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Femme Fatales
January 1, 1999

Jessica Steen

Meet Prime Time’s Sexy Sci-Fi Sovereign: Her Genre Credits Include a Pioneering, Interactive TV Series.

by Mitch Persons

Media devotees, especially sci-fi addicts, are chronicling her professional development. Flawlessly complexioned and honey haired, Jessica Steen debuted as Donald Sutherland’s impressionable offspring in 1981’s THRESHOLD; eight years later, she matured into supporting roles, and graduated from soap operas (a recurrent role on LOVING) to prime time (TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL).

But those sci-fi idolaters regard Steen as nothing less than a renascent woman, cracking a genre that's regarded as male territory. They flaunt her OUTER LIMITS episode (“The Refuge”) and even her uncredited role in STARSHIP TROOPERS. [ NOTE: This is incorrect as Jessica was not in Starship Troopers – G.C.]  “That whole sci-fi scene,” smiles Steen, “started with a TV series I did in 1994 called EARTH 2. In it, I played a doctor of the future. The show tickled the fancy of a man named George Cifrancis III. He had apparently taken a course on web site construction, and decided to use EARTH 2 as his homework. Since I had a featured role in the series, he started an entire computer home page for me. He was so dedicated to EARTH 2 that he was able to find information about me that even people, who were on the show; weren't aware of. For instance, he knew my life so well that he decided to honor me by initiating the home page on my birthday! From what I understand, Mr. Cifrancis started an avalanche of similar home pages. I'm pleased to say that there are now a number of Jessica Steen sci-fi web sites all over the world.

“I can empathize with Mr. Cifrancis’ fascination with EARTH 2. It was definitely a series to be considered seriously. The story was simple, but it had a good message. Essentially, we had blown it here on Earth, hadn't taken care of our planet properly and we had to move to space stations to escape the devastation. But the space stations were too sterile they killed off good bacteria as well as bad, and so we went in search of another place to live. We found ourselves on this lovely, fertile planet, Earth 2. After growing up on a barren Earth, we decided that we were going to take better care of our new home than we did our old one. We had our encounters with the natives of the planet, some of them not so friendly, but we never forgot we were pioneers dedicated to not messing up our beautiful new home.

“Unfortunately,” continues the Toronto native, “EARTH 2 was an epic show, and far too expensive, so the network had to cancel it. But that wasn't my sole sci-fi legacy for television. Far from it. I was a soldier and a pilot in another series, CAPTAIN POWER AND HIS SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE. [NOTE: This is incorrect, it should have read CAPTAIN POWER AND THE SOLDIERS OF THE FUTURE. –G.C.] It had an interesting concept: it was the very first interactive television series. It was sponsored by Mattel Toys, and there were little spaceships that they sold that interacted with light encoded plates on the bad guys. You held your ship up at the TV, and you could win points by blasting these baddies. If you didn't get enough points, then your spaceship pilot was ejected out of the ship! That sounds juvenile, and I guess it was, but it was not by any means a kiddies only type of show. It was post apocalyptic, like EARTH 2, and kind of grim. We had a slimy, nasty villain named Lord Dread and there were these evil droids. All these elements painted a very sad picture of the future. The saving grace was that we, as good soldiers, were unflinchingly noble. That show lasted one whole season.

“I don’t know whether this is true or not, but possibly my playing a pilot in CAPTAIN POWER led me to be cast as an astronaut in ARMAGEDDON. Whatever the reason, I had a great time on that film. An additional bonus for me was that I got to act with Ken Hudson Campbell again. If you recall, I did an episode of HERMAN’S HEAD a couple of years ago. The episode was titled “When Hairy Met Hermy” and Ken was a regular. He's a terrific actor, and a very sweet man.
“I played Hairy, and more people have asked me about that part,” laughs Steen. “I played a girl that Herman was dating. He was starting to fall for her, when he discovered that she had quite an unusual preoccupation: body hair. She didn't believe in shaving it. I’ll never forget the look on Herman's face when he started to embrace me, and found himself with his nose in a hairy armpit! Of course, I was really wearing these little armpit toupees but it was a funny scene and I had a ball doing it.

“I like episodic comedy like HERMAN’S HEAD. I would love to get involved in that on a more permanent basis. I've done serious drama, and I think it's time for me to lighten up a bit and play a little more...

“Don't get me wrong, I have nothing whatsoever against serious drama. I was in a very fine film caller THRESHOLD, the story of the first artificial heart transplant. I had a relatively small role as Donald Sutherland’s daughter. Even though I wasn't in THRESHOLD that much, it was my first film and I got to hang out for a couple of days with Donald, who is a very funny and very charming man.

“My first actual starring role was in SING, which was about an annual musical competition that is put on by all the high schools in Brooklyn. It's interesting that people from Brooklyn, who had seen SING, swore that they could pick out certain locales that were familiar to them. Little did they know that the whole picture was shot in Toronto! SING was a surprisingly good movie, which, I'm sorry to say, did not do too well at the box office. I think maybe audiences were put off by the dour setting and darkness it was, after all, filmed in the depths of the Canadian winter.

“I did some other serious roles in movies and in TV, but right now this being pilot season I am trying to get myself hooked up with a sitcom. Maybe something sophisticated like MAD ABOUT YOU or ALLY McBEAL.

“Even though I may be offered a part in a sitcom, the following that George Cifrancis helped create will probably still think of me as a sci-fi person. And that bothers me not a bit. Whether I deserved it or not, those loyal aficionados are the ones who made me their icon. I will always be very appreciative of that.”

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Last update: November 1, 2000 3:30 AM