Emily Procter: Remembering Her Roots
By Allison Puccetti Adams
Best known for her role on CSI: Miami, Emily Procter stays grounded in the fast-paced world of Hollywood thanks to her Southern upbringing.
As a Southern woman who regularly watches CSI: Miami, I always feel right at home when Detective Calleigh Duquesne walks into the room and reveals her Southern drawl. Played by Emily Procter, this character has given sophistication and style to the sometimes-stereotypical image of a Southern woman as uneducated with no aspirations. So I was thrilled to sit down for a chat with this actress known as a mover and shaker both onscreen and off.
Procter tells me that when she first moved to L.A., she wasn’t sure what to do with her Carolina-born Southern accent. The recommendation from those in the business was consistently, “Hide it!” But she found that unacceptable. “It is hard for others to understand how complex and complicated it is. Our Southern language is so often misinterpreted,” she says.
When auditioning for the part of Ainsley Hayes on The West Wing, Procter read the script and discovered that, in her opinion, Ainsley was perfectly Southern. at the end of the interview, when Aaron Sorkin, the producer, told her that the part was written around a character from Montana, Procter immediately told him, “No, she is definitely Southern!” And the role was hers. “Be true to yourself, always,” Procter says when I ask her what advice she would have for aspiring actors. “I wasted a lot of years not doing so.” One way that Procter stays grounded is through her philanthropic work, something she inherited a love for from the women in her family. “When I was growing up, my mother was always volunteering,” she explains. “Even when we were young, we would go with her to help serve others. My aunt also used to be a volunteer at an AIDS hospice. She and my grandmother were huge influences in my life.”
One such charitable organization that Procter supports is the Cure Autism Now Foundation. Recently, she even competed on Celebrity Poker Showdown in order to help raise funds for the cause. And she has a special soft spot for animals and for those who can’t help themselves. Procter supports the Purina Pro Plan “Rally to Rescue” for abused dogs and is also a spokesperson for the American Humane Association, an organization that works to protect children and animals from abuse. In her efforts to raise awareness for such charities as the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatrics AIDS Foundation, she has even been known to rely on her sportier side by joining in for a triathlon. Such athleticism may be what attracted Nike to make her an ambassador for Nike Marathon.
Whatever it is that Procter is involved in, one thing is for sure-she fully embraces life and doesn’t let any opportunities pass her by. She has even started her own rock band because, as Procter puts it, “At almost 40, it is fun to rediscover the things you once started to do. When you turn 40, it does something to you. I was terrified [of starting this band], but I thought, if you have an inkling of something you want to do and you don’t do it, that is harder to live with. We really started this band almost as a joke, playing ‘80s cover music, but everyone loved it.”
Music currently is a motivation for a number of other things in Procter’s life. She has recently gotten back into dancing-for fun. As the former dance major at East Carolina University explains, “I used to love to dance, and then it got where I didn’t have time for it. But now I am making time for a hip-hop dance class. I am not too good at it, but it is so much fun. And it helps me to get in shape both mentally and physically!”
While Procter admits she doesn’t diet, she has made healthy eating and fitness a part of her lifestyle. “As I have gotten older, I have simply cut out snacking,” she explains. “I try to eat three meals a day and try really hard to eat natural food, without preservatives. I think it is difficult for our bodies to digest some of the things in certain foods. One of the best things I have started doing is having my salad after my meal with a warm cup of ginger tea. It is great for helping the digestive process.” With so many commitments and a very busy schedule, it’s a wonder that Procter ever has a chance to get away from it all. But she does make sure to find some regular down time to keep herself refreshed and rejuvenated. “I just love the home that I am in right now,” she says. “I have created a library there with two separate rooms. There is a sofa and chairs off of my bedroom, as well as a balcony. It is such a nice spot to read and relax. It is my escape.”
So how has this Southern transplant managed to stay connected to her roots? Procter is incredibly comfortable in her own skin. Her parents and grandparents are the ones she attributes that confidence to. And she also has the same friends she knew in high school and college.
“During the writers’ strike, all of my friends came out to see me,” says Procter. “There is just something about the way people from the South look out for each other. I have enjoyed L.A., but the South is where my heart is. Even when I am out here and run into Southerners on the street, they are so friendly and less serious. And I love that in the South, there is still that ‘be nice or leave’ mentality. It is great that they still demand manners.”
But there are times when Procter’s Southern politeness doesn’t go over quite as well. “At work I still say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to the criminal characters while filming on set,” she laughs. “They’ll tell me, ‘Emily, we’ll have to do that one over. You can’t say “please” to a criminal.’”
With Procter’s Southern charm and proper manners, it is hard to imagine how she initially prepared for her role as a hard-nosed investigator on CSI: Miami. “I actually trained with the Sheriff’s Department,” she says. “I had a very innocent view of crime before doing the show. Now it is all about not putting yourself in a position to be vulnerable. It has also made me more aware of the growing gap of poverty in this country. There are a lot of people with very little. And there is a much bigger drug situation out there than I realized.” In contrast to the tough role she plays on TV, Procter admits that she has a very “girly” side. Every Christmas, she throws a party that is all about pampering. She wraps up all of the promotional items she gets for free and invites her best girlfriends. They each bring a favorite product that they have found to be “fabulous.” Each person gets a wad of Monopoly money to play in a game of White Elephant. “It is such a blast and something we all look forward to throughout the year,” Procter says.
And she has a love of jewelry. “I especially like Charriol jewelry,” Procter says. “I told them I would promote it if they would just pay me with charity dollars. One of the charities we have supported with the money is The Waiting Child in Cleveland, Ohio. It is an orphanage and child-placement organization for special needs children. These children might be extremely intelligent and need a special environment, or it could be a family of sisters or brothers that wish to remain together, or it may even be a child with special physical needs.”
I have often heard that we can determine what is in our soul by where we spend our money and our time. As we finish up our conversation, it is clear to me that Emily Procter has a huge heart and gives it all away, both through her actions and her contributions. Her love for life, as well as for everything Southern, seems to stem from her own advice that she lives out every day: “Be true to yourself, always.” [Sb]