There are many TV shows about cops and law enforcement that are on the air right now, but “Unforgettable” is different from the rest because its main character, Detective Carrie Wells (played by Poppy Montgomery) has a rare condition called hyperthymesia (or autobiographical memory), which allows her to remember everything that has ever happened in her life. Playing an American law-enforcement officer is not new to Australian native Montgomery, who first became widely known to TV audiences as FBI agent Samantha Spade in “Without a Trace,” which was on the air from 2002 to 2009.
In “Unforgettable,” Carrie Wells is a member of the New York City Police Department. Before joining the department, she worked as a cop in Syracuse, New York, when her sister was murdered in a still-unsolved case. Disillusioned over the murderer not being apprehended, Carrie was ready to leave her career as a cop behind until she was persuaded by an ex-boyfriend to join the NYPD. Montgomery discussed “Unforgettable” in this conference-call interview with reporters.
Can you talk about Carrie’s evolution in the latter half of “Unforgettable’s” first season, compared to the first half, and her state of mind toward the finale and what we can expect?
I think in the first half of the season and certainly in the pilot we saw a much more tortured soul, if you will, you know. I think that she was very ill at ease coming back to the police world and she had a lot of unresolved anger towards Dylan’s character, Al. And she had unresolved feelings and she didn’t know if she could work with him. She struggled with this ability that she has.
And I think that now, through the police work and everything that she’s doing, she has become more adjusted to the world and more able to deal with things than she was in the pilot where she’s making some kind of peace in her life with her ability and her gift, and using it to sort of save and help other people which gives her some kind of peace. But the murder of her sister is still unresolved. So I think that that’s a big key to who she is.
And given Carrie’s condition, what else would you like to discover about her before the season ends?
That she can fly. No, I’d like to see her in a relationship. I’d like to see that she can function and fall in love and it won’t be so traumatic for her all the time. I want to see who killed her sister. I mean I don’t know and I really want to know. I keep asking the writer, I’m like just a hint, please tell me what happened. So I think that’s going to start to get tied up. But I don’t know if we’re going to find out fully what happened.
What a fantastic role you have in “Unforgettable.” You must have immediately read it and thought, I’ve got to do this. Was it like that?
Oh yes, I did. I loved it right away.
And in your research for this memory condition, what did you find out about people who can actually have autobiographical memories?
It’s actually a real condition [that has been reported on] “60 Minutes” [and] “Dateline.” Marilu Henner is one of the few [famous] people that have been identified as having this ability. I don’t know a lot about it yet because it’s sort of new. More and more people are coming forward and being tested and checked out. But yes, they’re finding that it definitely does exist and that it’s a really unique ability. It’s quite extraordinary.
Did you get to meet anybody who has this condition?
I spend a lot of time with Marilu Henner. She also guest-starred on the show and she’s a consultant on the show. And she’s fantastic. She’s really interesting. She’s extraordinary. Her memory is amazing.
Were you anxious to get and jump right back into a television series?
No. I took two years off actually to be with my son. And I needed a break because “Without a Trace” had been for seven years. And I had my baby on the show and I wanted to spend time with him and my family. So I very deliberately took two years off.
And it worked out? You had a good time?
Oh, yes. Who doesn’t have a good time going on vacation for two years? I was in heaven. I was like, “This is great.”
So this Walter Morgan character that surfaced seems to have Carrie’s numbers. Is he going to pop up again later this season?
Yes. We love Walter Morgan. He’s scary, eerily calm, cool character who’s got a strange fascination with Carrie. So yes, he comes back and there’s kind of a great action-packed episode with the two of them, which I hope people love because I really loved it.
What kind of a season finale are we building toward? Is it going to involve Walter and what he claims to know about the death of Carrie’s sister?
Yes, I mean I think his information that he gives us leads up there. And I think we are going to get some resolution in the murder of Carrie’s sister. I don’t know how satisfying yet because we haven’t shot it. But from the looks of where it’s going, it’s going to be pretty cool. And it’s a lot of fun. We go back to Syracuse where the murder of my sister happened — Al and I or Dylan’s character and Carrie. And we have like a road trip: “the Carrie and Al on the road murder-solving trip.” So it’ll be fun.
You didn’t shoot on location in Syracuse, did you?
No, unfortunately no, although I really want to go to Syracuse. So we’re going to be, I think, in the woods in Nyack. It’s like right outside of the city.
How has playing a character like this with such a crazy memory changed how you remember things and how you were thinking about things?
Yes, I think my memory has actually really gotten better. Maybe I’m secretly in my soul a Method actor. But it’s definitely gotten stronger. And I play little memory games with myself just to sort of keep it going … games in the newspaper, those ones that I like. Look at this photo and then try and remember how many things are different in the next photo. Just silly little games that you can play. But I also have to learn like 10-page sort of dialogue every day. So that’s also a memory game of sort. But I do just to sort of keep it awake and alive and trying to have some understanding of it, you know.
And when you started acting, you really just sort of threw yourself into it. Can you speak to that process a little bit?
I sort of came here on the wing in a plane from Australia. And I knew I wanted to act. And I didn’t know how I was going to go about it. So I just sort of went about it. I called up a bunch of people and got myself an agent and a manager. And I read some book called “How to Make it in Hollywood.” And that’s how I found my manager. And I went from there.
Is it possible that at some point in your life or throughout your life you’ve had a spouse or a boyfriend or a friend or parents with memories that are so good that it comes back to haunt you, and they’re like bringing back stories and you’re like, “Please, let that go?”
Yes, we all have those people I think, for sure. Absolutely. I think I’m that person for everybody else, actually, is what I’m horrified to come to see. I think I’m actually that person. But my mother is pretty good at that. She’s got some scary memories that I wish she just let go of.
Do you have any theories as to why crime dramas on television seem to be so enduring?
I think people really like puzzles first of all, you know. And I think that it’s fun. I think that it’s fun to get to work it out with the people for the audience to follow along and try and solve it. And they’re along for the ride. And they can be a part of it.
And that’s certainly why I watch cop shows and love them, because I’m like, “I wonder if I can figure it out before they do.” So I think that that’s automatically a draw. And I think there are always great stories that are being told. I can have a day where I’m exhausted and I can lay in bed and just watch “Law & Order” marathons all day long, and I never get bored. I’m always, like, “This is a new great mystery.” So I think that’s a big part of it, for sure.
A lot of actors playing cops and cowboys and soldiers say it allows them to revert to being a kid, playing cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians. Does it work just as much for an actress?
More so. Because now we get to do what all the boys do, and no one is going to tell us we can’t.
So when you get the script for the week, how do you prepare? Do you talk about as a whole or there’s so much work that you just do it kind of by the daysides?
I do both. I go over as a whole and then I keep working on it day to day. But when you’ve been playing the character for a year, it sort of comes naturally at a certain point. You don’t have to work in as hard. Like when we did the pilot [episode of “Unforgettable”], it was a lot more work because I was trying to find who she was. And it’s like once you have it and then you’re doing it over and over and over again, 16 hours a day for eight, 10 months, it’s just sort in your system at that point.
What’s your advice to actors?
Don’t quit and don’t let everybody tell you how impossible it is because if you can push through and persevere, it’s a wonderful industry. And it’s very community-oriented and supportive. And I think actors like other actors and they’re supportive of them. So everyone is always saying like how negative and how hard and the odds against people. But I think that perseverance is really important.
What are the darkest aspects of “Unforgettable” for you?
I think that the character’s sister was murdered when they were young and she doesn’t know who did it. And it’s the one thing in her life she can’t remember. And I think that that tortures her and that’s pretty dark. And she also has a mother who has Alzheimer’s. She can’t remember anything. And I think that’s pretty dark. But there’re some light moments, too. It’s a real combination of dark and light I think in this show.
Is “Unforgettable” going to get darker?
I think it’s always going to be both, light and dark. You know, there’s some humor and lightness. But it’s always dealing with a murder. So that’s pretty dark. You know, you’re always trying to solve a crime. But it’s got everything and that it’s got all aspects of dark and light, which is great.
What do you think sets “Unforgettable” apart from other cops procedurals?
I think the fact that it’s based on a real ability that people have in terms of the memory ability that the character has. I think that’s really unique. And I think there’s a lot of traditional stuff in this show as well that I love because I love traditional cop shows. There’s some good old-fashioned crime-solving going on, you know.
But I think that Carrie as a character is so unusual. And she’s kind of ballsy and bad ass and she’s rebellious and rude. She has a perfect memory. And she sleeps around.
And I like seeing this female character who’s just not the norm, if you will. She doesn’t apply to all the cop rules. So it’s a cop show with someone who doesn’t want to be a cop, which I kind of love. And that separates it and makes it unique.
What are some of your favorite moments from “Unforgettable” so far?
I like all the stunt stuff. And any time I get to make out with Dylan Walsh, I’m pretty happy. He’s cute. I love it when I get to do crazy stunts, like I jump off cars in like 7-inch stilettos. It’s hysterical to me. I’m like, “Come on, this is like being 5 years old and playing dress up. It’s awesome.
I like all the stuff. But I like all the emotional stuff. I like it when she gets to be ballsy and go against the sort of grain, if you will. And we have a lot of that in the show. So it’s fun. I get to do a lot of fun stuff, which I like. I busted my shoulder. And my knees kind of from all those stunts. But I’m like, no way, I want to do it. So I’m really enjoying it.
Have social-media sites, like Twitter or Facebook, have they been assets at all in promoting the show?
I’m embarrassed to say this: I’m just starting to learn about that whole world. I don’t have that Facebook page or Twitter account that I’m aware of, although I believe there were some that were made up in my name. I was like, that’s not me. But it plays a huge part in everything, is what I’m learning. And it’s the future. And I think that the more of that just in each show, the better it is in terms of awareness and promotion and that sort of thing. Yes, I think it’s hugely important.
So what would you say is the major difference between Samantha Spade from “Without a Trace” and Carrie Wells from “Unforgettable”?
Sam was much more by the rules. Carrie is a wild child. And obviously she has this memory ability that’s very unique that really does exist actually in the world. She’s more of a badass. I do a lot of stunts as Carrie. I do a lot of dangerous things. I’m always beating people up and breaking the rules and getting in trouble.
And I [as Carrie] have this memory, this perfect memory that helps me to solve crimes. Carrie has a very dark history that Samantha Spade didn’t have, which is that her sister was murdered when she was young, and she was there and witnessed it and can’t remember any, that she’s blocked it out. But she remembers everything else. And so they’re very, very different. And also Samantha Spade was blonde and Carrie Wells is a redhead.
How much emphasis does “Unforgettable” put on the fact that Carrie works in the still quite male-driven environment? How much of a female role model is Carrie?
She’s great. We don’t even pay that much attention to it because it’s becoming more and more not even the case. We just treat it like a show. We don’t treat it like a woman’s show or a man’s show. And we don’t even really separate or bring it up that much. I think she’s a role model and that she’s strong and she’s tough and she’s vulnerable. But she’s great, even when she’s trying to do the best that she can do to help people.
And I think she’s a role model for men and women. I don’t think she’s just a female role model. I think she’s an everybody role model. So, for me, it’s not gender specific. I think people are role models, whether it’s men or women or whoever they inspire. But she’s pretty “out there.” She’s pretty tough.
A lot of TV shows do reunions with their casts. Will there be any guest appearances from your former colleagues from “Without a Trace”? Did you wish for one?
I would love that. Yes, absolutely. I would love that. It would be a dream come true. We’re all still best friends and very, very close from that show. So nothing would make me happier than to have a whole “Without a Trace” guest-starring episode.
What are your favorite television shows, besides the ones that you have done?
I like “The Real Housewives.” “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills”? It’s fantastic. I love that show. It’s just a train wreck. I love that show.
I really like “Damages.” I think “Damages” is a fantastic show, the one with Glenn Close and Rose Byrne. I like a lot of documentary shows on television. I watch the Discovery Channel a lot because I have a 4-year-old. So we watch animal shows and “Shark Week.” And that kind of thing I like as well.
What’s it like working with Jane Curtin on “Unforgettable”?
I love her! Love, love, love, love her! She’s so cool and funny. And she’s got such great stories. And she’s such a sort of mentor and friend. I really love her. She brings a real lightness to the show. And I enjoy every moment with her, to be honest. I’m so happy she’s here.
And she really brings something special. I mean, she’s Jane Curtin for a reason. She’s got a great energy and she’s a wonderful actress. And she’s a wonderful comedian. And she’s extraordinary.
Carrie has a little trouble in the romance department. What’s that about?
Yes, with Steve Cioffi. Because he’s a bad, bad mobster I think. And then how do a cop and a mobster fall in love? There’s a case that suddenly he gets involved in and I was there. And it compromises me as a cop. But he’s my boyfriend, and so we have to decide whether he’s a bad guy or a good guy. And the fallout is pretty hardcore.
Was it kind of a “make or break” moment for the two of them?
Yes, pretty much. Their relationship is resolved to some degree.
For more info: “Unforgettable” website