Patricia Arquette on Tackling ‘CSI’ Franchise’s First-Ever Female Lead: It’s ‘Illuminating… Terrifying’

Fresh off her Oscar win the newly minted CBS star talks cyberattacks, post-Oscar pressure and how this series differs from other “CSI” spinoffs

Patricia Arquette is having a year most Hollywood actors only dream of. Fresh off her best supporting actress Oscar win for her performance in “Boyhood,” now Arquette makes a bit of TV history as the first-ever female lead on CBS’ most popular franchise, “CSI.”

Arquette takes on the role of special agent Avery Ryan in CBS’ latest mega-spinoff, “CSI: Cyber,” premiering on Wednesday.

“It’s terrifying,” Arquette said. “It is an awesome responsibility but all I can do is my best.”

TheWrap spoke to Arquette on the eve of her big launch where she discussed how her new show differs from all those other “CSI” spinoffs.

TheWrap: This particular spinoff isn’t named after a city, but instead deals with cyberattacks. Does that mean less blood and fingerprints?
Patricia Arquette: I think it’s kind of interesting, and definitely something we have to think about and look at. We have so much technology in our lives and I don’t think we really understand everything that it is capable of. It is terrifying and it was really illuminating, and scary every time I read a new episode of what’s possible, and how technology can be spun and changed and used in this negative way.

You could have any role you want these days. Why this one?
I really like this part because most of the people that I play are very emotion-based people, and she’s much more mentally-based of a person. She really relies on her extensive knowledge of technology and human behavior. And that’s a really interesting mechanism she uses to keep her safe and the world safe.

This seems like an entirely different “CSI.” It’s all about high-tech computers, and your costars look like they barely shave. Even the feel is different. Is that on purpose?
In a way it’s probably closest to the original “CSI.” I remember a few years before the original “CSI,” there were a couple of court cases where they talked about DNA and people thought it was fake science. After “CSI,” it really became clear what forensic science was capable of and how important forensic science was to court cases. In a way, this is similar because very few people understand what the criminal element is doing with technology.

This role is based on a real life forensic-psychologist. Is it harder to play real people or is it harder to create a character from scratch?
Even though this character is based on Mary Aiken it’s really mostly based on her skills. She goes through every script, she helps the writers break down how a psychologist would break down a target, what choices that target would make.

Is there a lot of pressure playing the lead in one of the biggest franchises in the world?
Of course there’s pressure. Whenever I look at material I look at it first as a viewer, and I found every episode illuminating and terrifying and really interesting.

Does winning the Oscar take some of that pressure off of you?
I don’t think so. If anything I guess it could put more pressure on it in weird way, like “Why are you doing TV?” Listen, people are going to say whatever they’re going to say. Everybody gets to have an opinion. That’s what’s great about America. So I’m cool with that.

Every device that connects to the Internet can make people vulnerable to a cyberattack. Do you think this show will freak out viewers?
I do think it will freak people out. Every time I read a new episode I’d say to the writers “Are you serious? This is really scary!” What blows my mind is the genius that so many of these criminals have and that they’re not doing anything good for the world with it. They’re using it just for their own gain.

What made you go, I really want to do this show?
It was really a package deal. I felt like those guys really knew how to make entertainment. This is the largest franchise in the world. This is the first time they’ve had a female lead. I thought exploring crime with technology was really interesting and I don’t feel like it’s been done. It’s this new world we’re venturing into. And the fact that my character is very much inside the system, which is different than me, and has these skill sets that I don’t at all have as a person. I’m not tech savvy. I don’t know everything about technology. So it’s really interesting to learn all of this.

What was the biggest the most surprising thing  when shooting the series?
All of this technological language is basically its own language. It was difficult for all of us just to get our heads and our mouths around this language that is in parallel with our whole culture and community and country. It’s being spoken by certain groups of people but not by others. It’s like you have to have a real education in what is going on and what is happening. It was pretty shocking and terrifying to me to discover the misuses of technology. There’s one episode where we’re talking about pedophiles. In the old days they would have a box of photos under their bed. They’d be afraid to reach out to other people. Now they find these communities online and they normalize each other’s behavior by saying “Yeah, that’s fine. Yeah that’s great. Do you have another picture?” It not only normalizes the behavior in their own minds. It also emboldens them to do more action. So technology has its great elements and its really dangerous elements.

“CSI: Cyber” premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. on CBS.