Liz Vassey is an accomplished actress. Her five year stint as lab tech Wendy on CBS’s crown jewel CSI: Crime Scene Investigation put her on the map for anyone who may not have known her from before. Her previous work includes recurrent roles on All My Children, Murder She Wrote, and two different characters on Two and a Half Men. The Florida raised actress also had a full time gig as Joey Lawrence’s fellow mechanic on Disney’s well loved family comedy Brotherly Love and a starring role on Maximum Bob, ABC’s regrettably short-lived drama based on the book by Elmore Leonard. But what fans may not know about her is that she is also writes scripts and even helped write an episode for CSI, along with her co-star Wallace Langham.
First of all, congratulations on your budding screenwriting career. Can you tell us how the transition came about?
Thanks. Naren Shankar let me write an episode of CSI with Wally Langham, and I loved it. I had sold two pilots in the past, both co-written, and I liked the process a lot. Somewhere during the time on CSI, I fell in love with it. After twenty five years (!) of auditioning, it was awfully nice to be on the other side of the table, I’ll say that.
You are also listed as having recently become a producer. How did you find the experience and would you do it again?
In a heartbeat. Hopefully with the pilots I wrote.
Can you tell us what they are about and who purchased them?
I can’t really get in to what they’re about, but they were both purchased by Universal Television. They are also both comedies and, in each, there are unconventional families involved. I came from one, so I write about them.
You started acting at a very early age. How did you get into it? Did you know this is what you would eventually do for a living?
I started acting when I was nine years old. I got the lead role in the musical “Oliver” (they needed a girl to hit all the high notes), and I was hooked. I did about fifty plays at community theaters and dinner theaters after that, and was then cast on “All My Children” when I was sixteen. When I was a kid, my mother thought it was very important for me to get into all this for all the right reasons. As usual, she was correct.
What were those reasons and what advice did you find most helpful?
When I was a kid, my mother always encouraged me to be honest with myself and with her: whenever acting stopped being fun, she wanted me to stop doing it. She also helped me realize that sometimes when you don’t get a role, there are circumstances that are far out of your control that make the producers or director choose someone else. Lastly, she was careful to make sure that all my self worth wasn’t based on this business. It’s a good thing (and the most valuable thing), because sometimes it’s a bumpy road. Coming from a theater background was very beneficial.
Can you elaborate?
I think doing a ton of community theater was important, because it taught me to appreciate the work without the distraction of money. It also encouraged me to view all the work as the group effort that it is. Every member of the cast and crew is an intrinsic and important part of the process. Sometimes people lose sight of that. I’m married to a cameraman, so I hear about the ones that do. Trust me.
Without mentioning any names, some actresses, when cast as so called “romantic interests” either fade into the background or start grating on fans. But your portrayals manage to be tough, yet lovable so that one can’t help but root for your character. Do you consciously make the effort, thinking “I want the character to be likable” or are you just that endearing?
First of all, thanks for such a nice compliment in that question. I’m flattered. I don’t think you can enter a situation trying to make a character likable – that’d be a slippery slope, since no one can get everybody to like him or her. It’d also be a little too much about playing for the result, in my opinion. The one thing I try to do is give any female character a modicum of smarts and humor. Sometimes the cliché “romantic interests” can be severely underwritten, so I do search for a sense of a real life for those characters – something deeper and, hopefully, authentic.
Do you do any sort of preparation for your roles like talking with the writers and/or the director?
I do a ton of preparation. It’s actually one of my favorite parts: learning about a whole different way of life. I talk to the writer and/or director as much as I can — I’ll take all the help I can get.
What was it like working with veterans and Emmy winners like William Peterson, Marg Helgenberger and Laurence Fishburne on CSI?
Billy made me smile, Marg is a great broad (and I mean that as the highest compliment), and Fish…I got to work with Morpheus, for God’s sake. It was incredibly exciting to act with all of them. That show gave me the opportunity to work with William Friedkin and Live Schreiber, as well. Not exactly shabby…
Indeed. Speaking of Schreiber, what was it like having him tell you, albeit in script, that you don’t need butt implants?
Honestly? It made me laugh. If anyone on this planet “needs” butt implants, it’s me. Mine has never been exactly, umm, shapely. But frankly, Liev Schreiber can tell me anything he wants. I liked him a lot, and I’m a huge fan of his work.
When you first came on the show did you know your character would eventually become David’s, Wallace Langham’s character’s romantic interest, or was it a decision the writers made later?
Neither of us had any idea. In the original “Lab Rats”, Naren Shankar and Sarah Goldfinger gave us some opportunities to play – and we had a great time. I think a lot of what fueled that “romance” was a genuine affection and respect that Wally and I have for each other. Hands down, he is what I miss most about that show. He is a dear friend, a wonderful actor, and an all around incredible human. But don’t ever tell him I said that.
One of the best quotes your character had was: “You are the dumbest smart person I know.” Do you think that sums up the reason why the two characters never officially got together?
I think that sums up a lot of relationships, don’t you? But yes, I think that, sadly, Hodges just couldn’t help but mess it up.
Were you aware that the Wendy and Hodges relationship had a fan base?
“Wedges”?! Yes, we both heard about it from one of the directors on the show, and we were both honored to have been given a nickname.
You’ve done some pretty interesting work on CSI, including wearing several costumes and having your character (fake) sawed in half. Which scene was your favorite to shoot and why?
The locker room scene in “You Kill Me”. I wasn’t in a weird costume, but I did get to see my board game character: “Mindy Big Boobs”. That scene was my favorite because in a show that is (justifiably) usually about the crime, it was really fun to play such a human moment: two people who obviously had feelings for each other, but just couldn’t get it together.
I loved that moment. It was just so profound. There’s this look you gave Langham, just before Wendy looks at her game piece, where viewers know that a possible relationship actually depended on the description David wrote for her board game character. Did you two discuss the scene and its repercussions beforehand?
Nope. Not a word. We just went in and played. The scene was beautifully written by Douglas Petrie, so it was ours to mess up. Luckily, the director was Paris Barclay – so we were in very good hands.
Were you told beforehand that you would be written off the CSI, and why?
I was told I had a job to come back to over hiatus. I went on a two week vacation with my husband, and came back to a call from my manager saying they’d decided to let me go. The fact is, though, as much as situations feel like family (and that show did), it’s a business at the end of the day. And I get that. Several writers (several very good writers) had been let go in the months prior, so I had an inkling that changes were being made. The most I was told regarding the “why” is that they simply didn’t know what to do with my character anymore.
Any chance we will get to see you back on the show?
Simply put: they’d have to ask me first. I’d go back and work with Wally in a second, though. Yes.
Let’s talk about Maximum Bob. I only caught one episode of that show, but it made a huge impression on me and was permanently etched into my memory. Can you tell us what it was like working on such a unique series and offer an opinion as to maybe why it was cancelled?
Heaven. That show was heaven. I loved every single moment of it. I thought the writing was superb (Alex Gansa, who now does “Homeland” – a show I love, based it on the Elmore Leonard book). The directing was phenomenal (Barry Sonnenfeld and Todd Holland for starters). The actors were incredible (the entire cast was led by Beau Bridges). I don’t know why some good shows don’t go for longer periods of time. We weren’t the first and, sadly, won’t be the last. But I am incredibly proud of those episodes.
Do you think the television landscape is different now than it was ten years ago?
Yes. Definitely. I think a lot more movie stars are playing leads in series now. The lines between movies, television, and theater have blurred – and some of the best writing at the moment is on TV. I also think that now, with the advent of so many programs on cable and the rampant use of all things Tivo, the days of “appointment television” have ended. I’m excited by so many choices, frankly.
On Brotherly Love, your character Lou was written as being several years older than that of Joseph Lawrence’s character, a decision I always felt was interesting since, really, you didn’t look older. Do you remember whose idea that was and what prompted it?
I think that one was dictated by God: I’m older than Joey, and they wrote for that.
Which show do people recognize you the most for?
CSI, for the most part. Anywhere in the world. I was on a safari in South Africa with my husband, and the guide turned around and started asking me about Grissom. I did get an awesome (and I mean that in the original sense of the word) tour of the White House last year based on a staff member’s love of The Tick, though. Patrick Warburton, his son, my husband, and I had an incredible time.
Which role was your favorite?
Kathy Baker in “Maximum Bob”. Hands down. Although, I have to say, getting an action figure based on Captain Liberty from “The Tick” was pretty damn sweet, too.
What would be your ideal role?
I haven’t really read it yet, I guess. Something in which the woman is as complicated as real life. And smart. And funny. After five years of solving fake crimes, I like the funny.
Your IMDB page says you enjoy scuba diving. What type of diving do you enjoy the most?
Notice it says I “enjoy” it. Not that I’m “good” at it. I’m not; I’m still new. I did go cave diving in Tulum Mexico, though, so I’ll pick that.
Last question: I remember you as having gorgeous curls that rival those of fellow CSI-franchise alumni Melina Kanakarades. Will fans ever get to see them again?
Ha! This is not a complaint, mind you, but my curls are no way near that pretty. On my best day without a hair stylist, I rock the brillo pad look. It takes a LOT of time and heat to make my “natural” curls come to life. The good thing? I know I’m lucky to have thick hair, so I’ll take it even at its frizzy worst and be grateful. But feel free to compare me to Melina any time. Nice company, thank you!
Thanks again to the awesome Liz Vassey for giving this interview. Fans can follow her news at her twitter account.
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