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.
Whether it's Caruso's looks by themselves or his ability to portray a strong, responsible, "nobody-knows-the-trouble-I've-seen" street-weary cop, the actor has an undeniable "it" factor when it comes to popularity with both male and female viewers; for proof, one need look no further than the success he had on the gritty crime drama "NYPD Blue."
Although Caruso had some modest success in the '80s with small roles in movies such as Thief of Hearts, An Officer and a Gentleman and First Blood, it was his skill at playing Detective John Kelly on "NYPD Blue" that first made David Caruso a household name. Well, that and an episode involving his naked butt, which helped set a new standard for nudity on prime-time television.
When it debuted in 1993, "NYPD Blue" had the same kind of impressive pedigree as "CSI: Miami." Created and executive-produced by Steven Bochco, the same man behind the back-to-back hit dramas "L.A. Law" and "Hill Street Blues," "NYPD Blue" featured an ensemble cast of characters whose strengths and weaknesses, foibles and faux pas were recognizable to the average viewer. Even in its first season the show was a runaway hit, and much praise was heaped on the cast, which included Gordon Clapp, a relatively unknown Dennis Franz and, of course, Caruso.
If there were industry rumors that egos were expanding—and clashing—on the "NYPD Blue" set, these tales were muted compared to the hype surrounding the show itself. Caruso was terrific as Kelly and he played the role to the hilt…for just 26 episodes. In 1994, only four episodes into the second season of the top-rated show, Caruso decided to play a little career poker. With a movie offer in hand, he asked for an extraordinary salary increase. The network called his bluff and Caruso walked, telling the press that "'NYPD Blue' will not be successful when I leave."
The movie that Caruso left to make was Kiss of Death, a medium-budget suspense feature that had Caruso playing a good-hearted ex-con opposite Samuel L. Jackson and Nicolas Cage. Perhaps the film's title should have served as an omen to Caruso; released in late 1994 and grossing less than $15 million in the United States, the film didn't live up to anyone's expectations, especially Caruso's. And his next big-screen venture did even worse. In spite of returning Caruso to a role that had him on the right side of the law, the erotic thriller Jade cost nearly $50 million to make and took in less than $10 million in its U.S. release. A year after Caruso had earned an Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe award, for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series—Drama, for "NYPD Blue," he found himself nominated for a Razzie Award for Worst New Movie Actor.
With those kinds of box-office numbers and generally scathing reviews of his performances, 1995 was a bittersweet year for the actor, then 38. It was also the beginning of a very quiet decade in David Caruso's career and no one, it seems, takes on the burden of responsibility for that debacle more than David Caruso.
"I wasn't ready for the success," he says, quietly. "Not then."
When reminiscing about his early career and the people he worked and spent time with, Caruso is unflinching both in his admission of "letting others down" in his abrupt departure from "NYPD Blue" and his acknowledgement of the wide berth that Hollywood gave him in the years to follow.
"My experience over the past 30 years [acting] is that Hollywood casts itself and Hollywood will let you know where you belong," Caruso explains, haltingly. "Different people serve different functions. Hollywood will say, you know [pointing as if to an actor lineup], 'features, features, television, television, features, television, theater, features, television.' And," he pauses, "they cast it themselves because there are people they have needs for. They need to fill these slots and these functions, and some people are considered big-screen people and some are television people."
Caruso had always dreamt of being on the big screen, but, he says, Hollywood told him "television." Caruso had done some TV roles prior to "NYPD Blue" and, in fact, had come to interest Steven Bochco as a possibility for the role of John Kelly because of the recurring role he played on Bochco's earlier police-themed hit, "Hill Street Blues."
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.'"
Caruso shakes his head and smiles at the memory. It was an impractical aim for the boy that he was, coming from a neighborhood where the straight-A students would choose law or medicine, and those with study habits like Caruso's would opt for civil service jobs.
"I was 13 years old and it was an absolutely ludicrous statement to make," says Caruso. "I was not as academically inclined as some people and I don't think I had the discipline at the time. I'm more of a left-brain person. The consumption of repetitive material is something that I'm, uh, not designed for."
That perceived deficit didn't, Caruso admits, keep him from repetitively consuming The Godfather—and the first sequel—many times over. "Which character did I identify with? God, every one of them was so electric that I think that varied. Some days you were Sonny, some days you were Michael and some days," Caruso grins, "you were Fredo."
In spite of his career declaration at 13, Caruso simply waded his way through the rest of school and, although he played a little basketball when he attended Archbishop Molloy High School in Queens, he didn't have a specific game plan for his life or career until, once again, he found himself in a darkened theater, this time, as a movie usher.
While Caruso never doubted his absolute certainty about acting as a career choice, he knew that, for a boy from a middle-class neighborhood in Queens, the chances of achieving that dream were pretty slim.
"There was no reality to that [early] desire because I was just another boy on the F train. But," Caruso pauses, "when I became the usher at the movie theater and began to be more influenced by the films, I think the seed of something kind of regerminated. And the thing about New York," Caruso grins, "is that anybody could make up a résumé and go around and try to get people, fool people, into hiring you."
That Caruso easily admits to the emphasis he placed on the "make up" and "fool" part of his résumé is simply evidence of the spine that Caruso would develop in earnest when he decided to go after an acting career.
"The catch-22 with this town is that you have to have something on film for them to even consider looking at you, but how do you get something on film to show unless…? So, OK, I had a résumé that wasn't entirely accurate, but it wasn't about what I had done, it was about what I was capable of. And agents in New York are, of course, the gateway to opportunities, so it was all about the seduction of those agents and the pursuit of those agents. I was a fairly aggressive young man," Caruso says, grinning again, "and I was one of those guys out there in February with my 8 by 10, pushing it under their door."
It became, says Caruso, a game. "I'd push it under, they'd push it back. I'd push it under, they'd push it back. This would go on until finally the guy would open the door and furiously say, 'Look, you're not right for me. If you don't leave, I'm going to call security.' And I," Caruso says, laughing, "would put my foot in the door and say, 'Let me make you a deal.' Now, this is an actual situation I'm telling you about! I'd say, 'Here's the deal. If you send me out once and I don't get the job, I will never bother you, never darken your doorway again.'"
One agent, unable to slam his door shut with Caruso's foot wedged in the jamb, was intrigued enough to ask the then 19-year-old to do an impromptu monologue. Sufficiently impressed, the agent sent the teenager out to audition for an A&W commercial and Caruso snagged the job. Suddenly he had his first legitimate acting credit.
A root beer commercial does not an instant star make, but it was the turning point for Caruso. With that lone credit to his name, along with an actual agent, he was able to snag a few additional acting jobs, and then, with $1,000 in his pocket, he made his way to Hollywood.
By the early 1980s Caruso was getting regular roles on television shows such as "CHiPs," "T. J. Hooker," "For Love and Honor" and, ultimately, Steven Bochco's "Hill Street Blues." Caruso, who'd married actress Cheri Maugans not long after arriving in Los Angeles, divorced in 1984 and quickly got married again, to another actress, Rachel Ticotin. Caruso and Ticotin had a daughter, Greta, before divorcing three years later.
Caruso's career continued on a steady pace, a mix of television shows such as "Crime Story" and small parts in big-screen features such as King of New York, Hudson Hawk and Mad Dog and Glory before landing the role of Detective John Kelly in "NYPD Blue."
For the first time in his career, Caruso had real fame—the kind of fame that had fans flooding the network with letters and people on the street begging for autographs—and if Caruso's decision to leave the show backfired on him, Caruso couldn't, he said at the time, do much about it. "I went from a guy, kind of a working actor, a supporting player, to magazine covers and being offered the studio picture really quickly. Nobody was comfortable with it. I wasn't really comfortable with it," Caruso said in an interview years after leaving. "I was a guy who abandoned a TV show. I didn't care about people. They didn't want to see good things happen to me."
But, not unlike a Rocky-style Hollywood movie script that has a battered fighter pushing his way back up to champ status, good things did happen to Caruso during the period when, as he put it, "I went from starring in a Paramount movie to unemployment for two years. Literally, I couldn't get a job for almost two years."
Caruso had remarried in 1996—he and Margaret Buckley divorced nine years later—and, ultimately, a couple of feature movie roles came his way, as well as the lead role in the short-lived television series "Michael Hayes." In the middle of it all, Caruso says, he got offered a role that, in hindsight, helped predict the happiness and success that was to come his way many years later. That role was in a TV movie called Gold Coast.
A Showtime cable production directed by Peter Weller, a good friend of Caruso's, the movie was set in Miami Beach, and Caruso's female costar was Marg Helgenberger, now the female lead of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."
When Gold Coast was being shot, in 1997, neither Caruso nor Helgenberger could possibly have had an inkling of their future successes on "CSI," but everyone on the set could see a definite sizzle between the two red-headed actors.
"There's a chemistry between [us]," Caruso explains, "but what really makes this all interesting is that I had never been to Florida before we began filming [Gold Coast] and we flew into Jacksonville and kind of made our way down the coast of Florida and ended up in Miami. So the interesting thing is that I discovered Miami with Marg," Caruso says, "and while we were there we ran into Jerry Bruckheimer one night when we were out to dinner.
"Now, we all knew Jerry from other projects, but what you have to remember," Caruso explains excitedly, "is that this was 1997, 1998 and 'CSI' didn't exist yet, not for Marg and certainly not for me. When I look back it was a very interesting foreshadowing for a lot of what was to happen to me, including the whole Miami chapter of my life. I moved to Miami way before I ever got the job, and when I think back on that night at dinner there was a lot of foreshadowing."
At the very least, the universe was sending Caruso some very strong signals. Margaret Buckley, Caruso's wife, had gone down to Miami with him during the shoot and the two fell in love with the city, so much so that they bought a luxury condo there with the intention of living in Florida part-time. The concept worked for both of them and, prior to their divorce, they opened Steam, an upscale clothing boutique in South Beach that Caruso still owns with partners.
"Miami is," Caruso muses, "a magical place…the American Riviera. I say that it's a four-hour plane ride to Europe because it's very European, and I think the influences there are very good to experience [because] priorities there are different. It's less about competition and material resources and money and more about quality of life. I think it's the city in America."
Caruso also credits the magic of Miami with helping propel "CSI: Miami" to the worldwide success it's had. "I think that when we get down there [to shoot], we connect with our soul as a show. It's very authentic and it's good for 'CSI: Miami' to be shooting in Miami, on the streets, in the Everglades sometimes, on some airboats."
Each week the show opens with aerial views of the Miami skyline and pan shots of Miami's beaches that are, while heart-stoppingly beautiful, strictly Hollywood creations; the vast majority of the show is actually shot on a film stage in the California suburb of Manhattan Beach.
Still, Caruso enthuses, on those rare occasions that they get to shoot in Miami, there's a natural response and energy from the cast, the crew and the film that immediately comes across. "When we get to shoot footage down there, you can see the difference right away. From a physical standpoint, the light and the environment simply explode onto the negative [when shooting] in Miami. The California footage is great, but there is a very unique electricity about south Florida when it's on the negative."
As someone who now lives on both coasts, Caruso points out another big difference that he says becomes apparent when they shoot in Miami. "Los Angeles is a big city. A smaller city like Miami means that you have relationships that are very real and day to day, and you're seeing the [same people] all the time. It's much harder, for instance, in Los Angeles where you can do a movie or work on a show with someone and they might be living [in the neighborhood] where I live but I might not see them for 10 years even though they're three blocks away! In Miami, you're going to see them all the time."
Another reason Caruso enjoys his time in Miami is being able to serve as a board member of the nonprofit organization Best Buddies. Based in Miami and founded by Anthony Kennedy Shriver, the international organization helps connect those with intellectual challenges to a "best buddy" at school, at work and in the community.
Caruso's support of the organization and his relationship with his own best buddy, George Morilla, has always been important to the nonprofit, says Shriver, but it sends a special message now that Caruso is so highly visible around the globe. "David's got an impossible schedule, a brand new baby and a top-10 show," says Shriver, "but he's also managed to stay actively involved in his community. I think there are a lot of people who think, 'Oh, I don't have enough time to get involved' or 'The little bit of time I have won't make a difference' and then they see David making time and they start to think, 'Hey, if he can do it, I guess I can do it.'"
The commitment Caruso has made to Miami—on-screen and off—is obvious. He happily spends 10 minutes just mentioning some of his favorite things about South Beach—the best places for a drink, best places for Italian food, best art galleries to visit—and at no time does a smile or a sense of excitement leave his voice. Caruso may reside most of the year in L.A., but there's no doubt that he considers Miami his home.
"You asked me where I exhale?" responds Caruso to a question. "Miami. I exhale in Miami."
Plenty of what he exhales is cigar smoke. Caruso is a cigar lover, and the deck of his condo in Miami has seen a fair amount of cigar smoking over the last few years. "A cigar is a ritual for me, and also a unique way to take a brief vacation from the world…a great way to literally stop the world, have a respite from the things that you need to face.
"I once heard David Letterman say, when talking about cigars to Danny DeVito, I think, 'You get a good one of those and it can change your whole day.' And I have to say there are times where I may have been experiencing some stress or a particularly challenging day and I've said, 'You know what? I'm going to smoke a cigar right now.' "And," he laughs, "the day really does change."
Caruso, who is a member and regular visitor of the Grand Havana Room, both in Beverly Hills and New York, pauses when asked if he's got a favorite smoke or two. "Wow…well, there's a Cuban cigar called a Trinidad which is a fantastic cigar, and I'm also a fan of the Quai d'Orsay, another Cuban cigar. Then there's the Romeo y Julieta Churchill and the Punch Punch and…"
As he rattles off the names of five or six other cigars, it's obvious that he feels strongly not just about what cigar he likes, but what cigar he wants for a particular moment in his life.
"If you're in Paris," muses Caruso, "and it is lunchtime, you want a Montecristo No. 4 because all the Parisian businessmen are sitting and smoking No. 4s! It's a good, short, afternoon smoke. If you are in Italy, in Positano, for instance, there might be an occasion to have a morning cigar, which is also great, but it calls for a different cigar."
Caruso credits his longtime friend, the actor-director Peter Weller, with introducing him to the enjoyment of a cigar. Another close friend of Caruso's who enjoys a good cigar is Rex Linn, who plays Detective Frank Tripp on "CSI: Miami." "So I'm covered," he says, "when I'm in L.A."
Caruso mentions the Lincoln Road area as a great place to shop for cigars in Miami ("Some of the cigar stores have live salsa music in them…very authentic"), but says that when he's not at home, relaxed and sitting on his own deck, he still prefers a club atmosphere when he goes out.
"There is a kind of ritual to going to the Grand Havana Room and meeting another pal who appreciates a good cigar on a Friday afternoon. It's a great reward for me to go there, have lunch and smoke a cigar…it's a male experience in Los Angeles."
Caruso stops for a moment, then adds, "It's not that it's separate from the female experience, because women do go there and enjoy themselves. Sometimes Liza [girlfriend Liza Marquez] comes to the Grand Havana Room with me and if the night is right, she'll take a puff off a cigar and that's pretty cool, pretty sexy."
When Caruso talks about the women in his life—his grandmother and mother, his daughter, his assistant and his girlfriend—there is a distinct change in his voice and demeanor when he describes them, their accomplishments or their roles in his life. Caruso has, it seems, surrounded himself with very strong, very intelligent women.
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.