When it comes to office romance at the FBI, Poppy Montgomery of Without a Trace is the Bureau's Most Wanted. During the first year of CBS's hit missing-persons drama, Montgomery's character, Agent Samantha Spade, had an affair with her boss, played by Anthony LaPaglia. More recently, she hooked up with another colleague, played by Eric Close.
"My god, she's the office Jezebel!" Poppy says. "But interoffice romance happens all the time. The people you meet are the people you work with. And it's not uncommon for one relationship to go sour, so you start dating someone else from the office.(Not surprisingly, her real-life beau is a fellow actor.)
Montgomery muses that, if Without a Trace lasts another three years or more, Sam might wind up sleeping with every member of the team, including female costar Marianne Jean-Baptiste. "That will be the big season-six plot twist," she jokes. "She'll realize she's done with men altogether and wants to be with a woman. Wouldn't that be sweet?"
It's hard to imagine Poppy Montgomery's life getting much sweeter. Without a Trace, now in its fourth season, is one of the top-rated dramas on TV -- and the first to thrive in head-to-head competition against that onetime powerhouse called ER. During its second season, LaPaglia won a Golden Globe for best actor in a drama series, while the entire Trace cast was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award.
"It's much more than I ever allowed myself to imagine," says Poppy (which really is the name she was born with). "Television, it's a gamble. You just sort of roll the dice. Some amazing shows don't make it. And you never know why or how or when one will or won't. So you just sort of try to do the best work you can and see what happens."
If there's a downside to this success, it's that she's bone-tired much of the time. "Doing a one-hour drama is a marathon," the Aussie actress explains. "You're like an athlete on some levels. You're in for nine months out of the year. You're working 15 hours a day."
But Montgomery wouldn't have it any other way. "How often do you get to have a closed-off street in New York when it's snowing and you're running down with a gun after a naked man screaming, 'FBI, stop or I'll shoot'?" Montgomery was so eager to have that moment that she toughed through an injury. "We had had a two-week vacation and I was at the airport in five-inch Dolce and Gabana heels. Vanity, right? I was pulling my bag down and I hurt my ankle, a really bad sprain, and a week later we were shooting that scene in New York. But I did it -- no stand-in for me. Not just because the shot would look more real with me doing it, but because I wanted to be on that New York street, chasing the naked man. That's the fun part of being an actor."
For the sake of authenticity, Montgomery also went through some very basic FBI-style training and learned how to handle a gun. "We went to a shooting range and I was terrified the whole time,"she says. "I'm not a big gun fan. And, of course, I couldn't hit the actual board that the bull's eye is on, let alone the bull's eye itself. I'm useless with a gun. But I learned enough to LOOK like I know what I'm doing. You'll get no Charlie's Angels/limp-wristed shots from me!"
Before Without a Trace, Montgomery had been a successful working actress in America for years, costarring in such short-lived TV series as Relativity (1996-97) and The Beat (2000). She was clearly on the verge of a breakthrough and it came in 2001 when she snagged the lead role in TV miniseries Blonde. Her performance as Marilyn Monroe put her on the map the same way that Angelina Jolie turned heads in 1998 in the TV movie Gia.
It was appropriate that playing Marilyn turned Poppy into a star. Because as a kid in Australia, she grew up worshipping Marilyn Monroe. "I've idolized her as long as I can remember. I can remember, at 6 years old, watching all of her movies. I read my first biography about her when I was 12. I'd read all of them by the time I was 16. I know every one of her movies by heart. She?s never been considered 'an actor's actor' the way that a Robert De Niro or a Katharine Hepburn is. But Marilyn was one of the greatest of all time. Her range was phenomenal. She could do it all, from ditzy comedy to serious, raw drama."
Poppy Montgomery is proving she can do it all too -- although at least one casting director seems to believe her Down Under accent needs work. Poppy once auditioned to play an Australian woman and didn't get the role because she "wasn't Aussie enough." The actress was livid when she got that feedback. "They said it was the worst Australian accent they'd ever heard," she says. "It's funny now. But I was outraged at the time. I was like, 'Do they know I'm Australian? How do they even know what an Australian accent sounds like? They?re not Australian. I am!'"