Tom HillmannBy Caillan Davenport
Posted at July 11, 2003 - 3:56 PM GMT
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and CSI: Miami wouldn't be complete without the FBI agents who complicate the CSIs' lives, from Special Agent Culpepper in "The Strip Strangler" to Special Agent Sackheim in last season's CSI: Miami episode, "Double Cap".
In this Q&A with CSI Files readers, the man behind Special Agent Sackheim, actor Tom Hillmann, talks about his preparation for the role of an FBI agent, how he became an actor, the atmosphere on the CSI: Miami set and working with actors such as David Caruso (Horatio Caine) and Marg Helgenberger (Catherine Willows).
Rob: How did you land the part of Agent Sackheim?
Tom Hillmann: The script described Special Agent Sackheim as a "former West Pointer, buff, stoic. Spotless suit. Everything pressed, including his face." That made me laugh when I read it because it was like trying on a new pair of shoes that feel comfortable the first time you put them on. A perfect fit. I auditioned with a strong sense of who this guy was, and knew that whether or not I booked the part, I could play him.
Reenie: I caught both of your appearances on CSI: Miami and was captivated by your performance. Do you plan to do any further CSI episodes? Is there any way to find further information on your future plans with the show or if CBS has anything else planned for you?
Tom Hillmann: Thank you. If I had my wish, I'd be there every week. I feel very fortunate to have worked on both productions. They are consistently the top two highest rated shows in the weekly Nielsen Ratings. I don't have any information on future appearances to report. Maybe CBS should have a spin-off show called, FBI: Miami. You can always write Mr. Anthony Zuiker, the shows' creator and let him know you want to see more of a particular actor. Write to him c/o CBS Television, 7800 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036-2615.
Deborah: Does the show shoot exclusively in Miami?
Tom Hillmann:I wish! Miami is a gorgeous city to film in. It has a personality all its own. The pilot episode, "Cross-Jurisdictions", shot all the Miami scenes on location in Miami. A few of season one's episodes were shot there, but most of the season was filmed in Southern California. David Caruso (Horatio Caine) actually lives in Miami, and he thought at first he'd have a short commute to work every day, but various production concerns made the company decide to shoot the first season at least, in L.A.
Tiffany Hoy: How did you get started in the business? How did you know you wanted to be an actor? What was your favorite experience on a set?
Tom Hillmann:Growing up I wanted to be an actor or an artist. So I became both. I do freelance graphic design between acting gigs. My first break (it wasn't so big) was a small part in Francis Coppola's The Outsiders. I played a Greaser, in the concession stand at the drive-in theater who starts a fight with some other kids in line. That whole experience was thrilling because I got to watch a masterful artist direct for the two weeks I worked on that film.
I'd have to say working opposite David Caruso has been one of my favorite experiences to date because he's a great scene partner. It's like playing tennis with a pro, they really bring your game up.
Tim: This character seems to be "wrapped pretty tight". Do you think the writers will allow the influences of Miami to "loosen" Agent Sackheim up a bit?
Tom Hillmann: Can't you just see him going undercover at some Miami mosh pit? Actually, I don't have any idea if Sackheim will even be back, I'm not on a regular contract. So if there are any fans out there, go to CBS.com and click on the feedback link and put in a good word or write to the address above.
Sue Fish: Why is your character so cold to David Caruso's character? Is there history between the two?
Tom Hillmann: The FBI's participation in a local law enforcement's investigation is not always appreciated and makes for some great Hollywood-induced sparks and conflict. My own back story on Sackheim puts him in the Miami FBI field office so he and Horatio have crossed paths quite a few times. Sackheim is a bit younger than Horatio also, and maybe even feels a bit more successful and important than him. My wife says better looking, too.
Mike Chapman: Great job on the episodes! What did you enjoy most about working on them? Also, congrats on your upcoming films! (I may have to see those with the guys, as they're probably not the wife's cup of tea). Hope we see more of you on CSI and CSI: Miami!
Tom Hillmann: Thank you, Mike. It really is a blast to play cops and robbers as a grown up, and get paid for it. I loved shooting the scene in "Cross-Jurisdictions" at night on the waterfront with the police lights swirling and searchlights blaring down from overhead. It was great to meet Marg Helgenberger (Catherine Willows) and Gary Dourdan (Warrick Brown) and work with them in that scene. Marg is as strikingly beautiful in person as she is on screen and Gary was extremely down to earth and open and friendly to me.
It was also personally gratifying to pull off the scenes in "Double Cap" where we were under such a tight shooting schedule. A lot of my scenes were done in one take. As long as no one flubbed a line, the director was like, "Ok, moving on". That episode ended up being one of two the producers chose to submit to Academy members for Emmy consideration.
Amber: How do you prepare yourself to act like your character, Sackheim? How different are your personalities? Please tell me that in real life you are not a butt head like he can be. If this helps any, I really like your character and the way you play him, and I hope they don't kill you off.
Tom Hillmann: Not sure where to begin with this one. Thank you for the warm wishes regarding my character's life span. I've done a little research on the FBI and read a great book by a former special agent named Christopher Whitcomb, called Cold Zero. It gave me some insight into his experiences from when he applied with the FBI, through several high profile cases including the disaster in Waco. Especially helpful was his description of how cocky he was when he first joined the bureau. It can be a heady thing to catch bad guys and put them away for a long time. I'd say Sackheim's attention to detail, anal retentive behavior and cold scowling looks are sometimes traits my wife has mentioned she witnesses in me, on occasion, from time to time.
Simon Clarke: Hi Tom! What is the atmosphere like on the set of CSI: Miami? Do the cast joke around a lot, play practical jokes, or is it a very serious set? Thanks for answering!
Tom Hillmann: The atmosphere on the set is very fast paced. They are shooting what ends up looking like a feature film, in about eight days. So there is a tension to keep things moving and not a lot of fooling around happens, but everyone seems to get along well and I got to know some great people like John Haynes, the technical advisor, Marc Dube, the writer of the recent episode I did, and David Caruso who has a bitingly funny sharp wit. One day, he grabbed someone's Polaroid camera and started taking pictures of people. He later gave me one he had taken of me but had butchered with a pen, adding horns and tail. He kept referring to me as "scary agent Sackheim".
Emily Procter (Calleigh Duquesne) is a real sweetheart. In "Cross-Jurisdictions" when I first met her, she offered to run lines with me when they gave me a big last minute script change right before we shot the scene! I will always be grateful to her and David for not being stand-offish on our first day of shooting and immediately making me feel like a part of the team. It's a lesson I will always try to remember as I get further along in my career and encounter a guest star or an extra who deserves to be treated with equality and respect.
Ky: What was it like filming Out of Time with Denzel Washington?
Tom Hillmann: My first audition was for a much smaller role, and the casting director actually caught me at the elevator and called me back in to read for the part I got. The director, Carl Franklin, was an actor's dream to work with. He has been an actor himself, so right away we spoke the same language. It was also great to work with Denzel who has a quiet intensity about him. Another nice touch was when the Production Designer put a photo I had brought of my kids in a frame and placed it on set as part of my character's office.
Thanks to csifiles.com for inviting me to do this Q&A. I hope you found it entertaining to hear some behind-the-scenes stories. This site has a wealth of information about the CSI shows, so you should bookmark this site and come back often, even jump on in and participate on the message boards.
Many thanks for Tom Hillmann for answering the questions! You can find out more information about his work at TomHillmann.com.
Caillan Davenport is one of the CSI Files editors.