Stars: Second Impression
Posted on Sep 14, 2011 09:00pm

by Hudson Morgan, Photography by Cliff Lipson, Styling by Angelique O'Neil
NCIS star Pauley Perrette brings new life to Impressionist masterpieces at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris

For someone so often confused with her goth-ish TV alter ego, Abby Sciuto, Pauley Perrette suddenly looks nothing like her.

Smoldering in an evening gown on the roof of the Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris with the sun setting over the Eiffel Tower, the star of NCIS has shed all vestiges of lab rat Abby. "Are you loving the roof deck a little bit?" she asks the photo crew assembled to capture the moment. She swigs from a bottle of beer and smiles widely. "One, two, three-fromage!"

Knowing the French word for cheese: Not bad for a Paris virgin. This is Perrette's first time in the City of Lights, and it wasn't an easy journey for the heroine-by-day, hermit-by-night. Despite the fact that she's lived in Georgia, North Carolina, New York and all points in between, she has recently found herself frumping out in Los Angeles. "There have been years of being a total recluse," she says over lunch in the hotel's Galerie des Gobelins. "Wherever I am, I just want to be back at my house, on the couch. But sometimes things that you're scared of-like traveling-all you gotta do is do 'em and they're not so scary anymore."

Especially when the destination is a luxe penthouse on Avenue Montaigne. Perrette, bless her, is staying in the Athénée's Terrace Eiffel suite, which has a view so unadulterated you wonder if the landmark was built solely for that hotel room. "Sitting in my bed and looking at that is crazy," she says. "Like, 'Wow, look, that's the … we're in Paris!' I didn't want to leave home, and now I don't want to leave Paris."

But rather than worship at the altars of materialism (Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Hermès) like most first-timers, Perrette opted for actual altars. "I already church-hopped a couple of churches around here," she says. "That's what I would do if I had another day: hit every church in Paris. All of them. It's a lot of candle lighting! But especially in Paris, it's a very peaceful place to be."

The more Perrette talks, the more her resemblance to Abby (or Abby's resemblance to her) reemerges: long sentences, short attention span. But it's hardly enough to justify the endless comparisons to her fictional counterpart. "Everyone calls me Abby, including my dad!" says Perrette. "And everybody asks me if I'm like her. I always go, 'No.' And then they say, ‘You have tattoos.' And I'm like, 'Well, everyone has tattoos, don't they?' " She laughs-a warm, raspy rat-a-tat that bounces off the walls and fills the room-and it's easy to see why she recently landed a Q Score (a market research term for likability) just behind Tom Hanks and Morgan Freeman. Which means what, exactly? Even if she's not as famous as they, those who do know her, like her.

For now Perrette has to go back to vamping her way through the French impressionist photo shoot around the hotel, which actually isn't so different from her day job. "It's the same thing as being an actor," she says. "You get the clothes and then you can just escape-which is the drug of being an actor-because you don't have to be yourself." She unfurls another signature laugh. "It's like a very polite form of suicide!" Death among the impressionists-maybe Abby's rubbing off on her after all.