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Kellie Martin On 'Drop Dead Diva,' 'The Jensen Project' and Getting Killed On 'ER'

by Joel Keller, posted Jul 9th 2010 1:03PM
Kellie Martin from NBC's 'The Jensen Project'We haven't seen much of Kellie Martin in the last few years -- a couple of Lifetime movies, some guest shots, and that's about it -- but it's been for a good reason: she took the time off to figure out how to be a parent.

After her daughter Maggie was born three-and-a-half years ago, Martin told me last week, "I didn't want to get overwhelmed with having to feel like I had to work and not have this time with her." She read every parenting book she could find, but parenting was still a mystery to her. "I had no idea what to do with a kid, I mean I was clueless, so I needed some time to figure this out."

This week, audiences will see Martin twice: Fans of Lifetime's 'Drop Dead Diva' will see Martin guest star on July 11 as the victim of a Ponzi scheme who hires Grayson Kent to take her case. And on July 16, Martin will star in NBC's 'The Jensen Project' as Claire Thompson, a nanobiologist who works with her husband and 15-year-old son to fight evil when the project they spent years developing falls into the wrong hands. If the show, produced by Wal-Mart and Proctor and Gamble as part of their 'Family Moments' series, does well, it has a shot of being made into a series.

But before we talked about that, I needed to express my shock that the 'Life Goes On' and 'ER' star was old enough to play the mom of a teenager (she's only 35, for heaven's sakes)...

I think the first thing I noticed when reading the description of 'The Jensen Project' is that you're the mother of a 15-year-old in the story.
That's a little frightening.
I know, I mean biologically it's possible. I guess I had him when I was 20, so you know that's not out of the realm of possibility and my mom was 20 or 21 when she had me. So you know, it's possible as much as I hate to admit it, and I almost didn't consider the part because I was convinced that there was no way I could look old enough to be the mother of a 15-year old. But as I watch it, I thought, "I pulled that off, am I happy about this?"

I can see why you might have some mixed feelings about that.
I think it's also, I'm a mom now, I have a three and half year old, so it makes it a lot more palatable. Because I already have the maternal thing I have going on, so it doesn't seem like such a leap, although I have no idea how to relate to teenagers. It's acting a lot in 'The Jensen Project' in that regard.

Has your outlook on your career and in general changed since you've become a parent?
Absolutely. I'm definitely more focused on the bigger picture and how my career fits into the bigger picture for my family. Whereas before it was very myopic and I was like, "I'm an actress and this is what I do." And I was actually directing right before I had Maggie and that's something I'd like to get back to, but I'm not wanting that right now because it just asks too much of me and I need that much to give to Maggie and really to my husband to.

I've been cooking like you would not believe, so my interests have kind of transfered. I'm a really good cook now, so that's been kind of fun. We have a garden, and you know I've just been kind of, I don't know. It's just been nice to ease up a little bit and not feel like I have to go on to the next project.

What's your favorite thing to make?
I love making pastas. That's kind of my big thing, and last night I had a dinner party and we made salmon and lentil salad, and panzanella salad, which is salad with bread in it, and honey milk custard, and roasted apricots, like crazy. I love it, it's kind of a huge passion of mine, I wouldn't be surprised if I ended up in culinary school someday.

That's what a lot of people say, once you end up cooking, you get a passion for it.
And then you want to go to the next level.

And you're watching The Food Network 24 hours a day.
Which is actually what I started doing once I had Maggie. I was home bound when she was a newborn I watched the Food Network like you would not believe. Ina Garten is my goddess, I love her. So yeah, that's definitely what sparked it.

Do you still audition for roles at this point in your career?
Yeah, absolutely, I have to constantly convince people, I have to remind them what I look like, how old I am, because I've been doing this for so long, a lot of people are like "Isn't she 50?" or "Isn't she 17?" They just kind of never really know where to put me.

Are people still thinking of you as Becca on 'Life Goes On'?
Honestly, I probably get most recognized from 'Life Goes On' and then 'ER' being second, definitely form 'Life Goes On'

But 'ER' you left ten years ago, and 'Life Goes On...'
I finished that when I was 17.

So even though there's lots of separation from it, a lot of people are remembering the way you were in those roles?
Yes, I think that's what a pigeonhole is like, but I'm not complaining about it, actually I liked the character I played. I played such a cool, smart girl in 'Life Goes On,' so ever since then I've gotten these smart girl roles, which I kind of like, like in 'Jensen Project,' I play a nanobiologist, a genius, and I like that. And they actually think of me of this sassy, brainy girl.



Well, an art history major at Yale is nothing to sneeze at.
I worked my ass of there, but yeah, definitely.

What I always remember about Becca, by the way, is the huge glasses that you wore the first year on the show.
I think that's what got me the part. I wore those on the audition and then it was set in stone that Becca had big red glasses from then on.

How would you classify 'The Jensen Project?' Is it a lighthearted summer movie or is there a more serious bent to it?
I would say it's more lighthearted than serious, it reminds me of like 'Spy Kids' and it's a fun ride, it really is. There are definitely the more serious moments and I actually got more of those serious moments, because they know I can cry, but the kid who plays my son, his character is Brody, and his cohort Sam, they're just on a crazy adventure, like running and jumping, and stealing things, but for the good of mankind.

And then there are helicopters, no it's fun, it's a fun ride, I really think 'Spy Kids' is the best thing for me to compare it to. It feels like a fun, family adventure but it has enough sci fi stuff, where it's smart enough but it doesn't talk above people. I'm not actually a big sci fi fan, but I read this and I loved the sci fi aspect of it, and of course we have LeVar Burton in it, so the sci fi people are definitely going to watch it.

There is no way the parent is going to have to grab the remote and pause it or change the channel, anybody can sit and watch this show. My three year old could watch it, though I don't let her watch a lot of TV, but I would say from five to 85 could watch it.

So it's not a lot of jargon or anything like that?
I mean there is a little bit of, but we explain anything that sounds like a nanobot, like I explain it in the show. It's fun, it's fun, it's a fun little ride to be on.

Any possibility of this being a backdoor pilot to series?
It is a backdoor pilot. I'm not sure when they're going to let us know, I guess I'll wait till it airs to decide. It was funny because I got one of the first pilots of pilot season and everyone (else)'s got picked up or not picked up and I was kind of like "Wait, what about ours?" I guess because it's airing, we have to wait.

But I could totally see this going somewhere because the three networks, ABC, NBC, CBS, there's very little that a family can sit down and watch together. I think eight o'clock on a Friday night is the prime spot for a ten year old, a thirteen year old and their parents to sit down and watch a television show together. I remember (on ABC's) TGIF (shows) like 'Full House' and 'Sabrina,' 'Boy Meets World.' I loved that growing up, I watched that and there hasn't really been anything like that since except on cable.

Even against '60 Minutes,' these days you're not seeing a lot of family programming.
No, and that surprises me. I don't know why it's out there a bit more. I don't if you know that Walmart and Proctor and Gamble are kind of funding, I don't know if funding is the right word, but it's their project, 'The Jensen Project' and a couple of other movies. but they've made it their mission to bring family television back to television. I mean, they want to encourage families to sit down together and watch this show together.

Are you ready if this gets picked up to be your next regular role to be the mom of a teenager?
You know what's weird? I totally am, I wouldn't mind it a bit. I'm not just a mom, because I'm a scientist in it, so I feel like the mom role is very important but there's definitely going to be stuff to play that's not just "Oh, hey Brody, you got a bad grade on your test." I really think it's going to be a lot deeper than that, so no I love it. And my daughter's in preschool now, she's going five days a week, and she's got her own life, and I'm ready. I would love if this show got picked up because it's a good group of people and that's not something you encounter every day.

If you say Claire is not just sending people off to school and talking about their grades, what does she do that you thought was the best non-mom thing that you had to do as Clare in the movie?
Well she invented this thing called a nanobot which is a microscopic computer that can be implanted into someone's body, which can be used for good or for evil depending on who controls this. And in the character of Claire, she created it to do good, like if someone was ill, the nanobot could remotely, you could use the computer to fix someone's injury or illness or things like that. And then it gets stolen by a bad guy and stuff like that, things ensue.

The thing I really like about her is that she did something really really cool as a very young woman and then it went south and she lost all her confidence in herself. And this two hour movie is her kind of finding herself again and coming back to "Wow, this is what I love to do, I am good at this, OK we're doing this." and she comes back to all of that and science kind of rediscovers who she is, but kind of at the time as a wife and a mother, it's not unlike me, she still is who is she is regardless of the fact that she's a mom and a wife. She's still herself, and that for me resonates because after having Maggie, I really had to figure out who I was again. I was like, "Wait a second, does this change who I am? It does a little bit, but not really the core of it. I'm still Kellie."

Do you think a lot of parents go through that?
So many parents go through it. I think a lot of women go through it. A lot of women I know have gone through it, they feel like they lose their identities for at least a temporary amount of time while they negotiate their new role. I think it's something that a lot of people don't talk about, but I know that I didn't officially have postpartum but I had a real dip; I was like "who am I?" after I had this kid. I definitely think a lot of people go through it. I think parents, but women especially.

How'd you kind of re-identify with yourself and how do you think that might help other people who are in that situation?
For me, I discovered cooking, I discovered other passions that I have that I could do while I was home with my baby. I got out of the house. I think a lot of moms stay home and kind of can't get past the walls of their house and I think I got out and I took Maggie on hikes and I got inspired by things around me. I started doing things with Maggie like planting a garden, or things she really can't do herself, but I can show her how to do things like that. So I think that's what did it for me. I think you just have to continue to be inspired.

So let's talk about your role on 'Drop Dead Diva.' \
I play a woman who is the victim of a Ponzi scheme, and has all of her, everything taken from her and wants it back so she goes to, I end up with Greyson, who ends up taking my case. It's a small part and it was funny, I'm friends with one of the executive producers and the director on this episode are both from 'Life Goes On.' and the director called me up and asked if I wanted to do this role. And I was like, "You know what? I love 'Drop Dead Diva,' so yeah."

I hadn't worked with these guys since I was a teenager and Rick Rosenthal is the director, Michael Lane is the producer, so it was just really fun to go see them and play. I also don't get to do much comedy and my part wasn't that funny but it's such a lighthearted show that it's fun for me to work on.



The last thing a lot of people saw you in is 'ER' and obviously the last time we saw you there you were bleeding quite profusely. Looking back, were you surprised that they killed Lucy off, and how they did it? Do people still come up to you and say, "Lucy got screwed?"
People were really disturbed by it I think. It was really hard for me to watch because the show is that good that even though I actually filmed it I was still shocked by the final product. I was actually honored to be going out in such a big way.

I thought it was really cool and 'ER' was a tough experience for me because we had a family tragedy a week before I started working on that show so that show was always really tainted. So I had trouble just having fun on that show because of my state of mind. So really leaving was a good thing for me. I needed to leave because I needed to move on and that show would always remind me of a bad time in my life.

So I was really happy to go, I mean happy is probably the wrong word, but now I'm glad in retrospect and I love that it was such a big deal and that is shocked people and still to this day, people say "I couldn't watch 'ER' after that." or "That disturbed me so much, I'm happy to see you alive.' As an actor, that's awesome to be able to touch people like that.

Considering your last scene was a sheet being pulled over you.
I know! It was awful.

So you went to college after that.
I went back to college because that's kind of the only thing that made sense for me that time. I didn't want to go back onto another show. I just needed to make a real break and go study Mayan art and be a student for a while because I just didn't want, it's like I didn't want to give anymore of myself, or all of my emotions. I wanted to keep them for myself for a little bit. I'm a little Method-y I think. When I get emotional, it's pretty real emotion it's not like I can manufacture that stuff.

Like when you're done with a scene you're exhausted.
Exactly. I wish I were one of those people who could just cue tears coming down my eyes and they say cut and I'm like "Okay what's for lunch?"

Did you ever work with David Krumholtz after that?
No, I haven't and I haven't even seen himself since then. I love that he was the one who killed me. And that was way before he did 'Numb3rs,' so I thought it was so cool that it was him. I love him.



'Life Goes On' had some lighthearted moments but, it had a lot of drama, too. Would you want to go back to heavy drama again at a certain point in your career?
'Life Goes On' was hard because the last two seasons for me was the HIV storyline with Chad Lowe so it was hard to go to work every day and do that. It was really really hard. If I had my choice, I would pick to do something a little bit more lighthearted and I actually feel like 'The Jensen Project' is more like that, well more action-y.

I really love action and I've always wanted to play a cop. I like that. As long as it's not the wailing mother like where I'm crying because something happened to my child, that I don't dig. So yeah, I would prefer to do something a bit more lighthearted but we'll kind of see what comes and make choices accordingly.

What are you working on now? What will we see you in after these two projects.
For a while, I just did a show called 'Christie' a few years ago and I just did the audiobook for it. I was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I read a 500-page book on tape and it was exhausting. So that just came out as well and between these two things and that, and then I'm going to go to Montana for a little bit this summer.

(Follow @joelkeller on Twitter.)

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jean frank

I am surprised Mystery Woman did not get mentioned. I adored her in that. I thought the whole show was fun to watch. Good to have you back, Kellie.

July 09 2010 at 2:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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