Marc Vann

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at December 18, 2007 - 10:46 AM GMT

Every hero needs a worthy opponent, and Gil Grissom is no different. Marc Vann has been with CSI: Crime Scene Investigation from the show's first season, playing Grissom's chief rival, Day Shift Supervisor Conrad Ecklie. Vann shared his thoughts on Ecklie's evolution, his complex relationship with Grissom and his view of procedurals in general with CSI Files' Kristine Huntley.

CSI Files: How did you get the role of Conrad Ecklie?

Marc Vann: I auditioned. It was for "Blood Drops", season 1. Ken Fink was directing and at the time I had no idea it would turn into such a great part. Lucky me.

CSI Files: What was it like filming your first episode?

Vann: I'm always a bit nervous on a new set, and this was no exception. I also had a bit of the flu my first day, so was kinda spacey and was worried my head would blow up. My first scene was the confrontation with Grissom in the hallway talking about "teams." It went by really fast, because they often only do one or two takes of each shot on CSI. And although I knew Billy Petersen well, this was my first time working with him on camera, and I was immediately impressed with his ease and subtlety. He probably thought I was a sweating, nervous wreck.

CSI Files: Did you have any inkling back then that CSI would become such a mega-hit?

Vann: Nope, had no idea. It was still airing on Friday night at that point, and doing pretty well, I think winning its time slot. One very rarely thinks about that kinda thing with a new show. You're just hoping it doesn't get cancelled so maybe they'll use you again, or maybe they'll rerun your episode and you can get paid twice, you know, so you can get your insurance paid for that year.

CSI Files:. What were your first impressions of Ecklie? Did you have any idea that the role would grow into a recurring one?

Vann: When I read my audition scene discussing "your team, my team" and the character's named Conrad Ecklie, I knew the guy was a prick, just wasn't sure quite what kind. I actually didn't think I would get cast, cause I envisioned a harder and perhaps more military character. When I saw some of the other actors at the audition who were nerdier than I am, I figured maybe they weren't going in that direction. Since the character was "The Day Shift Supervisor", I figured they were setting him up for some future conflicts with Grissom, but I had no idea what sort of life it would have. I thought Ecklie was dead and buried after season 2. When Ecklie got promoted and came back season 5, I was shocked and delighted.

CSI Files: Conrad and Grissom butted heads a lot early on in the series. What about Grissom do you think most frustrates Ecklie?

Vann: Quite simply, Grissom is more respected, and is a better CSI. Ecklie is competitive. So mostly, it's professional jealousy and the fact that Grissom doesn't always do stuff by the book, or the way Ecklie thinks it should be done. In Ecklie's mind that's a formula for eventual disaster. And, Grissom is well liked by his subordinates, which drives Ecklie nuts. That's not a winning formula for good management, in Ecklie's mind.

CSI Files: Ecklie split up Grissom's team in season five. Was he doing that just to punish Grissom, or do you think he had a more noble motive and if so, what was it?

Vann: It was a combination of things. There were so many screw-ups in that case as far as Ecklie was concerned, it was certainly grounds for investigation, and being new to the position of Assistant Lab Director, he was certainly going to do a thorough investigation. However, where it got personal was when the results didn't quite turn out like he wanted. That's when he began to squirm, his personal motives became involved and he went down a path that could be questioned.

CSI Files: Why do you think Ecklie demoted Sofia Curtis?

Vann: I don't think he demoted her as much as he didn't promote her. She had always been one his most loyal teammates, and he felt betrayed by her. I think he rationalized it in his mind as poor judgment on her part, thus she was no longer supervisor material.

CSI Files: Ecklie was much more sympathetic to Grissom and his team in "Grave Danger". How did you feel about his efforts in that episode?

Vann: I loved the fact that we got to see Ecklie not only do the right thing, but he also attempted to put his career on the line for Nick's ransom money. And he did it in a way that would be have been completely anonymous. A noble side was revealed. Unfortunately, that scene was later deleted for the DVD and future airings. I never quite understood why. It may have been because without a commercial break that it was designed to precede it interrupted the story line. It's one of my favorite Ecklie scenes. And certainly a surprise to a character that up till then had been so loathsome.

CSI Files: Quentin Tarantino went on record saying he's an Ecklie fan, and wanted to show the character's sympathetic side. What was it like working with him?

Vann: Quentin is like a kid in a candy store when he is working. His energy and enthusiasm are infectious. His writing is very easy to quickly assimilate, and he is incredibly gracious. When we first met, he told me what a fan he was of my work, and acted out a scene I did from The Shield, one of the more violent ones. It was hysterical. It made we feel so welcome, I was blushing. And, I think he did this with almost every actor there. He is genuinely excited by actors and has a savant-like memory when it comes to showbiz. But his thoughtfulness in that moment is what registered with me the most. I'm not a huge fan of violence as entertainment, but Quentin has such an child-like authenticity to his obsession with it, after meeting and working with him, I can appreciate his work in a way I never could before.

CSI Files: Did you agree with Tarantino's vision of Ecklie?

Vann: Yes. I mean, I realize Ecklie is an unhappy person, his insecurities occasionally manifest in the workplace, he's passive aggressive and he probably hasn't had a successful relationship, ever. He's prickly. But, he is good at what he does and what he values in the work place, which is making that lab a well-oiled successful machine. And underneath it all, he's a good person who ultimately is trying to do the right thing. He's just misguided, sometimes.

CSI Files: Do you think Ecklie has been a more sympathetic character since "Grave Danger"?

Vann: There seems to be an impetus in that direction. I think the writers have sometimes been conflicted about how to write him, and I actually have sometimes been torn about how to play him. I certainly don't want the character to be warm and fuzzy, only complex and interesting, and because of that, hopefully his behavior will be funny at times, too. It's good to have thorns in the rose garden.

CSI Files: Earlier this season, Ecklie confronted Grissom and Sara about keeping their relationship under wraps, but he also told Grissom he wished Grissom had told him before about it, that he could have helped him. Do you think this was a turning point in their relationship. Do you think they might be headed for a friendship, or at least a better understand, and is that something you'd like to see?

Vann:That would be nice to see. But, I wouldn't want to lose the awkwardness of their relationship. I think, in Eckie's distorted eyes, they are good friends. That's why he was surprised Grissom didn't come to him about the Sara relationship. Grissom is so keenly aware of Eckie's blind spots and how unchanging they are, that true friendship is probably just not possible. I do think Grissom actually has compassion for Ecklie.

CSI Files: If you could have your dream Ecklie storyline or episode, what would it be?

Vann: I would like to see Ecklie do something truly heroic, we think he's changed, and then turn right around and be his old prickly self. Or, to see an opportunity for there to be a shift in the relationship with Grissom or with The Team, but Ecklie just ultimately won't go there. That, to me, would be realistic, and tragic, and decidedly human.

CSI Files: You knew William Petersen back on the Chicago theatre circuit. How did you two meet, and what was it like working with him his pre-CSI days?

Vann:We met when I was doing a David Mamet play called "The Cryptogram" at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago with an amazing actor and one of his best friends, Amy Morton. He loved the production and seemed to be impressed with my work. Later, when he was planning to do "Flyovers" at Victory Gardens Theatre, I was offered the role of the central character. I was flattered and jumped at that opportunity. The play takes place during a 25th high school reunion in the Midwest, and our two characters had been rivals in high school. He was the jock bully and I was the brainy obnoxious nerd he used to beat the crap out of. 25 years later, his character had become a bitter, unemployed factory worker and mine a extremely successful movie critic. Drama ensues. Working with Billy was and has always been a joy, cause he's such an ensemble actor, characteristic of most Chicago actors out of that era. It's a quality I value greatly. And, he has brought this to CSI, which is one reason The Team feels so authentically cohesive, in my opinion. It's an Ensemble.

CSI Files: What projects are you currently working on now?

Vann: I'm mostly doing TV guest star work. This season, I have worked on Lost, Criminal Minds, Eli Stone and Women's Murder Club. Lots of TV, which is my bread and butter ,and an occasional small part in a movie.

CSI Files: You've guest-starred on a lot of other procedural shows. Why do you think the genre is so popular, and does it appeal to you personally?

Vann:Actually it doesn't appeal to me. I don't quite understand the fascination with crime and such gruesome imagery, although the intrigue of the science makes sense to me. I don't have anything against watching it; it just doesn't draw me. I think the mass appeal is somehow related to our cultural addiction to fear and feeling safe. CSI, the original, is the only procedural I watch regularly.

CSI Files: What kind of television do you enjoy? CSI, of course, but only the one I'm on. I rarely watch procedural dramas even though they are my bread and butter. I love anything created by Ricky Gervais (The Office, Extras). Curb Your Enthusiasm, 30 Rock, Mad Men, The Sopranos, Lost. Generally, I don't watch that much television.

CSI Files: Of all the roles you've played, do you have a favorite?

Vann: My theatre role in "The Crytogram" was a favorite. A very interesting, mysterious funny character. A gay man in the early 60's, who lived in a hotel and really had no friends. And a character I did in an upcoming feature called Man Maid was a blast. He' s a controlling maintenance man in a hotel who's in everybody's business. I prefer doing stuff that is slightly comedic, but not sitcom.

CSI Files: Do you have a favorite Ecklie episode?

Vann: "Mea Culpa", breaking up the team, was my proudest. Usually, when I watch myself I cringe at something, but in that one, I felt I nailed every scene. Although, if I was to do it again, I would probably try to add more dimension and insecurity to Ecklie on his road to bring Grissom down. Ecklie definitely came off as a formidable character in that one. I must have been channeling Dick Cheney. I also loved "Iced" because Ecklie was the butt of the jokes. More recently, one of my favorite scenes is the one with Sara in the opening of "A La Cart". It's another side to Ecklie that has not been seen. I like it when a new side is revealed, whether it's weakness or strength.

Discuss this interviews at Talk CSI!

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.