Joanna Kerns on Becoming a Director: ‘It’s Been a Hard Climb’

It’s been 30 years since the debut of “Growing Pains,” which anointed Joanna Kerns as the sitcom mom for a new generation. These days, her career is thriving for her work on the other side of the camera, as a director on “Jane the Virgin,” among other hourlongs.

What do you enjoy most about directing?
I think there isn’t a day that I go on the set that I don’t learn something new. Sometimes you’re getting your scripts late and you’re frantically trying to figure out how you’re going to shoot them in the time you have. It’s a little bit like being on the top of a building and jumping off, but when you land, you’re OK.

Why did you make the switch from acting?
When I was acting, I was always fascinated by the difference in the quality of work by what director I had. With certain directors, I felt safe — I knew it was going to look fabulous. They would have not just a great storytelling sense, but also a great cinematic sense. That’s when I started to say, that’s what the camera can do.

What’s it like directing “Jane the Virgin”?
It’s a fabulous, talented, perfectly cast show, but it starts on the page. And it’s exciting because we get to direct all these fantasy sequences that you never get to do in television. In the last episode I did, Jane had turned down Rafael’s proposal, and she fantasizes about this most romantic dance which turns into a flash mob. At its core, it’s a great story every week but there are elements that make it truly challenging and it allows you to make it your own.

Would you go back to acting again?
Oh yes, absolutely! I remember my agent saying to me, “You’re really going to have to make a choice. If you’re gong to be a TV director, you book way out front. And no producer or tv studio wants to hear, ‘I’ll do it if I don’t get an acting job.’ So you have to make a commitment.” And that’s what I did. I did it at the right time because I was aging out in that big black hole for women. There’s a lack of good roles for women between 40 and 60, and then they come back again. I love acting. I’m around.

There have been two “Growing Pains” movies. Would you ever do another reunion?
They’re always approaching us! When I heard (John) Stamos was doing “Full House,” I thought, I see it coming! I loved doing it, but I don’t want to go back. It’s not the same. If they want to remake it with other characters, that’s the way to do it. I loved that time in my life. I’m so grateful for that show and everything it did for my family and my career.

What did you think of the recent ACLU report on women directors?
I love that there’s a dialogue now. It’s been tough as a woman getting the momentum. It’s been a hard climb. There are shows that should be acknowledged for their hiring practices, like “Jane.” We’ve just got to get everyone in there. But one day it won’t be that you’re hiring a woman director; it’ll be that you have the best directors for your show. My dad used to say I have four sons and two of them happen to be girls.

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