Kelly Carlson had few credits under her belt when she auditioned for a guest role in the pilot of Nip/Tuck. Her character, Kimber Henry, quickly became one of the show’s most memorable—walking the line between hero and villain for seven seasons. I spoke to Carlson about Kimber’s journey, from her “bimbo” beginnings to her untimely death.
TV.com: I’m so glad I have this chance to talk to you, because I’m still mourning Kimber’s death. Were you surprised when you found out she was going to kill herself?
Kelly Carlson: No, I wasn’t surprised, just because if Kimber and Christian were to break up, Kimber’s only really—I mean, if you really break it down—the reason why she’s there is to be the nemesis to Christian, or maybe to every man on the show. So because it’s the end of the series and they did decide to break them up, there’s not really a reason for her to be there. And on top of that, it needs to be somewhat of a ridiculous exit. [laughs]
But I was surprised there wasn’t more of a reaction, like a Kimber memorial service. Will there be more closure for long-time fans in the last two episodes?
No, but there will be for the people who have watched the show from day one, and I mean the first minute that the show ever aired, the show will come full circle for you. And also it will include Kimber in a way. She won’t be there, but when you watch it, if you’re a fan, you’ll go, “Ah, OK, yes, I get it.”
Well, good, I’m glad to hear that. You started as just a guest star, and it could have been left at that. Can you talk about how the role expanded over the years?
Sure. When I first started—and no insult to the writers—it was sort of a one-dimensional bimbo character. The one thing that I did find interesting in the script was that this particular girl lets men define her. I think that’s intriguing to me as a woman. So I wanted it to represent a relationship all women have been in, that one codependent, ongoing relationship, which I think attracted so many female fans. It sparked some intrigue and maybe poked at them a little bit. And I think she became this weird lovable character, but ridiculous.
You’re right on when you say that she was likable even when she was ridiculous. How did you make sure that Kimber would be endearing but still over-the-top?
Well, what I wanted was the audience to be sympathetic, because as long as they knew why she was doing it, whatever she was doing didn’t matter. If you know that she’s letting this codependent relationship drive her, then you can understand and somewhat empathize with it. And that was my goal, how to make her more three-dimensional and more human than just some visually bright character. And I wanted her to have this dark side, but every time I presented her on camera, I wanted the big hair and I wanted the brighter clothes and a lot of makeup. I wanted her actions to be somewhat dark but I wanted her to be visually stimulating, just that dichotomy.
And Kimber did so much. She was a model, she did porn, she directed porn, she was embarking on a new career when she died. What do you think she was most successful at?
[laughs] That’s hilarious. Motherhood! No, I’m joking. Geez, nothing? I guess she was successful in porn, just judging by how we did her apartment, because it was pretty nice.
Hey, it’s a valid career for many people. And I liked that she stepped behind the camera, which showed her growth as a character. She wasn’t just going to be a pretty face. She was going to capitalize on her talents.
Right, yes, exactly. She wanted to be respected, again in more of a male-defining scenario.
Do you think Kimber could have survived longer if she’d never met Christian? Or was he both the driving force behind her and what ultimately destroyed her?
Yeah, probably. I mean, if she was a real human being, I probably would have suggested she left him. But again, she lets all men get under her skin. But really the love of her life, obviously, is Christian. And they have that very sick, abusive, obviously very codependent, to-love-him-is-to-hate-him/to-hate-him-is-to-love-him type of relationship.
What about Christian? Do you think Kimber was the love of his life? Will he ever have another shot at monogamy?
I think his attraction to Kimber was she was equally as flawed as he is. They get each other. He probably wouldn’t find someone to replace her in that regard. I don’t know if she’s the love of his life. I think they really wanted Julia to be the love of his life in the writing of the show. It’s a good question, but I have not been able to figure it out.
You said the suicide didn’t catch you off guard, but what about the other crazy things Nip/Tuck has done over the years? As an actor, how did you accept and work with those off-the-wall plots?
Well, you know, that was part of the reason the show was so cool as an actor, and why I learned so much on the show. ’Cause I was fairly green going in. Even though I played Kimber every year, she was a different character every year. And that wasn’t a difficult thing for me as long as I kept the underlining idea that everything she does is motivated by Christian. Playing all the fun sub-characters with her was not challenging, but fun. Actually, I take that back. There were many times that they were uncomfortable. It was embarrassing to do on a set, but as an actor, very fulfilling.
You did have to do love scenes with almost every male character on the show. They partnered you up with pretty much everyone.
And some women! Which was a first.
You’ve also done a lot of fantasy sequences. Recently, you had to do a sex scene wearing a fat suit. Are those fun to play?
Absolutely. It’s almost like a hint of voyeurism, and I hope this doesn’t come out wrong in print. You get to do things that you’d never get to do in life—well, you get to do things that you’d probably never do in your real life. It takes you out of your comfort zone and, I’m not saying it’s enjoyable, but it’s definitely an experience you look back on and are happy you did it.
Nip/Tuck did make me very comfortable in my own skin, no pun intended. I had to be stripped down a lot, and you’re kind of in front of the whole world, and it teaches you to accept yourself and be comfortable with yourself real quickly.
Was there any one storyline that you found especially challenging?
The meth part, when Kimber and Matt were meth addicts, that was physically challenging because I had no reference. I have been drunk in my life, so I know what that feels like, I know what it looks like, I know how to reenact that. Whereas with the meth, I had no reference, so I was scouring the internet and trying to do as much study as I possibly could. And I was really insecure about it, because I want to do a good job no matter what I’m doing.
That same season, John Hensley and I had to do a scene where we were doing meth in front of our baby. We had to perform that in front of the baby for real, and that was a difficult day. Now if I had a child and I wanted it to be an actor, and someone handed me a script and said your baby’s going to be in a room with two actors having sex, smoking meth, would you be cool with that? That was a tough one to wrap my head around.
In closing, I wanted to ask what kind of legacy you think Nip/Tuck will leave. When people look back at the series in 10 years, what will they remember and take away from it?
The Shield, Nip/Tuck—think of all the great series that opened up after those two shows came on the air. HBO and Showtime were there, but this is regular cable television. Also, I think we really raised the bar for television as well, because you can have stuff on air that is visually shocking, but if you don’t balance it with some intellect, it’s boring.
Starting today, Nip/Tuck Seasons 1-6 are available on iTunes for download in HD. Season 7 will be available on March 4, the day after the March 3 series finale.
Follow TV.com writer Louis Peitzman on Twitter: @LouisAtTVDotCom