Q&A: ‘Unforgettable’ Star Poppy Montgomery Talks Her Character, Research and How Her Own Memory Has Gotten Better

Poppy: "Maybe I’m secretly in my soul a method actor"

Poppy Montgomery stars as Carrie Wells on the hit CBS show, Unforgettable. Wells is a former police detective with a rare condition that makes her memory so flawless that every place, every conversation, every moment she’s ever had is embedded in her mind.

I wish I had that problem.

Originally from Australia, Poppy moved to Los Angeles when she was 18 and quickly landed roles on shows like NYPD Blue and Party of Five. After appearing on The Beat and Relativity, she got her first series regular role on Glory Days. When that was cancelled after 9 episodes, she immediately got the role of FBI agent Samantha Spade on Without a Trace, where was for seven seasons.

I talked with Poppy on a conference call where she talked about Carrie’s evolution, the research she did and if playing a character with an incredible memory has helped her with her own recognition.

Can you talk about Carrie’s evolution in the latter half of the season as compared to the first?

Poppy Montgomery: You know, I think in the first half of the season and certainly in the pilot we saw a much more tortured soul, if you will, you know. I think that she was very ill at ease coming back to the police world and she had a lot of unresolved anger towards Dylan’s character, Al. And, you know, she had unresolved feelings and she didn’t know if she could work with him. She struggled with this ability that she has.

And I think that now, through the police work and everything that she’s doing, she has become more adjusted to the world and more able to deal with things than she was in the pilot where she’s making some kind of peace in her life with her ability and her gift, and using it to sort of save and help other people which gives her some kind of peace. But the murder of her sister is still unresolved. So I think that, you know, that’s a big key to who she is.

Given Carrie’s condition, what else would you like to discover about her before the season ends?

Poppy Montgomery: That she can fly. No, I want to – I, you know, I’d like to see her in a relationship. I’d like to see that she can function and fall in love and it won’t be so traumatic for her all the time. I want to see who killed her sister. I mean, you know, I don’t know and I really want to know. I keep asking the writer, I’m like just a hint, please tell me what happened. So I think that’s going to start to get tied up. But I don’t know if we’ll ever – if we’re going to find out fully what happened.

Did you do any research for the part?

Poppy Montgomery: Well, I mean, it’s a real – it’s actually a real condition, 60 Minutes, through the whole page on it, and Dateline and Marilu Henner is one of the few people that have been identified as having this ability. It’s pretty – I don’t know a lot about it yet because it’s sort of new. So more and more people are coming forward and being tested and checked out. But, yes, they’re finding that it definitely does exist and that it’s a really unique ability. It’s quite extraordinary.

I spend a lot of time with Marilu Henner. She also guest started on the show and she’s a consultant on the show. And she’s fantastic. She’s really interesting. You just – you know, she’s extraordinary. Her memory is amazing.

Were you anxious to get and jump right back into a television series?

Poppy Montgomery: No, I took two years off actually to be with my son. And, you know, I needed a break because Without a Trace had been for seven years. And, you know, I had my baby on the show and I need – I wanted to spend time with him and my family. So I very deliberately took two years off.

How has playing a character like this with such a crazy memory, has it changed how you remember things?

Poppy Montgomery: Yes, I think my memory has actually really gotten better. I mean maybe I’m secretly in my soul, a method actor. But it’s definitely gotten stronger. And, you know, I play little memory games with myself just to sort of keep it going because I’m one that – you know, just so to – even though like games in the newspaper, those ones that I like. Look at this photo and then try and remember how many things are different in the next photo. Just silly little games that you can play. But, well, I also have to learn like, you know, 10-page sort of dialogue every day. So that’s also a memory game of sort. But I do just to sort of keep it awake and alive and trying to have some understanding of it, you know.

How did you start acting?

Poppy Montgomery: I just – I sort of came here on the wing in a plane from Australia and I really – I knew I wanted to act. And I didn’t know how I was going to go about it. So I just sort of went about it. I called up a bunch of people and got myself an agent and a manager. And, you know, I read some book called How to Make it in Hollywood. And that’s how I found my manager. And I went from there.

When you get the script for the week, how do you prepare? Do you go over the whole thing or is there so much work that you just do it kind of by the day’s sides?

Poppy Montgomery: I do both. I go over as a whole and then I keep working on it day to day. But, you know, when you’ve been playing the character for a year, it sort of comes naturally at a certain point. You don’t have to work in as hard. Like when we did the pilot, it was a lot more work because I was trying to find who she was. And then, you know, once – it’s like once you have it and then you’re doing it over and over and over again, 16 hours a day for, you know, eight, ten months, it just comes – it’s just sort in your system at that point.

What’s your advice to actors?

Poppy Montgomery: Don’t quit and don’t let everybody tell you how impossible it is because if you can push through and persevere, it’s a wonderful industry. And it’s very community oriented and supportive. And, you know, I think actors like other actors and they’re supportive of them.

So, you know, everyone is always saying like how negative and how hard and the odds against people. But I think that perseverance is really important.

It’s so great to see Jane Curtin back on TV. What it’s been like for you working with her.

Poppy Montgomery: I love her; love, love, love, love her. She’s so cool and funny. And she’s got such great stories. And she’s such a sort of mentor and friend. I really love her. She brings a real lightness to the show. And I enjoy every moment with her, to be honest. I’m so happy she’s here.

And she really brings something special. I mean she’s Jane Curtin for a reason, you know. She’s got a great energy and she’s a wonderful actress. And she’s a wonderful comedian. And she’s extraordinary.

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