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January 9, 1995

Unearthly role full of surprises

Bob Sokolsky, The Press-Enterprise

   All right, what's the story with Dr. Julia Heller?  Is she a
heroine or a villain?  Who is she working for and what about that
transmitter she regurgitated during one of the more recent episodes
of NBC's "Earth 2"?  Does that make her a traitor, a spy for some
bad guys we know nothing about?

Jessica Steen, who plays Julia, says she can't reveal such
weighty secrets and you can't really blame her.  Look, when you're
wandering around a strange new planet known only as G-889, and when
you're constantly accosted by ghoulish characters who pop out of
the ground plus creatures who drool a healing elixir, cute little
whatevers who spear you with poisonous fingernails and humanoids
who may not be what they seem - well, a  woman can't be too careful.

On the other hand, Steen confides, there is an upcoming
episode titled "Redemption."  "So, you can draw your own

Or, maybe you can't draw your own conclusions.  Because not even
Steen knows everything there is to know about Julia Heller, the
young doctor who wound up with Debrah Farentino and her small party
when their spaceship crashed en route to what should have been a
shiny new world.

Julia, for instance, is supposed to be "genetically enhanced. "
At least, that's what "Earth 2" publicists said.  "But I'm not sure
what that means," Steen says.  "I guess they were sort of making me
a prodigy.  I was part of a program only wealthy families could
afford.  And when I first auditioned there was a back story I built
my character on.

"But by the time the show came on the air all those scenes
were cut.  So, I was sort of skating around the first four or five
shows. "

All of that was a far cry from her last series, a short-lived
ABC affair called "Homefront. " It was set in 1948 and it featured
her as Linda Metcalf, an ambitious young journalist trying to make
her way in what was then an almost exclusively male profession.

"But it wasn't that different," Steen says.  "Both shows are
period pieces, only in different galaxies.  Of course, it's all
established when you're doing a period piece from the past.  You're
trying to behave within the protocol of that period.  When you're
doing something like 'Earth 2' the sky's the limit.  There's no real
concrete history to build on so you come up with a lot of things
all by yourself. "

However, she believes, the  Santa Fe, N.M., terrain, where
most of the series' exteriors are shot, has helped.  "I'm from
Toronto," Steen says.  "I never dealt with the  Wile E. Coyote and
sand structures stuff.  It's all foreign to me and it makes me feel
I'm creating a new place. "

But, as most critics have pointed out, it is not entirely new
with plot lines that have ranged from "Battlestar Galactica" to
"Wagon Train. " Steen calls that understandable.  "We have, in fact,
based some of our stories on pioneers' diaries," she says.

And she would not object to seeing the similarities stretched
just a bit more, possibly to include parallels to another physician
who spent quite a large amount of time wandering across new worlds
and encountering new life forms.  "Am I the Dr. McCoy of the '90s? "
Steen laughs at the comparison to the DeForest Kelley character in
the original "Star Trek. "

"I'm just trying to do the medical jargon justice.  But sure,
I'd consider it excellent if somebody came up to me some day and
said, 'Hey, you're Bones! ' "

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