Patricia Arquette‘s year is off to an amazing start. She just took home an Oscar for her work in Richard Linklater‘s 12-year coming-of-age opus, Boyhood, and tonight her next project CSI: Cyber premieres tonight on CBS. In the first female-led spinoff of CBS’s most popular series, Arquette plays Avery Ryan, an FBI CyberPsychologist who solves high-tech crimes with the help of her CSI team. Cyber also stars James Van der Beek, Peter MacNicol, Charley Koontz, and Hayley Kioko.
In this recent interview with the press Arquette talked about why she wanted to be a part of the CSI franchise, having a female law-enforcement agent in the lead, playing a character based on real-life CyberPsychologist Mary Aiken, being technophobic, and more. She also spoke about making Boyhood, how big of a gamble it was for producers, and how great it is to see the film connect with audiences.
How do you know when to become attached to a project and is it a leap of faith?
PATRICIA ARQUETTE: It’s an imperfect science. It’s about discovery and learning, and hopefully learning as you go and sometimes choosing things that aren’t your go-to strength, that are difficult, that will help you grow as an artist, help you grow as a person. And just interesting material, interesting concepts. To me, this is interesting. To me, we have landed on a new planet. This kind of crime is fascinating to me, and terrifying to me. And so I’m interested in that. Also, to play a member of law enforcement when we’ve had that so long having been a male-dominated field. All of those things.
And Boyhood was just a no-brainer. I wanted to work with both of those guys and the concept was so beautiful. The way [Richard Linklater] talked about making the movie, stripping away all the conventional ways of storytelling – it’s funny because this show’s the opposite. They’re so good at this way of telling stories. Rick was talking about breaking all the rules of movies and stripping all the ways that you usually tell stories, and let love and life and flaws and mistakes and time and all these things take the lead.
Did you talk about Boyhood when you were making it?
ARQUETTE: I did. And at one point I guess I wasn’t supposed to – me and Ethan were talking to people about it, and I’m going to tell you, people would glaze over and were not interested. I’d be like, “I’ve been working on this movie for twelve years with Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater.” “What’s it about?” “It’s about a boy growing up and a family.” “Oh, good luck with that.”
How much did you know in advance each year about what you would be filming?
ARQUETTE: Well here’s the thing, it’s crazy, from the first conversation with Rick I knew everything about what the movie was. He made the movie, he talked about all the changes the family went through, the choices my character was going to make. He would say, “We know this year there’s going to be a presidential campaign”. The way your parents try to talk to you about politics and pull you to their side, that’s an exciting moment in your family. We all remember that whether it’s Jimmy Carter or Al Gore. Now, we didn’t know Barack Obama would be running. We didn’t know Sarah Palin would be on the scene. So Rick left room for the specifics of what was happening in the future and letting that happen. He knew at one point the boy would have a girlfriend, he didn’t know exactly what year because he would move it back and forth, because he wanted to make sure Ellar had a girlfriend in his own life before he did. So maybe originally he thought he’ll be 15, but Ellar had a girlfriend at 14 so he would move it up a year. So some things you would move around, but really he made the movie he talked about making.
And the film has received such acclaim.
ARQUETTE: It just blows my mind. We really didn’t know if people would accept this movie. Then to find at first that people were moved by the movie, then journalists were really supportive of the movie and writing about it in a really personal, beautiful way. I’m so happy for Rick and so happy for the producers, because listen, they gave – not that much money – but four million dollars they gambled on a movie with no safety net. No contracts past seven years. That little boy could have left at any time. You could have ended up with nothing. They gambled the whole thing with no safety net, and as a producer everything in this town tells you that you have to have all your bases covered.
How weird is it then to receive all this attention after twelve years of quietly making the movie?
ARQUETTE: Well, it’s kind of cool because here’s the thing – there’s so much weird pressure on actors that you’re supposed to do this perfect movie every time and make the great choice every time and win an Oscar every time with every movie you do. If I asked a writer, a critic, to show me every review. Was your My Little Pony review really the greatest thing of your life? Should you be getting an award for that? Whatever thing it is that your growing through or you’re making a living or whatever you’re doing, it’s important for me as an actor to be able to make a living. I paid more money to my babysitter and to my dog walker than I made on Boyhood. Television allows you to actually make a living, feed your children, send them to college and important significant things. To have the ability, the luxury, to make the choices of doing little movies where people cannot pay you.
How many seasons of CSI: Cyber are you contracted for?
ARQUETTE: Well, you always have to sign contracts for several years, if they want to pick you up. It’s kind of a strange scenario. They have the option or not.
So you’re in this for the long-haul?
ARQUETTE: I’m kind of the long-hauler type of person. I also have a strong work ethic and gratitude for people that I work with. It’s easy for people to come in when they think you’re in a hot moment of your life, but it’s really nice also for people who believe in your work for the long term and are there not when something hip’s happening at that moment.
Was it easier for you committing to a series like this after committing to play the character in Boyhood for 12 years?
ARQUETTE: Well, part of the reason that I was drawn to this material, first of all, “CSI” is the largest global franchise in the world, so you’re really connecting to your audiences everywhere. But for me, I feel like we’re on the dawn of a new time. I mean, this is like the Industrial Revolution. This is an explosion of the way that we’re going to be living our lives. And they are so beautiful in entertaining. They know how to write things that are entertaining, teams that are doing things, moving, that it excites audiences. And yet they’re also introducing all this information about these new technologies and the ways that we’re living now, moving forward, the way that crime is developing.
First of all, we’ve been seeing cops with guns, law enforcement with guns, that were men for over 50 years. So to be a woman in law enforcement on television, I think, is sort of important. It’s a powerful position for a woman to be in, but also to be looking at these new technologies, exploring these new technologies. And the interesting thing about cybercrime and the whole cyber world is that many of the people that are most proficient in it are young people, really young people. So this particular show has a real mixture of people that have a little more history with conventional crime solving and young people that are geniuses.
TV has shifted and there are more women starring in projects.
ARQUETTE: I know! Women are pushing through. We are coming on through. We’re going to change things.
Are you a technologically oriented person?
ARQUETTE: That’s probably what’s to me fascinating about this part is it’s totally the opposite of me. I’m not a technical person. It’s not something I personally do love. I’m actually terrified of it, and that is what’s interesting to me about it. And to play someone who is proficient in it, I need help as much as possible and the writers help. But I think there are a lot of people my age who are like me.
Are you on the computer much?
ARQUETTE: Not really, no.
What’s the scariest thing you’ve learned about technology for the show?
ARQUETTE: How little we know about it, but it’s in our lives. It’s really strange what we have in our lives. You know, Stephen Hawking said artificial intelligence could be the end of mankind. I mean, that’s scary. That’s crazy. I’m excited to be alive in this insane time, but also I’m terrified at what’s happening in this insane time. To deal with a television show that’s really well told as far as entertainment goes in this world of this subject matter, that’s so far away from where I am – that’s interesting.
There’s an emphasis on the young people that are a part of this show. What do you think you’re learning from them?
ARQUETTE: Here’s the thing: they really are geniuses. They really do know how to write code, not all of them but a lot of them. A six year old can probably do more on their iPad than you can do and access more. My daughter’s swiping away windows and doing all these things that I don’t know how to do. She’s 11 now. So young people – there’s been very little places in positions of authority in law enforcement for young people’s skill sets, but the truth is we need them. As a teenager, you have so much energy and hormones and you feel powerless in your life, and you can get power on life if it can be channeled in the right way.
Even with all the technology, they’re still making sure we see the human side of your character, Avery.
ARQUETTE: Well, of course, this character is based on Mary Aiken. And she, you know, helps us so much. But also, it’s its own creature as well. There’s a little bit of a division. So the way I sort of looked at this character is she’s really developed a strong survival mechanism of her mind, profiling people. It’s a survival mechanism. And she can have empathy for victims, for other people. When it starts getting too close to her, it’s a little uncomfortable territory to be not have survival skills, not have a mechanism, not be able to see what the next move is because your emotions override your mind.
Do you think there’s a danger to stoking online paranoia?
ARQUETTE: I don’t think we should hide from it. This is the reality, and it is sort of like an ostrich burying its head in the sand to pretend this isn’t happening. I mean, we may want to question do we have to have every device wifi-enabled? Do we really have to have our coffee maker wifi-enabled? We might want to think about, actually, the products we’re using and how they can be changed and removing some of those components and keeping them a little more low-tech to avoid some of these unnecessary, extra things that we’re everything is glommed on for convenience, convenience, convenience. Well, it’s pretty inconvenient when you get hacked. So we might want to start thinking about actually buying products, supporting products and companies making products that do keep us a little safer from this.