In a scene from an upcoming episode of CSI: NY, the Compass Killer reassures his companion he's almost done. Done with what? "With making it all go away," he says.
As the Compass Killer — the newest addition to the New York Crime Lab's most-wanted list — Skeet Ulrich is the first to admit he was reluctant to sign onto a TV guest-star spot. Surprisingly enough, it's one of his oldest films that motivated him to try new territory.
"I was really curious because I haven't played a killer since Scream and I was really curious how I would think about it now versus how I thought about it then," Ulrich says of his role on the crime show's next two episodes. "What they laid out for me was not a one-dimensional character so that's what kept me interested."
Check out full episodes of CSI: NY
It also helps that the killer is worlds away from Ulrich's most recent TV work, as the unlikely hero on the cult favorite Jericho. Suffice it to say, we're not in Jericho, Kansas, anymore. "He's no hero," Ulrich says of the the killer, aka Hollis Eckhart.
The Compass Killer first struck in this season's third episode, killing two seemingly unrelated victims and leaving antique compasses behind as hints to his next crime. The last piece he sent was spinning out of control, and left Mac and the team surprisingly stumped. Although viewers only got a small glimpse into Hollis' backstory last time, executive producer Peter Lenkov promises the pieces will start to come together this week.
"What becomes very apparent in Episode 8 and even more frustrating is that everything we thought about this guy was wrong. We really completely take a left turn. Nothing is what it seems," he says. "When we sort of discover who this guy is, it just ... makes it even more of a challenge to get him."
Check out behind-the-scenes video of Skeet Ulrich on the set of CSI: NY
Most of the killers on CSI: NY are contained in a single episode. However, with Ulrich in the mix and the success of past longer story arcs, producers decided to stretch the Compass Killer's crime spree to three episodes. "Knowing that there was someone out there that our people had to take down, that there was someone who was a formidable opponent or protagonist for Mac and our team, they kind of got into it," says executive producer Pam Veasey of audience reaction to past multi-episode cases, such as Season Four's 333 Killer.
It was this character complexity that also convinced Ulrich to sign on. "He was very cautious because he didn't want to play a villain of the week," Lenkov says. "What he really responded to was the character. I think he felt that this was a character in the world of CSI ... that wasn't explored. This was a really psychological exploration into somebody's mind."
At the end of Ulrich's last episode, fans discovered the Compass Killer's mysterious facial disfiguration, the makeup for which took two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half hours. However, Ulrich's real heavy lifting came in the form of research on schizophrenia and other mental problems, as well as watching documentaries on, among others, Ted Bundy.
"He's very interesting because of the reasons he does what he does," Ulrich says of Hollis. "Once you think about somebody who's lost everything and has no love in his life, it's not necessarily a justification but you can sort of wrap your head around it a little more."
It's clear the CSI: NY team won't be able to crack this case as quickly as they'd like, but how close they'll get before the Compass Killer "makes it all go away" is anyone's guess. "I think he was a very decent human being who did some pretty despicable things," Ulrich says. "And he runs fast."