Sasha Alexander is nothing if not brave. After all, this is the same actress — currently starring as medical examiner Maura Isles on Season 3 of TNT's smash procedural Rizzoli & Isles — who walked away from a lead role on NCIS after only two seasons. She married the son of legendary Italian sex symbol Sophia Loren, a gig not for the faint of heart. And today, Alexander, 39, is swinging upside down from a trapeze suspended far above the Santa Monica Pier — her suggestion — despite admitting that she's spooked by heights. We set out to investigate what fuels her fearlessness.
TV Guide Magazine: When you quit the plum part as NCIS Agent Caitlin Todd in 2005, did everyone think you were nuts?
Alexander: Yeah. People don't realize that on a network show, you make 24 episodes a year — that's 10½ months a year, 17 hours a day. It's hard core. Plus, people really loved the character, and the way they did it was really shocking...it was a bullet to the head, you know?
TV Guide Magazine: Any regrets?
Alexander: I really firmly believe in my heart that I would not be where I am today — happily married, with two kids, doing things creatively that I want — if I had stayed. I didn't want to wake up and be in my forties and go, "Oh, my gosh!" But people don't understand.
Alexander: I was so fascinated by how these very young people — James and Josh [Jackson] and Katie [Holmes] and Michelle [Williams] — were dealing with being teenagers and going through all that. Fangirls were really jealous of me, like, "What's he like to kiss?" And I'm like, "Good?" What do you say?
TV Guide Magazine: So how'd the role in Rizzoli & Isles come to be?
Alexander: After NCIS, I wanted to be really diligent about picking characters I want to play every week and that show all sides of me. They brought me in to read with Angie [Harmon] — we'd never met, but we immediately clicked.
TV Guide Magazine: The show hinges on the chemistry between you as best friends — a bond that was tested earlier this season. How would you describe the dynamic?
Alexander: There's a friction, a fieriness, that I think is good. I feel like, this season, we've really hit an amazing stride together...there's a looseness, a real synergy. Jane and Maura rebuilding their trust [after Jane shot Maura's biological gangster father] has made things much stronger.
TV Guide Magazine: Who's your real-life Rizzoli?
Alexander: She's an actress — Jessica Capshaw from Grey's Anatomy. We met 12, 13 years ago because people would always say, "You remind me of my friend Jessica," and it was the same for her about me. So many people said it mutually that finally we saw each other at an audition and she said, "Hey, do you mind waiting for me? Let's go have a coffee." And that was it. She's the godmother to my daughter, I'm the godmother to her son. She's hilarious.
TV Guide Magazine: How did you and writer-director Edoardo Ponti get together?
Alexander: We met at film school at USC. He was always lovely — he had a smile that gave me enormous comfort, even though I didn't know him. Eight years later, I'd worked an all-nighter on NCIS and I was sitting in a restaurant eating breakfast with a hat on, and he walked up to my table and said, "Sasha, do you remember me?"
TV Guide Magazine: What's it like having a bombshell for a mother-in-law?
Alexander: The first time we met, it was intimidating. This was six months in. But the minute I walked in, she gave me a hug and a kiss. She's an extremely warm person. She's phenomenal; she's stunning. She loves to eat and sleep and live. When we go out, we have Prosecco, chocolate and everything in between. It's funny: I took her to the airport yesterday, and she was like, "What is this book everyone's talking about?" I bought her Fifty Shades of Grey and told her she needs to read it.
Rizzoli & Isles airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on TNT.