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Roger Smith

Viva Ann-Margret
The icon fights off a deranged serial killer on ‘CSI’

They don’t call her Slugger for nothing.
Hollywood icon Ann-Margret survived a 1972 fall from a 22-foot stage platform, and has been thrown from motorcycles, breaking ribs and fracturing a shoulder. So what’s a little serial killer on “CSI”?

This week, the 69 year-old kitten with a whip plays a role that might seem familiar — a woman whose made her life on the Las Vegas strip. It may remind viewers of A-M’s classic film “Viva Las Vegas.” But Margot Wilton, according to “CSI” co-creator Anthony Zuiker is not just another chorine — she’s “the First Lady of Vegas,” a reformed woman with philanthropic street cred who has a secret known by the guest killer, referred to as Sqweegel. Zuiker has also made Sqweegel the villain of his new novel “Dark Prophecy,” which comes out October 14.

Zuiker spoke about how he lured Ann-Margret to the show after seeing her Emmy-winning turn last season on “Law & Order: SVU.” After being nominated for the award six times in her 50-year career, Ann-Margret received a standing ovation. She spoke about her famous roles. And she can still purr.

NYP: How did you get the nickname Slugger?

A-M: Because I’ve had so many accidents and I keep getting up like a boxer.

NYP: How were you approached about “CSI”?

A-M: Oh, boy, this is a long story. After I did “Law & Order,” Anthony [Zuiker] called my manager with me in mind. Anthony, you tell the rest of the story.

AZ: We got on the phone and gave her the pitch. We broke the character to be in the neighborhood of her singing and dancing background, but Ann-Margret is very specific about doing something different. So we shredded that character and created a new one, who was a Vegas survivor and who had married a philanthropist.

A-M: Tell him how I received the script.

AZ: She was on a trip on the Queen Mary from London to New York. We called the Queen Mary and I asked, “If I send the script via e-mail, will she get it?” She got a knock on the door and had the script.

A-M: I still have my marks on my elbows and forearms from doing that role.
AZ: We heard she did her own stunts. Two days after finishing shooting, she lifts up her sleeves and still has a bruise on her arms.

A-M: You should have seen the other guy.

NYP: What was it like to finally win the Emmy?

A-M: Oh my goodness. I was my sixth nomination. Mother and Daddy and [my husband] Roger [Smith] and I had gone to all five of the Emmys when I didn’t win. Sixth time, Roger and I were in the car and he said, “There’s no way you’re going to get it.’ I said, “Honey you’re absolutely right.” We sat in the green room from three to seven p.m., and there were 74 categories and I was the 73rd category. Such a shock. I’m so used to clapping and saying, “How wonderful, but it wasn’t me.”

NYP: I still remember Barbara Stanwyck winning the Emmy for “The Thorn Birds” and getting up to the podium and saying that the award belonged to you for “Who Will Love My Children.”

A-M: Barbara Stanwyck was one of the greatest ladies of all time.

NYP: You played a farm woman who was dying and had to find homes for her kids. What can you tell us about making that movie?

A-M: The director, John Erman, was incredible. He wanted to have me do that part. I said, “I don’t have any biological children.” He wanted me to play a woman who is the mother of 10 children. He said, “There is something in you that I know you can do this.” Afterward, I did meet the children in Iowa.

NYP: You followed that up with a TV adaptation of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Your Blanche DuBois did not work the dainty side of the street. What was it like playing such a classic role?

A-M: I got about four hours of sleep each night. Last couple of nights, [the director] John Erman had to tell me, “Ann, you have to remember this is a role; this is not real.”

NYP: Last season on “Mad Men,” the producers featured a clip of you singing in “Bye Bye Birdie” in an ad campaign. Did you ever see that episode?

A-M: My goddaughter called me and Roger, and said, “You’ve got to see this.” I looked at the show and we had tears in our eyes. It was so flattering to have someone to do that. I was so touched.

NYP: You have outlived a lot of your contemporaries and you’re still working.

A-M: You do know that I’m 95?

NYP: Then you look really great. To what do you attribute your longevity?

A-M: I will never understand that. I’m so blessed. I’m an extremely emotional person. I’ve always wanted to entertain people. I’ve always wanted to be on stage. I loved being another person because I wouldn’t be so self-conscious. When I sit down and talk, I’m shy. It’s really different, I have to tell you, when I’m on stage. I have been married for 43 years. That’s what I’m so proud of.

A-M’s greatest TV hits
Ann-Margret has played everyone from Pamela Harriman to an upwardly mobile chorus girl in “The Two Mrs. Grenvilles.” She is best-known for her roles in the movies listed below.
“Children”
A-M starred with Frederic Forrest as a dying mother.
“StreetCar”
A-M won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Blanche DuBois.

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by ROBERT RORKE www.nypost.com

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