Poppy Montgomery talks 'Unforgettable'

Actor Poppy Montgomery is shown in a handout photo from the TV show "Unforgettable." THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-CBS-Giovanni Rufino

TORONTO - It's particularly apt that the effervescent Poppy Montgomery falters a moment while trying to recall the uncanny condition profiled in her crime series, "Unforgettable."

The rapid-fire chit chat during an interview grinds to a halt as the Australian actress tries to identify the precise affliction of her character, a police detective with the unusual ability to remember in great detail everything she sees and experiences.

"It's called highly autobiographical — no," says Montgomery during a recent promotional visit in Toronto, stopping cold for a moment to regain her thoughts.

"It's highly superior autobiographical memory. HSAM."

It's clearly something Montgomery herself has no personal insight into, which the gregarious redhead freely admits to. The former "Without a Trace" star notes she is dismally forgetful in general.

"My memory for learning lines is fantastic," she allows. "It's like a muscle that you work, so because I was on 'Without a Trace' so long I can literally look at a scene and know it in three minutes. But outside of that it's awful. I literally have to have someone say to me: 'Well, you've got to be at this, you've got to be at that.'

"I've just got so much going on that I forget a lot of stuff."

In order to portray the sharp-minded Carrie Wells — who not only recalls the specifics of any given day in her past but is also haunted by the myriad horrors she's witnessed as a police officer — Montgomery and the show's writers have turned to real-life memory whiz Marilu Henner as a consultant.

The former "Taxi" star, who guest-starred on "Unforgettable" as Carrie's aunt, is among the rare group of people who can recall what they did on a specific day years ago as clearly as if it were yesterday.

"I spent a lot of time with Marilu just watching her," says Montgomery, a former blonde who says her current shock of red hair is mere coincidence and not a conscious attempt to emulate Henner.

"She's been very helpful to me in terms of developing the character and ideas.... What she'll offer up is other ways to look at things, or how she sees it, but I think everybody who has this ability experiences it in a different way. It's also a cop show so we have to take some creative licence and use the memory to service the stories as well."

Carrie's ability allows her to pull crucial clues from a crime scene even if she's only scanned it for seconds, or revisit a phone conversation to pick out background noise that could suggest the caller's location.

But her memory fails where she needs it most — in recalling the day her sister Rachel was murdered, when they were children. This mystery is what drives her from day to day, as Carrie slowly pieces together what she can of the killer.

"I really liked her 'never-say-die' quality," Montgomery says of her spunky alter ego.

"She's like a real-life super hero because this is a real ability. I mean, we've taken some creative license with it, absolutely, but it's not a made-up super power. She really has something that exists in other people."

New episodes resume Tuesday with former "3rd Rock from the Sun" and "Kate & Allie" star Jane Curtin joining the cast as a tough medical examiner.

"She's a formidable sort of opponent and also friend and mentor to Carrie," says Montgomery, who moved to the United States at age 19.

"They have a great relationship and (Curtin) is a doll. Working with her is just a joy and she's so funny and positive and talented and smart. I really, really like her. She's also Jane Curtin — a legend!"

Carrie's ongoing flirtation with her police partner Al, played by former "Nip/Tuck" star Dylan Walsh, will also continue, she says.

"I love Dylan. I say to the writers, 'Put me in as many scenes where I'm kissing Dylan Walsh as possible,'" she says laughing.

"I think that romance will continue to develop. We've got to kind of draw it out because the minute they get together it's all over so we have to make sure that it stays alive, that we don't resolve it. It'll have its ups and downs and backs and forths and all that."

"Unforgettable" airs Tuesday on CTV and CBS.