Paget Brewster Talks "Terrifying" SVU Gig and "Sour" Final Year on Criminal Minds
Paget Brewster | Photo Credits: David Giesbrecht/NBC
She just doesn't care.
"Yeah, people do think it's similar and that's OK. I'm 43 now. I've reached the point where I really can't care what anyone thinks," Brewster tells TVGuide.com. "Of course, I do. I'm an actress. I'm totally insecure, but I'm trying to stick to my guns about what is important to me and it doesn't matter what anyone thinks I should or shouldn't do."
After logging six seasons as Agent Emily Prentiss on the CBS series — and just one season after returning to the show full-time (more on that later) — Brewster announced in February that she would exit the series at the end of Season 7 when her contract was up. "I told my agent and manager, 'Listen, tell me everything that you hear about, but basically I want to do comedy." So when she expressed interest in the offer from SVU, "They called me and they said, 'Are you sure you want to do a law enforcement show?' I asked, 'Do I have scenes with Mariska [Hargitay]?' They said, 'Most of your scenes are with Mariska.' I said, 'I want it. I totally want it.'"
In the two-hour season premiere (Wednesday at 9/8c on NBC), Brewster plays Paula Foster, the head of the District Attorney's public integrity unit, who is tasked with figuring out how that dead hooker ended up in the bed of Benson's beloved boss, Capt. Cragen (Dann Florek). Although the relationship between Benson and Foster is initially hostile, their bond becomes much more complex. "They're sharing information and then, of course, you find out later what becomes of that," Brewster says. "I did very much like the idea of these two strong women in this arena having a meeting of the minds and coming together to facilitate the paths they are each on. Instead of being antagonistic or woman against woman, it's the opposite."
Although this wasn't Brewster's first time around the SVU block — she first played a suspect's estranged daughter back in 2007 — she calls this role an "overwhelming" experience. "It was intimidating and challenging and I was afraid that I would do a bad job and it was a character I've never played before. That was exactly the terrifying, exciting learning experience that I wanted when I left Criminal Minds," she says. "I'm not saying anything to denigrate Criminal Minds; that's a great show. I just didn't appreciate it anymore. I appreciate those people, but I realized my heart wasn't in and I needed to go because plenty of people would rip their arm off to be on that show, so they should be."
Brewster's desire to leave can be traced back to June 2010, when it was announced that she would appear in a reduced number of episodes in Season 6 — a move that outraged Criminal Minds fans. Brewster then shot the NBC comedy pilot My Life as an Experiment in 2011. After that pilot was not picked up to series, Brewster was informed that she had one more year on her Criminal Minds contract and that she would return full-time for Season 7. "I wasn't going to dig in my heels and say, 'Go ahead, sue me. I'm not going back. It's a horrible place,' but it did sort of sour the experience for me," she says. "I don't know if I would have left if that hadn't happened, but it was heartbreaking."