Marg Helgenberger on Leaving 'CSI,' Her Hopes for a Future on the Big Screen and Broadway (Q&A)

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Monty Brinton/CBS

Says Helgenberger: "Letting go of a show that has been an enormous part of my life for 12 years isn't easy."

"Letting go of a show that has been an enormous part of my life for 12 years isn't easy," the Emmy winner told THR.

Nebraska native Marg Helgenberger, 53, taped her last episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the CBS drama in which she has starred since its 2000 premiere, in early December. Her final episode aired on Wednesday, Jan. 25. THR spoke to the actress about saying goodbye to the show after 12 years, and her plans for the near and far future.

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THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: Twelve years is a long time to be on a show. What will you take from the experience?

Marg Helgenberger: The creative, collaborative camaraderie. The execution of a great idea in television involves so many people, and to sustain that for as many years as we have takes a group of people that are incredibly dedicated, passionate and committed and who enjoy each other's company. That's what we've always had on CSI, and that's why, in large part, it's still a success.

THR: Are you looking forward to some time off, or are you eager for your next gig?

Helgenberger: A little of both, actually. Letting go of a show that has been an enormous part of my life for 12 years isn't easy. Whenever we went on hiatus every April, I was always ready for it -- we put in so many months going for so many hours at a time, I was tired. But I knew in 2 ½ months, after I was rested, I'd have something to go back to. Now I don't have that.

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THR: Do you have anything lined up?

Helgenberger: No, I don't. I've been in meetings -- a possible television series. I'd like to do some movies. Doing a musical comedy would be a lot of fun.

THR: I hear you became seriously interested in acting after portraying Blanche DuBois in a college production of A Streetcar Named Desire.

Helgenberger: Actually, I got the bug in high school, but in terms of thinking this could be a possible career, it was that production and that role. I've always been a shy person. Acting gave me the opportunity to express myself. I enjoyed bringing material to life and playing off other people. I still do. Even if we didn't like the location or the cold or the hour of the night, I always loved being with the CSI cast. That was one of the reasons that made it so special and why it was so hard to leave.

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THR: So what prompted the departure?

Helgenberger: I instinctively felt it was time to end that chapter of my career. I'm 53 now, and I feel like I'm still young enough to switch it up. I don't have the energy at 53 that I did when I started this show at 41. In that 12-year span, there were lots of changes in my life.

THR: During that time, you were raising a son.

Helgenberger: My son, Hugh, was 9 when we started shooting. We went through a bar mitzvah, high school graduation, sending him off to college. Now he works in the CSI production office.

THR: Do you ever go back and watch performances from your first TV role on Ryan's Hope?

Helgenberger: Oh, no. I would never do that. I wouldn't mind seeing China Beach, though. It was dramatic, ambitious and groundbreaking in that it was told from a woman's point of view. My character [K.C. Kolowski] was so unique. She was a prostitute and an entrepreneur. It was exhausting -- even harder than CSI in terms of the amount of hours -- but such a great experience. Every show was an adventure.

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THR: What have been your favorite roles?

Helgenberger: K.C. was a good one. I love [CSI's]Catherine Willows. Who could not love Blanche DuBois? The role I had in Erin Brockovich was a very good one -- small but meaty and emotionally charged. It set the whole story in motion. I loved that even though she was suffering from cancers that were brought on by chromium-6 in the groundwater in Hinkley, Calif., she always had such a sunny disposition and a spirit about her -- she just pulled herself back up by her bootstraps. I loosely based her on my mom, who is a cancer survivor, and other hardworking people I know in the Midwest.

THR: Is it true you worked at a meatpacking plant when you were in high school?

Helgenberger: Yeah, I did that for three or four summers. I handled beef carcasses on an assembly line in a cooler. I was issued a set of knives, and I wore snowmobile boots, a hard hat and a frock. The shift started at 6 a.m. My worst day on CSI was vastly superior to my best day at the packinghouse.

THR: What's on your bucket list?

Helgenberger: I've never been to any country in South America or Asia. I've always wanted to go to Vietnam. Career-wise, I've definitely got to do some kind of Broadway or off-Broadway show. Hopefully it will be a good experience. You never really know. You pray to the literary gods and hope that you get something really great.