Fame & Fortune: Marg Helgenberger

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Prior to becoming the captivating star she is on the hit TV show “CSI,” Marg Helgenberger had a very interesting career path while living in Nebraska. Besides being the local weather girl, she also worked in the meat packing plant where her father was a meat inspector.

But Helgenberger had bigger plans in her sights. Just two weeks after graduating from Northwestern University with a drama degree, she moved to New York City and landed a role on the daytime soap, “Ryan’s Hope.” But it was her turn as the drug-addicted prostitute K.C. on the TV series “China Beach” in the late 1980s that really established Helgenberger’s career and personal life.

While doing the series, she met actor Alan Rosenberg, whom she is now married. They have a son named Hughie, whose namesake is her dad Hugh, who passed away from multiple sclerosis.

Helgenberger went on to play opposite Julia Roberts as a chemical exposure resident in “Erin Brockovich” and as the clueless-yet-glamorous mogul wife Mrs. Brooks, opposite Kevin Costner in last year’s “Mr. Brooks.” But it’s her current role as Catherine Willows, a former Las Vegas stripper turned criminal detective in “CSI” that has brought her worldwide recognition and job security for the last seven seasons.

The 49-year-old actress credits her disciplined Midwestern values and the support of her husband with the success she’s enjoyed.

Bankrate: During the writers strike, you had more than two months off. What did you do with that time?

Helgenberger: I did a bit of everything. I’m in the process of renovating our house right now, so that’s kept me very busy. And I got a new puppy, a shepherd mix named Henry. He’s a lot of work, but I love him.

Bankrate: So while everyone was counting their pennies, you were out spending them?

Helgenberger: I’ve got to say it probably would have been more fun if I knew a salary was coming in, but nonetheless, I knew we would eventually get back to bringing in the cash.

Bankrate: I know you worked in your father’s meat packing plant, but what was your first paying job?

Helgenberger: Oh gosh, that was just grueling work. But besides baby-sitting, my first paying job was working in the bean fields; then I went on to work in the corn fields. I made a little bit of money in agriculture (laughs). Not much though. When I was doing corn, I made about $1.75 an hour.

Bankrate: What was your first big splurge when you made it in acting?

Helgenberger: Well, out of college, I got the job on the soap opera. I still wasn’t very extravagant when I lived in New York. I guess I would buy certain articles of clothing that I wouldn’t have purchased had I not had that job. I had a nice enough apartment and that’s a splurge in itself. Nothing that I would call nice now. It was your first apartment type of place. Most 23-year-olds now in New York couldn’t afford it unless you had three other roommates.

Bankrate: And your last big splurge?

Helgenberger: It’s something for the house. It’s insane when you go through these renovations. It’s going to be an awesome house, if I say so myself, but everything is expensive. We’ll be living in it in our retirement. Just the decision to actually go ahead with the renovation was expensive.

Bankrate: You were raised in Nebraska. Any Midwestern values you still use in your everyday life?

Helgenberger: Besides the work ethic, it’s the practicality that the Midwest has. No matter how much money you make, I think there’s a real practical quality many people have back there and I still do.

Bankrate: Do you ever worry about the tenuous nature of your business — and your husband’s — and your family’s financial security?

Helgenberger: I think when you get into this business you take that risk anyway, knowing that a job can be over at any time. This television series, “CSI,” is one of the few that has had an incredibly long life. Usually you make a pilot and nothing much happens with it, or you get a show that doesn’t last that long. So this is one of those rare instances. I never forget how fortunate I am, though.

Photo courtesy Retna Ltd.