Louise Lombard has featured in one of the most successful US TV series, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation; she won legions of fans from the hit BBC1 period drama about a 1920s fashion outfit, The House of Eliott; she co-starred with Viggo Mortensen in the well-regarded Hidalgo; oh yes, and she has also been voted one of the 50 most beautiful women in the world. And yet the British actress, who is now based in LA, remains appealingly unaffected by the trappings of fame.
"Hidalgo was doing well at the box office, coming behind The Passion of the Christ and Starsky and Hutch, and when my mum phoned, I told her about it. She was quiet for a bit and then said, 'what's Hidalgo?' She didn't even know that that was the name of the film I'd made. So you see, I could never be anything but grounded. My parents are Irish, and they have a healthy disrespect for people doing this."
The actress, who has also starred in Claim, opposite Billy Zane, and My Kingdom, alongside Richard Harris, has pointedly refused to take part in the fame game. She may have paved the way for actresses from over here to make it over there she was the forerunner of such "British invaders" in Hollywood as Anna Friel, Lena Headey and Michelle Ryan but admits that, when she landed the hugely popular role of Detective Sofia Curtis in CSI, she had no idea what the series was about. And the poised and refined Lombard is certainly not the type to turn up for the opening of an envelope in a barely-there dress.
Indeed, the 37-year-old emphasised her detachment from the hysteria that often surrounds her profession by taking time out at the peak of her celebrity to read English literature at Cambridge. "If you invite fame, it will happen. If you're into being recognised, then you will be. Generally speaking, the celebrities in the red-tops are there because they want to be. But that's never interested me I find it quite easy to stay under the radar. I've never courted fame. Also, the residents of LA are very blas about famous people. When Robert De Niro is walking on the other side of the street, I don't necessarily get mobbed!"
Lombard, the mother of a young son called Alejandro, is now swapping the glitz and glamour of the US for the grit and the grime of the UK. She is starring in Kiss of Death, a darkly disturbing new feature-length British thriller, which goes out on BBC1 tonight. She plays Kay Rousseau, a troubled detective on the trail of a killer. To make matters worse, Rousseau has just lost her baby daughter and has had to deal with the trauma of being tried for her murder. The detective has been cleared, but has scars that won't heal.
The story is told from multiple viewpoints, so you are never quite sure where the truth lies. It is up to the viewers to piece together all the shards of the shattered narrative mirror. Penned by Barbara Machin, the creator of Waking the Dead, Kiss of Death is compelling, yet gruesome stuff.
Lombard and I are chatting in her trailer stationed in a central Bristol car-park. I am doing my best to ignore the boxes full of prosthetic severed limbs that are strewn on the tarmac outside her door. The actress is sporting elegant clothes and immaculately coiffed straight blond hair very different from her House of Eliott brunette bob. On her table lies a copy of a book by Sally Clark, the late solicitor who was found guilty and then acquitted of killing her two sons.
The actress says, laughing, that rummaging around for clues while knee-deep in the mud on a riverbank just outside Bristol had not been top of her list of priorities. "I had just finished CSI and had absolutely no intention of coming back here. But I took the script for Kiss of Death on holiday with me. I wasn't expecting anything special, but I just couldn't put it down.
"The plan for me was to do more in the US, but here I am back in Bristol. My American agents are still scratching their heads about how it happened. When I first told them I was doing it, they stopped short of actually hanging up on me, but they were saying, 'we're not having this conversation you're not going back to England'."
The actress goes on to explain: "I loved the way the story was told, using different points of view and jumps in time. It means nothing is black and white all of the relationships are fraught and dark and complicated. I've seen it in movies like Memento and Amores Perros, but it hasn't been done before on British TV."
Lombard says she was also drawn by the complexity of her character in Kiss of Death. "With my feminist hat on, I found it really unusual to read such a strong female character. Kay is a very ambitious person who has risen to a position that not many women have in the police, yet she's very damaged. She's trying to maintain authority and clarity while at the same time coping with serious emotional demons."
Lombard, who grew up in Essex as one of seven children, confesses that playing a bereaved mother is "a tough place to go as an actress. You have to butch it up on screen because off-screen you're a mum of a two-year-old and you can't take it home with you. I'm reading this book by Sally Clark, who was a stronger woman than I am, and it gives me an idea of what Kay must be going through. Who could cope with that? What would it do to your head? Does Kay's husband believe she's innocent?"
The actress is clearly smitten with life in Southern California. "I love LA. It's funny, when I first went there as a younger woman, I hated it. But gradually, I became fond of it, and now it's home. What won me over? The fact that my son was born there made me feel like I had roots there."
The process of reconfiguring her life in order to shoot Kiss of Death in the UK has been far from easy. "I had to take my two-year-old son out of pre-school." And, on her initial return to these shores, Lombard admits she experienced some disorientation. "I hadn't been back for a good two years, and when I first returned I had a moment of culture shock. We were rehearsing on Tottenham Court Road, and when I mooched along to the sandwich shop at lunchtime, I was taken aback. Everything looked so smart and so different from what I had been used to. It looked like a film of London."
Still, Lombard feels the homecoming has been well worth it. Her son, too, has been having a fine old time, revelling in some archetypal British weather. "He had never used the words 'wellies' or 'umbrella' before," Lombard says with a fond smile, "but now they're his favourite words! After California, he has found the rain immensely entertaining. He was standing out here yesterday, shouting at the rain to stop. I had to tell him, 'I'm afraid it doesn't work in real life like it does on TV!'"
'Kiss of Death', 9pm tonight, BBC1Reuse content