Anthony LaPaglia in <EM>The Architect</EM> Anthony LaPaglia in The Architect

In October, CBS' Without a Trace (Sundays at 10 pm/ET) notched its 100th episode. Though not as high-profile as the Law & Orders and CSIs of the world, the FBI procedural has earned a loyal audience with solid writing and an engaging ensemble. Leading that cast is veteran actor Anthony LaPaglia. TVGuide.com touched base with LaPaglia as he wrapped up on shooting the series' fifth season and was out promoting The Architect, a gritty indie currently in theaters and on DVD that follows a community activist's struggles to get a dangerous subsidized housing project demolished.

TVGuide.com: The Architect tackles some pretty weighty issues, from class struggle to family dysfunction. Did that draw you to the project?
Anthony LaPaglia:
Definitely. I felt lucky to be part of a film that was about something, even though I went into it knowing that my mother and maybe my two aunts would be the only ones who saw it. But on a creative-fulfillment level, it was something I really wanted to be involved in.

TVGuide.com: Your character is at odds with a fellow activist played by Viola Davis. What was it like working with her and generating that tension in the film?
LaPaglia:
She's so dialed-in and such an intense actress, but she's also very sweet. We'd shoot the breeze between takes and then as soon as they yelled "Action," we'd go at each other. She's a real force. When you're looking at her and acting with her, you know you can't do anything less than what she's doing. You can't phone it in, that's for sure. She challenges you every step of the way.

TVGuide.com: You also have some pretty dramatic moments with Hayden Panettiere (Heroes), who plays your daughter in the film.
LaPaglia:
Even though she's young, she's also very intense. She asks a lot of questions and is very inquisitive about what's going on in a scene. In that respect, this was fantastic as a collaborative effort.

TVGuide.com: Is there any added pressure when you're the face of a film?
LaPaglia:
I don't give it any more weight than if I [had] played the janitor. It's more about trying to accomplish your objectives with the character. This was particularly challenging, because when I first read the script I didn't really like the guy very much. It's a challenge to put aside your feelings and moral standards and try to reflect those of somebody you don't agree with.

TVGuide.com: As a father yourself, it must have also been tough to play the patriarch of such a dysfunctional household.
LaPaglia:
It was a good wake-up call. I looked at it as a road map of where not to go.

TVGuide.com: Ultimately, what do you think director Matt Tauber is trying to say with The Architect?
LaPaglia:
I always hate to speak for other people, but I think the message is that despite the ever-widening chasm between classes, basic human nature is the glue that holds us together. Moments of self-realization and compassion are common things that join people together.

TVGuide.com: Was playing someone pretentious and detached a welcome change after playing Jack Malone the last few years?
LaPaglia:
Not really. I just really liked the material with The Architect. You know, the television world and the movie world I tend to separate. However, shooting this was like shooting TV — you have no time and no money, and you're always scrambling. So I was used to the pace. I haven't done a big-budget movie for a while, but I used to judge the size of a production by how many books I got to read during the course of shooting. The bigger the budget, the more books I read. This was a no-book movie.

TVGuide.com: Without a Trace recently aired its 100th episode. How did you guys celebrate?
LaPaglia:
We just kept working. It does give you a sense of accomplishment, though. There's a lot of work that goes into the show, and I'm really fortunate. We have a great cast and a great crew, and there's no E! True Hollywood Story yet. There's no, "In Year 2, the cracks started to appear.... " We all get along great, and that makes it fun to go to work.

TVGuide.com: How do you account for the show's success?
LaPaglia:
I have no idea. I really don't know. If I was pushed into an answer, I would say that it's because it doesn't start with a dead body. So as an audience member, you get to go along on the journey with the FBI agents. We're not working backwards. We also try really hard to assume the audience is not dumb. We let an audience use their own intuitive skills to figure out what's going on. We don't pander to the lowest common denominator.

TVGuide.com: Is that also what keeps you coming back season after season?
LaPaglia:
Seems to be. My favorite saying is, "I'm riding this surfboard until it hits the sand." I really enjoy doing it. A good friend of mine said to me a long time ago, "Hollywood is littered with the skulls of actors who thought they were too good for TV." I definitely don't want to be one of those skulls.

Procedural fans, pick up the Dec. 11 TV Guide for scoop on CBS' red-hot Criminal Minds.

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