Kellie Martin is the ultimate good girl. She was sensible as teen Becca on ‘Life Goes On,’ earnest as doomed Dr.Lucy Knight on ‘ER,‘ sympathetic as the heroine of numerous made for TV movies. Now she is taking on the role of a loving, brainy mother in the film ‘The Jensen Project’ (Friday, July 16, NBC) the story of a soccer Mom who, along with her family, rejoins a top secret think tank that she left in disgrace years ago. The project is a rarity: a family oriented MOW airing on a major network. Martin talked about why she was ready to play a Mom, the enduring appeal of 1990s television, and why being wholesome works for her.
Do people still come up to you because they remember you from ‘Life Goes On’ and ‘Christy?’
I would say people remember me from Life Goes On more than anything. Second, probably ER. Christy is an interesting bunch of people because there’s not quite as many of them, but they’re die hard fans. ‘Christy’ has had a strange life because the show didn’t go all that many years. I think it went one full season and to this day there are Christy-fests in towns in Tennessee where we filmed once a year. People gather there to talk about ‘Christy.’ I really love the ‘Christy’ fans because they mean it.
Speaking of your character, Lucy, on ER a lot of people think the season finale of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ ripped off the episode in which she was murdered in the hospital.
I didn’t watch it, but I got a lot of people telling me that it was very similar. I love that. That was such a great show to be a part of. If you have to leave it, that’s the way to go. It was dramatic and people remembered it. I was only for two seasons but because I had that great death it feels like I had some kind of impact on that show.
You are one of the queens of television movies. What is it about them that appeals to you?
I started doing them when I was about eighteen. They could fit them into the hiatus from whatever show I was working on. I also did them while I was in college. I’d do them on my breaks. It was convenient and a way for me to still act. That’s where it started and then I got known for it and I could cry a lot. Every TV movie has a lot of crying in it.
I have watched the movie where you murder Tori Spelling more times that I want to admit.
That’s a crazy cult classic. I was eighteen or nineteen in that one. It is one that people really, really love. Lifetime still airs it all the time. If it’s on, you can’t turn it off. It’s strangely compelling.
What appealed to you about ‘The Jensen Project?‘
The Jensen Project is technically a TV movie but it’s a backdoor pilot. The nice thing about doing that is that we worked for five weeks on a project and it will actually see the light of day even if it doesn’t get picked up. I had a blast doing that. It was really fun. We shot up in Montreal and I just loved it. I would love for it to go on [to series] because the action adventure family genre is something I really love. I like that anyone can sit down and watch it.
What drew you to the role? I was surprised to see someone so young playing the mother of a teenager.
It’s biologically possible. When I read the script I thought, “Oh I’m way too young for this.” But I liked it enough that I didn’t want to tell the producers that. I was drawn to it because of what the character goes through. I love that she’s a brilliant young woman who loses all her confidence because her nanobot didn’t work and she basically loses herself in the process. When we meet her she’s not really living up to her potential. Then she gets to get her mojo back and figure out who she is again and go back to the life that she really wants to lead and have her family be a part of all of that. It’s that whole thing that a woman can’t have everything. You can’t have a career and a family. I like that she does that because that’s something I struggle with. I have a three and a half year old. I’m very conflicted about working because she’s so young. I really want to be able to spend time with her but I also want to be who I am which is an actor and writer.
Where will the story go if it’s picked up to series?
They all rejoin the Jensen Project at the end of this one so I think they would continue to solve the world’s problems. I think it would range from catching bad guys to finding cures for diseases. Certainly the two kids would drive a lot of the action. I would be super excited to be the anchor, the Mom. My character’s really smart so at the end of the day she’s going to avoid the trappings of being a Mom.
Did anything funny happen behind the scenes when you were taping?
In Quebec they usually speak French on set. I speak a bit of French so I was up there and by the third day a couple of the crew guys were talking and I said, “Je comprende,” and they looked at me like, really? I was like, “Yeah, I understand what you’re saying and I know you’re talking about me. Thanks.”