A long day of filming was over, after which Kathryn Morris and her fellow Cold Case cast members chose to unwind over a few beers with some of their real-life counterparts. "I was the only girl there, eating chili fries with the guys, while these career homicide detectives told stories about different cases they had solved," Morris says. "And I thought, 'How sweet it is that they know I can hang with them, yet none of them gives me any grief about the fact that, instead of a beer, I'm sitting here sipping a cup of tea.'"
Kathryn Morris is one of those rare leading ladies who isn't expected to be "one of the guys" on the set, yet isn't treated like "like a princess" either. "They just accept me for who I am," she says.
Her Cold Case character, Lily Rush, the lone female detective in Philadelphia's homicide unit, has a similar vibe. On the job, Lily doesn't lead with her femininity. "It wouldn't be very modern or realistic for me to play the role that way," Morris notes. But she doesn't overcompensate with macho "Dirty Harriet" behavior either. "That would wear silly on me." Instead, Lily merely is who she is: dedicated, confident and supremely competent at solving years-old homicide cases that have gone "cold."
Many of the actress' sensibilities are reflected in her portrayal. "I feel like I know Lily as well as I know myself," says Morris, whose hit crime drama is in its fourth season on CBS (it also airs at 11 p.m. ET Tuesdays on TNT). But don't make the mistake of believing that she's the mirror image of that character. "My energy is a lot different. I'm a much lighter, happier person in real life. I have my tomboy moments and I have 'I really need to wear a fake fur' moments. Sometimes I'm just silly. And I definitely don't have as much angst as Lily has."
In fact, before taking on the role, Morris met and shadowed a real-life Philly detective. From him, Morris says, she absorbed everything she needed for her performance. Wait a minute. From HIM? Are we to believe that Morris learned how to play a female homicide detective from observing a man? "Well, yeah," she says. "I don't have to worry about the being-a-lady part. I'm already a lady."
Good point. "I was raised to be a strong woman," Morris says, "to be very empowered yet graceful. That's sort of my feeling of what Lily's energy is. But on top of that, I am so thoroughly impressed with the detective we work with in Philadelphia. His name is Tim Bass and my character is based on him quite a bit. Meredith Stiehm [the series' creator and executive producer] spent a lot of time with him. I've spent a lot of time with him too and I love to watch how he carries himself. The thing that impresses me most about Tim is he's not the biggest bulldog in the bunch. But when he walks into a building, when he questions a suspect, he is not to be messed with. He doesn't want to play bad cop; he doesn't try to bulldoze his way over people. But still, when he walks in the room, everybody knows he's somebody to be reckoned with."
When Cold Case hit the airwaves in 2003, it was immediately clear that Morris was somebody to be reckoned with as well. The mid-30s actress was by no means a showbiz newcomer. Her previous credits included The Contender, in which she played a "cunning and direct" investigator (the performance that initially caught Stiehm's eye), and Steven Spielberg's Minority Report, in which she played Tom Cruise's wife. But Lily Rush and Cold Case have elevated Morris to a new level, because she finally has the showcase that her talent long deserved.
"I remember all the questions when the show first got picked up," Morris says. "Some of the journalists would say, 'I've never heard of you. What's so special about you that you'd get this show?' And I would think, 'Wow, I know you're a journalist, but didn't anybody ever teach you any manners?' Well, I'm happy to say that I don't hear that question any more."
In fact, the feedback Morris gets these days is often profoundly gratifying. "Fans approach me and they're moved emotionally by something, by certain episodes, which is really satisfying to hear," Morris says. "And a lot of young girls or their parents have approached me and told me that they're considering getting into forensics or law enforcement, into being a detective, because they like my character, because she's caring for people and she makes a difference and she's a strong lady. That has been surprising to me; I didn't expect that. I always knew we were making a good show. But it's nice to learn that, beyond its entertainment value, our show might be inspiring some of our young people to do something where they can make a difference."