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“I don’t know what it is about the timbre of my voice,” says Guyanese-born, British-raised Carol Christine Hilaria Pounder, known as CCH Pounder. “But it obviously hits the note that makes people go, ‘Sit up straight and behave!’”
Pounder, 65, has used that distinctive intonation to immense advantage throughout her distinguished career, most recently as Harvard-educated coroner Loretta Wade on NCIS: New Orleans, broadcast TV’s No. 1 show among viewers over 65 (Tuesdays at 10 p.m./9 p.m. CT on CBS).
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While explaining cadaver clues to NCIS investigators such as Scott Bakula, 63, she can flash the most withering, sardonic gaze this side of Allison Janney (to whom she lost a career-making role on The West Wing, settling instead for the HUD secretary part). She’s been a familiar, often rather smart and judgmental character in four Emmy-nominated roles (on The X-Files, ER, The Shield and The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency). You’ve also seen her be intimidating on Law & Order: SVU, L.A. Law and Sons of Anarchy. And this December she’ll reprise her role as Mo’at in the sequel to Hollywood’s all-time No. 1 hit, Avatar.
In her youth, she was cast older, making aging on-screen a breeze. “When you play people in their 40s in your 20s, by the time you get to 65, it’s like, ‘Man, I played that when I was 35!’ It just takes less makeup to make me look the way I do now. Before, makeup applied those lines. Now it's like, ‘OK, just pat her down and send her on her way.’ ” The keys to her success are that resonant voice (heard on the audiobook Grow Old Along With Me: The Best Is Yet to Be, which lost the Grammy to Hillary Clinton’s It Takes a Village in 1997) and a theater-trained work ethic. “I never stopped learning,” she says.