
CSI Files: One of your most recent television appearances was on ABC’s Revenge. Any chance you’ll be going back to that?
Carter: I think so. Maybe. My character is the ex-husband of one of the series regulars, I guess. So, yeah. There’s a chance of that. Really nice people to work with.
CSI Files: Thinking way back to Veritas, who was your favorite love interest slash villain?
Carter: That’s easy. Liz Vassey. She was the best and when she showed up on that show we were all so tired and so beaten down because we started at six in the morning on a Monday every week and finished on a Saturday morning. She showed up and was funny and charming and beautiful. Very talented and a breath of fresh air. I would love to do a series with her. That’s a no brainer: she was the best. I’m sure CSI fans absolutely loved her because it’s hard not to like her.
Shane Saunders is a freelance writer and reviewer. His work can be seen on EDGE Network and ShaneSSaunders.com. Twitter: @ShaneSSaunders.