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TV's Hottest Cop

As David Caruso savors the global success of "CSI: Miami," the former star of "NYPD Blue" won't forget the lessons he's learned, or the cigars he loves.
Betsy Model
From the Print Edition:
David Caruso, Jan/Feb 2007

Depending on the language, the culture and the particular time in history, the story of a great winged bird being consumed by fire and then rising from the ashes—sometimes larger, grander and more glorious than before—may differ in name, but the lesson or moral is the same: out of death comes rebirth; out of ashes and rubble, a grand rebuilding. The early Egyptians called this creature Bennu. In Russian folklore it's Zhar-Ptitsa, the firebird. And the early Greeks called the creature by its more familiar name, the phoenix. Today, in Hollywood, it's called David Caruso.

Numbers matter in Hollywood but even Tinseltown's most talented screenwriters would have a hard time coming up with a more compelling "phoenix from the ashes" story than that of actor David Caruso. His staggering success on "CSI Miami" eclipses nearly any rebirth-and-success script that Hollywood could possibly produce.

Each week, an estimated 50 million viewers around the world tune in to catch Caruso—as dedicated crime scene investigator Lieutenant Horatio Caine—and the rest of the "CSI: Miami" cast fight terrorists, snatch potential tsunami victims out of harm's way and catch (or kill) drug lords, murderers and kidnappers through their work on the street and in the forensics lab. That the show is so spectacularly successful around the world should come as no surprise; "CSI: Miami" is, after all, the 2002 spin-off of the then-two-year-old, No. 1 drama series on television, "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."

A spin-off of any show, even one with the incredible ratings of a "Friends" or "Seinfeld," could—and often does—bomb right off the bat with the fickle American audience. But with the original Las Vegas—based "CSI" introducing its Miami-based little brother and cast—especially David Caruso as the male lead—Act 2 in the "CSI" series was orchestrated beautifully, right from the opening credits.

Now in its fifth season and having, in turn, helped spin off yet a third act in the CBS—Jerry Bruckheimer franchise by introducing the cast and story line behind "CSI: New York," the show's success makes perfect sense. But the fact that Caruso, as the red-haired, fair-skinned and infinitely grim Horatio Caine, has become an international star still comes as a bit of a surprise to the 50-year-old actor. A pleasant surprise.

"On a return trip to Los Angeles from Cannes this spring, I was in Heathrow and there were people from all over the world [recognizing] me and talking to me, and suddenly there was this gaggle of about 20 people from Taiwan that came running over. The only word they knew in English," says Caruso, a little sheepishly, "was 'Horatio.'"

Caruso grins and shakes his head as he tells the story. "It wasn't, you know, as if it was the Rolling Stones walking [by] at Heathrow. I mean, it's not like seeing and running up to Mick Jagger…now, he's bigger than life!"

Well, in some respects, so is David Caruso's Horatio Caine. "CSI: Miami" now airs in some 200 countries and is estimated by industry tracking guides to be the most-watched television show on the planet. That 12 years ago David Caruso was having trouble landing acting roles—any role, much less one as the lead in a series with the lineage and capacity for success that "CSI: Miami" offered—isn't lost on him.

For one thing, as Caruso is quick to point out, he doesn't have what he calls "leading man looks. In acting, especially in motion pictures, in my opinion, you have to have a level of physical beauty that is on the superlative level. If you look at the current crop of stars out there, they have a very superior physical presence on camera. Let's face it, you just can't look away from Brad Pitt," Caruso laughs. "Pitt has tremendous physical beauty and presence, much like Paul Newman did. Now, if they're interested in me, they're interested in, you know, a 'street version' because I just don't look like a leading man."

David Caruso is, in fact, an attractive man and one of those rare creatures in Hollywood who is actually more attractive in person than on the screen; he has a softer, more animated face that not only lights up when he smiles and laughs, but also moves when his expression changes, a rarity in Botox-friendly Southern California.


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