After spending many hours a day grilling suspects and tracking clues in missing-persons cases on the hit Thursday-night CBS crime drama "Without a Trace," you couldn't be blamed for thinking that Poppy Montgomery, who plays FBI Agent Samantha Spade, goes home after work and immerses herself in light entertainment.
Well, you'd be partly right.
Admitting she's "stupidly obsessed" with FOX's "American Idol" -- and a big fan of "Oprah" -- Montgomery also never misses ABC's "20/20," NBC's "Dateline NBC" and CBS' "60 Minutes."
"I watch all the newsmagazines," says the native Australian, "partly because of the show. They oftentimes will do a lot of missing persons, so I always watch those."
She doesn't watch FOX's "America's Most Wanted," but she's considering adding FOX News' law-oriented current-affairs show "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren" to the TiVO list.
"She rocks, man," Montgomery says. "She's fantastic. It's actually instructive for me, because she knows she's in front of a camera. There's a certain amount of theatrics that has to go on in order for an audience to really watch you. That's a different thing than just questioning someone.
"What's interesting for me are when they show interrogations on '20/20' or 'Dateline' of suspects who turn out to be guilty, and how not-dramatic they are. The cops ask the questions, and the suspects are normally terrified and just deny, deny, deny. That's really interesting for me to see, because it reminds me not to make too much of everything all the time.
"It reminds me that these people do it every single day. They've heard it all. A lot of it is instinct-based. I find that really interesting. But I find Greta interesting, because she's a really strong woman. Her voice is very commanding."
Montgomery says she also keeps a weather eye on certain cases in the news, including the disappearance of Alabama teen Natalee Holloway in Aruba, the murder of graduate student Imette St. Guillen in New York City, and the disappearance of groom George Smith during his honeymoon cruise.
"We've been doing the show for four years," she says, "and the idea of someone just going missing, and there's no trace of them ... it's like the ghost of it is with you forever, I imagine, because you don't have any sense of, are they alive, are they dead, did they run away, were they taken?"
She even mentioned the cruise-ship story to the show's writers. "That would be interesting, just to take the premise of a cruise ship, and somebody disappears on the ship -- not necessarily the same story, but the idea of that.
"Normally the FBI will come in when a missing-persons case or a kidnapping crosses either state or international lines, if they're American citizens. So it would have to be a cruise ship where the cruise company was based out of New York ... look at me trying to figure out stories. I love it. It's because I've been watching too many of these shows.
"But our writers are so on top of it. I brought up that cruise ship, and they're like, 'We've been following that story.'"
Working on "Without a Trace" has also made Montgomery more aware of how vulnerable people can be, especially women.
"A woman out drinking alone," she says, "if you're drinking, and you're not completely sober, your defenses are down somewhat. You're easier prey."
Asked if she talks with her women friends about this, Montgomery says, "Certainly with my little sisters. I have an 18-year-old sister and a 17-year-old sister, and even with my sister who's a year younger than me. I'm overly cautious. God forbid if I ever have children. I'll be like the overprotective person who's constantly like, 'Don't talk to strangers.'
"I've always been careful. I came to the States on my own so young. I was 18, and I've always been very aware, eyes-in-the-back-of-my-head aware. If I even get a slight feeling that something's wrong, whether or not I'm being paranoid or whether it's real, I act on that.
"I think your instincts generally are about right. If something doesn't seem right, don't trust it. It's always better to be safe than sorry, is my theory. Some of that, sure, has come out of four years of doing the show, with missing persons."
Since moving from a sixth-floor apartment into a house, Montgomery is even more careful.
"I think like a cop now a little bit, swear to God," she says. "Just even the security system in my house -- I wanted one immediately. And when I go to bed, I set it."
Of course, Montgomery doesn't always get to bed early. "Thank God 'American Idol' is on TiVO, because I watch that at one or two in the morning."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times