Fleeing the Scene

Off the big-city set of CSI: Miami, actress Emily Procter retreats to the desert for peace and earthy simplicity.

Story Toucas. Arts & Entertainment

Emily Procter’s screen-acting debut in the film Leaving Las Vegas was prophetic: “I played a bimbo actress who spoke the line, ‘One of my favorite things about being an actress is that you get to play with guns,’” she says.

Ten years later, Procter is widely recognized as Calleigh Duquesne, a crime-scene investigator and bilingual Southern belle on the hit TV show CSI: Miami.

“I have to say, I didn’t think we would experience the success that we have,” she admits. “I had no concept that I’d make a show and it would get seen and shared by so many people.”

The show’s success, however, has not changed Procter’s self-perception.  She is well aware of fame’s possible backlash.

“Women have a lot of weird battles that being a public person might worsen, like how will we feel about ourselves as we get older, how do we feel about our place in the world, and how do we feel about having to juggle being an aggressive worker and kind woman. I was nervous about how this kind of career would affect all those things, but it hasn’t affected it much at all. It’s nice to know that a job doesn’t qualify who you are.”

To lend authenticity to the show, Procter works with two female ballistics experts, one in Los Angeles and one in Miami. “They provide me with a lot of inspiration and mirror my character,” she says. “I used to feel that crime was completely haphazard, and now I see it very differently. I also feel more appreciative of the people who protect us. Those people work so hard and sacrifice so much for us …. They put their lives on the line for us. I’m continually impressed by their motivation.”

A native of Raleigh, N.C., Procter attended East Carolina University. “I tried to get in the theater department,” she says, “but it was full.” Instead, she graduated with degrees in journalism and dance. After graduation, she worked as weather reporter at the CBS affiliate in Greenville, S.C., and then moved to Los Angeles, where her father paid for two years of acting lessons.

Now, Procter — whose friends call her Emilicious and Procadooby — likes to “give something back” through regular volunteer work at the All Saints Episcopal Church soup kitchen in Beverly Hills.

Before CSI, she spent two years on the popular TV series The West Wing and in movies, including the little-known gem Breast Men. “It tells of a young plastic-surgery intern who gets tired of watching exciting developments in other fields,” Procter explains. “He finds a new, safe type of breast implants. All he has to do is convince his supervising surgeon it will work and find a volunteer for the first patient.”

During her off-season break from CSI, Procter opted to work on the forthcoming feature film Big Momma’s House 2, in which she plays a woman under investigation for murder, while FBI agent Malcolm Turner (Martin Lawrence) goes undercover as Big Momma to work as her nanny.

“We were shooting in New Orleans and Memphis with two days off every three weeks,” Procter says. Completion of the project after several months fueled her enthusiasm to get away, relax, and head for Palm Springs — a favorite escape from her hectic lifestyle.

Frequenting the desert four to six times a year, Procter visits a range of local spas. On the afternoon of this interview, she speaks from her cell phone en route to mud and Watsu treatments. Despite freeway traffic, the prospect of a relaxing break keeps her calm.

“I often find myself daydreaming about the prospect of owning a vacation home in Palm Springs,” she says. “I adore the treatments and find there is something about Palm Springs that is very grounding.”

She loves the whole desert experience — “from the hot weather to the isolation. I’ve been to spas in several areas of the U.S. and all around the globe, from Malta to Ojai and Arkansas, and I’ve never actually found anything to match Palm Springs.”

She adds that Palm Springs offers earthy simplicity, but also complexity and grandeur. “Palm Springs has great appeal for me,” she says. “I find I really love the terrain and really appreciate the beauty of the surroundings, the mountains rising above the desert flatlands. It offers a lifestyle that is very relaxed, though you can still indulge in some activities you’d find in a city-like environment.”

Procter calls the Two Bunch Palms spa in Desert Hot Springs “idyllic, despite being so luxurious. It’s very comfortable and very natural. I’ve had some excellent mud treatments there. In fact, I’ve been there more than 15 times and have tried virtually every treatment there is.”