Jonathan Togo

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at November 15, 2004 - 7:31 PM GMT

Jonathan Togo joined CSI: Miami this season to step into the vacancy left by Rory Cochrane (Tim Speedle), who left the show in the third season opener "Lost Son". Replacing a beloved character is never easy, but Togo has tackled his role with aplomb since first appearing in the third episode of the season, "Under the Influence" as a young patrolman eager to join Horatio Caine's team of CSIs. Much like his character, Togo has an enthusiasm and passion for his job and brings with him an energy that has livened up Miami's third season. Togo sat down with CSI Files in between shooting scenes for an upcoming episode to share how he's fitting in on the hit television show.

CSI Files: What led you to take the role of Ryan Wolfe on CSI: Miami?

Jonathan Togo: What led me to take it was that it's a better job than bartending! I'll go out on three commercial auditions a day, but sometimes you get good ones. I'm going in for a bad sitcom, I'm going in for a really awful movie-of-the-week, and I'm going in for CSI: Miami to be the new cop! And wouldn't it be funny or crazy if I ended up [landing it]? Well, I ended up getting the job. They flew me to L.A. Usually it's a process where you cast in front of a bunch of network executives and it's like an 8-round gladiator pit of actors. [But for Miami] they flew me in and took me to [CSI: Miami Executive Producer] Ann Donahue's office and we talked for a while and she asked me if I wanted the job. And I had this look on my face where it was like Ed McMahon handing someone the lottery check. It was mind-blowing! And so I said yes and she brought be to meet the writers and that was it.

For an actor in my position, it's not a question of what roles you choose, it's what roles choose you. I was just lucky to have a role that chose me that's as wonderful as this one.

CSI Files: Do you like your character?

Togo: I said to [the writers], so who is he, who is Ryan Wolfe? One of the writers sort of looked at me and said, "It's you. You're the guy. We're building it on you." I sat down with [the writers], they got my sense of humor, they heard me tell some bad jokes and they started writing a character. So Ryan Wolfe is based on [me].

I was a theater major at Vassar, and when you go to theater school, you play a lot of roles that have already been written, have already been done, but in television, the character is evolving and you're going with it. So [Ryan's] a lot of things. He's obsessive compulsive, which I am not.

CSI Files: Are you a fan of the CSI shows?

Togo: Here's the funny thing--my girlfriend is obsessed with all of the CSIs. So I started watching and started getting into it. So to be a fan of it and then to be on it is a quick, really crazy jump.

And I was the hugest Emily Procter (Calleigh Duquesne) fan. Another show I love is The West Wing, so when I first met Emily Procter, I was like you're Ainsley Hayes! And you're Calleigh Duquesne!

They gave me a bunch of episodes so I saw what had happened previously. Everyone on set talks about the show the way my girlfriend talks about CSI and CSI: Miami. They know every intricate detail.

CSI Files: What was it like coming in and replacing a popular character (Tim Speedle, played by Rory Cochrane)?

Togo: It's difficult. Being the new guy on a show is sort of like going to someone else's house for Thanksgiving dinner. Or it's like being a foreign exchange student. You live in the house, you're part of the family, but you're not really part of the family.

So I had a lot of fears about it. But when I got here, my fears were completely erased. Everyone was incredibly nice, incredibly welcoming. Everyone was really excited to have someone on the show who was new.

But you know, I'm a fan of things, too, and I understand [how the fans feel]. When David Lee Roth left Van Halen, there were a lot of people who thought Sammy Hagar sucked. And some people prefer Sammy Hagar. When someone leaves the show, some people hate [the new person, and] some people like them. I've done it before with Special Unit 2 and it's just the nature of the beast. People have to warm up to you. People are attached to a character on TV that they're a fan of. And naturally, you don't want someone new to come in and replace them and you resent them for that. And I understand that a hundred percent because I'm a fan of things, too. I'm a Red Sox fan and they traded Nomar [Garciaparra] and I'm really upset about it, but Orlando Cabrera turned out to be just the thing we needed. I'm the Orlando Cabrera of CSI: Miami!

Basically, it's not easy and I can relate to the fact that people leave. All I can say is that I love being here, I love working here, and I love the character and I'm trying to do the best job I can. I'm just happy to be here in general. Let the chips fall as they may!

CSI Files: A lot of people have taken to your character fairly quickly. Usually there's a lot more resistance when a replacement comes in.

Togo: Well, that's very nice of them. I'm the biggest Rory Cochrane fan since Dazed & Confused and Love and a .45 and he was amazing on this show and he's an amazing actor. Everyone on set loved him. Everyone was a huge fan of him and I'm a big fan of him. So it is actually an honor to take his spot. It's pretty exciting.

Togo's co-star, Emily Procter enters the room and teases the actor in good humor, mentioning that he's not as tall in person as he seems on TV. Togo responds in a gentlemanly way, saying, "Emily is even more beautiful in person. She loves me madly, and the feeling is mutual!"

CSI Files: What is the set like?

Togo: It's just a good ol' time here. That's the vibe [on set]--it's like a fun, witty vibe. Everyone enjoys sort of teasing each other in a good-natured way.

CSI Files: Do they all tease you?

Togo: Yeah. I think what was good about the beginnings of [Ryan] and what I've enjoyed is that I'm new to this. But I'm sort of a wise ass, I like to joke around and so does [Ryan]. He's sort of funny. He's sarcastic. He likes to take the piss out of people, but in a good-natured way.

Emily said, you need to make a decision about your character. She said Calleigh is honest and she's fair. My decision was that Ryan is OCD, he wears his heart on his sleeve. It upsets him to see murder. He's also incredibly focused. And he'll do whatever it takes to get the case solved. And if he has to be an asshole to someone, he'll do it. He's not afraid of that sort of thing. He gets emotional--doing a good job matters to him, like any sort of type A personality.

I'm a mess, [but] I'm not obsessive compulsive. My clothes are everywhere, my girlfriend yells at me constantly about not taking out the trash. But he's very different. He's very focused. He's got tunnel vision when it comes to that stuff. That's the great thing about all of these characters [on the CSI shows]. In spite of all this chaos around them, they're these very intense, real people.

These [CSIs] in real life are incredible analytical minds, these incredible science minds, but their right brain is very creative, it's highly tuned. They're constantly innovating what they do, and finding new ways to do what they do.

CSI Files: Are you learning from the forensics in the show?

Togo: It really is a baptism by fire on the set, at least it was for me.

The very first thing I shot was in the lab using the mass spectrometer. But we have John Haynes, who's our technical advisor, and he explains it beautifully. I was someone who was horrible in chemistry class, I was horrible in biology class--I was good in writing and acting, I did drama. But John takes the time to explain it in a concise, easy-to-understand way. The more you learn about it, the easier your job gets. And its a fascinating way to solve crimes in the world today as opposed to fifty years ago. I think people like to watch that every week. They like to see problems get solved in a concise, clear, honest and decisive way. It's not cookie-cutter or "just the facts, ma'am." It's a whole new way to tell a story.

CSI Files (and Talk CSI member stripforenics): So you're a big fan of all three CSI shows?

Togo: Having seen how we do [the show], it makes it more fun to watch the other [CSI shows]. And I'm watching them just like everyone else is. I've started watching [the other CSI shows] more than I had before I got the job. I can't always tune in because of work. But yeah, I watch the other two shows. It makes it that much more exciting to see other people doing what you're doing. It actually makes me a big fan of those guys. I think Gary Sinise (Mac Taylor on CSI: New York) is incredible. Everyone on the original is incredible.

CSI Files: Are you enjoying working with David Caruso (Horatio Caine)?

Togo: David's incredible. I've always been a huge David Caruso fan from Kiss of Death and Proof of Life. Here's my David Caruso story: one day I get a knock on my trailer door and there was a pair of shoes [there]. One of the PAs was like, "Do you want these shoes? They're from David." I wanted to put them in a plastic box and put a plaque on it that says, "David Caruso gave me these shoes! August 28, 2004."

He's the star of the show and he's been incredibly supportive. It's an honor to work with him. He's like a legend.

CSI Files: What episode are you working on right now?

Togo: We're shooting episode 11. It's my eighth episode. It's called "Addiction." Dan Cortez is guest starring. He's a suspect--I'll leave it at that. The case involves a carjacking.

CSI Files: Do you notice any similarities between your character and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation's Greg Sanders (played by Eric Szmanda)?

Togo: Between me and Szmanda? I think it's a chin/eyebrow thing. I bartended in New York for a couple of years and people would always say, "You know who you look like?" and I was like, "If you're going to say Jake Gyllenhaal or Eric Szmanda, get in line!" I was like, "I don't look like Greg!" And then I go out on a CSI [audition] and everyone is like, "You look like..." and I was like, "Fine!"

I think there are similarities [between Ryan and Greg] and I think there's going to be a spin-off series perhaps. It's going to be called Nerds with Badges. It's going to be Szmanda and I solving crimes! Because its nerds with badges, it's going to have to be in a less-glamorous city. We're going to do CSI: Poughkeepsie!

[Szmanda] is great. I think he's a handsome guy. I haven't met him. I think when we meet it's going to be akin to Elvis meeting Nixon. We're going to both implode--our DNA is too similar!

CSI Files: So tell me about the band you were in!

Togo: Oh boy. I knew someday the band would come back to haunt me! The band was originally called Skabba the Hutt. We formed it when I was like eighteen-years old. There was a time when Ska bands were huge and every Ska band had the word Ska in it. Having all been huge Star Wars geeks, it was either going to be that or Skaba Fett. We started nine years ago and we played for like seven years and then we stopped playing Ska music because it had had its time, but we got to do some amazing things. We opened for all these amazing old reggae bands. We played some pretty decent gigs. Then we moved to New York City and the band became El Conquistadors, and then it became Conquistadors. And then it broke up, but very amicably.

In college it was a way to get free beer at parties. We were the toast of Poughkeepsie! And [recently] a bunch] of the guys started a new band, but I wanted to be an actor full-time. They just signed to Island/Def Jam records. They're called The Bravery. The music is amazing--I highly recommend them. They're my favorite band! They're on tour in Europe right now, but they'll be coming back to the States soon.

CSI Files: What instrument did you play in the band?

Togo: I played the alto saxophone and I played the guitar. I haven't played in a year.

CSI Files: Do you miss it?

Togo: No. It's a lot of carrying heavy equipment around. My time with the band has ended.

CSI Files(and Talk CSI member ThisIsMe): What is the Togo Dance?

Togo: It's like a fit or a commotion--sort of like The Humpty Dance. It's like if Eric Szmanda did The Humpty Dance!

CSI Files: You were also a regular in Special Unit 2. Did that prepare you for CSI: Miami?

Togo: A lot of my friends went to grad school; I did Special Unit 2. I learned the method by which to memorize the jargon and get on set and sell that sort of dialogue.

CSI Files: What has been the biggest change in your life since you got the CSI: Miami role?

Togo: Well, the biggest change for me has been moving from New York to LA, but that's a good change. I go to work now everyday. When you're a struggling, out-of-work actor, you don't do that very much. That's another good change. Being employed is amazing. But you know what the biggest change is? Joining one of the top ten television shows on TV, one of the greatest television franchises of all time. I can't even begin to articulate how much my life has changed since getting this job. It's changed 100%. It's like being traded to the Red Sox a month before the World Series. It's like going from a minor league team to the world champs. It's changed [my life] in so many ways and I'm incredibly grateful for it and I love it. If I could close my eyes and wish [I could be anywhere], this is exactly where I'd be. If you have an image in your mind of how good it would be, it is that good! It's amazing. And I love the show, I love playing this character and I love everyone I work with and I love the writing.

CSI Files: It sounds like you're really enjoying being on the show!

Togo: I'm having a good time! It's really fun to play a smart person. Grissom [on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation] is a genius! An introverted, neurotic genius, but he is a genius.

You know what I also appreciate--the dedication [of the fans] is great. It's definitely very appreciated. Because the fans are smart, too, because they catch things that nobody else catches. It matters to them--they care--and guess what? Better that they care than no one cares. I did that show Special Unit 2 and nobody cared [about the show]. Who else are you doing it for but for [the fans]? They're the ones that watch the show. They're the ones you work seventy hours a week for.

It's hard because [when you're replacing a character], you want to be Woody from Cheers. You want to be the good new addition, not the "the show jumped the shark when they hired this guy!" You don't want to be the bad addition. You want to be Woody on Cheers not Oliver on The Brady Bunch.

CSI Files (and Talk CSI member Dynamo1): A lot of actors talk about how much work a weekly television series is. How are you handling it?

Togo: Is it a lot of work? Yeah. I'm here for thirteen hours straight, but I've done day jobs where I was there for eight hours and it was the longest eight hours of my life. This is the quickest thirteen hours. But shouldn't anything you care about be a ton of work? It's a question of how dedicated you are to it. What I do take seriously is acting and my job. So there's no amount of time that's too much work for something you care deeply about. For me this is something I care incredibly deeply about. So is it a lot of work? Yeah. But it's also the most fun ever.

Every job is a grind. There's tons of perks to this job. Guess what? We're not coal miners. It's not that hard. I'm definitely sure that there are people out there who have much harder jobs than I do.

Discuss this interviews at Talk CSI!

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.