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Winnipeg Sun
October 5, 2000

Armageddon actress Steen down to earth

In city to film telepic with Margot Kidder


Two days into shooting the CBC-TV movie Society's Child at a farmhouse just north of Winnipeg, star Jessica Steen is settling in to her role as a single mother of seven -- she's even met all of her kids by mid-afternoon.

Nobody could blame Steen, 34, if she loses track. There are almost 50 actors in the film, including Margot Kidder, who made the thriller Clown at Midnight here a few years back and who returns to play a social worker in Society's Child.

"She's coming in a few weeks, that's great, I'm very excited about that. I'm looking forward to meeting her," Steen says.

A co-production of Winnipeg's Buffalo Gal Pictures and Toronto's Sienna Films, Society's Child tells how a young mother (Steen) responds to her daughter Nikki's (Kyley Statham) battle with Rett syndrome, a neurological disorder that severely limits her movement and speaking ability and leads many to believe the girl is mentally handicapped.

Told from Nikki's point of view, the story follows the mother-daughter struggle to have Nikki's voice heard in decisions about the kind of care she'll receive, and whether she'll eventually choose to live or die.

Co-producer Phyllis Laing says the story by playwright Dennis Foon has a clear message and depth of character. She says there was a strong commitment to hiring local actors for the movie -- 42 speaking parts went to Manitobans -- but a wide net was cast to pull in Vancouver's Statham, Kidder, who now lives in Montana, and Steen, who was brought onboard through her Toronto agent.

Laing says Steen brings a certain warmth to her role, which she accepted immediately after returning to her Los Angeles home after a summer vacation.

"I got back to L.A. and this came up before anything else, before I even had an audition. It's controversial and yet I think medical ethics are really an important thing to discuss," she says.

Raised in Toronto, Steen is familiar to many sci-fi fans. She played an astronaut -- co-piloting the space shuttle that didn't crash -- in the 1998 summer blockbuster Armageddon and had a plum role as a genetically modified doctor in the short-lived Steven Spielberg TV series Earth 2 in 1994.

She's also had her share of down-to-earth dramatic roles, including guest spots on The Practice and Due South, a Gemini Award-winning turn in the oft-repeated 1994 CBC Christmas movie Small Gifts, and a two-season stint as a woman who resented giving up her job to returning soldiers in ABC's post-war series Homefront in the early '90s.

As the scientist who created Katey Sagal's robotic housewife in the Disney TV movie Smart House last year, Steen flexed some comic muscle, something she'd like to do more in future. "That's the favourite thing for me, is to wear as many hats as possible. I'm trying to get into more lighter comedy stuff. Things like that are really fun for me."

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Last update: December 14, 2000 9:12 PM