CSI: Crime Scene Investigation’s Elisabeth Harnois is always on the go, whether in her acting career or on the dance floor
Elisabeth Harnois looks a decade younger than her 34 years and exudes a charming confidence that affords her the ability to command the attention of any room—including a private members club in London that’s a sanctuary to stars like Mick Jagger, Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston. The CSI: Crime Scene Investigation actress loves food and dancing, which is why we’re at Annabel’s, and as Harnois glides down the stairs into the basement of the club, it’s she who draws the most attention.
CSI ’s NEW BLOOD
Beauty, brains, bravado—the Detroit native has it all in spades, and after more than two decades in the business the work is finally paying off. Small roles in teenage movies like Pretty Persuasion and as the devil’s daughter in Point Pleasant have led to CSI, the most-watched TV show in the world, in which Harnois’ character, Morgan Brody, is quickly becoming central to the series.
“She’s a bold, brave, rebellious, shoot-from-the-hip type of girl,” explains Harnois of her character, though you get the impression she could just as well be describing herself.
“The writers are amazing,” the actress says. “They figure out who we are in real life and write to our strengths. They write me a lot of humor and sarcasm, because they know I have range in doing comedy and drama.”
Harnois’ fresh-faced looks belie her acting chops, and until recently she was still auditioning for young adult characters. CSI is her first “adult role,” Harnois says with a laugh, and she’s savoring every minute of it, even the gory parts.
“I heard that when actors join the show they can go and witness autopsies,” Harnois explains. “I was keen to do it, too, because I wanted to see things from the perspective of a real CSI, who wouldn’t be as reactive to the graphic sights they have to deal with as I would be.”
She’s an actress to the core, and can talk passionately about the craft, including her cameo in Tom Ford’s Oscar-nominated movie A Single Man, a role the designer hand-picked her for. But Harnois can also switch easily between serious conversation and lighthearted banter. She loves the ’90s rock band Sublime, is a fashion buff (she proudly shows a diamond ring she’d bought at Harrods) and loves food, despite her petite frame. Along with her fiancé, Oliver, on this night Harnois indulges in Annabel’s famous champagne-imbued cocktails, lobster bisque, crab salad and black cod.
“I haven’t eaten all day,” says the actress, who’d spent the last 14 hours shooting a Watch! fashion spread inside London’s The Goring hotel, made famous by a certain duchess spending the night before her royal wedding. “So excuse me if I order the whole menu. I’m starving and I’m also a massive foodie; I want to try everything."
Which raises the question: How does she do it?
“I’ve never had a problem where I’ve gained a lot of weight,” Harnois explains. “For the most part I eat very healthily—and not because I’m thinking about it. I just crave good things. But I also love to ride my bike along Venice Beach and I take private dance classes—hip-hop, ballet or classical jazz—whenever I can. I grew up dancing. My mom was a great dancer and she gave me a love for that. I just can’t stand still in one place; it has to be something I enjoy.”
Born to a hairstylist mother and a computer programmer father, Harnois was the eldest child with four younger brothers. The family escaped the cold and moved to California from the Motor City when Harnois was just 2, and soon after she started dance and acting classes.
“I was always singing and dancing, and I started to get attention from people in the industry who told my parents to get me an agent, but they were never really interested in that side of things,” Harnois says with a laugh. “I, however, was superexcited about the idea of it. I was very young, but it was my hobby. My parents were never, ever stage parents. They wanted to take me out many times, even though I was already successful. I paid for college with what I’d earned as a child—and believe me, the college I went to was not cheap.”
That turned out to be Wesleyan, which Harnois chose because “it had such a strong film department. We joke that there’s a Wesleyan mafia in Hollywood.”
After college, Harnois returned to the industry as a production assistant, even interning for Transformers director Michael Bay. “I got to see the other side of things—and in some respects, when you’re a PA it’s the under side. I was raised to appreciate everyone.”
Harnois went back to acting two years later and hasn’t looked back. “I will always act because I love telling stories,” she says. “I have the best job in the world.”
And with that she takes a swig of champagne and sweeps off to the dance floor, a beautiful whirl of beauty and talent.