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'Cold Case' takes characters back in time to solve crimes

Monday, December 22, 2003

By Bridget Byrne, For The Associated Press

Crew members retouch dirty patches of fake snow and wet down the pavement on a grimy urban back street.

A crane-mounted camera swings high above the scene as three people wrapped in winter clothing move slowly between tenement buildings, glancing side to side, up and down, their eyes searching.

The camera swings down for a shot of detectives Lilly Rush, Tom Stillman and Scotty Valens of the CBS series "Cold Case" (8 p.m. Sundays) as they check out the location of a crime committed many years ago.


Then the scene is repeated with exactly the same camera moves, but with a younger actor playing Stillman circa 1980. The match is excellent -- the same slender build and body language, but with a touch more hair.

"I think they flattered me," series star John Finn says about the choice of guest actor Anthony John Crane to play a younger Stillman.

Crane praises Finn for teaching him the nuances of the part. "There is something very still about him, something that's not fully expressed. Yet he has a quiet kind of strength and sensitivity," Crane says of his character.

The realistic time-morphing seen on "Cold Case" has set the show apart from the other crime investigation dramas currently cluttering the networks.

Each week, images of then and now reveal not just the whys of a murder, but also the crime's impact on the survivors. The call sheet for this day's filming lists various roles that are dual cast for this purpose.

It's the first network series for casting directors Barbara Fiorentino and Rebecca Mangieri, and, says Mangieri, their first experience "having to age up and down in such a short amount of time every week."

There were 30 to 40 submissions for the role of the younger Stillman, with about 25 actors auditioning before a choice was made. The trick? To pick the physical feature that is the most important to match, then count on costuming and makeup to help viewers take it from there.

This episode focuses on a crime that Stillman was unable to solve in 1980, hence the need for Crane. It's a story line, Finn says, that "allows all the characters to look at each other in different ways, sometimes lightheartedly, other times with more gravity."

Today's filming on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, Calif., showcases many of the elements that have made this drama click with audiences: the dual casting, the feature film production values, and a keen attention to period detail, including the shooting of flashbacks using the film stock and style of the era. All that's missing on this set is period music, which will be added later.

Executive producer Jonathan Littman says a lot of money is spent to secure the rights for songs that establish the right tone for the times. "But we're getting the response we want. It's like a great oldies station."

Cast members also point to human emotion as a reason for the success of "Cold Case."

"It's about people, not necessarily about physical evidence ... why people hold in things that they've done in the past for so long, and why they ultimately give them up," says Danny Pino, who plays rookie detective Valens. "It's interesting to watch why people confess, or not."

Kathryn Morris, who plays lead investigator Rush, says the show is not so much a whodunit as a why-they-did-it.

The show "hits an emotional chord, rather than an overly intellectual chord," she explains, picking her words with care as she unwinds in her trailer at the end of a long day.

"It still has the intrigue ... and the mystery-solving," she says. "However, the 'why' someone murders another is much more complicated, and provides an emotional through-line, because a murder touches so many people's lives, and time doesn't truly heal. It just changes perspective."

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