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Interview with Joely Fisher - by Chet Cooper
Her father is Eddie Fisher and to most, no introduction is needed. A 50s heartthrob, Fisher boasted a number of Top 10 hits including Wish You Were Here, I'm Walking Behind You, Oh My Pa-Pa and I Need You Now. As his career was booming, Fisher was called to serve his country. After spending a year in the U.S. Armed Forces he returned to star in his own television series, Coke Time. Fisher then went on to co-star with Debbie Reynolds in the film musical Bundle Of Joy. Fisher married Reynolds and one year later their daughter, Carrie Fisher of Star Wars fame, was born. Later Fisher had a role in Butterfield 8, in which his second wife, Elizabeth Taylor, won an Academy Award for best actress.
Her mother, as one of the most popular role models for teenage girls across the globe in the 60s, requires about as much an introduction as her father. Connie Stevens successfully took on the entertainment industry and made herself into a film, television and Broadway star, popular recording artist and concert performer, and then went on to develop a successful cosmetic empire. She has performed for four U.S. presidents. Having toured with Bob Hope around the world, Stevens was voted one of Veterans Across America's all time favorites.
As the first artist signed to Warner Brothers Records, Stevens recorded two mega-hits: Kookie Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb) and a number one record, Sixteen Reasons. However, it was her memorable role as Cricket Blake in the popular series Hawaiian Eye that made her a household name. In addition to countless film and television roles, Stevens starred opposite George Burns in the popular TV series Wendy and Me and was the most popular guest on The Love Boat, not to mention Neil Simon's Star Spangled Girl on Broadway.
For Joely Fisher, daughter of Eddie Fisher and his third wife, Connie Stevens, it's easy to imagine that life came easy and acting jobs were handed to her on a silver plate; all she had to do was remind people who her parents were and casting agents couldn't sign her name fast enough. Well, perhaps this might be the case in her dreams, but real life tells a very different story. Many armchair critics assume that second or third generation actors make their way through the entertainment business through hand-ups from celebrity mommies or daddies. While this career-boost certainly happens from time to time, many children of celebrities find their pedigrees have the opposite effect, and they are left to pave their own way in one of the most competitive and difficult industries. During a 1994 interview with Movieline, Joely Fisher said, "If having celebrities for parents were a plus, I'd be a huge star by now. People might be curious to see if you turned out okay-to see if Eddie Fisher's kid does drugs-but they won't hire you. Brandon Lee, who was a friend of mine, said, 'Don't you feel like you always have a comma before or after your name?' It's like, 'Joely Fisher comma daughter of Eddie Fisher and Connie Stevens.'"
Although her destiny would be shaped by her own fortitude, Fisher was born with talent in her veins on October 29, 1967, at St. Joseph's Hospital, directly across the street from The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. Unfortunately, Joely's parents separated two years after she was born. A self-proclaimed "road-baby," she has traveled around the world with her mother and sister, sometimes joining her mother onstage during performances. During the Persian Gulf War, Joely performed with her mother and Bob Hope for the troops overseas.
Although Joely had decided early to hold off pursuing her own career until after college, she eventually quit her studies to pursue acting full-time. Joely soon landed bit parts on Growing Pains and Blossom, as well as a role in the 1994 Jim Carrey comedy The Mask.
Even though the small roles gave her a taste for being on the silver screen, she had been turned down for nearly thirty television pilots before she landed her first major part. At the age of twenty-six, her persistence finally paid off when she landed the role of Paige Clark on the hit television comedy Ellen. For her supporting role on Ellen, which made TV history as the first series centered on a lesbian character, Joely was nominated for a Golden Globe Award, and her career was ready to take off. Her personal life also flourished as she fell in love and married cinematographer Christopher Duddy, now the proud father of their daughter, Skylar Grace.
Not only did Joely inherit a love of entertaining from her parents, but she has also followed in her mother's footsteps by giving back to the community. Sitting in the living room of her Los Angeles-area home, Joely talks with ABILITY's Chet Cooper about her career post-Ellen, her current starring role on Lifetime Televisionšs Wild Card and the important role she's playing as "Dream Angel" for the Dream Foundation.
Chet Cooper: You've basically grown up in the entertainment industry. Do you believe your parents' involvement influenced your decision to follow suit?
Joely Fisher: I'm not sure. I definitely have a Fisher voice. I think you inherit most of your talent from your parents, although sometimes a fabulously talented singer grows out of the union of two tone-deaf people. I knew from the time I could walk that I wanted to be an actor. We would perform shows in restaurants and we would put on Girl Scout musicals in the living room whether my mother and her friends liked it or not. (laughs)
CC: What was your first audition?
JF: I went to my first audition-it was for Annie-in my Catholic school plaid-skirt uniform. My mother was out of town and she didn't even know I had gone. I got a call back and they offered me the swing position. An understudy is the backup for one part, but swings learns all the parts and then "swing in" wherever they are needed. I didn't end up taking the part.
CC: How did your mom feel about your choosing acting?
JF: She used to say, "I couldn't stop you with a train." But I didn't start working until after college. I wasn't told not to do it and I wasn't pushed into it at all. I'm sure that my mom would have been happy with any path I chose. Maybe this one is difficult for her to watch because she has done it for so long herself; she knows both the triumphs and the really big lows.
CC: In what ways do you think her personal experience makes it more difficult to watch you?
JF: You want the best for your kid, but everybody's career is completely different in this industry. I am still learning every day not to watch other people's careers and compare. It would actually be interesting to hear if she felt I had met her expectations or if I'm going beyond what she thought I would accomplish. I know she is immensely proud; I also know she's my biggest critic. Maybe it's because she cares the most. If my mom was a doctor or someone who worked in a drycleaner's, she would probably say, "Oh my god, everything you do is so great! That's my baby girl!" And she does do that, but then there's the "Stand up straight, shoulders back. You don't have enough blush!"
CC: Isn't there a musical based on that premise? I Love You. You're Perfect. Now Change?
JF: (laughs) Lately we've had conversations about how the business is so different from before. A dear friend of mine says, "The conveyer belt is always moving. Athletes, ballet dancers and so on...there's always someone younger, more talented or luckier coming off the conveyer belt. So, to stay on it is good."
CC: Lots of people are falling off.
JF: Sometimes they are doing triple back flips off. Joey Pagliano said, "Let them typecast me into the box. So I get to play the same part forever. At least I'm doing it."
CC: What college did you go to?
JF: I went to Emerson [and studied abroad]. I took up French boys and wine and I studied psychology.
CC: Whining French boys?
JF: No. I think that class was full. (laughs) I loved psychology and I loved history. I did a bunch of musicals and directed by the time I was a junior. I was like a race horse, just trying to get into the world. I didn't finish college, which is really weird because they awarded me the Alumni of Distinction recently. (laughs)
CC: So you're straight out of college
JF: Can't stop me with a train!
CC: What happened after college?
JF: When I came back from school I was heavy. I wasn't obese, but I was the funny fat best friendnever the leading lady. I had always gotten away with it because I had a curvy body. But when I went on camera to test for some roles they said, "You're great. Lose 10 or 15 pounds." That's a horrifying thing to hear at 19 or 20 years old because young women are already uncomfortable.
CC: Did it prevent you from working?
JF: I acted in little parts here and there. I would say the part that changed my career was a movie called I'll Do/Be Anything, directed and written by James L. Brooks. I auditioned eight times before getting the part, but I got to play with the big kids and it was really exciting for me. My mom would even say it was sort of a turning point for me.
Right around the same time I sang my first part at the Academy Awards.
Nobody really remembers, but it was a 10-minute vignette that Kenny Ortega
directed and choreographed, and it featured Christian Slater, Ricki Lake,
Patrick Dempsey, Fabian, Danny Glover and a bunch of people we see all
the time now. I sang and danced in that number, and two days later these
women called me in and I got a part. They said, "We saw you the other
night on the Oscars!"
Other articles in the Joely Fisher Issue include: Traumatic Brain Injury, Employment, ConnecTV, Dream Foundation, Stephen Grace, and more! Read more in ABILITY Magazine...... subscribe!
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