Melina Kanakaredes

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at December 4, 2007 - 11:21 AM GMT

Stella Bonasera, the character played by Melina Kanakaredes on CSI: New York, is no shrinking violet. The tough leading lady of the second CSI spin-off shot her boyfriend Frankie when he tried to kill her and foiled the plan of another bad boy: Drew Bedford, Mac's 333 stalker, who attempted to get at Mac by romancing Stella. Kanakaredes took time out from filming the final episode of 2007 to tell CSI Files' Kristine Huntley about her hopes for her character's future and her thoughts on some of Stella's major storylines.

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

Melina Kanakaredes: We're working on our last written episode. I'm hoping this strike will come to an end so we'll have a lot more. It's 414.

CSI Files: What's coming up for Stella? Anything you can tell us about?

Kanakaredes: Fortunately, no more bad boyfriends! We got the bad guy last week [in "The Thing About Heroes"] but fortunately for Stella, she realized it. She knew something was wrong with him all the way through, so I'm very happy about that.

CSI Files: What did you think about that storyline and Stella's involvement in it?

Kanakaredes: It was really funny because when the writers originally told me about it, I was like, "Oh, guys, you can't have her fall for another bad guy!" They said, "Don't worry, don't worry, it's not going to be stupid, she'll figure it out, she'll know something's wrong from the beginning." It's so funny because I had such a great time with Kerr Smith (Drew Bedford). I just loved Kerr and he was so much fun and we were laughing because he'd just had surgery on his leg and he couldn't move the first day of work. It was one of those things where you don't know what to expect. Sometimes I like to be surprised and see what happens. It started in the first episode of season four ("Can You Hear Me Now?"). We started getting little hints of this whole 333. So this was well in advance. A lot of times we don't have storylines that far, so it was kind of fun for us to anticipate what was happening and how the writers were going to have this unfold. I kind of had a brief outline, but most of it was very much a surprise. So I went on the ride with the audience--just a few weeks earlier!

CSI Files: So did you know from the beginning that Drew was bad news?

Kanakaredes: I knew from the beginning, and tried to play the opposite at the beginning so that the audience would be shocked when it was him. But I think it went down pretty well the way they wrote it, and I don't think anybody thought it would be him. Go back to the beginning now, and all our die hard fans will be able to tell. We always leave something in there for the people who watch all the time. I always say when we're doing something on the set and it's not matching or it's something different, I'm like, "Hey, our fans are going write in about this!" They watch all the little details! Especially if they're able to TiVO and stop it, so [we have to make sure we can] keep them entertained and keep them guessing!

CSI Files: What do you think it is about Stella that attracts all these bad boys?

Kanakaredes: I think with this particular thing, she was never really interested and that whole thing kind of scared her, so she had a good gut instinct. With the other boyfriend (Frankie Mala), it was one of those things where a great doctor might not be a great patient. All those things that she does at work--and I notice this in doing research for the character--that there's gotta be a place where these investigators can go home and separate work from life. And I think that Stella got caught up in life and forgot to put her badge on at home. I think it's like a doctor who's a terrible patient. She wasn't paying attention to the rules, and in some ways I think it's fantastic because now when there is a woman who is victimized, she has a different way of dealing with the victims of certain crimes and the perpetrators. I think it's a great sort of growth, and only in the medium of television can you have that kind of a growth where the audience and the character and the actor can go through it together. It makes her a better detective.

CSI Files: She's definitely changed a lot since season one, when she was much harder.

Kanakaredes: I think it's going to be nice, too, because they promised me the next boy is going to be a good boy. Whether we know him or not, that's the question!

CSI Files: Really? Do you think there are sparks between Stella and anyone in the cast?

Kanakaredes: I don't know! We'll see. I don't think--maybe in season nine or ten--that it could ever go [there] between Stella and Mac (Gary Sinise). I think there's a brother/sister thing, and that they're tight and there for each other. I don't know if it would ever be something romantic.

CSI Files: Do you think Stella has romantic feelings for Mac, or that she does look at him like a brother?

Kanakaredes: I think she looks at him like a brother. She's really the only one that can tell him off when he needs to be told off, and there's just a really great camaraderie between the two of them. I think it's something that neither would jeopardize.

CSI Files: What about any of the other handsome men in the cast?

Kanakaredes: You know if I had my way, I'd have them all as boyfriends on the show! Anna [Belknap, Lindsay Monroe] and I always joke that it's just such a great show. It's the two of us and all these boys! We're in a good position!

CSI Files: Early on in season one, it seemed like there were sparks flying between Stella and Danny (Carmine Giovinazzo). Do you think the writers were ever considering a flirtation between the two?

Kanakaredes: I think they were just trying to establish the characters, and I think it's fun to have the little flirtatiousness. It kind of formed who he was as a character and who she was. [It was like,] "I'm your boss, baby, don't be messing with me like that!" It was funny. And I think it was so early on--it feels like a decade ago!--and a lot of that was getting to know these characters. And now they've evolved. It's kind of wonderful, the more we get of actual character stuff and then really meet these people outside of work, it's just so much fun for all of us.

CSI Files: How did you feel initially about the episode "All Access" when you learned Frankie was going to go after Stella?

Kanakaredes: You know, I was very excited. In all my experience in television--and I've been doing it for quite a few years--I've never quite had something that tense before. It was a couple of days that were seriously exhausting. As actors we immerse ourselves, and it was so much fun to really get a chance to jump into this. It's frustrating, it's fabulous--it's all those emotions--and getting to know who the character is in that moment in realization. I look back at it and I was very excited. It's fun to play things that you've never done before and it's often shocking when you've done television for a long time that they surprise you with something. This was very different for me, and I think we were very cautious to make it not be something where it's always the woman being victimized. I think Stella came out very strong in the end and grew from the experience, which was great.

CSI Files: How did you feel about the extremely violent nature of the episode?

Kanakaredes: It was extremely violent and it was very difficult for anyone in my family to separate the fact that it was Stella and not me. It was hard to watch because it is tough. I think in the end her overcoming and actually shooting him was wonderful because it gave a vindication of the woman still being in control and overpowering [him] even though as women we're not as physically [strong as men]. It [shows that it's] okay, that you can make a mistake. Stella made a mistake, made a very big mistake in her personal life and believed in someone who wasn't [a good person]. I think taking it away from the fact of women versus men and putting it into the fact that human beings make mistakes, no matter how powerful their positions are in life, what their jobs are. She made a bad judgment call and was able to overcome it. I think we're all rooting for her at the end.

And I also think that it wasn't the most violent thing; I think it felt like the most violent thing we've ever done because it was to one of our own. And that's always very risky; it could have been taken in the other way. Like, "How could you guys do that? That's horrible?" But I think it was very believable. The response that I got afterwards was tremendously supportive and [that people] loved that episode. Again, it was tinged with shock because no one ever expected that to happen to one of the characters. It's still to this day not something that anyone in my family can watch! I hear later it aired in Greece and my relatives in Greece were like, "Ahhhhh!!!!"

CSI Files: Getting back to Stella and Mac's friendship: they're such different characters. What do you think it is that draws the two together?

Kanakaredes: I think it's respect. There's this very strong, serious character in Mac--he was an ex-marine and he has a militant, black and white, get this done [attitude]--and then there's Stella, who's kind of nurturing. There's that perfect sort of fit. I love the way they think. Mac is very internal and Stella lets it all out, and when he's wrong, she just goes [at him]. She's like a bull in a china shop, she'll just go, and he's much more controlled, which is great. She almost lost her credentials; she was going to get reported because she lost her [cool] on a case [in "Supply and Demand"]. She would put her whole heart and soul into something and get extremely connected from the beginning. In episode two ("Creatures of the Night") when a girl got raped and my character was obsessed with it, there was a really lovely scene between Mac and Stella where she was like, "I couldn't fix it." Mac's the fact guy, and no matter what once in a while you've got to have the person who emotionally is that fireball and [the one that] has that calming effect. I think they really match each other very well. And in real life, as friends and co-workers we just adore each other. We always have a blast. He hasn't failed me yet. He's been a wonderful, wonderful friend and colleague. It's wonderful working with Gary.

CSI Files: I think that really comes across on screen.

Kankaredes: [Like] in the episode ["Time's Up"] where he ended up playing the guitar and she shows up at the bar. They don't even have to say anything; he looks at her, she looks at him and you get it. They're supportive of each other and it's something that happens in work and outside of work. And it's great because it's sort of the same in our real life. We are very supportive of each other as good friends, and we adore each other.

CSI Files: Stella and Flack (Eddie Cahill) have a great rapport; they're always trading quips.

Kanakredes: I love Stella and Flack's relationship. Flack was the one who was with her in "All Access"; he stood by her and I think they grew in that moment, it became something different. So when they're together, it's wonderful. We had such a good time--and I thought the chemistry was awesome--during the 007 episode ("You Only Die Once"). It was just fun, going undercover together. There's a great relationship between the two of them; I like it very much.

It's a lot of fun because we'll find little nuances in the characters and play them. I'll give him a look, he's looking at some hot girl--it's fun. And my favorite thing about Flack is his ties! He has the craziest ties! And I tell Libby, our costume designer, it's just perfect because it is a specific character trait. He has these ties--some of them are just crazy, insane silly! They're always something unique and they're always something that stands out. It's a little unspoken thing--Stella will grab his tie or Stella will fix his tie--little moments every once in a while. It's just one of those funny things. It's a character. It's a perfect costume for his character. Stella's got cool tops and he's got great ties.

CSI Files: Stella was very sympathetic to Lindsay last season when she was going through the ordeal with her past. How would you characterize the relationship between the two of them?

Kanakaredes: Well, I think they grew through that as well. I think it's wonderful to have conflict in some ways. Stella reached out to her [in "Silent Night"] when she didn't show up for work and then she was kind of [dismissive]. Whenever you lie to someone in Stella's world, that's it. Fine. I'm not reaching out now, I'm your boss, don't mess with me. And I think that when Lindsay and Stella had that moment in the hallway when she did approach her, it was sort of a turning point for their characters. And later she came to apologize and it was wonderful because from then on it was like, "I'm your boss, but I'm [also] your girlfriend and I care about you."

I think we see that in Stella when Stella's foster sister came back ("Cold Reveal"). "Today I'm here as your friend; tomorrow I have to bring my badge." She's very loyal to the people she cares about. And she will make choices--again, the opposite of Mac, [who is] black and white--she will follow that grey line and follow her heart and not always walk the line as an ethical cop. She walks that fine line of grey, but does so for all the right reasons. I think that now that relationship between her and Lindsay has just developed into a really wonderful friendship.

CSI Files: Last season, Stella cut herself on a shard of glass with HIV-infected blood on it in "Heart of Glass". How did that storyline come about, and were you ever worried Stella would test positive?

Kanakaredes: Actually, originally the story was going to be that she did test positive and have her has an HIV-positive character for the rest of the series, but the powers that be at CBS said no, they didn't want to have that. As an actor, that would have been phenomenal to have that always be a part of her life. And the question of it was fantastic as well and it was definitely a storyline that came about from our technical advisor that really happened to him. It was a true story, he lived it, it really happened to him. Bill Haynes--he's written one episode. He just started writing this season. It was a story he wanted to tell from the very beginning, and they never got to it. And then [the debate was] which character [it] was going to [be], and they thought it would be great for Stella. I enjoyed playing it very much.

One of the causes that has been very near and dear to my heart for seven years has been Children Afflicted By AIDS Foundation. It's something I've committed as much time as I can to, so it was nice because I do believe they told the story in a very realistic way. We held true; we actually had the people from the AIDS organization come to make sure we were doing everything the right way because we hold a big responsibility on television when telling people stories. We want to make sure that it's not something that isn't true.

CSI Files: What kind of storyline would you like to see for Stella?

Kanakaredes: Actually I have a dream storyline, which I've actually worked out with the writers. We've already talked about it. I'll just hint to you that if this writers' strike ends, we may actually have a story [from me]. It's not necessarily a storyline for Stella; it's a story I wrote for the show because I thought it would be really interesting. It has to do with a location that might be near and dear to both Stella and Melina's hearts. It might actually happen; I hope so!

CSI Files: Do you have a favorite episode or storyline for Stella that you really enjoyed?

Kanakaredes: I think so far, my favorite was the whole Frankie thing in "All Access." I loved it; I thought it was really interesting and fun to play, and I loved the final ending of actually shooting him. And I can't wait for my line at some point with the next boyfriend to be, "Be careful, because the last guy I dated, I killed." I did actually say that to Mac [in "Time's Up"] in the scene where [Drew] sent me mountain climbing gear and [Mac said,] "Go for it, go for it!" but [I said,] "Yeah, but that last guy I dated, I killed him. I shot him!" Hopefully she'll have some good karma in life.

CSI Files: Have there been any recent funny practical jokes on set?

Kanakaredes: I have to say, my favorite practical joke which I don't think I've ever told anyone about, was hilarious. Early on, Gary and I were joking around because Maxim wanted me to do a [photo shoot]. And I said, "No, no, no, I don't want to do Maxim." It's a great thing, but it's not something I want to do right now. I had a baby when we started, she was eleven months old, and I was like, "I think I can wait on that." So, I said, "Gary, I've got it. When you do Playgirl, I'll do Maxim. How about that?" So he had the prop guys put together a cover of Maxim with Eva Longoria's gorgeous body--my head on her body. He put "Stella Bonasera Naked!", they did the whole thing--it was hilarious! Hilarious! He gave it to me as a gift. First they were all circling around--all the crew, all the actors, and Gary's like, "Oh my God, oh yeah, you look great!" and they're all like, "You look amazing on the cover!" And I'm like, "In a bathing suit? In a bikini? What are you talking about?" So I came over and I lost my mind! It was such a good job because our prop guys are amazing. It looked like I was on this cover in a bikini with these great boobs with a little tiny butt and there it was and it was hilarious. So that was my favorite practical joke of all time on the show. I still have the cover of it. I think Gary was cracking himself up--he thought he was so funny! I have yet to get him back, but I will!

CSI Files: How much longer do you guys have to shoot?

Kanakaredes: We're done [this week]. So I'm really hoping this writers' strike will end soon.

CSI Files: You've been out on the picket lines along with the writers.

Kanakaredes: I have. I walked with all the writers a couple of Tuesdays ago. It's a very difficult thing, and it's something we all support as artists. I'm a member of many guilds, so this is something that's very important, very difficult. No one wants to see this happen, so I'm hoping that there will be a deal that's made that's suitable for everyone that can be a footprint for the actors and the directors as well so that there is no future strike for the other unions because our contract is up in June. Most likely whatever happens here will be a footprint for the rest, and then we can move on and do our work. I need them back, because we miss our writers. So much is changed on the set as we shoot--it's how we work. We miss them very much.

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Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.