Five-time Emmy nominee Marg Helgenberger tells AARP about her new show, All Rise; her start as a Nebraska farmworker; and how Jack Nicholson inspired her 37-year acting career.
Latest role: On All Rise, she plays Judge Lisa Benner, who breaks the glass ceiling by becoming a rare female judge in California.
Hometown: North Bend, Nebraska (pop. 1,200)
Memorable TV hits: Under the Dome, CSI, China Beach, Ryan’s Hope
Shows she binges: Barry, Baskets, The Sopranos, Fargo
Here comes Judge Marg
I've been a lot of cops, detectives and a criminalist on CSI, but never played a prosecutor or a judge. All Rise reminds me of the early days of L.A. Law — it has great dramatic writing but also levity.
My Georgetown Law student son interned for a woman judge [about my age] in Pasadena. I got to sit in her courtroom and meet her. It's fascinating — the precision needed to decide who's telling the truth and who's stretching the truth.
Her legal and love lives
I played an attorney in a Lifetime movie with my ex-husband, Alan Rosenberg [of L.A. Law], but it was less about the law and more about a bittersweet romance. We have a son. He was always so supportive of me as an actor. He just got remarried, and I attended his wedding. Some people were like, “What? I would never. No way!”
I rely on yoga, weights, because it's important to have strong bones, and wise time management — lie down when you can, keep your mind active and engaged while waiting for your scene. When you're younger you can bounce back with little sleep, but not anymore.
Music to act by
For a scene that's moving, Springsteen or U2 or Billie Holiday. If it's a fun scene that requires a lot of energy, it's more pop music, R&B, hip-hop or hard rock'n’ roll.
Launched by Jack Nicholson
At 16, in a college competition, I read from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," bringing McMurphy and Nurse Ratched to life for the judges. Years later, my boyfriend, very good friends with Jack, shared that story with him. He was so impressed that I played all the characters and it so inspired me that acting became my livelihood.
To conquer Hollywood, start in Nebraska
My mother was a nurse, and I always thought I'd go into nursing. I took a lot of science classes and did very well. My science skills came into good use for CSI. My first job was in the soybean fields. I was 11; they give you a machete to cut the weeds on rows of soybeans a half-mile long. I'm not afraid of hard work — that's probably my superpower.
How to Watch: All Rise airs on CBS on Mondays at 9 p.m. ET. Episodes are behind the paywall on CBS All Access immediately after the West Coast broadcast, and the five most recent episodes may be watched for free on CBS.com.