Sonja Flemming / CBS
Sunday 24 October 2021 | 2 a.m
Actress Sarah Gilman has been preparing for her new role seemingly her entire life.
A long-time fan of criminal procedures, she can remember almost any scene from crime drama classics like “Bones” or “Criminal Minds”. Now Gilman – who has starred primarily in television comedies – is playing rookie investigator Penny Gill in CBS ‘reboot of “CSI: Vegas.”
And she recently gained real world experience.
Gilman spent several days in Las Vegas earlier this month and attended a criminal justice class at UNLV and participated in a ride with the Metropolitan Police Crime Scene Investigation Unit. With Metro, Gilman was able to follow analysts as they answered live calls across the valley. She showed up at 6 a.m. for the day shift with Starbucks in hand to tour the crime lab and watch investigators gather evidence at multiple scenes.
âThe ride was really, really amazing,â said Gilman. âYou can’t really fully prepare for the kind of work that CSAs (crime scene analysts) do every day. “
Gilman had a lot of exposure in Las Vegas before accepting the role as well. As a film and television production student at the University of Southern California, the 25-year-old Los Angeles native said she would take weekend trips to the Strip.
Then, during the pandemic, she started dating someone who lives in the city. Since then, she has spoken like a local.
âWe would go to Chinatown or the Arts District or Fremont to just go to galleries or buy food,â Gilman said. “So we spent very little time on the Strip itself.”
Among the calls Gilman was involved in, investigators worked in the aftermath of a shooting, burglary and fatal crash, Metro CSI director Kristin Grammas said. Gilman was also able to attend the unit’s morning briefing, which deals with any crimes in the valley or calls that have yet to be dealt with, as well as a tour of the Clark County Coroner’s office.
âWe showed him how it really is,â Grammas said.
Metro’s crime scene analysts, as well as most actual CSIs, differ from the show in that their primary job is to collect evidence at a crime scene and document it, Grammas said. On television, it’s common to combine multiple jobs into one, such as in the CSI franchise, where characters also analyze evidence in forensic labs, perform DNA sequencing, and interview crime suspects. .
Grammas, who took over as director about six months ago, has been part of Metro’s crime scene investigation unit for 19 years. Grammas began to pursue his career just before the debut of the first CSI, but since the show exploded in popularity, their focus has been on explaining how their work differs from what is shown on TV.
This is, said Grammas, the CSI effect. But overall, the show shed light on an otherwise dark profession.
âI think that highlights our position, which is great because very few people really understand what we’re doing,â Grammas said. âPeople think we do exactly what the people on the show do, so when we go to testify in court, we actually have to tell them the difference between our job and what they do on the show.
âBut I think it’s great. I like it because it allows more people to understand what our CSIs are doing.
Daniel Holstein, the UNLV professor of criminal justice whose classes she has observed, is also an advisor for the show. He worked as a crime scene analyst for Metro for 25 years before retiring in 2015, he said.
Around this time, Holstein was able to form a relationship with Anthony Zuiker, creator of the original “CSI” while in town researching for the show in 1999. The two became friends and Holstein advised actors. and writers on the original series of proper techniques used by investigators at actual crime scenes.
Holstein has since reprized his role for the reboot, while retaining his role as an instructor at UNLV. It was he who encouraged Gilman to come out, he says, to gain the invaluable experience of learning from the professionals.
âDuring the initial stint, I brought out a lot of actors and writers,â said Holstein, also an UNLV alumnus. âAll I heard was good things about it and how it made them better in their role as CSI. It gave them a sense of reality rather than TV having a sense of realism. And that was very important. “
For Gilman, the chance to learn from the professionals up close has shown him just how technical the work is. It’s a quality that she wants to bring back with her on the set.
âWe went to a burglary, and I was wondering why they were using fingerprint powder instead of that one,â Gilman said. âIt was really, really interesting to also see some of the evidence that they were looking for and some that you just don’t need, where on the show they will scour every inch of the crime scene looking for everything. “
One of the most important lessons for Gilman, she said, was watching crime scene investigators working under “exhausting” emotional and physical conditions. The weight of the work and telling people about what could be the worst days of their lives didn’t really matter until she saw it unfolding in real time, Gilman said.
Additionally, if an investigator answers a call, it can take hours before they can eat or even go to the bathroom. And the heat of Las Vegas is not to be outdone either.
âLas Vegas gets hot, and they’re in full pants and boots and a waistcoat every time they go out,â Gilman said. âYou come face to face with the worst parts of society. And there’s this addiction to graveyard humor and some things that wouldn’t be ‘appropriate’ elsewhere.
“These are the things you rely on at the scene to keep fighting to pass.”
Another thing Gilman hopes to bring back to the set is the sense of camaraderie she saw during her visit to Metro. One of the first things she noticed upon entering the crime lab were notice boards with positive messages to encourage staff.
âThey really are family and it’s so beautiful to see,â Gilman said. âThey know their respective families and probably spend more time with each other than with their families. “
As for her role as Penny Gill, Gilman debuted in the second episode of the reboot and appears periodically throughout the season, she said. Penny learns from Sara Sidle (played by Jorja Fox) and Gil Grissom (William Petersen) and begins to see Maxine Roby (Paula Newsome) as a mentor.
Believe it or not, Holstein said that as a thank you for helping the show, Zuiker, the show’s creator, based Gil of Holstein.
âIt’s a show about entertainment,â Holstein said. “The way they organize the show, the way the characters act, the science – it’s phenomenal.”
Gilman, above all, is thrilled that viewers see how the show compares to the original, which ran from 2000 to 2015.
âI think a lot of the scenes are that kind of fun play on the old and the new – and a more emotional range outside of tech,â Gilman said. She also hopes to show the side of Vegas that she has become familiar with.
âI think it’s really cool to bring Vegas back to the screen on an ongoing basis,â she said. âThere are lots of opportunities to share the characters in their day to day lives and show that other side of Vegas like great food, amazing art galleries and cool places to hang out.â