Jorja Fox

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at January 23, 2006 - 9:24 PM GMT

Jorja Fox has seen her character Sara Sidle go through a lot over the five and a half years CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has been on the air, but the 6th season has been less tumultuous for Sara, even allowing her to help Nick Stokes (George Eads) as he grapples with the fallout from his ordeal in "Grave Danger". Fox took the time to sit down with CSI Files to discuss the reunited CSI team, her complicated reactions to the team split in the previous season and Sara's relationships with the other characters on the show.

CSI Files: Sara had quite a traumatic year last season. What do you think the fallout will be from that?

Jorja Fox: One thing that's been really wonderful for me this season is that it's the first year that I havenít come into the season with some sort of impending disaster or something really heavy going on in Saraís personal life. So it's been nice to sit back a little bit and sort of pass the torch to George and also to Paul Guilfoyle (Jim Brass), who did "A Bullet Runs Through It" (Parts One and Two) and Louise Lombard (Sofia Curtis)--they had a very rollercoaster, emotional event in their lives happen. I don't think any of those stories are over and done. I do think the writers have left me with something of a reprieve for a little while. And it's been kind of nice! I had at least one episode with George where Sara got to be the person on the sidelines. She could relate to what [Nick] had gone through, though it's not exactly her own experience, but she could be there for him and watch him come to terms with his own trauma. That was a really nice arc for me to get to play for Sara, instead of being in the middle of all the tragedy, to be the person on the sidelines, saying it's going to be okay. That was really, really fun. But yeah that stuff [about Sara's past] will be back for sure. There's a lot of cool stuff, especially about Sara's mom. It's out there in the ether somewhere and we'll see when the writers decide to bring it into the show.

CSI Files: Are you enjoying playing Sara as being someone to lean on as opposed to needing to lean on others?

Fox: Absolutely. I think interestingly enough Sara's incapable of leaning on anybody. It happened very early in the series--there were actually one or two moments where she was able to lean on Nick Stokes. So it was kind of cool that when this came back for him, she got to be somebody that was standing there. And though the character of Warrick Brown (Gary Dourdan) has saved her butt a couple of times, the character of Nick Stokes has been that guy to check in and be like, "Hey, are you okay?" I think Sara's definitely been an island for most of the length of the series. It's really nice feeling I came into season six and I still am [an island]. I'm always looking for moments in the script where at least my character can be a little lighter and have a little bit more of a smile. I think that those two episodes in season five, they were very cathartic for the character in the sense that there was some stuff she got to move through. And although there're elements of that that probably still haunt her, I think that she does feel a little bit more empowered and a little freer from her past than she had for the length of the show.

It was getting close to painting her into a corner of no return I think. I'm always so excited to play these things, and they're always a surprise. Either you hear a few days before the script comes out or you hear when the script comes out--you're just reading and youíre like, "Oh my gosh, I'm going to be in a mental institution! What? And my mom was there?" It's scary to play that stuff. It's so fun because it's like, "oh, surprise!" but the truth is thereís always a part of me that hopes the audience actually can take this journey with this character. I hope it's not something that's just going to put my character in a place where less people end up relating to her than before. Between the drunk driving thing and chasing Grissom for over a year and a half and the lab almost blowing up on her, she's had a lot of stuff [happen to her]! So itís almost like, "Whew! Thank God the audience is still with me." It's a sigh of relief that people aren't like, "Oh, Sara's crazy! I don't like her anymore."

CSI Files: Sara is more popular than ever! She has a lot of fans at TalkCSI, if you've ever seen the site.

Fox: I have checked it from time to time. I haven't checked it in a while but I do. I think the last time I wanted to check it about George's mustache actually. But I didnít get to unfortunately.

CSI Files: Unfortunately, it wasn't very popular!

Fox: Oh, that's too bad! I think on a day-to-day basis--the writers especially--we gotta just try and follow our hearts. If we're too overly obsessed about whether people are going to like something or whether the fans are following it, then you can get really caught up in that. You can get into a cycle where somebody's always not going to like something and then you get scared to take any risks or chances. It's funny because the show breathes, it begins and it ends with the fans. And we've been so very lucky to have so many. But it's always a dangerous [thing] which is why I don't check CSI Files too much because you get nervous that people aren't happy and you get this crazy downward cycle, like "Oh no, I've let down the fans!" It's like way worse than letting down the writers or one of your co-stars.

I thought [George's] mustache was really flattering. I'm from New York and Florida, so I feel I've got this urban person and also this very southern, rural person that co-exist, they make up who I am. George is from Texas. When he showed up with the mustache--which I thought looked really great on him--I think it's that Florida part of me. Iím thinking, well, shoot, 85% of the country really wears mustaches. Look at Colorado and Texas and Vermont and Tennessee and Arkansas--we've got a lot of fans in those areas, so I think I was a little more optimistic about it than some folks.

CSI Files: I didn't realize what a big deal the mustache was until I saw the fan reaction on our site!

Fox: Who knew, right? That's why I haven't changed anything in six years! It works really well for the character--I feel like she's the type of woman that probably stays the same a lot. It is a whole other Pandora's box. Like, "Well, maybe Iíll go blonde!" People will care about that stuff. It's a surprise to me that folks are as invested as they are in that.

CSI Files: It surprised me that it was such a focal point in the midst of the "A Bullet Runs Through It" episodes, given that they were such powerful episodes.

Fox: Those two episodes are my favorite two episodes ever of CSI. When I read them on the page, I was like, wow, if we can do half the job that the writers did on this episode, this really could become the CSI opus of the whole six years. I just thought they were so beautiful.

CSI Files: The revelation that Brass was the one who has mistakenly shot the officer was so powerful and unexpected.

Fox: It worked. I think very few people got ahead of that and said, "Oh, it's got to be Brass." Very few people saw it coming.

CSI Files: There was an interesting scene between Sara and Sofia in that episode, and the conflict between them seems to be an ongoing one. What do you make of the conflict between the two?

Fox: That might end up ultimately being a question for the writers because they kind of want to play it, and then they don't play it. We've shot a couple of scenes that they ended up cutting out. I personally would rather not play it at all. Very early in the beginning of the show, Marg [Helgenberger, who plays Catherine Willows] and I fought. There was a little bit of a desire in the beginning that Marg and I would go head to head than we have. Being the only two women on the show, we didn't want to set up that relationship for us. It was a place that neither one of us wanted to go, and we were able to beat that one. Certainly, Catherine and Sara do go head to head, but it's not really a through line of their relationship, which I'm really happy about. I definitely feel the same way about the character of Sofia Curtis. I'm still not completely sure how the writers want it played, but I know that I don't want for Sara to be angry at some random woman because the guy that she's in love with doesn't love her back. I think she's too smart for that, even if just intellectually, to blame someone else for the fact that she's not getting what she wants.

It was a beautiful scene [between Sara, Sofia and Grissom]. I thought Louise played that scene just brilliantly and I really tried to put the energy into that scene that [Sara's issue with Sofia] was really just about that case. Certainly I think there were a lot of folks that read other stuff into it, so it will be interesting to see what happens with them. I think it's awesome to have another [woman] around. When we started there were six of us in the beginning, and then very quickly it became eight and then there was talk of becoming ten like we are now. We haven't added a woman to the cast until then, and again, there are only two of us, so I was always like, "Yeah, let's get another woman on the show. That would be really cool." Now we're seven guys and three women, so there's still room for another woman, I think.

CSI Files: Louise Lombard is definitely a great addition to the cast.

Fox: She really is. And I was really jealous when she became a detective! I was like, "Wait a minute! Nobody told me they were thinking of making one of us a detective." I thought it could be really fun to switch gears like that, even though for me personally the interrogation scenes were some of my least favorite on the show. I thought, how amazing to be on a show for a while and then to completely switch hats. It's a challenge for her, and I think it's going to be a really fun thing. She was surprised herself!

CSI Files: Why are interrogation scenes your least favorites?

Fox: I think it has more to do with the character [than me personally]. I think that because all of us that are CSIs are scientists--we're not cops. We work for the police and we're a branch of the government, but technically we're not police officers. So I think there was always for me, from season one, an awkwardness of how a scientist goes into an interrogation situation. I still feel after all this time that I haven't completely found my way in that room. There's a part of me that still feels a little uncomfortable. That's where when you get to play a character for such a long time, you really do start to feel like you have a split personality. Like, is it Sara that doesn't like interrogations because she feels uncomfortable or is it me, Jorja? Lines get so blurred after a certain period, but I think it did start with Sara. I think that because as a character, social skills are not her best, it's not her strongest suit, and there's often sort of an awkwardness or sort of a strange detachment [in the situation]. I think being in the interrogation room and confrontational and presiding as a police officer is uncomfortable for her. She would rather chase the science than look somebody in the eye and try to read whether they're telling the truth or not.

CSI Files: That social awkwardness is something she and Grissom (William Petersen) have in common.

Fox: That's a true line that they share very closely actually.

CSI Files: We had heard there was supposed to be a scene in a hotel room between Sara and Grissom early in the season in "Gum Drops", but that it was cut for personal reasons.

Fox: Billy had a family emergency that took him home to Chicago for the length of that episode. So, yes, as a matter of fact there was [a scene that was cut]. We were going to kick off the season with a bigger Sara/Grissom milieu than we'd ever done, with a little less ambiguity.

CSI Files: Do you think the relationship between Sara and Grissom will be explored further this season, and if so, where would you like to see it go?

Fox: I'd asked the producers about a year ago for a new boyfriend, and had brought it up a few more times. Sara's been lucky enough that she's had first of all this affinity for Grissom, and then there was a boyfriend, the paramedic, that she had for almost a whole season, and then there were a couple of guys in the lab that had had crushes on her, so I thought it might be through line for her. So I had said [to the writers], "You don't have to put it in the storyline or anything, but it could be even an off-comment that someone makes, that Sara's got a new boyfriend." So far they haven't done that, so it leads me to believe that they do have plans somewhere along the way for Sara and Grissom or something that's newer that's come up, that's even more recent to me, Sara and Greg, which has been tossed around a little bit. I think the last time Grissom said no, that Sara decided that that would be it, that she wasn't going to chase him anymore, and indeed if there was anything ever to happen between them, he would have to reopen the door. So the ball's definitely in his court. I do think the producers have plans.

The whole Sara and Grissom storyline originally would have kicked off with a bang [in "Gum Drops"], but unfortunately Billy had a loss in his family so that story's been on hold since that time. George stepped in beautifully on very, very short notice and they changed the story slightly obviously. We didn't do the scene where George and I would be in the hotel room together instead of her and Grissom. But we got to play some very beautiful stuff with his character coming off of "Grave Danger" from the end of last year. Sarah Goldfinger wrote that episode ("Gum Drops")--she threw all her heart into it and it was very disappointing for her that episode wasn't going to be what she thought she had wrote, and she stepped in and made something equally as beautiful.

CSI Files: What do you think of the idea of the paring of Sara and Greg (Eric Szmanda)?

Fox: That one was a surprise to me! One of the greatest things that happened to me in season five was that I got to work so intimately with Eric Szmanda. We're very good friends after last year and had hung out socially a lot from the beginning of the show, but I feel like I know Greg Sanders so well now. Every day was fun and an honor and a privilege. It was fun to be the teacher for a change. I think Sara having been partnered up with Grissom for so long, she could play chess with him head to head, but at the same time she's unequivocally the student. So it was really awesome to be able to turn around and be the teacher for a year. I really enjoyed it.

I never thought there were really sparks between [Sara and Greg], and a couple of papers got a hold of it and started playing it and then Eric did an interview this summer where he was asked if there would be anything between Greg and Sara and he stated for the record that they would be just friends, that Greg had had a crush on her but that he wasn't interested in her anymore and they were better off as friends. And I yelled at him, "I canít believe you broke up with me in the paper!" First of all, I didn't even know we were going out, and then you have this horribly public break-up. I was the last to know! It's a big question mark. Every major storyline that I've ever had in this show has been a surprise to me. I never knew it was coming, not even two or three months ahead of time, so I could plan for it. I do think that anything is possible, but I think that there's a slimmer chance for Greg and Sara than there is for Grissom and Sara, especially since Billy hasn't publicly broken up with me in the paper!

I miss working with Eric. We get the odd scene together, but we really haven't worked together the way we did last year. I was lucky enough to [work exclusively] with Billy [early on in the show]. Billy had scenes with a lot of other people, but it seemed that for seasons one and two, mostly when I worked, I worked with him. He was my primary scene partner. There's definitely a chemistry that you get to build when you work with somebody like that, whether it's platonically or not, the way when you work with anybody intimately, even in your real life. You start to get into a rhythm and a flow that's really fun and totally different. I might have had one or two scenes with George and Gary in all of season five and I missed them. So I'll look at the schedule and say, "I'm going to see Gary today, we're going to work together, this is going to be fun." So that's been really nice. But, I donít think any of the intimacy is built up as well when they're switching scene partners all the time. It's really fun and cool, but you don't get to go to the deep levels that you do when you're with somebody in the trenches for long periods of time.

CSI Files: How did you feel about the team split in season five?

Fox: I wasn't a fan of it. It almost felt slightly scary. I didn't think the storylines would suffer all that much. Season five started so dramatically off-set as well as on-set, and there were so many strange events coming into the first few weeks of season five. It culminated with George and I appearing to have been fired--there was a lot going on. At that time, for them to split the team up, for me there was sort of this conspiratorial, they're trying to split us up so we canít provide support for each other, which we always really been very good at giving. Billy has championed that as the guy that brought all of these actors together. There's always been a really amazing safety net--we stuck together authentically, and we care for each other. When we were suddenly split apart, it felt like they took the show and threw it on its axis, and it spun differently. There were some great stories that came out of it, and in a way it turned out to be this beautiful blessing and it gave the writers something very different to do, which I think they were ready to do. We got Louise Lombard introduced out of the whole thing. Looking back on it, it was a very cool thing, but at the time, it was like, "What's going on here?"

CSI Files: Were you happy when the decision to bring the team back together was made?

Fox: I was thrilled about it. I think it's proved to be an amazing thing for the stories. As an actor, I miss seeing stories through to the end, which is something we did so intensely in season five because we were split up. So if you got a case, you were pretty much on it, you saw it from the crime scene all the way to getting the guy or girl, or the guy gets away. This year, I'm doing a lot more acting where I'm a piece of the puzzle that gets solved, so I like the stories better thematically, but them sometimes as an actor I wish that I had those cases again, that was the coolest part about being split up, really getting to see something through.

Everybody got a lot of strong emotional arcs, even if they were completely linked to the story: you'd be in interrogation with the person, you'd catch them on the street, you'd meet the mother or you'd meet the victims' families. And now that job falls in the hand of three or four different characters. I think the scripts this year are maybe my favorite year of stories. In a short amount of time, we've told some really interesting, offbeat [stories]. The structure's been slightly different, the writers have been taking some risks and just [producing] some really cool stories, like the cult episode that Danny Cannon wrote and directed ("Shooting Stars").

CSI Files: It seems like there are more stories with one case being central to the episode, as opposed to two or three.

Fox: Yes, and I think that has everything to do with the team being back together. In order to show the team working together, the line of one case really plays to that. You can see the power of this team, so I love what it says about us.

CSI Files: Are there any episodes coming up that are significant for Sara, or any that you can preview?

Fox: Iíve got one right in front of me here, Jerry Stahl's first episode of the year and it's called "Pirates of the Third Reich". I havenít read it yet, but I know that Lady Heather (Melinda Clarke) is coming back, which is really cool. I watched people read it last week and watched the color fall from their faces. It's definitely a very dark, scary script. People have read it and had nightmares about it, so I'm getting ready to read that. I don't want to read it too late in the day!

We just went to Vegas. Billy and I have been paired up a little more in the last couple of months than we were in the beginning of the season, so the two of us will be solving cases, which is fun.

CSI Files: Any sexual tension between Sara and Grissom?

Fox:Not so much tension, but certainly the rebuilding of the foundation of intimacy. It's possible [the writers] are laying the groundwork.

CSI Files: What aspect of Sara's personality do you most enjoy playing?

Fox: Sara is my favorite character I've ever played. It's a joy every single week to get to go to work and be that person. My favorite thing about her is how smart she is. She studied at Berkeley and Harvard, things that I could never even dream of doing, and that's just awesome to get to pretend that I'm that smart! I love her focus. I love that she can sit with something for hours and hours. I still feel like there's a pretty healthy sense of mystery around her after six years. It's a testament to the writers that there are still some secrets and some parts of her and puzzles of her own that people would like to know more about.

CSI Files:I know people are very interested to see if her background is going to be explored further.

Fox: And that's a story that I would love to tell, so we'll see. I do think that there's more to come on that story.

CSI Files: Do you have a favorite role outside of CSI?

Fox: I would say The West Wing, Gina Toscano (a Secret Service agent). I've gotten to play some really smart women on TV, and some women that are outside the box. Maggie Doyle (on ER) was cool, too--she was a gun-toting, vegetarian lesbian doctor--what a great role! I think the role of Gina [is my favorite] because when I started on West Wing, Aaron Sorkin, who was writing the show at that time, said to me, "This woman is one of two hundred thousand highly trained people in the entire world." The specialized training that she'd undergone and the education she'd had was very, very specific. Similar to CSI, it was a role we hadnít seen all that much. We've seen it a couple of times with men in feature films, but to bring that identity to television--we don't know a lot about these people on purpose--to try to bring somebody like her to life--and how cool that sheís a woman--made it even rarer. Itís a make-believe world, but the stories that Aaron Sorkin was telling on West Wing were stories that I found absolutely fascinating and timely and I was so glad that somebody was getting to say the things that he was saying on television at the time. So I felt like I was a part of something really important. It was really an honor for me to do that.

CSI Files: Do you enjoy the science on CSI? Do you have a favorite case that you found enlightening or shocking?

Fox: I love the science. My favorite stuff is the lab stuff because I just indulge on getting to play a scientist. It's really fun. My other favorite thing to do on the show is crime scene. They're still, after six years, just as haunting and eerie as they were in season one. That's a surprise to me, that they haven't become old hat. Unfortunately, because a lot of the stories we tell are based on true stories, it really adds a level of gravity to what we're doing. There's just something otherworldly about the crime scenes. Even though they kind of freak me out, I love being there. When you're working, it's rare to get a chill, even when you're doing a horror movie. There's something about the style we shoot them in, the actors that we hire and the stories that we tell that get to me. And that's an exciting feeling.

In terms of a favorite case, that would be really hard. For season one, it's "Too Tough to Die". We had a technical advisor, Liz Devine, and it was the first script she wrote for the show. She is now one of the executive producers for CSI: Miami and she writes weekly for TV, but this was her first script, and it was a real story of hers, [based on] a case that she worked on when she was a younger CSI. A lot of tech advisors have that one case that even five, six, seven years later still haunts them, or it becomes the case that represents the whole reason of why they do what they do. For her, it was that story, "Too Tough to Die," and I was lucky enough to play her in that scenario. It was awful to do it, but it was also cathartic. [Devine told] the story with so much emotion and focus, that [it led to her] writing a whole bunch of other scripts. She was with our show for a couple of years, and then six months or a year into Miami, Ann Donahue stole her. I was so sad to see both of those women go. They wrote some of my favorite stories and wrote a lot of stuff for Marg and I to do. But I was also so happy for them and I'm thrilled for them that Miami has done as well as it has.

CSI Files: I've heard it said before that the CSI spin-offs have taken a lot of resources--writers and crew--from the original. Do you agree with that assessment?

Fox: There's no denying it. There's a list of folks that have left our show for Miami and New York. What's amazing for our show is that if you had our head art department guy leave to go to Miami, the guy that was working under him for the most part took the job. So we had a lot of junior people, writers and crew, who were able to move up on our show. It was a very benevolent situation for people personally. 70% of the original crew for our show is still in tact. What's happened is that people have just continued to move up. I was joking with Marg that we have a list of producers on our show that's grown to thirty-five, and half of them were writers' assistants in season one! I was joking with her that we should have a credit called the 'Co-Cos.' It would be cool to have a credit because it seems so many people have credits before the show!

I do think whenever you're lucky enough to uncover a diamond in the field, you want to hold onto it, and on a certain level you feel like it's yours. The hardest part about spinning off so many shows that deal with forensics is that it happened so quickly, so fast and so early. Our show was still just getting its wings when it was getting dissected and amputated. It was a horrible feeling. I still feel like the luckiest person on the planet, but at the time I felt like I was so lucky to be a part of something, and then watching it get dissolved in front of your eyes was painful to watch.

When I was on ER during the glory days, seasons three, four and five, ER did not split itself off. It stayed in tact and it was averaging 45 million viewers a week. Even though CSI has been the number one show in the world for the last couple of years, we've never garnered the viewers that ER used to regularly garner when it was number one and that is one of those questions. If we had stayed the only show, would we maybe have been able to see that or eclipse that kind of thing. Not that that's the end all, be all, but thereís no ceiling on anything and I like to test that all the time, to see how high you can fly. And if you can't fly high, it feels a lot better when you couldnít fly because you couldn't do it, not because you felt like something outside yourself affected your velocity.

The upside of that is that it's built a lot of careers for people that really deserved a shot and got a shot--wardrobe folks and writers and directors that started with us and were able to branch out. They got the wings.

CSI Files: What do you attribute CSIís enduring popularity to?

Fox: I think we all really wish we knew the answer to that question! I think it's a pretty intangible question to answer. One thing I think we've been able to provide: The show went on the air in 2000, and by January of 2001 there was this very ambiguous, mysterious election in America, and I think a lot of people are still not sure that they got all the facts about what went down. Oddly enough, on Thursday night, that unequivocally, without a shadow of a doubt, provides the truth about things. And I think right now that's a comforting thing for people. It's pretty rare right now. It's something we can provide.

Either that, or the world's just way overly obsessed with death! This macabre fascination with maybe even violence over death.

CSI Files: I think part of it is also the curiosity of human nature, a fascination with people who can be so evil as to commit murder.

Fox: It's so frightening what a lot of motives turn out to be. Are these people crazy or really mean? I've got to think these guys are crazy, that no sane individual would be capable of doing something so cruel and so merciless for a really random reason. I'm lucky enough not to have known too many people like that personally--I just meet them in the realm of make-believe.

I feel like there's a climate right now where people have very, very strong opinions and if they meet somebody who disagrees them, we behave really aggressively when that happens. Instead of being able to just disagree with somebody, we've got a climate going on globally where people who don't see eye to eye are killing each other over it on a daily basis. It's human nature and it's been going on since the beginning of time, but even with America being so split on so many issues and feeling so angry about that split, there's just this really strange climate happening. And that's just one of the things about "A Bullet Runs Through It" that I thought was so beautiful and brave and timely.

CSI Files: It seems like that kind of thing pervades every level of society, and the scariest thing about that is that as soon as we stop listening to each other, we have no chance to find any common ground.

Fox: When did we ever start thinking that we all have to think the exact same thing about everything? We'll see if somebody can turn that around.

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Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.