CCH Pounder has played a doctor, an FBI agent, a police detective, a prisoner, a superhero cohort, a motorcycle-club-busting district attorney, and, with her new role as Loretta Wade on CBS's NCIS: New Orleans, the medical examiner for the Big Easy during her TV career.
And all it took to get the four-time Emmy nominee to agree to launch a new onscreen career investigating dead bodies? The opportunity to really get to know the city of New Orleans.
"It was the factor. And there must be something to it, because the actors from the other NCIS series are all trying to work their way into [our show]," Pounder told Yahoo TV. "'Surely there must be a storyline for me, so that I can come down.' So far, I think about five of them have come through. It's a big thing to be in a city that has the types of struggles and beauty New Orleans has. And it's got all the bells and whistles that attract my attention. It is a city of some age. It has a population that has no problem saying, 'Hello, ma'am. Good afternoon. Hey, how you doing?' just as part and parcel of walking by. It has houses that I like to look at. Such a variety. One day you're looking at a giant chateau, and then you're looking at a wedding cake, and then you're looking at some small cottages. That's lots of fun."
Pounder hasn't bid adieu to FX's Sons of Anarchy, as her DA character, Tyne Patterson, is likely to pop up again while SAMCRO's increasingly destructive dramas continue to unfold in the show's final season.
"My agent made sure they had a way to wrap her up, so they were offered a certain number of episodes and CBS has been very gracious," the actress said. "They should be able to work that plot out, what happens to her. I don't know how they'll do it, but they're clever, those Sons of Anarchy fellows."
In honor of her double duty in primetime this fall, Yahoo TV asked the always elegant and compelling Pounder to share the highs and lows of her most memorable TV performances.
Women in Prison (1987-88)
(A Fox sitcom in which she played Dawn, a woman who had murdered her abusive husband)
"Oh no, we were not [Orange Is the New Black]. We were definitely not. Orange Is the New Black is a prison comedy, for sure. I would say that we were an attempt, a very, very feeble attempt, at Prisoner: Cell Block H. I always used to say, 'We tried to do Cell Block H, but in fact we were really Eight Is Enough.' What we were originally sold in terms of its toughness and what it was going to be, it just didn't manufacture itself into a comedy in those years. I was incredibly frustrated, because it was a comedy with no edge. It was no comparison to Orange. I think the best way to describe it is that there is a cast and crew photo, and everybody seems to be quite unhappy. [But] I have a grin from ear to ear, and it was like, 'God, get me out of this.'"
Quantum Leap (1990)
(In which she guest-starred on an episode with her future NCIS: New Orleans co-star Scott Bakula)
"We have reminisced, but we greeted each other like old friends, which was really great. I'm really having a great time with him here. It's almost as if, because of [Quantum Leap], it already opened up the pathway to have a very quick relationship here in New Orleans. It's been very easy to get back to work with him. Really nice."
The X-Files (1994)
(For which she received her first Emmy nomination — Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series — for playing agent Lucy Kazdin)
"I don't know [when I sign on for guest roles] anything beyond what I've come to do. I don't know whether this is an award-worthy role. I just come in doing what I do. And Lucy Kazdin shined because "Duane Barry" was so beautifully written. I was surrounded by actors who were just completely committed to making it as real as possible, in a very unreal situation. That was truly my good fortune in getting that role to do. Just in terms of all the guest work, every time I do something like that, way back then I would always say, 'This will get me a regular role.' It was always, to me, work to get work. The nomination is terrific, but the fact that I did Lucy Kazdin got me Millennium, which was also quite terrific. I keep saying, 'The reward is work,' and I've been rewarded and rewarded. I got exactly what I asked for, and I'm very pleased."
(For which she received an Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Emmy nomination for playing Dr. Angela Hicks, who disappeared in Season 4)
"I wasn't happy. I wanted to stretch my wings a little bit more than that. I think you kind of have to know what the deal is. If you don't know what the deal is, then you sort of feel it out and then you decide, should I stay or should I go? I think that was what it was for me with ER. It was very pleasing in the beginning. I really wanted to do it. By the way, I enjoyed every moment of it as CC the person, but I really wanted a career that went to a certain place. Sometimes you just have to sacrifice and say, 'I'm willing to fly solo and try something else and go somewhere else and do something that appears to be smaller but gives me more spirit and a kind of desire to work.'"
The Shield (2002-08)
(For which she received her second Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Emmy nomination, for playing Detective Claudette Wyms)
"It was one of the greatest noncheating endings ever. Ever, ever, ever. No, my character would not have been happy, and that's important that she wasn't, because in a sense she had to be unhappy. If you were to see beyond the ending, though, then she would come to realize that in fact this was a really good ending for [Vic Mackey]. This type of man had to be free, had to be on the street, to make him what he [was]. To be imprisoned behind a desk, shuffling papers, was a punishment that was simply unbearable. Jail isn't always the answer for people like that. It was the ultimate justice."
Justice League (2004-06)
(In which she was the first person to portray Amanda Waller — the Project Cadmus head — in an animated series)
"What's really funny is, I have a whole group of people under 20 or 30, and I can say something like, 'Excuse me, waiter, could I have…,' and somebody will turn around and go, 'Oh my God, that's Amanda Waller!' I am absolutely shocked that the voice has become so recognizable because of her. It just tickles me no end."
Sons of Anarchy (2013-14)
"Patterson is incredibly ambitious, but she's also insightful … she knew how to hold up the mirror so that [SAMCRO] could see their own humanity. I don't want to give her that much credit that she's the one that made them see themselves for humane purposes, but she made them see themselves, and maybe for the first time doubt crept in. How it really is crept in. What will happen in the future crept in. I think that's what Patterson did for them, and it made her suddenly a really interesting character."
NCIS: New Orleans (2014)
"As a mature woman, I'm much freer, and I wanted [Wade] to be a free, knows-what-she's-doing-at-her-job woman. And knows how to have fun in life and enjoy a good Bloody Mary, cut a rug on the dance floor, really knows some good jokes. I wanted that kind of feeling, because that feels like New Orleans to me. It feels like a place where hard work and hard play go hand-in-hand. I've seen people sweating and then just kind of going 'OK, we're done. Let's go get some good food, listen to some great music.' I'm seeing it all the time, and I incorporate it into my character. I didn't want her to be only the bearer of bad news, to be dour. I wanted her to be more like a Poirot in terms of discovering the mystery. I know in the beginning that they were looking for the voice of authority, the mother wit, the earthy person with common sense. I went, 'OK, OK, OK, but I think I can infuse her with a whole bunch of other things.'"
NCIS: New Orleans airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on CBS.