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Jessica Steen faces "Armageddon"

Inside Trek: Ian Spelling

"It's nonstop excitement," Jessica Steen enthuses. "It's a totally, utterly, quintessentially action-packed sci-fi adventure."

"It" is Armageddon, the latest, greatest doomsday flick to rock the nation's multiplexes.

Rather than the comet chunks hurtling toward Earth in Deep Impact, Armageddon spins an asteroid on a collision course with the big blue marble.

The film stars action vet Bruce Willis, red-hot Ben Affleck and familiar genre faces Will Patton and Steve Buscemi. Steen, best known to sci-fi fans for her stints on television's "Earth 2" and "Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future," plays Capt. Jennifer Watts, a NASA pilot.

"It's my job to take these oil-drilling roughnecks (Willis, Affleck, Patton and Buscemi, among others) and get them ready for a shuttle mission," the friendly, energetic Steen says during a conversation from her home in Los Angeles. "It's their job to put a bomb on the asteroid and try to stop the thing.

"Once they're ready to go, I have to fly one of the two shuttles that are being sent out into space. When we crash onto the asteroid, I stay in the ship trying to get it flying again, so that when the boys are finished planting the bomb we can all get out of their in one piece.

"Considering the way we crash," she says, "I've got my hands full."

Steen describes her four-plus months on the Armageddon shoot as fairly chaotic, but praises director Michael Bay for knowing exactly what he wanted and needed for each and every frame.

She got plenty of bumps and bruises, soaked in all the testosterone around her and got a kick out of conversing with real NASA astronauts at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

As well as Armageddon may turn out, Hollywood observers wonder if audiences will show up for all the fireworks. Deep Impact blasted well past the $100 million mark upon its release in May, and it remains to be seen what impact Deep's success will have on Armageddon.

After all, Dante's Peak (1997) performed far better than the similar Volcano (1997) in large part because it came out of the chute first.

"I think Disney is pulling out all the stops," Steen says. "Deep Impact and Armageddon are very different movies.

"They come at the same issues from completely different angles. We've got lots and lots of action, some character development and a good amount of humor.

"I think we'll do just fine."

Steen was born and reared in Toronto, Canada, and counts among her other credits the TV series "Loving" and "Homefront," as well as the films Trial & Error (1997) and Sing (1989). She still receives stacks of mail, however, about "Earth 2."

That sci-fi series, produced by Steven Spielberg, cast the actress as Julia Heller, who served as medic to colonists settling an Earthlike planet and as spy for an enigmatic body called the Council. The show lasted only one season on NBC, but attracted a core group of deeply devoted fans.

While repeats air Sunday nights on the Sci-Fi Channel, the fans' dream of a reunion TV movie to tie up loose ends grows less likely to be realized with every passing day.

"I don't know if you could get everyone together again," Steen says. "Amblin' TV is a different entity now, and I don't know who'd put up the money.

"The cast gets together once in a while at conventions, which is nice, and if someone ever really got an 'Earth 2' movie going, count me in."

Right now, though, Steen has just returned from an 11-day, silent retreat, raced out to Edmonton, Canada, to shoot the independent feature Question of Privilege with Michael Ironside and is hoping that Armageddon blasts off at the box office.

"I'm not in any great rush," she says. "I've got a few things I'd like to do, some projects I'd like to generate myself.

"Hopefully, Armageddon will be huge and help me realize some of those projects. I'm full of anticipation."

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Last update: November 1, 2000 3:25 AM