'CSI: Vegas': Marg Helgenberger Reveals Why She Didn't Immediately Say Yes to Returning as Catherine

The original franchise star explains the driving force behind her decision to step back into the world of 'CSI.'

Marg Helgenberger is feeling the love as she reprises her role as Catherine Willows in season 2 of CSI: VegasThe veteran actress steps back into her iconic character's shoes, reintegrating herself back onto the CSI team following the departures of original CSI stars William Petersen and Jorja Fox.

"Everybody has been excruciatingly welcoming, excessively welcoming," Helgenberger told reporters Friday during CBS' virtual Television Critics Association press tour. "I feel the love. I feel their respect towards me. I'm so grateful for that. I'm having a hell of a lot of fun working with everybody. The feelings are mutual that I have for each and every one of the actors, each and every one of the writers, the crew of course. It's fun. It's been, you know, the set is vastly different than our original set. I'm still discovering new rooms, in fact!"

"Of course, I miss some of the old gang, but I got over that pretty quickly because everyone's been so welcoming and gracious," the 63-year-old actress added.

One of the driving forces behind Helgenberger's decision to come back to the world of CSI was her curiosity over where Catherine was at this point in her life and career. Putting her back in a familiar world, but alongside a new team intrigued her.

"Just like in life, there's so many things that happen in your life that changes you a little bit. Hopefully it enriches your life instead of brings you down. I just wanted to get back to that character to see where she is. I love the fact that she still has that passion, still has that much fire and still wants to make a difference," Helgenberger explained. "And I wanted to do it with a whole new group of people that, like I said, have been so welcoming. So, I'm still discovering exactly where she is at this point in her life and what makes her tick."

Helgenberger's relationship with the character has been an ebb and flow. Her CSI: Vegas debut marks the third time she's returned to the franchise, following her initial 12-season run and the 2015 series finale of the original show.

"When I left midway through season 12 of the original series, I kind of needed to step back because I had been [playing her] for so long and she was such a part of my life. I felt like she had become part of my identity a little bit," she said. "Having that perspective, being away from her and coming back in a big way as this, I did miss her actually. I missed her passion, I missed her swagger, I missed her spunk. Now it's been 22 years later since the launch of the show. Just like in life, I'm like, who is this person? How I do I keep improving myself and make the world a better place? All those things."

Helgenberger, producers shared, was high on their list of original cast members to bring back initially for season 1. However, conflicts with her other series, All Rise, made it difficult to make that possible. So when the opportunity arose again prior to season 2, showrunner/executive producer Jason Tracey revealed they called her "immediately" when the stars aligned. But "it wasn't an immediate 'hell yes,'" as Helgenberger acknowledged, though she did tune in to a few episodes in the first season ("Sure, there were moments where I was like, 'I want to be in there!'" she quipped.)

"I wanted to make sure there was a reason why Catherine would come back to this job," she said. "Why would Catherine, at this age, why should she come back? That was really important to me, so I had several conversations with Jason about that and we wanted to get it right and I think we did. We're going to continue to do that as the season progresses."

In the upcoming sophomore season, there will be a special Catherine-centric hour that was particularly touching for both Helgenberger and CSI creator Anthony Zuiker

"Marg and I went to the Beverly Hills Hotel and had a wonderful breakfast and had a collaboration story session. Obviously I missed writing for the original cast, I was so happy that Marg is back. It's always fun to do a single A story, especially around a fantastic star like Marg," Zuiker said.

"That morning that we met for breakfast in that little lounge, I reached out to you because your mother had passed and my mother had passed, and for me... some of the motivation for doing that episode was in honor of my mom," Helgenberger said, as she got visibly emotional. "So thank you for giving me that opportunity. I didn't mean to get so emotional about that. I just wanted to share that with you and with everybody, just so those who might be watching the episode, that was the [motivation] for both of us."

Watch the extended season 2 trailer below.

CSI: Vegas premieres Thursday, Sept. 29 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.


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