Jami Gertz’s Second Act and What Led to Her Reinvention

Jami Gertz is blasting off into another universe and becoming BFFs with creatures from outer space in her latest role on "The Neighbors." In the edited version of our interview with her, she talks about her latest character, Debbie Weaver, her life off the camera and what inspired her to reinvent

by Ilyssa Panitz • More.com Celebrity Reporter
jami gertz image
Photograph: ABC

More: You are starring in ABC’s new series The Neighbors, which premieres tonight, September 26. What drew you to show?
Jami Gertz: To read something so funny, where I can laugh out loud, to me is a gift. Clearly this show has Dan Fogelman (Cars, Bolt and Tangled) written all over it. I believe he is really on to something. When I saw this, it was the kind of script that made me really want to audition and land the part.

More: What kind of neighbor is your character, Debbie Weaver: noisy, nosy, gossipy or quiet?
JG: Debbie is the kind of person you want on your side. She is a good mom, a good wife and a good friend. But she is also from Bayonne, New Jersey, so she is a working-class girl. In Debbie's world, at the end of the day if everyone gets to their bed and no one is bleeding, that is all that matters. It may not be tied up in a pretty bow, but they are all safe.     

More: Debbie sounds like your character from Still Standing.
JG: Yes, she is very much like Judy Miller. They both have three kids and are working moms. The reason both roles are a very comfortable spot for me to be in comedically is because I too am the mom of three and I get what it means to just make it through the day when you also have a job to hold on to. 

More: On this show you discover your neighbors are actually aliens.
JG: Yes, we discover in the pilot that they are from another planet. My onscreen husband [Lenny Venito] moves us into a new neighborhood, which is on a golf course. As soon as we get there we say to ourselves, “Hmm . . . something is not right with the neighbors. They look too perfect and have the names of many professional athletes.” While they are stuck on Earth, we are stuck in this community with no place to go.

More: You have had some pretty memorable roles. Having said that, does this script seem like the wackiest one you have read?  
>JG: Yes, it was out there and wacky. While this show is coming from a different voice, it is also very distinct and I just get it. The scripts that keep coming in make me laugh out loud.

More: Do you believe there is life on other planets?
JG: I do believe we are not the only ones in the universe. It is just too vast. There are too many galaxies and I think it is naive to think we are the only things going. There has to be something else out there.

More: Aside from your work in front of the camera, you are also working behind the scenes producing films. Tell me about that.
JG: It was part of my maturation. There is a certain point where things slow down. When they did, I felt I had to reinvent myself a little bit. I took a step back and thought, How am I going to do that? Once your children hit a certain age, they don’t need you the way they used to when they were babies. This event kind of coincides with [that midpoint in an actor's life], and it was a double whammy for me.

More: And so the story began?
JG: I am the worst person to go to the movies with, because I look at things so differently since I am an actor. If my husband didn’t enjoy a film, I would say, “Well, that is because the character wasn’t fully explored.” Anyway, after he heard me babble on one too many times, he told me to put my money where my mouth was and go create art in the media I had knowledge about. It was a challenge I was up to and excited to explore.

More: What kinds of challenges did you face by stepping behind the camera?
JG: Patience. As an actor I am hired last; the producers have been the ones working through the development process. When I come on board I learn my lines, get into wardrobe and begin shooting in two weeks. I am used to being creative on the fly. But development is a long and arduous process. There are many cooks in the kitchen and there are many different incarnations of scripts, deadlines not being met, and times you wonder why people aren’t working faster to get it done. You have to have a thick skin to hang in there.

More: Being the mom to three boys must require you to have all the patience in the world.
JG: When you become a mom it really tests your ability to forgive and forget. Look, I have pretty delicious children, but I know everything is not perfect and not everything is great all of the time. If someone tells you it is, she is lying. Not only have I had to learn how to move on from things since I became a mom, but becoming a mom has also mellowed me. My kids have definitely made me develop more patience and accept them for who they are. My mom always used to say to me, “I have two choices: to love you and to love you.” I never knew what she meant until I became a parent.


More: Well put.
JG: As a mom, I have learned how to negotiate with people, and if I have to give bad news, how to pepper it. Being a producer is similar . . . 

More: You used the word reinvent, which is a big theme here at More. Because you were part of the whole Brat Pack era, did you feel the pressure to reinvent yourself?   
JG: Oh yeah, I was in some pretty iconic movies, such as Lost Boys, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. There was no great plan for me as to picking and choosing what I was going to do. When I started out, it was about survival, about eating, and building my first house. Yes, I wanted integrity, and to work on projects I was proud of, but it was also about paying the bills. As my husband and I grew into our careers, my reinvention was all about, how do I do this while raising kids?

More: You are buddies with the rich and famous, yet are still so grounded.
JG: Even though I was making movies I still lived in the same house, went to the same school, and saw the same neighbors. My childhood was never interrupted. I was so fortunate that way. I wanted to impart my loving childhood on to my kids. I wanted to give them the same confront and safety of their home, school and family.

More: Spoken like a true mother.
JG: When I worked on the movie Twister I had a six-week-old and a three-year-old. I barely saw them during the four months I was shooting, even when they were in my trailer. My move to TV was so I could be in Los Angeles full time and around my boys full time. The decisions I made in my career were because family life was so important to me.

More: You have not aged a bit. You are still gorgeous and in fabulous shape, and you have a beautiful family.
JG: It is a lot of work, and no, it is not easy. However, I will say, my family is my biggest joy. They are what I love to come home to, because they are my guys!

More: Unlike some of your former costars, like Robert Downey Jr., who overcame many obstacles, and, sadly, Corey Haim, who passed away in 2010, how have you managed to remain under the radar?
JG: I think it stems from my childhood and my parents. They gave me the basics, such as showing up on time for a job and doing it well because someone is paying you, knowing your lines, and always hitting your mark. These things were taught to me early on by my parents. I also want to add, I never looked at this as a way to get famous. I did it because I loved it, I was good at it, and I could make money to support myself. Since I never wanted to mess that up, I stayed away from the pitfalls and did not go down those roads.  

More: There was a time when you starred in suspense and dramatic films such as Less Than Zero and The Lost Boys. Yet you got off that path and found your calling in comedy [Still Standing, Seinfeld and Modern Family]. What prompted the change?  

JG: I started out in comedy—Square Pegs was a comedy. But after I turned 18 years old the movies I went on to do were serious movies. Believe it or not, I find comedy harder. When you look at the universal things that are sad, such as illness and death, those are emotions we all feel. Yet in comedy, what might make you laugh might not make another person laugh. Actors in comedies have to find the common ground, to make as many people as possible laugh. There are so many factors that come into play, such as timing.

More: Doing comedy feels more natural to you?
JG: I am most comfortable in comedic roles.

More: How do you feel about turning 50 in a few years?
JG: Aging is not easy, but it is the alternative that really sucks. If I have my health, that is a good thing. I try to live a healthy life. Look, you are guaranteed three things: you are born, you are going to live, and then you die. I also try not to look at myself too much.

More: Why? You are stunning.
JG: I think my husband married me because I am the type of girl who can be ready in 10 minutes (laughs). If anything, I want to feel good, strong and happy.

More: I am down with that.
JG: I try not to watch too many sad things. I get one ride, and I am trying to make it as joyful as it can be. When I think about aging, I take it, because some people don’t get to age like I am doing.

More: What is the secret of your happiness?
JG: I have gratitude, and to me that is huge. I have learned how to move on from things. I don’t let myself get stuck in bitterness and anger. For instance, if I fight with my husband, I try to quickly forget about it. Why? Because I am sure it was stupid and his fault (laughs).

More: Would you ever write a book about your exciting life in Hollywood?
JG: Nope! I would never kiss and tell. They are my memories.  

More: Are your kids allowed to see mommy’s movies?
JG: Oh no! Actually, I don’t know what they have seen. I don’t think they saw Less Than Zero—they don’t want to see me kissing Andrew McCarthy or in bed with Robert Downey Jr. I think that aspect will creep them out, since they only see me as mom.  

The Neighbors premieres on ABC on September 26 at 9:30 p.m. (Eastern).

Click here to read Margret Cho Embraces Her Age and Size.

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First Published Wed, 2012-09-19 00:41

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