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Paula Newsome as Maxine Roby on `CSI: Vegas.` (Photo by Monty Brinton/CBS // ©CBS Broadcasting Inc., all rights reserved)
Paula Newsome as Maxine Roby on "CSI: Vegas." (Photo by Monty Brinton/CBS // ©CBS Broadcasting Inc., all rights reserved)

Q&A: Paula Newsome on what makes 'CSI: Vegas' a hit with fans

by jmaloni
Fri, Feb 9th 2024 05:25 pm

Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni

Before Paula Newsome was famous, she famously had a chance encounter with an oh-so-well-known lookalike: Oprah Winfrey.

“Years ago, when her show was in Chicago, she did this episode about what celebrities you look like,” Newsome recalled in a phone interview this week. “I don't even know how I got on that show. I had one of those awful, asymmetrical haircuts. And I was in the audience. And she came up and she was like, ‘And people tell you, “You look like. …” ’  And she stuck her microphone in my face, and I got up and I did an Oprah impression, which she kind of loved.”

Nowadays, Newsome is well-known, well-traveled, and well-respected for creating her own, one-of-a-kind characters. She has appeared in a slew of super-successful shows, including “Barry,” “Chicago Med,” “How to Get Away with Murder,” “Castle,” “NCIS,” “Suits” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” Most notably, she leads the lab on “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” spinoff “CSI: Vegas,” which is set to begin season three for CBS on Sunday, Feb. 18.

Newsome’s character, Maxine Roby, should have a “World’s Best Boss” mug on her desk, because that’s exactly what we find in this level-headed, team-oriented, extremely qualified crime scene supervisor.

In season one, iconic “CSI” investigators Gil Grissom (William Petersen) and Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox) reinserted themselves into the crime lab after former colleague Jim Brass (Paul Guilfoyle) was attacked, and ex-medical examiner David Hodges (Wallace Langham) was accused of tampering with evidence from past closed cases.

It would’ve been easy for Max, a former college basketball star, to boxout these semi-retired sleuths and let her own team do all the crime-fighting. Instead, she welcomed the help – and seamlessly unified the old “CSI” crew with new science fair stars Josh Folsom (Matt Lauria) and Allie Rajan (Mandeep Dhillon), and later Det. Serena Chavez (Ariana Guerra).

Gil and Sara didn’t return for season two – replaced, fittingly, by fellow “CSI:” standout Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger) – but it didn’t matter, because Max and her team had become more than capable by that time – and not just in the lab.

Newsome, Lauria, Dhillon and Guerra have made this “CSI” their own, and their characters have been accepted into a long line of popular franchise characters (including, of course, “CSI” OGs George Eads, Eric Szmanda and Gary Dourdan; “CSI: Miami” stars David Caruso, Emily Proctor and Adam Rodriguez; and “CSI: NY” leads Gary Sinise, Carmine Giovinazzo, Hill Harper and Eddie Cahill). In fact, IMDb audiences have scored “Vegas” (7.4 out of 10) higher than “Miami” (6.5), “NY” (6.9) and the short-lived “CSI: Cyber” (5.5).

What’s working so well on this new procedural is that the overall storylines have hit on multiple fronts: blending the old and the new, while letting the new take the lead; a crime lab with likeable characters who, yes, are really good inside the lab but also fierce fighters in the field; Max’s backstory as a divorced mother with the weight of the world on her shoulders – and working past being attacked at a crime scene; a love triangle between Josh, Allie and Serena … though Josh is somewhat oblivious; and the addition of quirky techs Beau Finado (Lex Medlin), Chris Park (Jay Lee) and Penny Gill (Sarah Gilman).

Of particular interest is the season two cliffhanger. Coming to terms with a better work/life balance, Max decides to promote either Allie or Josh to the day shift team lead. Josh, meanwhile, discovers his mother is connected with a drug-smuggling outfit. Upon learning of Jeannette’s untimely death, he becomes obsessed with finding her killer – even though he’s not allowed to work a case involving a family member. Already in hot water, he goes one step further: He finds the man responsible and threatens to bleed said offender to death by using his special skillset.

As the episode ends, that man is dead in a dumpster – and a handcuffed Josh is the prime suspect.

Newsome shared more about the series, and her involvement, in this edited Q&A.

Paula Newsome as Maxine Roby on "CSI: Vegas." (Photo by Monty Brinton/CBS // ©CBS Broadcasting Inc., all rights reserved)


Q: When I first saw your character, I had a very particular response – which I'll tell you about in a moment. I'm wondering what you reacted to when you saw the script. When you were offered this job, what did you see in this character? What was appealing about the show?

Paula Newsome: You know, I'm going to tell you the truth, Joshua: I am the kind of actress who sees what's on the page and automatically thinks, “What can I do different with this?” You know what I mean? My feeling about Max, though, was that it was always close to what my vision would be for her. And that, No. 1, being I just liked her.

She feels, to me, like a quiet storm. She feels, to me, like a person you could have a challenging conversation with. And she feels, to me, like a strength that feels grounded in kindness and connectivity.

Q: And that's exactly what I wasn't expecting, which is why I had a reaction; because, typically, in a series like this, when you have characters come back like Gil Grissom and Sarah Sidle – and they're going to be looking over shoulders or infringing upon the new crime lab – I thought, for sure, that there would be conflict. I thought, for sure, that Max would fight them; that she would be portrayed more as like a villain; that that would be part of the whole thing – their trying to overcome her, in addition to trying to crack this case.

I thought it was so refreshing to find out that she was none of those things, but that she was everything you just described.

Paula Newsome: Oh, that's sweet. I'm glad – I'm really glad about that, because, you know what? I always – this is so odd – I don't want to get too actor-y, but, in college, they would always say, “Find the positive; what's the positive?” And I tend to do that, as I look at roles that I'm offered. That's one thing I really saw about Max: She feels good to me.

Paula Newsome as Maxine Roby and Ariana Guerra as Det. Serena Chavez. (Photo by Monty Brinton/CBS // ©CBS Broadcasting Inc., all rights reserved)

Paula Newsome as Maxine Roby and Mandeep Dhillon as Allie Rajan. (Photo by Monty Brinton/CBS // ©CBS Broadcasting Inc., all rights reserved)


Q: I was talking to Mandeep before the start of last season, and we were talking about the integration of the past cast members with the new cast members. We both were of the opinion that this worked out in a really ideal fashion, because it wasn't just sort of rehashing the old series. It was introducing a whole new team, a whole new storyline, a whole new vision – while also having the added benefit of bringing back these well-known characters.

What do you think about the way the old and the new has been blended on this series?

Paula Newsome: It's amazing.

I can't tell you how many people have such a connection to this show. And when we got to be there with Billy Petersen, and Jorja, who's close to my heart, it just felt good. It felt good.

It was a huge risk for JBTV and CBS to bring this back. It really was. People could have been like, “Not so much.” What was beautiful about the people they chose to join us in this journey is that we found that sense of family, love of science, and love of ‘CSI’ that I think people like. And that's nice.

Q: Like you said, definitely a risk because, inasmuch as there has been a big nostalgia kick in recent years, not every series that's been brought back has been successful. Not every series that's been brought back has resonated with the fans in the way the creators had hoped. So, talk about the strengths of the new cast. Talk about the strengths of Matt and Mandeep and Lex and Ariana and the people you're working with on this series. To get to a third season is really something that not every series in a similar situation has been able to do.

Paula Newsome: That's really nice. Thank you for that.

This group of people likes one another. This group of people, we show up ready for work. This group of people, they have strong actors and they really want to do the best that they can any particular moment.

Our showrunner, Jason Tracey, has a great picker. I mean, sometimes you get into situations in Hollywood where people are like, “Do I have to do another scene with that (person)?”

What I will say about this group of people is that's not my experience. It's a pleasure. There is a connection and an ease that I really appreciate.

Paula Newsome as Maxine Roby and Marg Helgenberger as Catherine Willows. (Photo by Monty Brinton/CBS // ©CBS Broadcasting Inc., all rights reserved)


Q: You've been on a lot of great series – I'm sure you've picked up a lot of different things working on different sets. What do you think is the key to making it work when you have a strong ensemble? What is the key to making sure everyone's involved and that everyone's story gets told?

Paula Newsome: That's always a balance.

I guess there are two questions that you asked there, and the second part of the question, I think, is that's on Jason Tracey. It's important to him that everyone gets to carry the ball in different episodes – that we get to show other people's strengths.

And also, I think the other one is Jason Tracey is picking people that you have a good feeling about. That's what I walk away in this conversation with you the most, is people watching it; and when we're at work, there’s a good feeling and the connection between us, between the crew.

It's lovely, truly.

Paula Newsome as Maxine Roby and Matt Lauria as Josh Folsom. (Photo by Bill Inoshita/CBS // ©CBS Broadcasting Inc., all rights reserved)


Q: So, let's talk a little bit about another Joshua for a moment. Josh Folsom, obviously, has himself in a bit of a pickle here, to start the new season. I'm sure you're very limited on what you can say – and I don't want to give away any spoilers. What can you tease, as far as what the audience can expect in these first few episodes coming back from the break?

Paula Newsome: It's difficult, from Paula’s perspective, in my personal life, watching someone do something that's just purely reactionary, and just a bad, flippin’ idea. And we get to see that acted out, and it's not easy. I'll say that. It's not easy. But it's real. That's what I can tell you.

Q: We know that Max has gone through some difficult things in the past season and change. What can you tell me about her continued growth and recovery and progress in getting past some of the things she's had to deal with on the job?

Paula Newsome: You know what I like about Max – what I look forward to – is, as we go down this road – I’ll try not to give away too much – we get to find out how Max shows up in situations when she doesn't have someone to have her back. What happens in that case, in that situation?

We get to see a Max who shows up in a situation when there aren’t people right there behind her, and what happens then; what turns out.

“CSI: Vegas” returns at 10 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 18, on CBS (WIVB-TV Channel 4), and streaming on Paramount+.

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