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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

(continued from page 2)

Caruso insists that he loved the idea of "NYPD Blue" from the moment he was approached to play Detective Kelly, calling the show "one of the greatest [television] hours ever. 'NYPD Blue' had a feature [film] sensibility and a feature quality to it, and when I first looked at a brilliant script by David Milch for the show, it read like a 1930s Jimmy Cagney picture! It was brilliant and it read, it felt, like a feature movie."

Unfortunately for Caruso, although it was a hugely successful role for him, it wasn't the feature movie that he'd always dreamed about. When the offer came for the lead role in Kiss of Death, he says he made a knee-jerk decision.

"I think," Caruso says slowly, "that my inexperience in the area of responsibility and my inexperience with the suddenness of opportunity caught up to me…the sudden opportunity to be on the big screen. It was something that I'd always fantasized about but I guess never taken that seriously because I [hadn't] gotten that signal from Hollywood. Remember, I was 'television,' not 'feature.'"

Suddenly, Caruso says, his popularity and immense exposure on "NYPD Blue" gave him that big-screen opportunity and, he admits, some arrogance. "I was overwhelmed with the suddenness of it…and I didn't have the wherewithal and the experience to make good decisions at the time. I was making decisions from a very green perspective and it got away from me in a way that was painful to a lot of other people. The easy, cheap answer is that if I had the opportunity to redo it I wouldn't have left 'NYPD Blue' because that was my world, my opportunity and, you know, at the end of the day in show business, you just don't," Caruso chuckles, "leave a hit show."

If, as Caruso puts it, the entertainment industry takes it upon itself to cast talent in the style and roles it deems fit, it also reprimands those who step outside of the slot in which they've been assigned. With the rare exception of names such as Clooney, Depp, Travolta and Aniston, very few actors have successfully made the move from television to features, and Caruso, who had ruffled some feathers on his journey, suddenly became Hollywood's very public poster boy for bad decisions and bad behavior.

Late-night comedians and talk show hosts routinely used phrases such as "pulling a Caruso" when referring to someone's career backslide; film critics would use Caruso's career decisions as a measuring stick when looking to diss another television actor's foray into feature films, and even Comedy Central's animated show "South Park" got in a dig when one of the main characters urged his brother to jump from a dangerous height with the words, "Show me your imitation of David Caruso's career!"

Ouch. Being openly dissed in an industry so ready to eat its own might make a lesser man turn, tuck tail and run. What no one counted on was Caruso showing some stamina. And some spine.

Born in Forest Hills, New York, David Caruso was simply born stubborn, an amalgam of an Italian father, an Irish mother and a family that split apart just two years after David's birth. To support David and his older sister, David's mother, Joan, moved with her young family into her parents' home and went back to school to become a librarian.

Caruso describes his early years growing up in Queens as merely average. He was, by his own admission, a mediocre student who didn't get excited about much of anything unless it involved the movies. In fact, there was one particular movie that, he says, goes a long way toward defining the sheer wonder he felt as a child, at spending two hours in a darkened theater.

"It was The Godfather," Caruso says, "and my closest friend, Lou Mathis, and I went to see it on a Friday night. We took the Q60 bus down Queens Boulevard to the Elmwood Theatre to see The Godfather. We were 13 years old and we came back changed. Changed! We stood under the lamppost on Puritan Avenue and I said, 'Lou, I'm going to do that for a living.'"

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