No matter how many forensic dramas "CSI" producer Jerry Bruckheimer puts on the air, they're unlikely to have a character quite like crime-lab technician Abby Sciuto. She's played by musician, poet and former criminology student Pauley Perrette on CBS's Tuesday-night drama "NCIS."
Rolling around her high-tech lair, Abby can analyze voiceprints, process photos, identify DNA and hack into government computers, all while bopping to loud music and sucking down prodigious amounts of caffeine. She wears a lab coat, but it's thrown over Goth-chick clothes and accessorized with tattoos, studded dog collars and striped socks -- all of which go very well with her jet-black ponytails, white skin and red lipstick.
Oh, and Abby's guest room has a coffin for a bed.
"She's such a cartoon character," Perrette said, taking a break in her trailer during filming. "Right after the show started, people told me that people dressed up as her for Halloween all the time. Think about it -- ponytails, a tattoo, lab coat, done. It's cute."
Pulling out some old photos, Perrette, 36, said, "I actually have curly hair. Someone else made it look like this. And I'm blond. I don't think I'm ever going to get this out of my hair. I could grow my blond roots out to here and be half-blond, but I would look like a skunk."
Perrette may not have Abby's hair, but she does share her high-energy personality, machine-gun patter and fascination with crime and criminal science. She's especially entranced with the unsolved 1947 Elizabeth Short murder in Los Angeles, fictionalized by James Ellroy in "The Black Dahlia."
"I'm a big fan of Ellroy," Perrette said. "The reason I got turned onto him is because I've been obsessed with the Black Dahlia case forever and ever."
Strangely enough, with Abby's black hair, Perrette even looks like Short, who was a pale-skinned, light-eyed brunette.
"I know, I know," she said. "I know everything about her, Elizabeth Short. I've been obsessed with crime since I was a little kid, and I've been studying as if someone assigned me that case for years and years, since the first time I saw the crime scene photo."
In the famous shot, Short has been carefully posed, with gashes on her face resembling a ghoulish smile.
"There's something oddly beautiful about it," Perrette said. "That's a big deal, forensically, that they posed her. I had to back off of it, because I was like, 'Oh, God.' I went to school for criminal science. I spent the majority of my life obsessing over crime day and night. I'm a little paranoid. I thought, 'I need to go chill and eat some chips or something. This is too much.' So I made myself take a break."
Perrette even gave up her 10-year weekly date to watch "America's Most Wanted" on Fox. "I'd keep the case logs," she said. "I knew everything. I love [host] John Walsh. He's awesome. I have a list of four people that I want to meet, and he's on it."
Although serial killers fascinate her, Perrette said she hasn't seen the 1986 television movie "The Deliberate Stranger," in which "NCIS" star Mark Harmon plays Ted Bundy.
Perrette has had brushes with death in real life, including the losses of two friends: rock singer and bassist Bianca Halstead of the band Betty Blowtorch, who was killed in a car accident in 2001; and Irish drinking buddy Glenn Quinn ("Angel"), who died in a 2002 drug overdose.
On the positive side, Perrette works with Burbank, Calif.-based Chihuahua Rescue, which focuses on abandoned and abused dogs (mostly, but not exclusively, Chihuahuas). Perrette has a former feral Chihuahua, and on her trailer wall is a picture of a wolf-dog hybrid. A longtime supporter of dog rescue and adoption, Perrette became interested in Chihuahua Rescue after reading a newspaper article about a raid on a California puppy mill.
Professionally, her resume includes roles in 20 theatrical and television movies and TV series, and more than three dozen guest appearances, including 10 on "Murder One" in 1996-97 as Gwen. She introduced the character of Abby Sciuto on "JAG" in 2003.
"NCIS" -- Naval Criminal Investigative Service -- ended its second season with a shocking episode in which a rogue double agent (Rudolf Martin) shot Special Agent Caitlin Todd (Sasha Alexander). The fall finds two new female characters signing on: Lauren Holly ("Picket Fences") and Cote de Pablo ("The Jury").
"NCIS" launches its third season Sept. 20. For Abby, it means a new round of teasing and sexual innuendo with Special Agent Timothy McGee (Sean Murray). Viewers aren't sure where the relationship is going.
"That's the point," Perrette said, "for no one to know, including me. She has a bunch of little boyfriends around, and he's her in-house guy. I think it's mutual. McGee makes little comments now and then that he didn't stay home on the weekend. It's postmodern geek love. They're not swimming in the ocean of traditional in any way."
Tuesday at 8 p.m. on CBS