VANCOUVER - Lauren Holly wasn't born in Canada, but she’s been making up for that lapse ever since.
Born in Bristol, Pa., the future “Picket Fences,” “Chicago Hope” and “NCIS” star moved with her family to upstate New York, right across Lake Ontario from Toronto, where she was raised.
Later, she married a Canadian — Jim Carrey — and when that didn't work out, she married another one.
That marriage, in 2001, took. She and her investment banker husband, Francis Greco, settled in Toronto in 2008, where they are raising three boys, ages 11, 10 and nine.
Holly became a Canadian citizen and, soon after, a busy Canadian actress. Her latest series is “Motive,” the new CTV “howdunit” airing Sunday nights at 9 p.m. (and later this year on ABC).
Holly plays Dr. Betty Rogers, the chief medical examiner who helps detectives Angie Flynn (Kristin Lehman) and Oscar Vega (Louis Ferreira) piece together clues in order to catch killers. The twist in this series is that the audience — told upfront the identity of the murderer — is one step ahead of the crime solvers.
Rogers is not your typical medical examiner. “She reminds me of myself,” says the actress, her trademark red hair as vibrant as ever. “They're not all like Quincy.”
For one thing, Rogers is way sexier. Her weapon of choice, according to the press kit, is Chanel No. 5. It’s no accident that she knows all the Vancouver firemen by name.
“She just enjoys all the cops,” says Holly, 49. “I like portraying that. I like being so comfortable that I can make Vega blush.”
Holly visited a real Vancouver morgue to get a sense of what her character was up against. On her first trip she took the elevator down to the morgue but couldn't get out the door for all the bodies stacked up on gurneys blocking the doorway.
She saw the freezer where the feet that had been washing up on shores in Vancouver were kept. Unsettling, says Holly, but she saw how real medical examiners dealt with death on a regular basis.
“She’s really just a detective,” says Holly of her character. “The lab is her crime scene. It’s much more detached than if it was somebody’s loved one.”
It’s a colourful part punctuated with black humour and a lot of sassy entrance lines. “Not many scenes, but they're all kind of gems,” she says. “I couldn't really ask for a better role at this stage of my life.”
Or a faster way to rack up frequent flyer points. While the series is in production, she makes the trip back and forth between Vancouver and Toronto every few days.
“They put my days together, which is fantastic,” she says.
The custom-made schedule was one of the reasons Holly said yes to the project. Since leaving “NCIS” in 2008, Holly put family first, including the relatives she visits a few hours across the border in Geneva, N.Y.
She never planned to quit acting, however. “I'm a permanent resident and that makes me a tax incentive, so I knew I was going to work all the time,” she says.
Holly became a fixture of the Canadian TV scene, making several TV movies and appearing on everything from “Flashpoint” to “Lost Girl” to “Covert Affairs,” all shot in Toronto. She also had recurring roles on local productions “Rookie Blue” and “Alphas.” Her oldest son, Azer Greco, looks to be following in his mother’s footsteps, having landed a role on the Family Channel series “Really Me.”
Her goal coming north was to land a regular series gig within five years. “Motive” fit the bill. "The only wrinkle,” says Holly, “is that the show is shot in Vancouver.”
The irony, which must be felt by nearly every Canadian TV actress, is that here’s an American, who becomes a Canadian, who moves to Toronto — and still has to fly to the coast.
The producers smoothed over that wrinkle with the cushy commute commitment. Making the choice even easier was the fact she loves the part, the series and the people.
“This show mirrors the experience I had on another show — ‘Picket Fences,’” she says.
“The crew is awesome and so is the cast. There are no egos, no nothing, just a joy to come to work all the time.”
Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.