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.
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Caruso describes his mother, Joan, as simply "strong and still living in Forest Hills. She is tough, man, and she's not going anywhere." He describes his daughter, Greta, a 22-year-old recent graduate of Yale, as "beautiful, brilliant. When you have a child like Greta—a very accomplished, incredibly sincere, decent, effective human being—it's a real source of pride."
As for Liza Marquez, his girlfriend of two years and the mother of his 16-month-old son, Marquez Anthony, she is simply called the boss. "She's the boss, man. You know, she's a self-made woman. She's a Penn State graduate. She speaks Spanish and French fluently. She's from San Antonio—a native Texan—and they are strong women!" he laughs. "She has a very developed toughness and softness but at the same time there's also an expectation on you, with Liza, to be a man. She has a limited tolerance for some things. She'll care for your boy side, your scared little boy side, but there's a limited tolerance for it because, at the end of the day, she fell in love with a man and she wants a man, her man, to be there."
When asked if that translates into her calling him on his crap, Caruso throws his head back in serious laughter before responding. "There's no question about it. None. There's absolutely no hesitation on her part to straighten me out."
David Caruso may believe that taking the role in Gold Coast in 1997—the teaming with Marg Helgenberger, the running into Jerry Bruckheimer over dinner, the introduction to Miami—was ultimately a foreshadowing of the launch of "CSI: Miami" (and the significant relaunch of his career), but there was still a five-year gap in which Caruso continued to struggle.
First came a number of parts in small films and then, in 2000, a fairly substantial role in Proof of Life opposite Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan. While the high-profile, offscreen romance of Crowe and Ryan was blamed for the movie's lower-than-expected box office returns, at least one person who saw the film paid attention to the red-haired mercenary-for-hire played by Caruso: CBS executive Les Moonves.
Moonves is the same studio head who, in 2000, gave the original green light for "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" to the show's creator, Anthony Zuiker, and its producer, Jerry Bruckheimer. It was also Moonves who, having seen the success that rival network NBC had with its "Law & Order" franchise, urged the show's executive producers to develop an additional "CSI" series in 2002 and who, by the way, had an actor in mind for the male lead. Moonves, it seems, had always thought that Caruso kicked serious acting ass in his role as Detective John Kelly on "NYPD Blue."
One of the show's executive producers, Ann Donohue, says that after an arranged meet-and-greet dinner one evening, she and fellow executive producers Zuiker and Carol Mendelsohn walked away convinced that Caruso was, in fact, the man to play Caine. Ironically, she says, David had to fly into Los Angeles from Miami for the meeting.
"There we all were at Morton's for dinner," recalls Donohue, "and David walked in in his leather jacket and jeans and looked so casual and so cool. We talked about what a hero is, what drama is and what we could do with the city of Miami. He'd already fallen in love with the city and had moved there, so he was keen to show Miami's beauty and its uniqueness. Well, literally, we were all kicking each other under the table. We were thinking 'Oh, my God, this is Horatio! This is the guy.'"
Many leather jackets later, Caruso obviously is the guy, and while he responds with humor to the ribbing he gets about his character always running around in the heat and humidity of Miami in black leather or black suits (albeit well-tailored designer suits) while his female costars chase criminals and totter around crime scenes and morgues in three-inch stilettos ("Hey, I'm telling you…Miami is a very, very sexy city!"), he sobers up instantly when asked to describe what makes the terse lieutenant with the dark shades and gunslinger's stance so immensely popular.
"I like to describe him as the consummate civil servant, a high-stakes civil servant, the kind [with a job] where you might not return home at night," says Caruso. "The majority of society is held together by civil servants who are making no money, who will never be acknowledged and who will often never meet the people that they sacrifice their lives for. In a funny way there's almost a calling to that profession and [Horatio] explores the darker side of man. Man has that darker side, and [his actions] have real impact on people's lives. This guy injects himself into these events and handles it. It's what I call the "resolve and relief" of the situation. We need to believe in someone like him, to believe that there are people who can handle things, resolve them."
Horatio Caine—typically called "H" on the show—and the rest of "CSI: Miami" were initially introduced to viewers in an episode merged with "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," and if the droll one-liners shared between Helgenberger and Caruso had a "been here, done that" familiarity, so much the better. "CSI: Miami" debuted in September 2002 and was immediately successful; in the fall of 2004, the show even did a combined storyline with the newest addition to the CSI franchise, "CSI: New York."
When asked about the early rumblings from the original "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" cast to the press about the potential for "CSI: Miami" diluting their own success, Caruso shrugs off the thought that there might still be concerns or hard feelings. To the contrary, he says, cast members from all three shows have personally coordinated parties and get-togethers. Any success that one series or series cast member sees could only happen based on the support and success of the others, says Caruso.
"You know, if anything, you could say [our success] was cheating in that we had 'CSI' in the title of our new show and they ["CSI: Crime Scene Investigation"] were number one, the number one drama on television. The other cheat is that we have three senior producers, the creators of 'CSI,' as the captains of our departure. So we had some real vision, some real power behind us, [but] it was also our job to distinguish ourselves and to find out what our signature was, because if we didn't do that we would just be in the shadow of the big show, the Las Vegas show. They basically gave birth to us, introduced us on their show. I understand the business element of it," says Caruso, "but they handled us very well and gave us a real opportunity."
To illustrate his feelings on the subject, Caruso tells of being at an industry event in New York with "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" stars Helgenberger and William Petersen and feeling the need to address the "push" that the one show had given to the other.
"We—Marg, Billy and I—were at Carnegie Hall together, riding up an elevator, and I just turned to Billy and said, 'Thank you.' And he said, 'For what?' And I said, 'Well, if you weren't so good on this show, I wouldn't have a job right now!'"
If this sounds like a kinder, gentler David Caruso than how the actor was portrayed within the industry 10 years ago, perhaps he has mellowed a bit. For one thing, says Caruso, he's a dad. Again.
"I never thought I'd be a parent again at 50," Caruso laughs, "but it also feels pretty good. I think I have a natural instinct to be a parent, and being a parent makes sense to me."
Still, Caruso admits, it will be a whole different ball game raising Marquez Anthony than it was raising Greta. "You know, boys are vulnerable in a different way. Little girls are developed right away," Caruso says, snapping his fingers, "like that. Boom! They're smart, they're citizens of the world right away. I mean, young ladies are born with credit cards and driver's licenses! They're with it, they know who they are, what they want, they're ready to rock and roll.
"Now, little boys are like 'Uh, what's going on?' and that only continues until they're about 40," Caruso grins. "By 40 you realize you don't know what's going on at all, and by 50 you realize you're totally wrong about everything!
"Females are simply more advanced and have a greater understanding of life right from the get-go. And that's why younger women belong with older men," he says with a laugh. "It takes a long time for young men to start getting what's happening. It takes a long road of repetitive misunderstanding of situations and relationships to really understand what your function is and what's going on. Younger women are too much for men their [own] age.
"Now, Liza is [biologically] a number of years younger than I am, but, as I mentioned before, females are [developmentally] very, very advanced."
Caruso grimaces when asked to share Liza's age ("Uh, you'll need to ask her that one"), but offers that, at perhaps a comparable age, he "didn't have the experience to handle the opportunities I was given. I hurt myself greatly with the decision to walk away [from "NYPD Blue"] and I can tell you in all candor that there was a period where it was hard for me to get work and there was a perception that I needed to work, to change, and that was my responsibility. And I'm not saying that there was a perception that wasn't accurate. It was accurate.
"I had a great deal to learn in order for me to be happy or to be living a quality existence. So the road to where I am now, which I would describe as the happiest I've ever known, is based on that education."
When asked if he could have defined "happy" a decade ago, Caruso thinks long and hard before answering. "Yeah…and I would have been wrong. You know, that's the great mystery and miracle of life. The philosopher in me says to people on occasion, 'Gentlemen, what we do in the next 10 minutes will determine the next 10 years.' I have a greater understanding now of being in the moment and allowing the big picture to shape itself, as opposed to running after the big picture, being concerned about the big picture."
For a man who believes in fate and foreshadowing, perhaps Jerry Bruckheimer's choice for the theme song of "CSI: Miami"— the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again"—could also serve as a personal philosophy.
"I used to carry around a fortune in my wallet from a fortune cookie, and the fortune read: 'Chinese proverb: If my wishes were granted, my dreams would be smashed.' What that means to me is that if I were given what I think would be good for me, I would shortchange myself; if I were given my version of dreams, I would far under-exceed what life could possibly provide."
Does he still carry a fortune cookie slip in his wallet? "No, but if I did," he says with a laugh, "it would say: 'Chinese proverb: Listen to Liza. She's probably right.'"
Betsy Model is a frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado.