He's on the case
Eight seasons on, CSI heart-throb George Eads is still driven by his infectious love of the show, writes Kavita Daswani
Somehow, it's not too much of a surprise to discover that George Eads is from Texas. The 40-year-old actor, one of the lead characters on the top-rated CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, does, after all, have a bit of a swagger.
He's tall, has chiselled good looks, speaks with a reassuring confidence, and he's an affable fellow, the kind - as they say in Texas - you'd want to have a beer with.
Now in his eighth season on one of the most successful shows on television, Eads has every right to be confident. His character, Nick Stokes, is a key player on the CSI team, a practical and level-headed forensics expert who specialises in hair and fibre analysis, and who has fought demons of his own lately.
'I think they hired the right guy,' says Eads, referring to his longevity on the series. 'I'm very passionate about the show. It's my child
'To be able to give birth to a character like Nick ... in one respect you've got to play the same guy for eight years, and you can ask yourself, 'How am I going to make it fresh this time?'. But in another respect, it's a long movie, where I get a chance to mature and change and evolve.'
He conveys all the enthusiasm of someone who has just landed the gig rather than a man who has been essentially playing the same part for a very long time.
'With every passing episode, I get an opportunity to improve my acting,' he says. 'It's like being a pro athlete. I feel like I've gone from [being] a good high school quarterback to learning a lot in my college years to now, in these latter seasons, throwing the ball harder and faster with more energy and more ability to lead a team.'
As anyone who doesn't live in a cave will know, CSI has ruled the airwaves virtually from the time it was launched. Although it has spawned sister shows CSI: Miami and CSI: New York, and inspired many other crime procedurals, the original, set in the underbelly of glitzy Las Vegas, is still the most popular.
Since it first aired, it has hovered in the top three in US television rankings, pulling in about 20 million viewers a week. It's won a few Emmys, but always in a technical capacity instead of in the higher-profile writing and acting categories. That doesn't sit well with Eads.
'I think this show deserves a lot of credit for carving the path for a lot of the other shows,' he says.
'We've kind of been the quiet one in the corner that just keeps putting out hit stuff. And it's funny that they seem to put the other CSIs on the covers of magazines. All the other actors seem to get credit, and they're only spin-off shows of ours. We have just never been invited to the party.
'Every year that passes, we're not invited to one of the 72 awards shows in town. Part of me - you can hear it from my voice - is bitter about it. But another part of me has just kept going, 'Oh, did you see our premiere? We got 24 million'. So it's what fuels me to continue to make it good and continue to just go for it, put everything I have into it.'
Eads is in good company. His co-stars include William L. Petersen, an actor who shuns the limelight, has a theatre background, and who is outstanding in his role as Gil Grissom, the supervisor of the CSI unit.
Marg Helgenberger is Catherine Willows, a 'blood-spatter analyst' who used to be an exotic dancer before turning to cracking crimes. Audio-video analyst Warrick Brown is played by Gary Dourdan, an off-screen buddy of Eads. Their friendship is evident on screen.
One co-star who will be missed this season is Jorja Fox, who plays Sara Sidle. Fox has long been rumoured to be unhappy with her role and chose not to return for the eighth season, but Eads insists that her departure will not have an impact: 'The show must go on,' he says.
'In the end, as much as I love her and wish the best for her, I hope she gets everything she's looking for because she deserves it. And she will be missed and she will never be replaced. But for me now, as passionate as I am about this show, I don't want anybody here that doesn't want to be here.'
Yet there was a time, a few years ago, when the show's producers wondered how much Eads wanted to be there. In a high-profile incident, Eads and Fox were summarily sacked in 2004.
According to press reports, there were salary disputes; the two had apparently been offered US$120,000 for each episode instead of the US$100,000 they had been earning, but maintained they were still earning less than their colleagues. Eads didn't show up for work on day one of filming season five and was fired. But once he apologised, and said he had merely overslept, he was reinstated.
'I got fired for oversleeping,' he says now. 'And still, to this day, everybody tries to act as if I got fired because I was holding out for more money. That's not it. It's embarrassing. I overslept. If anything, I'm to blame for taking it for granted. I just think there's a lot left here to do.'
When Eads talks about his upbringing, it's not hard to see where his drive comes from. His father, Arthur Coleman Eads, was a district attorney for almost 30 years, and a man who didn't hesitate to bring his grisly work home with him.
'I would come home and my dad would have autopsy photos spread on the dining room table. I was probably 12, and I went to get something to drink in the refrigerator, and my dad's weeping, uncontrollably weeping. And I went in there to see what it was, and it was a family who'd been murdered by the son. There's a little daughter who had been shot in the face with a .22 in her crib.
'And he's showing me the baby things, saying, 'I'm showing you this because I want you to know that there are bad people out there.' So I always have thought he was John Wayne. He's just larger than life, he would completely disregard his personal life. My dad had his shortcomings, two broken marriages, alcoholism, no patience. The job wore him out but he was just selfless when it came to fighting for the rights of other people.'
Still, his tough upbringing and many years' experience on the show didn't prepare him for the gut-wrenching season five finale, Grave Danger, where his character is rendered unconscious, placed inside an acrylic glass coffin, and buried - only to be swarmed over by fire ants. The filming of the episode unnerved even the usually cool and stoical Eads.
'This was a chance to be really vulnerable,' he says. 'And I thought it was a good chance to do that because, really, I was by myself. I could see why you would edit yourself in front of other people. I don't want them to see me cry. But I was by myself, so you're not trying to be cool when you're buried. I thought this was a good opportunity for the audience to really see what makes the guy tick, how passionate he is about life.'
CSI airs on ATV World, Fri, 10.05pm