Skeet Ulrich on 'CSI: NY': My day with a serial killer

skeetulrich_csiny_01_290.jpgAs scarred serial killers go, Skeet Ulrich is probably one of the nicest.

The former "Jericho" star greeted a small group of reporters, including me, to the set of "CSI: NY" where he was filming his second episode of a three-episode arc in which he plays a mysterious killer who stumps Detective Mac Taylor (Gary Sinise) and his team.

Ulrich's character, known as the Compass Killer, was first introduced in an October cliffhanger episode in which two murder victims are discovered with cryptic notes pinned to them and compasses placed nearby. The situation becomes curiouser and curiouser when the audience learns that the Compass Killer shuns sunlight to the point of suffering Vitamin D deficiency, has a connection to the 1964 New York World's Fair and confides in a beautiful, enigmatic woman.

Warning: Minor spoilers to follow due to the nature of the set visit.

When the mystery picks back up with "Cuckoo's Nest" on Wednesday, Nov. 18, the CSI team realizes that a body that fell from the 59th Street Bridge is the Compass Killer's third victim.


Although the set visit took place on a sunny Los Angeles day, we were invited to visit the Compass Killer's deep, dark, shadowy lair, aka Stage 3 on the CBS Radford lot. Walking past the CSI team's autopsy room and the creepy drawers in the morgue, we came upon a set that looked like a very cozy living room.

Ulrich as the Compass Killer entered the room again and again, take after take, tense and out of breath. In the scene, he also spoke to the beautiful woman again, played by Josie Davis. After filming the scene from several different angles, enough times so the reporters knew the dialog by heart, Ulrich took a break to answer questions while relaxing on the bed on an entirely different nearby set: a sterile mental institution.


What attracted you to play this character?

Skeet Ulrich: You know, I was really curious because I hadn't played a killer since "Scream" and I was really curious how I would think about it now versus how I thought about it then. It was a kind of bit more how I've changed process-wise and world view-wise, et cetera. Obviously what they laid out for me was not a one-dimensional character, so that's what kept me interested. I never really wanted to do guest spots on other people's shows but it was such a compelling idea.

Why do you do those "in-between takes" workouts where you do push-ups? What does that accomplish?

Ulrich: Well, he's being chased through the streets of New York by [Mac] and his unit, so it's really to get your breath up like you'e been running. But once you get your breath going, it helps all kinds of things.


How much did you discuss the Compass Killer to prepare for the role?

Ulrich: It wasn't that long, 30-40 minutes I guess. [Writer] Trey [Callaway] talked to me and that was it. We had sort of the same viewpoints of what evil is and how to portray it. I felt that he needed to be a mostly kind of normal person, scarring aside, in most of his mentality. I've always felt it needed to be somebody that this [scarred face] aside, you could walk down the street and not necessarily know.


Did you do any additional research for your character?

Ulrich: So I looked at obviously schizophrenia and all kinds of different mental problems. I always go back to different documentaries [about] Ted Bundy. I don't know if you've ever seen Ted Bundy's last hour of that interview. It's harrowing. I've always been interested in those people and those dynamics and so I did a lot of that again. But really I look for little seeds of images that prick you a little bit.


From "Jericho" to "CSI: NY" -- Do you enjoy shooting series television?

The thing I liked the most about it is that everything's under the gun. Everything has to move fast and there are no ifs, ands or buts about it. If you have script problems or technical problems or whatever it is, you've typically got five minutes to solve them. My hat is off to these guys who do this year after year after year. It really is a different exercise [from shooting theatrical films]. But I love long arc storytelling and this is the only place to get it.

What would you tell your "Jericho" fans about this character to make them want to see it?

Ulrich: He's no hero. (laughs) I think he's very interesting because of the reasons he does what he does. It's not necessarily the easiest thing to get behind, but once you sort of think about somebody who's lost everything and has no love left in his life -- it's not necessarily a justification, but you can sort of wrap your head around it a little more or at least that's how I looked at it.


What's the process like for your prosthetic scarring for the role?

Ulrich: Oh man. Basically, it starts at the mold phase at the lab, where they put you in a full head cast to make the mold and design the piece. I guess they make it in clay and then in silicone. And then he just glues it on, puts some color on it and hair. It takes a lot longer to do it than it does to say it. It really takes anywhere from 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours.

Yesterday I had grown my own beard because the character lives in a hovel and is very antisocial, caught in his own head and world, but we had some flashback stuff [when he doesn't have a beard], and fortunately for these brilliant makeup people, they were able to shave me and lay this back on to look like what I had before. It would have been tough to not get to shave and still do the flashback stuff. It's kind of a nice leap because you see the survey, he works as a civil servant at the surveyor's office and then tragedy happens and he starts devolving into this other guy. But that's the process.

How comfortable is that to wear?

It's not that bad. I mean, I don't really notice it after a while, which says a lot about it. I've had a lot of different pieces through the years that were really, really uncomfortable. We had a wide-eyed contact lens at one point. That would have been excruciating. Those are scleral lenses. They're really thick and kind of painful to wear. That would have hurt.


You were also dirtied up for "Jericho." Have you done series TV yet where you're clean and clean shaven?

Ulrich: No. (laughs) I need a good lawyer show, don't I? Or a good doctor show. That would be nice.

What's the most positive thing you can tell about your character?

Ulrich: I think he was a very decent human being that did some despicable things ... and he runs fast.

Ulrich concluded the lighthearted interview by joking about jumping into bed with the reporters and then did just that, posing for photos while showing off his best (scarred) side.

The Compass Killer continues his "CSI: NY" killing spree on Wednesday, Nov. 18 and on Nov. 25.

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