Interview: Paul Guilfoyle


Since CSI: Crime Scene Investigation‘s first episode nearly twelve years ago, Paul Guilfoyles Captain Jim Brass has put forth a sarcastic edge and tough demeanor, a personality unlike any other member of the CSI team. A struggling father trying to reach out to his troubled daughter, the character has had his share of personal and work-related problems over the course of the series, but in real life his alter ego is a successful actor, family man, and friend. In a season filled with comings and goings, Guilfoyle talks with Shane Saunders to discuss his future involvement with the series, the character’s complex history, and who he thinks is a perfect fit as the former Mrs. Brass (hint: it’s not a female).

Paul Guilfoyle on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Photo: Sonja Flemming/CBS ©2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

CSI Files: You’ve been playing this character for over a decade now. In what ways do you think Brass has changed?

Paul Guilfoyle: That’s a good question. I think he, like anybody, has more wisdom and a sense of direction. I do have to say this has changed in the writing, and I do think that the writing and the actor slowly come together, which is a great organic process that I’ve witnessed. The writers seem to pick up on things from watching me do stuff and I’m following along. In the beginning, Brass was really used kind of as a foil. I would joke around and say, “If I believe somebody did it, it’s usually the opposite.” But I think the writers and I together–and the writers especially–have made Brass be more of a consummate detective, a person who relies on instincts and that has developed where his instincts are as valuable as some of the technology that we use. I think Brass’ wisdom and his ability to solve crime, as well as his passion and dedication, all those things have refined over the years. That’s the greatest gift of having a long-term, long-running show.

CSI Files: The past two seasons you’ve taken a few episodes off here and there. Do you imagine this will be the way it plays out throughout the remainder of the series’ run?

Guilfoyle: There are a number of reasons why I’m doing that, and this might bring up a deeper conversation that you may not want to have. It’s something the nature of our business has kind of come to the forefront to people’s minds, they really want to know the business deal that actors have, how much money movies make at the box office. They’ve kind of lost the connection to just watching a television show for its face value and entertainment value. Instead they kind of know what the actors are doing or where they are going, there’s so many entertainment vehicles–I’m not saying yours is one, I think yours is more connected to the show and the love of the sport–I’m old enough to remember when that was the only thing that people knew, because there wasn’t as many ways to get information.

I kind of blame the networks and the business people because they get their viewers and audience involved in the business of making the movie, because that’s all they know; they don’t really get the creative side. In a way I think it’s unfortunate, I really, really do. I’m taking episodes off because it’s a way to save some money on the show, for financial reasons. You could be selling a bazillion DVDs all over the world and they’d say, “It’s not really doing much.” It seems like there’s never a happy day on the business side, even though it’s probably the most successful television show of all time. It’s really hard to get anyone to admit that because they think it’s a weakness.

I do take some episodes off, but I do that because in my particular situation, I still live in New York. I never knew my first television show was going to go on this long, and I have an established life in New York City which is my home with my family, so I have to go back and forth a lot during the shooting season. Do I see [taking episodes off] as a deal? I wasn’t even thinking about taking other work, but at some point I wouldn’t mind having some ability to move myself back a little bit into my job as an actor, although I wouldn’t do that in any way that would have an impact on our TV show.

CSI Files: Were you surprised when you learned that Brass was going to cover for Ray Langston (Laurence Fishburne) in last season’s finale?

Guilfoyle: Was I surprised? Well, I thought it was a good approach. What I’ve always been asking to work towards is a sense of autonomy in his own world, he does things against the grain. This guy was one of the nastiest serial killers on a television show played marvelously by Bill Irwin, so not only is Brass going to take autonomy in a television show as captain of detectives, but it’s going to take autonomy in terms of what is right and wrong. Yes, he’s going to do what he felt is right, even though it’s probably illegal and need a good lawyer, like we saw in the OJ Simpson trial. But I think this is part of the loyalty issue and taking chances, it overwhelms his literal correct sense.

CSI Files: Is there anyone you think Brass can confide in about what happened? Do you think anyone will find out the truth?

Guilfoyle: That’s an interesting question; I suppose that could be resurrected. I thought it was done with a certain amount of clumsiness in the moment, you know what I mean. It wasn’t pre-meditated; he did it right then not knowing. It could be an interesting case. Again, I think he was trying to protect Ray Langston from whatever demons he was dealing with, but obviously because of other issues, Ray Langston couldn’t face that emotionally and needed to go away to recover in the show. The ending was compelling.

CSI Files: There was a lot of discussion online as to whether Brass became a tainted cop because of what occurred…

Guilfoyle: Maybe it’s because the CSIs have always been so perfect. Tainted, maybe that’s because viewers of this particular show are so caught up in the methodology of crime solving and what elements to use, but I think Brass was acting on knowing that the guy wasn’t going to get away. We live in a world where everyone is looking over each other’s shoulder and here is a guy saying, “This guy isn’t going to get away again.” But I think the people looking for taintedness versus Brass’ own morality, and the morality is usually fairly clear, is pretty understandable.

CSI Files: Earlier this season, there was a small reference to Brass’ daughter, Ellie, who was last seen in Season Six. This season has put a lot of focus on the CSI’s immediate and extended families; do you think we’ll see her anytime soon?

Guilfoyle: I’m always curious; that is his fatal flaw. I’ve had people come up to me who are very moved by this [storyline]. A man came up to me at a festival and the same exact situation happened to him. They did not want happening to them what they perceived was happening to Jim Brass. I thought he was going to ask for an autograph, and we ended up sitting for a little while having coffee. I don’t know if they’re going to have more of it, but occasionally they’ll touch on it and you see the pain of it come out. That’s something in his life that’s powerful and resolved.

CSI Files: “Hollywood Brass” has to be one of my favorite episodes, and it’s not set in Las Vegas for the most part. The father/daughter relationship is really interesting.

Guilfoyle: That’s great, thanks. I like that, too. Teal Redmann and Donna Murphy are great, and it’s a nice relationship that shows Brass outside work. Donna is of course sexy, and the characters obviously have a relationship as well. It shows the background of people who do this job. Both those actresses were fantastic to work with and I thought it was a good story.

I think if you ever hear Brass saying, “I’m taking a job in LA,” you’ll know why. [Laughs.]

CSI Files: And there’s an ex-wife out there somewhere. Who would your ideal actress for the part be?

Guilfoyle: There’s so many great actresses, and so many I know as friends that I wouldn’t want to say anyone particular because someone will say, “You’re not thinking of me?” I’ve been around women too long. [Laughs.] Philip Seymour Hoffman. No, I’m kidding. [Laughs.] There are probably more actresses my age who would like to do this work now than there are male actors.

CSI Files: A handful of cast members have left the series the past several seasons. Is it hard saying goodbye to someone you’ve been working with for so long?

Guilfoyle: For a while I didn’t think so. A temporary system is always in play when doing this creative work. Bonds are formed, and friendships are formed. Marg [Helgenberger, Catherine Willows] was such a beautiful force and Billy [Petersen, Gil Grissom], too. Laurence, too, even though I didn’t get to say goodbye to him personally. There were some goodbyes and I watched how much it meant to them; it’s their process of saying goodbye, because I’m the one staying. I think the process of leaving is difficult and to say goodbye to a particular group. We created our own unique little society within the confines of Universal Studios and in Las Vegas.

CSI Files: What was your reaction when you found out Ted Danson (DB Russell) was joining CSI?

Guilfoyle: I love Ted. We were in 3 Men and A Baby many, many years ago… God, that was like thirty years ago, I was the baby. Ted I knew to be a delightful guy and politically committed, and smart and passionate. He’s a person who has lived a little and knows and appreciates all the professionalism and work ethic. We spoke a little bit on the phone before he came on board; he’s very gentlemany about that.

I think you have to be very careful when you move and replace actors. You don’t want to do it too many times; I think they should be very careful holding on to some baseline group. I know it would be convenient to think you can replace actors, but there’s an unspoken thing that people have called chemistry. I hope we have Ted for a while.

I never believed, and neither did Billy, that this show was about one person. It’s just as life gets more populated and complicated, you need to have everyone working together. I always thought on this particular show that it wasn’t about one particular guy, but it’s continuously written that way and that’s where it falls short for me a little. It’s really about an ensemble, and obviously this is coming from a member of the ensemble, and the crime is the antagonist. The protagonist is this five or six-headed monster of individual people doing their jobs in the lab or in the police station working together and finding out who is responsible for the antagonist. See, we’ve all been at a point where the serial killer was the protagonist or Laurence was the protagonist, and sometimes that works, but the more we venture into doing traditional television, the more of a traditional television show we become. I think some of the most successful episodes are when the whole group works together to solve crime.

CSI Files: What do you think Brass makes of Julie Finlay (Elisabeth Shue)?

Guilfoyle: I think he likes her. She has instincts, spunk, and excitement. There’s sort of a cop instinct and she invests emotionally in the crimes. She wants to make a move just like Brass does, so they share that in common. I see that developing as a really good relationship together.

CSI Files: You’re quite the fan of hockey, do you still go out and hit some pucks every now and then?

Guilfoyle: I just played in the playoffs this weekend, but unfortunately my team lost. We had a good season and we’re gearing up for the next one, which starts in mid-April. I’m on [Executive Producer] Jerry Bruckheimer‘s  team. I was once Rookie of the Year on Jerry Bruckheimer’s “Bad Boy” hockey team. Jerry does a very nice hockey tournament. He’s a big, big, big hockey fan.

CSI Files: How do you plan on spending your hiatus?

Guilfoyle: My wife is going back to school to get a MFA Master’s Degree in choreography at the University of Wisconsin, and there’s a summer program that she has to be at in Wisconsin. She’s a very gifted choreographer and has a company, but she wanted to add this to her résumé. I’ll be with my daughter and we’ll be in Cape Cod sailing, and probably some horseback riding. It’s going to be some one-on-one time; we’re going to get a big dose of each other.


Shane Saunders
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