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TV Times (Canada)
 October 12, 1991

Homefront Battles

by Ivor Davis

Canadian Jessica Steen stars in a steamy new drama about soldiers returning to a 1940's 'Peyton Place'
When Jessica Steen landed a plum role in Homefront, the job came with an odd proviso. She had to learn to weld. The 25-year-old, Toronto-born actress smiles at the memory. "My character works in a factory," she explains, "and fights hard to hang onto her welding job when the troops come home from the Second World War."

But it was more than just welding that intrigued her. Honiefront (ABC, Tuesdays) is created by the same folks who produced Dallas and Knots Landing: it obviously has the potential for a long, and lucrative, run.

The ensemble drama, set in the fictional town of River Run, Ohio, begins as the war ends and the troops are returning to open arms and uncertain futures. While reminiscent of both the 1946 Oscar-winner The Best Years of Our Lives, and 1957's Peyton Place, Honiefront is slickly tailored to include '90s social concerns like racial and sexual equality.

Steen plays a member of the close-knit Metcalf clan - which includes her widowed mother (Wendy Phillips) and brothers (Kyle Chandler and David Newsom). They are one of three families looking forward to the return of a son. And each has unsettling surprises on the big day.

Steen's character, Linda Metcalf, resents stepping down from her job to make room for the returning GIs. But she has even more trouble to occupy her mind. Her fiancé has married someone else overseas: a young doe-eyed Italian who arrives alone and unwanted in River Run. Both women soon discover that the man they love has been killed in a plane crash on his way stateside. "She has been jilted and emotionally hurt," says Steen of her character. "But in the next few shows, she gets over her shock and becomes romantically involved with a union man much older than she is."

To prepare for the part, Steen not only took a quickie course in spot welding, she did her own research into the character, as well as the postwar period. "I spoke with my great aunt and my grandparents," says the star who started out in McDonald's and Mr. Clean commercials, "and from them I got a sense of that era. My aunt who never married, gave me a clear idea of what it was like to be single and working."

Steen also watched a classic PBS documentary called Rosie the Riveter which focused on the women who held the crucial jobs while the men were away. "It was a powerful piece of film," Steen says. "They were all very capable." Although Homefront is set in the '40s, Steen says her character is definitely a feminist. And furthermore, "I think the problem of the working woman, which was just beginning then, is still here today."

Steen grew up in downtown Toronto and got her show business start by doing the voice-over for an animated series aimed at helping children to read. After her TV commercial stint, she landed a key role as Donald Sutherland's daughter in the movie Threshold. She followed that up with an appearance in Gordon Pinsent's John and the Missus, and parts in other, less successful, movies like the ill-fated Sing with Louise Lasser. Although she has done TV work on both sides of the border (later this season, she'll turn up in High Country, a one-hour CBC drama in which she plays a junior game warden tracking a big-time poacher in Jasper National Park), it was a brief turn on ABC's daytime soap, Loving, that attracted the Homefront producers.

"They wanted me for two roles, so I jumped on a plane, met the producers and told them the Linda role appealed to me. A few hours later I was having my eyebrows plucked and my hair cut in a '40s style." It's a look she may have to get used to.

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