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Making memorable impressions

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MIND-BOGGLING: Poppy Montgomery plays the detective with the effective memory, Carrie Wells, and Dylan Walsh plays ex-flame Lieutenant Al Burns in the police drama Unforgettable. Picture: Sony

In the cut-throat world of Hollywood, an aspiring Poppy Montgomery had no choice but to adopt a dogged approach. A plethora of bit parts later, she struck gold when she was signed up to play Norma Jean Baker/Marilyn Monroe in the mini-series, Blonde. That became the catalyst to her landing a lead role in the long-running TV series, Without a Trace. She now carries the weight of a new police drama, Unforgettable. Debashine Thangevelo bagged an exclusive interview with the actress.

Becoming a famous actor or actress one day is a pipe dream for many. But for those tenacious and talented few in Los Angeles, the mecca of the US film and TV industries, it is a goal within arm’s reach.

Poppy Montgomery belongs to the latter group . A rather defiant spirit when it came to her schooling – she was expelled from six private academies before dropping out at age 15 – this Aussie talent knew acting was her true calling.

And she was also astute about how to achieve her goal. Simply put, she bombarded Bob McGowan (Julia Roberts’ former manager) with headshots until he gave in and signed her up.

From the mid-1990s until 2001, she plundered her way through an array of bit roles… some in notable TV shows such as Party of Five, NYPD Blues and Relativity.

Still humbled by her formative years in the industry, an affable Montgomery says the mini-series Blonde (2001) turned the tide in her favour.

She laughs: “I’m Australian. Playing an American icon was daunting. However, I was already a big fan of hers (Marilyn Monroe) – I’d read every book there was to read and seen all of her films. This (series) was based on a book by Joyce Carol Oates and I worked with a speech coach to get the voice right. I remember, we shot it so fast that I didn’t have time to get out of the character.”

Off the back of the critical acclaim she got for her earnest depiction of Norma Jean Baker/ Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery bagged the TV series Without a Trace.

Blessed with fond memories and amazing friendships forged from her seven years on set with the stellar cast of Anthony LaPaglia, Eric Close, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Enrique Murciano, Montgomery does not discount her rather good fortune at having landed the role of Samantha Spade.

She says: “The cast became family. We had so much fun working together. Marian was nominated for awards and Anthony won every award. Eric was the true-blue all-American boy. Roselyn (Sánchez) is still one of my best friends and Anthony is my son’s godfather.”

While the success of Without a Trace rested with the ensemble cast, with Unforgettable, it lies mostly on the shoulders of Montgomery as New York Police Detective Carrie Wells, whose hyperthymesia, an unusual medical condition that gives her superior recall of the events in her life, serves her well in her job, but not in finding the person who murdered her sister years ago.

And that’s the demon that haunts Carrie and leaves her conflicted as well as frustrated.

Thankfully, she had actress Marilu Henner, who served as a consultant on the series, as she has the same remarkable ability, to provide useful guidelines in helping her slip into the psyche of the character.

Montgomery explains: “She guided me a lot and gave me insight into the ability she has.

“Hyperthymesia is a new diagnosis in the scientific world. They don’t know much about it.”

On the irony of her character being blessed with this remarkable ability to remember everything but the face of her sister’s killer, she offers: “She feels by solving other people’s crimes, it will take her back to what happened to her sister. Every day is a blessing – and a curse – with her job.”

Montgomery also raves about her co-star Dylan Walsh, who plays Lieutenant Al Burns, who is Carrie’s ex-partner and boyfriend from when they worked together at the Syracuse Police Department.

The actress teases: “He is such a hottie and a talented actor. I’m always asking the writers to write a scene where we make out. There is a lot of history between the two characters. They love each other and want to be together. But she is not an easy person. They are drawn together by their differences: she breaks all the rules and he is a by-the-book kind of guy who likes her wildness.”

Montgomery says they shot some of the scenes on the streets of Queens, a little bit of Manhattan and at the Silvercup Studios.

She continues: “It has been such a roller-coaster ride. We were shooting our scenes (in the same studios) with 30 Rock. I think they did some kind of spoof of our show, too, on the Unforgettable set.”

With the police drama given the green light for a second season, Montgomery is bound to be even more “unforgettable” in her fascinating new role. She certainly was for our interview, during which she displayed an admirable sense of wit, humility and a sheer passion for her craft.

• Unforgettable airs on M-Net Series (DStv channel 114) tonight at 8.30pm

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