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She plays one of the most unconventional characters on television (Navy NCIS’ goth-garbed forensic scientist Abby Sciuto), but Pauley Perrette’s real life is just as mysterious as her alter ego’s, maybe more so.
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In the late ’90s, she frequented neoglam hedonism hubs like Club Cherry, Makeup and Pretty Ugly. P.P., as her friends called her, always had a knack for wild getups, often fashioning them out of different colors of electrical tape. Of course, she had the body to pull off the strategically skimpy strips, but even with her bombshell looks (she was blond back then) and burgeoning acting career, Perrette was never intimidating or self-important. She was an Alice in Wonderland–like figure, ever eager to have fun, forge new friendships and rock the flamboyant frocks.
“Back when we were going to those clubs,” Perrette recalls, “it wasn’t about ‘Who are you wearing?’ It was about ‘Who are you going as?’ It was a creative, carefree time.” She’s still a lot more comfortable around drag queens and club kids than red carpets and paparazzi.
While late nights on the dance floor were a weekly occurrence, Perrette was also building her résumé with parts in hit films (Almost Famous, The Ring), TV shows (The Drew Carey Show, Frasier) and commercials. Her sexy rasp was the voice of Volkswagen and Carnival cruise lines for years. Around the same time, she took a different kind of role — that of a real-life rock & roller, fronting the sassy all-girl band Lo-Ball.
Unlike her Navy NCIS co-stars Mark Harmon and Lauren Holly, she’s usually seen in a lab setting, where her character actually dons a lot of the same accouterments Perrette used to wear in her club and band days (not to mention a spider-web neck tattoo). Perrette also has a criminal-science background, and her altruistic nature and love of sleuthing even led to appearances on her favorite TV show, America’s Most Wanted, in which she met two murder victims’ families and put up reward money to help find their killers. (The cases remain unsolved.)
Though a lot of what’s written for the CBS show mirrors Perrette’s life (both she and her character, Abby, were born in New Orleans, for example), much has yet to be revealed — and she likes that.
“I don’t want her to be in a box,” she says. Regardless, Abby has developed a cult following on the Web, of computer nerds and housewives alike, via countless fan sites that chart P.P.’s every move.
These days, Perrette rarely leaves the Hollywood Hills home she shares with her beloved pets and Michael Bosman, her camera-operator boyfriend (or “life domestic partner,” as the divorced TV star calls him). She’s currently working with her man on a documentary about famed civil rights attorney Mark Lane and has another music project, called “Stop Making Friends,” and a collection of poetry in the works.
Still, crime fighting will always be part of her life.
“It’s baffling to me how anyone at any time would make the choice to hurt someone,” she says. “Life can be so tough and we all struggle. For someone to intentionally make it worse makes no sense to me. Abby’s obsession with solving crimes is more about the rush of the puzzle and the science — mine comes out of compassion for victims. And I really dislike bad guys.”
Photo by Kevin Scanlon