On the new TNT drama Rizzoli & Isles, Sasha Alexander plays Maura Isles, a Boston medical examiner who is usually more comfortable among the dead than the living. Her devotion to logic and science leads to her tendency to diagnose the people she meets, which makes for some socially awkward situations.
Despite their many differences, Isles and her best friend, Jane Rizzoli (Angie Harmon), are two strong, brilliant women who work together to solve some of Boston’s most complex cases. During an interview to promote the series premiere, actress Sasha Alexander talked about what made her want to return to series television and how much she enjoys working with co-star Angie Harmon. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
Question: How were you approached to be on this show and what made you want to get involved?
Sasha: What made me want to be on it was reading a really good script, and being compelled by and attracted to the characters. I really loved Maura Isles, who was very fascinating to me. I was very compelled by a woman who would choose this profession. She came from a very highly-educated, wealthy background and could have chosen to do a lot of other things, and has this uber-feminine, modern woman mentality, but works this job. There was just something intriguing about it. I also really loved the friendship between these two women, and watching these two very different women working in this gritty male environment. That was really the reason that I wanted to be a part of it. And, I went in and met with the producer and the director that did the pilot, Mike Robin, and read with them. And then, I did a read with Angie Harmon, who was already cast. From the moment we read together, it just clicked. It was as easy as that.
Was your chemistry with Angie Harmon just instant?
Sasha: It was instant. It really was. We had never met before, and we went in to do this read together and, the moment that we read it, we had very different energies, and I think that that translated. The thing that we do have in common is respect for each other, and we both have the same sense of humor. We definitely can make each other laugh a lot. Those things show on screen. Angie is a beautiful and stunning woman, and we both have really good qualities that complement each other. We both look very different and we have different energies, but it really works. We’re lucky. When we do scenes together, I do feel like there’s a certain magic that you can’t always say happens.
What made you decide to wait to take another lead role on a television show, after doing NCIS?
Sasha: I had a child, who’s now four years old. I did a show called The Nine on ABC. I did a pilot. I worked here and there. I did a House episode and Dark Blue. I made eight movies. I did a film called Yes Man, and I did He’s Just Not That Into You. I made a lot of independent films, one of which was called Tenure, with Luke Wilson. Some of those films got distribution, but maybe weren’t in the theaters and didn’t have a huge commercial flash. So, I have been working as much as I want to be working, but I haven’t taken on a lead in a series television show since then. This is my first.
What drives you to succeed, in your work and in your life?
Sasha: I don’t know. I think you’re born with that. I’ve always been somebody that enjoys life. I want to be happy in it, and I’ve always been that way. Since I was a kid, I really was somebody that was active. It’s just an inner drive, and a willingness to lead a good life
Had you read any of the Tess Gerritsen books before you were cast?
Sasha: No. I have read some of them now, but I haven’t read all of them. I did not read them before doing the pilot. 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. Take this script and make it your own, instead of trying to emulate something that’s in the book.” Whenever you take 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 bob and she’s a lot cooler in personality than the Maura that I’m bringing to the screen.
Are you a fan of mystery fiction?
Sasha: One of the things that did intrigue me about when I 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 story. It really does have that mystery element, and it felt like a throwback to other shows in the past that had a bit more of that. There was something iconic about it. The fact that it’s set in Boston gave it a feeling that was different to me. So, I am definitely more of a fan of mysteries than I am of a circular crime-based genre.
Do you have any favorite authors?
Sasha: Aside from John Grisham, there isn’t really anybody besides Tess that I’ve truly gotten into. But, I do like them. When I have more time to read, I will absolutely look for some more authors. It’s just about finding a world and a character that you’re intrigued by.
Do you think working on a show with two lead female characters makes it different from other shows?
Sasha: I don’t know that you can compare it to another show because each show has its own individuality. But, when you have two different women coming from two very different backgrounds, 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 potential conflict, and then a debate in figuring out who and what is the right way to do it. I just think that we have more opportunity to have a bit more of that banter between each other. And, given that the two women are so different, there’s really something to play with.
How are you most different from your character?
Sasha: I was never very good at math and science, to be honest, so it’s fun to play a character that is so scientific and mathematical, and whose brain functions at such a high pace. The biggest difference is that Maura is very linear in her thinking and very logical. I’m not quite like that. I’m much more laid back and not quite so type A. That’s the big difference.
How has motherhood changed your approach to acting?
Sasha: I think that becoming a parent absolutely changes your entire life and certainly changes your work, and it has changed mine. It just allows you to have access to your emotions, even more than you already did. You’re watching this little person grow in front of you, and you realize that you’re seeing how precious life is and how quickly it goes. You get to things faster, even emotionally. I’m not as timid about reaching into some areas in myself and bringing that to my work.
Are you able to bring your child to work?
Sasha: 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.
What’s it like to have Sophia Loren as a mother-in-law?
Sasha: The best thing about it is that she is the most normal person, and I have the utmost admiration and love for her. I know that she is an icon and an absolute legend, but as a family member, the most beautiful thing is that she is really, really normal.