I recently had the chance to talk to both stars of TNT’s Rizzoli & Isles. Sasha Alexander, who plays Medical Examiner Maura Isles, has guest starred on several shows over the last few years, but her most notable TV role as as Special Agent Caitlin “Kate” Todd on NCIS.
Rizzoli & Isles follows Boston detective Jane Rizzoli (Angie Harmon) and medical examiner Maura Isles (Alexander), complete opposites and good friends who solve crimes and bust some of Boston’s most notorious criminals. Growing up at opposite ends of the economic spectrum, the two remain strikingly different from one another in many ways. Maura is usually more comfortable among the dead than the living. She is always impeccably dressed in designer duds with a steady, sometimes icy temperament. And she is working on curbing her tendency to diagnose the people she meets – including her first dates.
The show premieres tonight on TNT at 10/9c. Jump with me to read Sasha’s interview!
How were you approached to be on this particular program and what made you want to be on it?
Sasha Alexander: Well, what made me want to be on it was reading a really good script and being compelled and attracted to the characters. I really – I really loved Maura Isles who was very fascinating to me. I just – I was very compelled by a woman who would one choose this profession and one that was you know came – which we will learn to you know we will find out but came from a very you know highly educated wealthy background and could have chosen to do a lot of other things but has this kind of you know just this uber-feminine kind of modern woman mentality but works this job.
There was something just intriguing about it. And I also really loved the friendship between these two women and watching these two very different women working in this environment, on this kind of gritty male environment. That was really the thing that you know that – the reason that I wanted to be a part of it.
And as how I got to be a part of it you know I went in and met with the producer and I met with the director, Mike Robin that did the pilot, and read with them and then I did a read with Angie Harmon who was already cast. And you know from the moment we read together, it just sort of clicked. You know Michael Wright and TNT and the Warner Brothers people were there and they said we have a show. So it’s kind of as easy as that.
From the previews and everything, we see that you have great chemistry with Angie Harmon. Was it instant when you guys began working together? Did it take a bit of time for you all to gel? I mean, it looks flawless.
Sasha Alexander: You know what it was instant. It really was. We you know we never met before and we went in to do this read together and the moment that we read it you know we’re very – we have very different energies in real life and I think that that translates. But the thing that we do have in common is you know I think it would be respect for each other and we both have the same sense of humor. So we definitely can make each other laugh a lot. And I think that those things you know they show on screen and look Angie is you know Angie is a beautiful and stunning woman.
You know it’s not easy to you know to find a right person to go with her. So I think that we both have really good qualities that kind of complement each other. You know we both look very different and we have different energies but yet I think that it really works. You know we’re lucky. We actually, truly, when we do scenes together, I do feel like a certain click and a certain magic that I you know you can’t say always happens.
Jenny Rarden: I’m thrilled about the show. We – my husband and I saw the first ep and are more excited for it than we are about anything else coming up in the next few months. The question I wanted to ask was brought to my mind when I heard some of – interviews from the cast of the Twilight movies, some of them had read the books before auditioning and some hadn’t read them until after they were cast and so I wondered, what about you? Have you read any of the Tess Gerritsen books before you were cast? And if you hadn’t, have you read them now?
Sasha Alexander: Thank you. Yes, I haven’t read all of them but I have read a couple of them. No, I did not read them before doing the pilot. And I was going to and then Tess and our executive producer, Janet Tamaro said, “You know what? We’d prefer that you just do your own take and interpretation – like not interpretation but really take you know take this script and make that your own instead of trying to emulate something that’s in the book.”
I think whenever you something from a book to the screen, it’s going to have a slightly different interpretation. In this case I don’t physically look the character of Maura in the book. She has a very short black you know bob and she’s a lot, I would say, cooler in a personality than the Maura that I’m bringing to the screen.
I review mysteries and I’m a big fan of the book. But I think the friendship between the two women really shows up in the books and you also showed that in the two episodes I saw. Are you a mystery-fiction fan? And if not, what do you read besides scripts?
Sasha Alexander: Good question. You know I’m not – this is what I will say, one of the things that did intrigue me about when I just read the pilot, because I had not read the books before doing the show, was the mystery aspect of it. I didn’t feel that it was just a crime-based thing, there was something very – it really does have that mystery element and it felt like a throwback to me of maybe other shows in the past that had a bit more of that.
There was something kind of iconic about it. The fact that it’s set in Boston, there was a feeling that was different to me. And so, yes, I am definitely more of a fan of mysteries than I am of let’s say you know a circular crime-based genre.
Do you have any favorite authors?
Sasha Alexander: You know what? Beside John Grisham and – I’m trying to think of – I’m trying to think of anybody else I read last. There isn’t really anybody besides Tess now that I’ve gotten into, truly. Like after doing the show, she’s you know she’s the first person that I sort of went into. But I do like – I do like them and I think when I have more time to read, I will absolutely look for – if you can recommend any fantastic authors. I know there are [a lot of them]. But you know again, it’s finding a world that you’re – that – and a character that you’re intrigued by.
Jenny Rarden: I just was wondering how are you most like your character and how most do you differ.
Sasha Alexander: Well, I, Sasha, was never very good at math and science. To be honest, I really wasn’t. So, it’s fun to play a character that is so scientific and mathematical and whose brain functions at such a high you know at a high pace, like this. I’m – you know I think that’s the biggest difference is that Maura is very linear in her thinking, very logical.
I’m not quite like that. I’m much more laid back and more of a – I would say I’m not quite so type A. So that’s the big difference.
How has, or if, has motherhood changed your way you approach acting in any way? And also, is the set – are you able to bring your daughter to the set, to work? [Note from Jenny: Sasha has a 4-year-old daughter.]
Sasha Alexander: Yes you know that’s such a good question. I think that becoming a parent absolutely changes your entire life and certainly changes your work, and it has changed mine. You know it just allows you know your access to your emotions even more than it already did. You know you just – you’re watching this little person grow in front of you and you realize seeing you know how precious life is and how quickly it goes.
So you just, you get to things faster. Even emotionally, you get to things faster. And so, I’m not as, let’s say, timid about reaching into some areas you know in myself and bringing that to my work. And yes, I can bring my daughter any time I want but given that we’re working with a lot of corpses, she doesn’t come that often. I think that might be a little traumatic.
You’re turning a line-up of really strong women on TNT and not only is there one character woman on the show, but two. So, how do you think that dynamic role speaks of you or maybe differently than a single woman lead would on a show?
Sasha Alexander: Well, I mean, I don’t know that you can compare it to another show because each show has its own – its own individuality but on our show, I think when you have two different women coming from two very different backgrounds but two strong women, it’s fun for us because we get to explore how each one of them approaches their job and how they bring their own experiences to it.
In this case, Jane and Maura don’t always agree on how to go about solving something. They both are very different in their approach, and a lot of times, that can lead to you know potential conflict and obviously, then figure in a debate you know to figuring out who and what is the right way to do it.
So I just think that we have more opportunity to you know to have a bit more of that banter between each other. And given that the two women are so different, it really – there’s really something to play with.