A ‘Trace’ of Poppy Montgomery
NEW YORK (AP) — On “Without a Trace,” Poppy Montgomery plays an FBI agent who carefully, methodically tracks down people gone missing.
But Montgomery landed this plum role on the hit CBS drama only after she threw herself headlong into a crazy adventure halfway around the world from her native Australia.
Granted, Montgomery was no overnight discovery when she became part of the splendid “Without a Trace” troupe, also comprising Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Enrique Murciano, Eric Close and, as the head of the Missing Persons task force, Anthony LaPaglia.
Nor was “Trace” (Thursdays at 10 p.m. EDT, with a special airing this Sunday at 10 p.m.) Montgomery’s maiden series. Just 27, she also starred on the brief-but-well-thought-of “Relativity” and “The Beat,” and, last season, the brief-but-never-noticed “Glory Days.”
She also won praise for the 2001 TV film “Blonde,” playing Marilyn Monroe in that four-hour adaptation of the Joyce Carol Oates novel.
She also played Party Girl No. 2 in “Tammy and the T-Rex” (1994), her first film, from which, with no prompting, she can still re-enact her big moment: “Omigod, it’s a dinosaur!”
But first Montgomery had to get to Los Angeles and hound an agent into taking her on, remarkable considering her total lack of experience at the time.
“I didn’t have a SAG card,” she says, still marveling at her naivete. “I didn’t know you needed head shots or a resume. I’d never acted before!”
‘Everyone thinks I’m an American’
One thing she could do: talk like an American, which she figured would increase her employability.
One of Montgomery’s co-stars in “Trace” is fellow Australian Anthony LaPaglia (out of focus in rear).
“When I got here, I decided I would do an American accent all the time,” she recalls in a voice whose only Aussie remnant sounds like a soft Texas twang.
“To do it, at first I had to speak … very … slowly …. It drove my friends crazy. Now I can’t really do an Australian accent anymore. I went home at Christmas, and everyone thinks I’m an American: They’re rude to me in restaurants.”
Montgomery grew up in Sydney with a brother and four sisters (Rosie, Lily, Daisy, Marigold — sense a theme?), where she exhibited a rebellious streak that led her to drop out of school the first moment she legally could: at 14 years and nine months.
Her meandering search for a career path led to a youth acting class. In a production of “Twelfth Night” that toured Sydney area schools, she played one of two officers, her world premiere as an actress.
” ‘No, sir. No jot’ — that was my line.” Then a lot of standing around. “You know how people say there are no small roles, only small actors? … At one point, I got so bored, I looked at the girl playing the other guard and just lost it onstage. You know when you get the giggles and you try to stop and it gets worse?
“Afterwards, I was telling myself maybe I’m not cut out for this.”
But Montgomery abandoned all doubts when, at 19, she left her homeland for the United States, where she was sure she could make it as an actress.
“I arrived in Tampa, Florida,” she recalls, “to see a friend of my brother’s who I had a huge crush on.
“Then I thought I would come to New York and audition to go to Juilliard. But the people I knew in New York City weren’t home when I called from the bus station, and the people I knew in L.A. were. So I got on a bus to L.A. It’s a loooong trip.”
Trying to ‘do this role differently’
The trip eventually brought her to “Without a Trace,” where she plays Agent Samantha Spade, whose demeanor — tough, guarded — is quite the opposite of Montgomery’s.
Like her fellow co-stars, Montgomery brings impressive dimension to her largely stereotypical character (and makes the most of the occasional groaner dialogue such as: “I’ll check all the pawn shops in the area. Maybe we’ll get lucky”).
Sunday’s repeat gives Montgomery some of her best moments thus far, as Sam wrestles with a painful reaction to the disappearance of a 13-year-old girl.
“The great challenge, and the fun, is figuring out how I can do this role differently than it’s been done before,” Montgomery says. And now lodged, with her series, in the Nielsen top 20, she’ll have plenty of time to take stock of how she got there.
“I had no fears,” she sums up. “I think it helped that this wasn’t my country. I figured, well, if I make a fool of myself, I can always go home. I think I have more fear now, with more success in my life, than I did then.”
A ‘Trace’ of Poppy Montgomery