An Unmarried Woman
Homefront's Jessica Steen Finds Value in Playing a 1940's
ON HOMEFRONT, CANADIAN ACTRESS Jessica Steen portrays Linda, an unmarried
file clerk in her mid-20s who resides with her family in the fictional
city of River Run, Ohio. While Linda's marital status would hardly raise
an eyebrow today, the series takes place in 1947, when a woman of her
description would have been considered an old maid. It's a label Steen
seems proud of.
"The show's idea of Linda, and mine, is that she's pretty independent
and kind of likes doing her own thing and isn't particularly taken with
the idea of settling down and being the wife at home," says Steen. 'I
don't think many men were hip to that in that day and age. So she ends
up probably being single for the most part. I think men will come and
go but she's not going to look to be settled, which I like about her.
Everyone on the show is involved in some love triangle ... it seems to
be the general trend. And I think there are a lot of single women and
men in the world, and they don't need to think that being in a couple
is the only way to get through life. There's some strength in your career
and yourself, and I think that's good."
Last season Linda found strength as a union organizer at the Sloan plant;
this season, with the union issue pretty much settled, she takes on a
second job at a newspaper after it publishes an editorial she wrote about
the post-World War II housing sho rtage. (Linda witnessed the Sloans fire
a worker who, having no place to live, was sleeping at the plant.) "After
seeing the letter in the paper, she gets all fired up and starts thinking
maybe they can start giving her assignments," she says. "So they take
her on as a proofreader." Look for Linda's editor at the paper to be one
of the men who come and go. "I think she has an affair," says Steen, who
says she doesn't know if Linda is a virgin. "That was a question when
Mike Sloan Jr. was killed how involved were they before he got involved
with Gina (his Italian war bride, played by Giuliana Santini)? That was
a personal choice of my own that nobody knows whether they did or didn't."
While Homefront employs a researcher "who has everything you've ever wanted
to do or see or know about the era," Steen gets into Linda's psyche by
talking to her grandmother ' and great-aunt, sisters who came of age post-World
War H. "They did different things in life. My grandmother went to library
school and got married. My great-aunt never really found someone she clicked
with, and she really enjoyed working. So rather than just, marry somebody
who was there and interested in her, she chose to go on with her life.
"For me, she's a great role model for Linda," says Steen. "During hiatus
I went home to Toronto and videotaped the three of them, my grandfather
included, just chatting. We looked at the old pictures in the shoebox.
It was great to go over all their me mories and things that were going
on and, "Oh, remember this and that?" They love the show. I've said to
them, "Do you see things that aren't right?" and they say no. They get
right in with it and they enjoy going back to the time of the '40s."
If Steen's grandparents and great-aunt are her inspiration for Linda,
then her parents are her nspiration as a performer. The daughter of an
actress and a director, show business "has always been around. I started
early but didn't really get into it for myself, because both my parents
were reluctant to point me toward the entertainment business. So by the
time I got off and running on my own I was probably in mid-high school.
I caught the bug then, I guess."
In addition to such Canadian-produced films as Flying, Steen's American-based
credits include the motion picture Sing and the soap Loving, which she
appeared on in 1990, filling in for Noelle Beck (who was on maternity
leave) as Trisha. "I had never done anything soapish," recalls Steen.
As Trisha was expecting at the time, "I jumped in with a big pillow belly
and went forth" into a fairly depressing storyline. "The first day we
shot, Trisha's grandfather died, the second day her father was arreste
d, her husband was acquitted and the next day she and her father got into
a huge argument. Trisha goes into labor, the baby dies. Then there was
this funeral, then she was arrested. I mean, on every page there was this
monumental thing." (Last season Steen was pleasantly surprised to learn
that co-star Alexandra Wilson, who played Homefront's ill-fated Sarah
Metcalf, had previously been on Loving as April Hathaway.)
Although most publications (SOAP OPERA WEEKLY included) have classified
Homefront as a prime-time soap, the series' producers are skittish about
that description; according to the Homefront spokesman, the show wants
to be known this season as a romant ic comedy." Steen is neutral on this
matter, but says, "If you tuned in on a single basis, I think you would
be captivated and interested and not so much in the dark that you wouldn't
want to stick with it. Definitely it's an ongoing story; that's the wa
y you keep viewers. And in that way, it is continuing stories, like one
chapter after another of a book you can't put down. So I don't know. People
have carried different ideas of what a soap is."
Steen, who is single and has a steady boyfriend, hopes Homefront will
continue to feature reality based issues in addition to romantic triangles.
"I'm proud to work on a show that makes people think about the way they
see things and how they make decisions in their lives." She feels it's
important to stress "the 'single' issue - single women feeling proud of
themselves and not feeling like they're missing something if they're not
in love. If Linda can in any way give people the strength to go forward
and be bold and have confidence in what they're doing with their lives,
then that's what I hope to say."