Interview: Creator, Author Tess Gerritsen on TNT’s ‘Rizzoli & Isles’

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CHICAGO – Tess Gerritsen is in that situation that authors sometimes face – seeing her creations come to life in another medium. In this case, her characters Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles are being personified in the new TNT Network drama, “Rizzoli & Isles,” starring Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander.

Gerritsen introduced the homicide investigator Rizzoli and the medical examiner Isles as a team in the 2001 book, “The Surgeon,” and has written eight other books spotlighting the intrepid pair, which have become popular best sellers. Although focusing on other suspense novels and medical thrillers, Gerritsen has nurtured Rizzoli & Isles to be her mainstay, and the TNT Network have created a series featuring the characters.

Partners in Crime Solving: Angie Harmon as Jane and Sasha Alexander as Maura in ‘Rizzoli & Isles’
Photo Credit: Darren Michaels/TNT Network

HollywoodChicago interviewed Tess Gerritsen recently, in anticipation of the premiere of Rizzoli & Isles, Monday, July 12th, on the TNT Network. What will your book fans recognize the most in the TV series version of your characters Rizzoli & Isles?

Tess Gerritsen: They’ll recognize Jane Rizzoli very quickly, she has her brilliance and that certain attitude.

HC: In your pursuit of the fictional Rizzoli and Isles, what do you think is the audience fascination with crime fiction, even as our true world perpetuates more fear in regards to that type of criminal terrorism?

TG: It’s an interesting thing that my primary readers are women. I’ve had this conversation with my readers before, as in ‘what is about crime novels that you are drawn to?’ And they almost universally say they like crime novels where the victims are women. That sounds kind of strange, because why would they like to read about themselves being victimized? But then I got to a psychological point where I’m was thinking about children. And in children’s scary literature, kids like to read books where kids are threatened. I think that when we read a scary book, we are looking to identify with the victims, because in that way if the victim survives, you have the sense that anything is survivable.

HC: Your lead characters are females populating crime scenes, station houses and medical investigations, taking jobs and assignments that in real life are typically done more by men. Why were you fascinated initially with women doing this kind of work?

TG: Well, I’m a doctor, and when I was in medical training I was in a male dominated profession. So I am familiar with that sense of being a fish out of water. I have always identified with people who feel like outsiders. I am Asian American, the only Chinese girl in a white suburban school in San Diego. That is why I made Jane the way she is, she’s an outsider.

HC: Also the character of Rizzoli seems to be as tough and brutal as the popular male image of crusading cop. Since this isn’t how girls are typically nurtured, what did you invent in Rizzoli’s psychosis that causes this brutality?

TG: I wouldn’t say she’s brutal, as so much as she’s efficient. [laughs] She’s trying to do a job, and police work is a very difficult job. The other thing about Rizzoli is that she can’t show weakness, otherwise her male colleagues are on her like a hyena. And that is the way I think it is in police work, women have to be tougher than the men. They really can’t show vulnerability or else they will lose the sense that they fit in.

HC: Both the cop character and the crime scene investigation character is all over television right now. What do your characters give those typical TV jobs that the other shows don’t have?

TG: I did start these books back in 2001, before many of these current cops shows came on, preceding the CSI sort of stuff. I think what I bring to it is that I’m a doctor, and certainly from a medical examiner’s point of view a sense of how doctors approach problems. To systematically go down the little computer list in your head of what is the diagnosis. It’s the same type of thought process that Maura Isles goes through.

HC: Why do you think we as a society feels a need to keep our cops so heroic in our fiction. Is it because the reality of them as flawed humans are too difficult to face?

TG: Well, you have to have heroes in this world, and certainly enough TV shows have crooked cops. And that is the reality, there are crooked people in every profession. Jane Rizzoli may be flawed, but she does the right thing. If she weren’t that way, I don’t think I could write about her.

HC: Your character of Warren Hoyt has similarities to Hannibal Lechter, in the sense that he is a so-called ‘educated’ sociopath. Why do you think readers enjoy this type of criminal more than an uneducated one? What fascinates you about an educated criminal?

TG: Well, it’s not education as much as intelligence. You can have a completely uneducated but highly intelligent criminal. What we are looking for is someone so challenging that he is a good match for the investigator. You want to have someone that you go head-to-head with and might lose against.

Tess Gerritsen, Author and Creator of the Characters Rizzoli and Isles, in Chicago on July 8th, 2010
Tess Gerritsen, Author and Creator of the Characters Rizzoli and Isles, in Chicago on July 8th, 2010
Photo Credit: Patrick McDonald for

HC: Where do you do your research when in comes to replicating the atmosphere of a police station? What do you observe in that atmosphere that you think the typical citizen would be surprised about?

TG: I’ve been to the Boston Police Department, and what would surprise people is that the homicide unit looks like an office building. It is not in any way glamorous. It’s computer terminals, desks and carpet, unlike the hard driving atmospheric place in the TV show. The real place is a sterile atmosphere, that’s what I think would surprise people.

HC: Rizzoli and Isles includes the Christ-like images of hands getting pierced somewhat like nails, with Rizzoli later doing the same thing as revenge. In your opinion, are cops like the modern day Jesus, suffering for our own criminal sins?

TG: [Laughs] No, cops are doing a job, and are attracted to it for certain reasons. Some of them do it because it’s been in their families for generations. It’s what they do.

Jane’s hand piercing was in the book. I am totally non-religious, but I’m certainly aware of religious imagery and symbolism. Growing up in the U.S. we’re surrounded by it.

HC: As a prolific writer specializing in mystery and thrillers, do you ever feel a need to explore outside the genre? Do you picture yourself writing a children’s book, for example?

TG: I have written 22 books, included in them is a science fiction book called ‘Gravity’ and I’ve had a historical novel about Boston history [‘The Bone Garden’]. In terms of children’s books, I’d love to do a young adult spin off of a Jane Rizzoli story. It’s hard to break away, though, because the publisher and the public want the same book, over and over again. For me to switch gears means I’m going to make someone unhappy.

“Rizzoli & Isles” premieres on the TNT network on Monday, July 12th, 10pm EST/9pm CST. Check local listings for channel locations. Featuring Angie Harmon, Sasha Alexander, Lorraine Bracco, Bruce McGill, Donnie Wahlberg and Lee Thompson Young. Based on characters created by Tess Gerritsen. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2010 Patrick McDonald,

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