CHICAGO — Early in her career, “CSI: Vegas” star and Chicago native Paula Newsome was a local theater actor. By chance, this was around the same time that her future “CSI” co-star William Petersen was also doing theater in Chicago.
Coming up on the show, Newsome has a major storyline airing March 30. “The storyline involves a tragedy — it’s a cold case — and it affects my character in such a deep way,” said Newsome.
Her credits include everything from the Dolly Parton comedy “Straight Talk” to ABC’s “Women’s Murder Club” to NBC’s “Chicago Med,” and perhaps most vividly, as the police detective who meets her demise on HBO’s “Barry.”
When asked about a worst moment in her career, she joked: “I wish I didn’t have anything that came to mind! My head is in my hand right now and I’m rubbing it back and forth like my dad used to do.”
My worst moment …
“Back in the day, when I was still in Chicago, I waited tables at night at Shaw’s Crab House and during the day I would audition for stuff. And this one time I auditioned to be a host for a public television telethon. Do you remember the telethons they used to do? The idea was just to talk and be very personable.
“Let me back up. I always had a real connection with France — I considered myself a Francophile and I’m fluent to this day — so one thing I decided to do when I was in college, because I wanted to be special, was that I started to tell people that I was born in France. And that my family was born in France. And we left Paris, it was specifically Paris, because much like the popular French epic ‘Les Miserables,’ my grandfather had stolen a loaf of bread and we were excommunicated and had to leave. And when we got to America, my family decided we weren’t allowed to speak English until we were able to speak it with a perfect American accent — that was to explain how I didn’t have a French accent.
“No one ever had called my bluff on this! You know how when you’re telling a lie, people kind of look at you and in their eyes it’s like ‘huh?’ But nobody ever said, ‘I don’t believe you.’
“So, I decided to tell this fable at this telethon audition. I was just trying to get a job and I was going to tell them a fantastical truth to do it.
“Then I get a callback, which is a good sign.
“So go for the second audition and I walk in: ‘Hi, how are you?’ to everyone. I’m feeling very confident.
“And a woman there says, ‘Oh, hello, Paula — would you like to speak a little French?’
“And for some reason, in that moment, I could not speak a word of French, even though I am fluent to this day. My brain just froze. I could not count, I could not say anything.
“And then she said: ‘I know a doctor on the South Side of Chicago by the name of Dr. Max Newsome and he was born in Texas.’
“Now, that’s my dad — the man who was supposedly born in Paris and the son of the man who had stolen a loaf of bread.
“And I froze.
“And the audition was over. There were no other words. I could not speak. I mean, everything just froze.
“I would love to know who she was, but I’ve blacked it out.
“But she was calling me out. She knew my people. You know how successful people, particularly successful Black people in Chicago, know one another? It’s a small world.”
And she was letting Newsome know that, in a polite way …
“That was not polite. I’m sorry, that was not polite. She called me a liar! In front of other people! I was horrifically embarrassed. But I was also kind of put out that she felt the need to take it that far. I kind of have a resentment toward her because why would you have to go that far?
“My feeling was: Even if she thought I was not telling the truth, cut the sista some slack! Why would she have to humiliate me like that in front of all the people? She could have just thought to herself: Oh yeah, I know she’s not telling the truth, I know her father — next.
“This did not get back to my father, but it did get back to my agent (laughs) and she just shook her head and I was like, ‘Yeah, I know.’ I never told my father about it, no reason to.
“I was full of dejection after that. I was feeling like: Oh my god, why. It was a bit of a horror show. And I realized immediately that I would not be doing that again. So instead of making up a story about where I came from, my love for all things French became a love for France.”
The takeaway …
“The truth is always best. Even if it’s boring. It’s who I am.
“Sometimes as actors we feel like we have to hype it up and amp it up and zap it up in order to be interesting and to be loved and to be fascinating.
“But I’ll tell you one thing I learned: When I was watching Joan Allen on stage in ‘Burn This’ at the Royal George Theater right before it went to Broadway, she just sat there on the floor and simply told the truth of that character and I thought: That’s the kind of actor I want to be.
“I don’t need an exotic story that I stole from Victor Hugo. What people really want to see is what they identify with.”