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Jenna Elfman Interview

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Jenna Elfman
Photo courtesy of CBS

September 18, 2009

Actress Jenna Elfman is still best known for role as flighty Dharma Montgomery on the ABC sitcom Dharma & Greg, which ran from 1997-2002. Since that show ended, she's picked up a handful of film roles and starred in the short-lived CBS sitcom Courting Alex. Elfman returns to TV with the CBS comedy Accidentally on Purpose, in which she plays a film critic whose one-night stand with a younger man leaves her pregnant. Deciding to keep the baby, she moves in with the father and has to figure out a whole new approach to life. As filming of the first season began, Elfman chatted about the new show.

What drew you to Accidentally on Purpose and this role?

I thought, number one, it was actually funny, and if you’re gonna do a sitcom, you’ve gotta be funny. And I thought the premise was clever and refreshing, not something I’d seen 5,000 times. And I thought the subject matter was relevant. And I loved the voice of the character. I just thought she was very funny and witty, charming. And it was a different tone comedically than I’ve done before, and that interested me. It was well-written.

You’re playing a fictionalized version of Mary F. Pols, author of the memoir Accidentally on Purpose. Have you met her?

I haven’t. I asked Claudia Lonow, who created the show, “Should I read the book before I do the pilot?” And she said, “No, read it afterward, because the tone is different than the book,” and she didn’t want me to be confused. She just wanted me to create kind of in its own little universe. The subject matter sticks to the book, but tonally it’s a little different, because it’s a sitcom. But now I’m in the middle of reading the book, and I will definitely be meeting her one of these days, for sure.

Reading the book now, is that influencing your portrayal at all?

It is really helping me understand how deeply she was affected by this experience in her life, and that helps. Now that we’re getting into the storytelling, now’s a good time for me to read the book. It gives me sort of a universe of how this girl navigated her way through these choices, her sort of inner dialogue, her point of view on it. It just gives me more dimension and more perspective.

Will the show follow what happened to Pols in real life, or are you striking out in your own direction?

I think some of the bigger points are in alignment with the book. But in terms of the smaller details of the actual storytelling incidents, that is geared more toward the comedy.

Your character gets pregnant in the pilot; how quickly will that progress over the course of the show? Is there a baby at the end of the first season?

Yes.

Will introducing a baby change the dynamic of the show?

Number one, the baby is inherent to the establishment of the show. It’s not like we’ve had a show for several years and now we’re bringing a baby into it. It’s part of the storytelling; it’s the foundation of the storytelling. Not specifically pregnancy stories or baby stories at all. Because then once the baby comes, what’s the show about, if it’s all about pregnancy? The storytelling’s completely based around establishing these dynamics between the younger guy, my boss at work, that relationship—what are the rules of living together, what are the politics of it, our feelings for each other. It’s all about the relationships, not, like, “Oh, pregnancy.” So I think it will continue to be that. I think that the pregnancy and the baby will be instigators in terms of, “How are we going to deal with this in our relationship? What does this mean for you? What’s your role? What’s my role? How does he fit into my life during all of this? And what about that guy? And can I date?” They ignite the stories, but that’s not what the stories are about. So I don’t foresee, necessarily, a problem.

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