7/10/2003

Emily Procter - InStyle Magazine - Sugar & Spice

Before Emily Procter
blossomed like a magnolia into a true Southern belle in high school,
her passions veered toward the decidedly unladylike. For one thing, she
collected bugs. “I’d find dead spiders, and I’d put them in a jar,” she
says with a “crazy me” giggle. Though that was years ago, the many
well-crafted artificial insects that she has placed around her
Spanish-style West Hollywood home suggest she’s still a champion of the
misunderstood creepy crawlers of the world. As she plops down on her
bedroom’s butter-colored chaise lounge, a piece that once belonged to
her grandmother Katherine, Procter points to a tiny, fairly
realistic-looking metal beetle that sits on her dresser. “I don’t know
why,” she says with a shrug. “I still just love ‘em.”
Though she’s now 34, polished and mostly proper, a small part of
Procter will always remain a grass-stained, bug-loving tomboy. It is
this side that makes her perfectly suited to her current role as CSI:
Miami’s drawling prom queen turned ballistics expert, Calleigh Duquesne
(“There’s fake blood everywhere!” she says of the set) – and it is also
the side that begs to be channeled in other ways.
That’s where the poker comes in. Every Tuesday night she and six male
friends get together for a rousing game. And though on most other
occasions this former cheerleader is a soft-spoken charmer, once the
cards are dealt a foul-mouthed vixen emerges. “Some of the things I say
bother the guys,” she says, laughing.
Still, it’s not her shocking vocabulary so much as it is her formidable
feminine wiles that make her a ruthless opponent, says her fellow
cardplayers. “The rules don’t fly with her,” says one, Matt Champagne,
an actor of the recent series Providence. “She’ll say, ‘Tell me what
you have, then I’ll know I have to fold.’ She’s so beautiful, it’s hard
to pay attention.”
Adam Rodriquez, a CSI: Miami co-star, concurs: “When Emily wants
something, she can really turn it on. The accent gets a little thicker
and she bats her eyes.”
And what Procter wants is the winning hand. “I always say I’m in it to
win it,” says the actress, who previously played White House attorney
Ainsley Hayes on the The West Wing and appeared in small parts in
movies like Jerry Maguire and Body Shots. “I’m very competitive,
especially with myself. I don’t know any other way. I’m like Reese
Witherspoon’s character [Tracy Flick] in Election. It’s said, but I
can’t help it!”
By all accounts, however, her generosity far outweighs her ambitious
streak. “Where I grew up, there’s a real importance placed on being
nice to people,” says Procter, who is on a first-name basis with the
owner of her favorite Koreatown tofu-hotpot restaurant, trades oranges
over the fence with her 93-year-old neighbor, Bud, and has been known
to whip up a bite for a hungry castmate (“Emily makes a mean tuna
sandwich,” says Rodriquez).
She’s also a gift giver. Right now, for example, her dining room floor
is covered with silver candleholders and little gift baskets that she
picked up in Chinatown and plans to give out at the season’s wrap party
for CSI. “Emily can be so business savvy – she knows how to have a
power lunch – but she’s genuinely sweet,” says Champagne, who has been
a friend for seven years. “She’s courteous to everyone, and it’s not an
act. When we play poker she asks everyone what they’re up to, and she
really wants to know. You half expect her to make us all mint juleps,”
he says.
Such Southern niceties do come to mind in Procter’s presence. Though
she has been in Los Angeles since 1991, she is still very much a North
Carolinian in both accent and demeanor. She and her older brother,
Whit, grew up in Raleigh, the children of William, a doctor, and
Barbara, a hospice volunteer. Though her parents divorced when Emily
was 2, they still functioned as a united front when it came to raising
the kids
That Southern upbringing is reflected in Procter’s dignified home,
complete with matching four-poster beds in the guest room and a
luxury-hotel-worthy bathroom, where she keeps a silver chalice golf
trophy won by her grandfather.
Procter moved from her Beverly Hills apartment into this two-bedroom
house, which she bought after a quick half-hour tour convinced her that
this was the place for her. “I impulse-bought a house!” she says,
half-cringing. After having walls removed, plumbing redone, the guest
house turned into an office, and a master bedroom suite added, she went
to work on the decorating.
Procter, a Trading Spaces fan who was a decorator and even hosted a
d├ęcor Web site a few years back, flirted with the idea of doing up the
house in a sleek, restrained style. “I have daydreams that I’m a
modernist, with glass and driftwood and clean surfaces,” she says, “but
that’s just not me.” Given her penchant for quirky collectibles and
offbeat pieces, like a lamp made from a champagne bottle or curtains
made from an Indian sari, it’s clear she’s very self-aware.
Besides, she couldn’t bear the thought of storing away all her family
mementos, like her grandmother’s vintage suitcase (“Look – there’s even
a bottle of talcum powder!”). “She’s always talking about her family,”
says Rodriquez. Adds Champagne: “I think if she had her druthers, she’d
be living in North Carolina. That’s where her head is.”
But Procter says her poke partners serve as supportive surrogates. “The
gang provides group therapy,” she says. “There’s something nice about
being with a group of friends consistently. They know me very well.”
Well enough that they feel as if they’ve heard just about every little
detail about the remodeling and decorating of the house. “This past
year she’s been telling contractor stories and wondering about colors
and fabrics,” says Rodriguez. “Her home – that’s her baby.”
It’s her husband too – for now. “It’s all I can do to pick out my shoes
in the morning,” she says when asked about her romantic status. “I’ve
had a lot of serious relationships, people I’ve really loved, but I’ve
taken the last year or so to work more on me.”
Evidence of her focus on self-improvement: She signs up for an exercise
“boot camp” whenever her shooting schedule allows. The intense drills
and calisthenics not only help her work off the chocolates she keeps in
a candy bowl near the kitchen, but they are also essential to quieting
her mind. “I’m in my head a lot,” she says. And a good sweat, it seems,
is the key to helping her maintain a carpe diem attitude.
She inherited this desire to live for the moment from her grandmother
Frances, a fellow bug lover, who died in 2000 at the age of 90. “I’ll
always remember one thing my grandmother said to me: ‘Dahlin’, never
worry about the world ending. People have been talking about that since
I was a little girl, and nothing has ever come to pass.’”
Such wisdom is what has allowed Procter to free herself from some of
the more genteel aspects of her upbringing. Though she spent years
fretting over acting appropriately, she says that hanging out with her
poker pals – Northern city slickers all – has helped put things in
perspective. “I hooked up with the unsavory boys from New York City and
I realized nobody really cares. I’ve stopped judging myself and let
go.”
And, for Procter, that is indeed a winning hand.