Supporting actor, the un-usual suspects

As the tightly wound Martin Fitzgerald on “Without a Trace,” Eric Close brings a serious intensity to the buttoned-down, by-the-book FBI agent who tends to live in a world of black and white, right and wrong.

But this season, Fitzgerald’s moral compass goes south as he’s forced to deal with a painful recovery from being shot on the job as well as confront some personal demons. For Close, his storyline proved both exciting and daunting, forcing him to dig deep and expose his vulnerable side.

“We went into a pretty dark place this year with Martin’s full-blown drug addiction,” says Close. “It’s always a desire for any actor to take on an emotional role like this, but the mindset wears on you, and I’m still trying to shift gears and catch up on my sleep.”

Like most crime procedurals, where the characters’ personal lives take a back seat to crime-solving, the hit CBS drama follows the formula. But as Fitzgerald’s world spins out of control, his addiction interferes with his ability to do his job and also puts his co-workers in jeopardy.

“After his near-death experience, Martin values everything more, including the missing people he’s trying to find and their friends and family,” says Close. “But his drug addiction hardens himm and he has no empathy or compassion for the missing … everything is about getting more drugs.”

Confronted by his co-workers, he does reach out for help, ultimately revealing his addiction to his colleague and former girlfriend, Samantha (Poppy Montgomery).

“In films, there’s a beginning, a middle and an end, but in series television you can never say, ‘My character would never do that,’ because the minute you do you’ll be surprised,” says Close, whose career took off in the mid-’90s with a recurring role on NBC’s “Sisters.” “I like that Martin is constantly surprising me. He’s always growing, and even in the worst of circumstances he’s a fighter and he comes out a survivor.”

Going into the fifth season, Close remains excited about his role and also plans to add directing to his work on the show.

“I love taking on new challenges, and I applaud the writers for all of these wonderful developments in Martin. I long for more of it, and more conflict between the characters,” he continues. “I hope that we don’t just wrap Martin’s addiction and recovery up neatly in a bow, but continue to show how hard it is to beat it.”

At the same time, Close would like to see his character relax a bit, smile more often.

“I’d love to see Martin not take himself so serious and maybe loosen up a bit,” he said. “I’d like to see him have some fun.”

SOUND BITES

Favorite scene of last season?

“When Martin finally admits his problem to Samantha. He’s so vulnerable when he asks for her help. I also like the scene between Martin and Danny (Enrique Murciano) before Martin goes to rehab. There are no words spoken yet the scene is very powerful.”

Favorite shows?

“When I have the time to watch, which is not often, I enjoy ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ ‘CSI’ and ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.’”

Underrated actor?

“Anthony LaPaglia. He works really hard on our show to make sure the scripts are strong, is there before the rest of us show up and after we leave. He acts like an executive producer and deserves credit for that effort.”

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