TV actresses make jump to bigscreen
With Jenna Fischer boasting one major film in theaters and three more scheduled for release, simple logic suggests that accolades for her performance as wallflower-on-the-edge Pam in “The Office” launched her feature success.
Instead, her TV regular status did little more than drive Fischer into the same auditions visited by a hundred other anonymous actresses.
“It’s not like I (went) around getting offers,” Fischer says. “I auditioned for ‘Blades of Glory,’ ‘Quebec’ and ‘Walk Hard.’ Those weren’t movies I was just offered.”
Though observers agree there is less stigma than ever against TV performers attempting to move to the multiplex, the added exposure doesn’t ensure crossover glory.
“It ebbs and flows,” says Maura Tierney (Abby Lockhart on “ER”). “My being on the show hasn’t had any correlation to (getting) better roles.”
Audiences first came to know Tierney as Lisa Miller on the 1990s ensemble sitcom “NewsRadio” — unless you weren’t part of those audiences, in which case she was the woman from “Primal Fear,” “Liar Liar” or “Primary Colors,” all of which filmed during her five seasons on the NBC show.
“Lots of people say to me, ‘I don’t watch television,’ ” Tierney notes. “I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘I don’t watch movies.’ ”
Certainly, after an actress has broken ground in features, TV is much more inclined to welcome her back with open arms. Rebecca Romijn, a regular component of the “X-Men” franchise, says she still auditions for some parts but received the offer to play Alexis Meade on ABC’s “Ugly Betty” without a tryout.
But when it comes to television actresses vying for the bigscreen, the preparation and experience that come with series work might be more important than the exposure.
“Just one of the things being a struggling actor that was really hard was having to keep the (acting) machine oiled and running,” Fischer says. “With ‘The Office,’ you’re just constantly in motion, and I think just the fact that we’re working every day of the week, eight months out of the year, the instrument is in tune constantly. So the ability to access things as an actor is much quicker for me now.”
Ultimately, the best way a TV career can feed a film career might be how it affords a performer the ability to be choosy. You don’t want to squander momentum — as Tierney says, “On one level, there is a fear in this business that if you disappear too long, you are off the radar” — but it helps when your next project isn’t a matter of life or bankruptcy.
“Working in hourlong TV is a tremendous commitment,” Romijn adds. “Your downtime is precious, and when it comes time for hiatus, you kind of have to figure out what projects to work with in that time frame.”
One more TV talent to keep an eye on over the coming year is Katherine Heigl, a former child film actress (“My Father the Hero”) who then proceeded to mature on television’s “Roswell” before becoming zeitgeist-worthy as Izzie Stevens on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Heigl toplines the recently released “Knocked Up,” a film whose reception may dwarf everything she’s done in the past. Now filming “27 Dresses,” written by “The Devil Wears Prada” scribe Aline Brosh McKenna, Heigl is seeing her career soar in such a fashion that speculation she would try to exit “Grey’s” is natural — especially after a small public spat about salary materialized during the past season.
Gersh Agency co-president Bob Gersh notes television shows will usually release an actress from a series commitment for a film career.
“Not always, but in most cases I think they’re pretty receptive,” Gersh says.
Of course, as big as a film actress’s profile might become in features, it doesn’t mean her work on television isn’t appreciated.
“Even when our ratings were lower, a lot of people in the film industry were watching our show,” Fischer says. “They were fans of the show in the way that crazy Internet people are fans of the show. They would want to know everything.”