Greg Sanders has gone from lab rat to field mouse on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation over the course of thirteen seasons, and is a prime example of a character going on a journey during the show’s run. Played with aplomb by Eric Szmanda, the former DNA expert has come into his own as a CSI Level III, working diligently and thoroughly with his more seasoned coworkers. With his vast knowledge of Las Vegas history he’s been showcased in many episodes as an Old Vegas expert, and even wrote his own book on the subject. In the following exclusive interview with Shane Saunders, Szmanda likens Greg’s growing sense of maturity to the actor’s real life and explains why he’s still enjoying the role after thirteen years.
CSI Files: There’s been a little bit of personal light shed on Greg this season, including some information in “It Was A Very Good Year” on a fling he had with a reporter. How would you describe Greg’s evolution over the past couple years? He’s very much a different person than how he first started out on the series.
Eric Szmanda: Well I think Greg has matured over the years. Having started in the lab he was kind of removed from the harsh reality of crime scenes and over the last several seasons, he’s been out working in the field and that has started to wear on him, as it would anybody. It has a profound impact on your attitude towards work and professionalism at a crime scene that you can’t make a practical joke over a dead body.
CSI Files: Do you think he misses the lab?
Szmanda: I think he felt comfortable in the lab and as an actor, it’s nice to only have to report to one location and not have to travel every morning to a different place you never know where you’re going to be. The lab felt safe and Greg was the master of his domain, but it could also be a little confining. All the action takes place outside the lab, and I wanted to experience more, so that happened and I couldn’t be happier.
CSI Files: Is there a part of you that misses the immaturity Greg displayed? In recent years, as he’s been maturing, it seems he’s missing that quirky spunk.
Szmanda: I think Greg is growing up; I’ve been on the show for thirteen years, and I think at that time I was a little bit immature and a bit sillier. To grow up and–whatever–change, I think it was just a natural progression for the character and me as an actor. I can’t do the same old shtick for thirteen years.
CSI Files: Because CSI is in its thirteenth season, they’ve been trying some new things on the show with personal development, whereas before it was very nuance and subtle moments. Recently we’ve seen Greg with Morgan (Elisabeth Harnois). Are you a fan of the personal spotlight or do you miss the forensics being front and center?
Szmanda: I think we’ve always dabbled with the personal stuff, but it’s always been controlled in keeping the viewer wanting more without being kind of inundated with personal life. There’s a natural attraction to Morgan for Greg, and she’s a beautiful young woman that he gets to work with everyday, but there’s a professional thing, too; it’s probably not going to go farther than natural flirtation. I’ve always appreciated the balance between personal and forensics stuff on the show. I don’t really think we’ve crossed that line too much. In order to keep things interesting, of course we’re going to find the characters changing paces a bit personally, which has happened a lot this season. It’s good for the characters and the actors.
CSI Files: It does seem that whenever Greg finds himself attracted to a girl, she either winds up dead or becomes a murder suspect, so Morgan does seem to be a safer bet…
Szmanda: [Laughs.] You’d think so.
CSI Files: What is there to come for Greg in these upcoming episodes?
Szmanda: We’re winding down with Season Thirteen! We have about five more episodes to go, and I honestly don’t know what the writers have in store for us for the rest of the season; I don’t know of any big developments for Greg. The writers do like to surprise us, so we’ll see.
CSI Files: Marg Helgenberger (Catherine Willows) was on set yesterday for the first time in a while, how was that?
Szmanda: It was great having Marg back. I miss having her there a lot, and I’m glad there was a chance to visit and catch up. She’s looking great and very happy; she’s relaxed and I wished that she visited more often.
CSI Files: CSI seems like an obvious renewal for next season, so I have to ask: do you have a limit for yourself as to how long you want to be doing this show, or do you plan on being with it until the end?
Szmanda: I’m kind of just taking it year by year. I will come back next season. Thirteen years is a long time to be doing something and a lot can happen in the next year, maybe some things I want to do on my own; develop shows of my own. CSI has always been a great place to work so I’ll stay with it as long as I’m happy–and I’m happy.
CSI Files: Do you have other projects you’re working on right now?
Szmanda: They’ve been keeping me pretty busy this season on CSI, so it’s been hard to do other things. But I’m going to try for a movie in the summer and travel and enjoy the time off. Then I’ll come back refresh for another season in July.
CSI Files: And of the episodes you’ve filmed, what can you tease coming up?
Szmanda: We just finished an episode set inside the world of poker and learn that Greg is a big fan of poker and very knowledgeable of it, so he works pretty closely on the case. It’s an interesting story on poker that we haven’t done before, and Greg gets to teach the audience a little bit about the game.
CSI Files: As your own person, do you share an interest in Old Vegas like Greg does?
Szmanda: I’m a huge fan of the movie Casino which definitely sparked my interest in the mob culture. I’ve enjoyed Greg’s fascination with it too, so I just think by learning so much about it and getting to talk about it so much, I’ve developed an interest. It’s the glory days in Vegas and we’ve come a long ways since then; it’s fun to revisit it every now and then on the show.
CSI Files: We’ve always heard about Papa Olaf and the history of Greg’s Norwegian roots. Who would you like to see cast if he was to ever make an appearance?
Szmanda: [Laughs.] Well Papa Olaf was my grandpa, so I’d have to find someone realistically pull that off. I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head! [Laughs.] Then they’d also have to play Norwegian, so I’d have to think about that one for a bit.