PASADENA, Calif. — Actress Tricia Helfer was carefully schooled for what she was later to do for a living. But it wasn’t a university or institute that taught her. It was her home life in Canada with three sisters and parents who insisted she master the practicalities.
“I grew up with what I would call a level head,” says Helfer, fighting a head cold on the patio of a hotel here. “I had to have my own bank account since I was 8. I had to pay to go to school. We had a farm. I was a farmhand, and I made a wage and had to buy my own school supplies. We had a budget that we went over every week. So I always went at it as a business. You have to at least attempt to be smart about things.”
That philosophy proved invaluable when, at 17, she was spotted by an agent. He encouraged her to try modeling.
Her parents were skeptical, she says. “They checked him out with the Better Business Bureau, and he had them speak to some other parents of girls he represented. I just got lucky — he was a very legitimate agent that was in it for the love of business. I didn’t really move away until almost 18, and I was ready to head for university anyway.”
A flurry of prestigious modeling assignments followed (her very first fashion show featured Chanel). But after 10 years of being the toast of every exotic coast, Helfer was ready for a change. That decision brought her to Los Angeles to try acting, and one year later she snagged the role of the humanoid Number Six on “Battlestar Galactica.”
Now she’s traded in her Cylon card for a Stetson as a no-nonsense Texas Ranger in ABC’s thriller “Killer Women,” in which she executes many of her own stunts.
She was a tomboy as a kid and involved in a variety of sports, but she later suffered severe back trouble.
“Growing up tall and skinny and being very athletic, having a bit of scoliosis as a kid, a bunch of things together [forced] back surgery in December ’09,” she says.
“That was definitely life-changing. It brought back a renewed sense of youth. The first two weeks were kind of hellish, but by month two, I was shooting ‘Two and a Half Men.’ By month three, I was filming a cop show, ‘Dark Blue’ on TNT.”
A near-tragic incident when she was 12 taught her an even more lasting lesson. “We were out Saskatoon picking — which are similar to blueberries. We had our buckets full and were walking back to the truck and going down a hillside. My dad was in front, and the four girls and my grandmother. She leaned against a tree to help stabilize herself and it was a dead tree, and it fell over and perfectly landed on my dad’s head 20 feet down. We thought we lost him.
“And I remember my grand-mother rushed down to him, his eyes were rolled back. And I remember my grandmother saying, ‘We’ve lost him.’ And luckily we didn’t. He came back to and miraculously wasn’t hurt except for a sore neck.
“But I remember at that moment [realizing] everything can change in an instant. I need to listen to my own advice sometimes, but try to enjoy being in the present. I don’t always do that.”
Helfer has been married for 11 years to business development attorney Jonathan Marshall. She says it was love at first sight.
Invited to a friend’s 40th birthday party, she was greeted by her hostess at the door. “She said, ‘Jonathan’s here.’ And it was like the light bulb in little cartoons. ‘Okay.’ She grabbed me and marched me through the house into the back yard, plopped me in front of him, introduced us. And we talked the entire night. And a year later we were married.”
They have no children and aren’t planning any, though Helfer says eventually she might consider adoption. In the meantime, she cares for what she calls her “furry children” — cats. She won’t say how many she has but admits, “You can count them on two hands.”
Helfer also confesses to being “a bit of a neat freak.”
“I’m a little OCD. My husband laughs that I vacuum every morning. I’m terrible at walking out of the house without vacuuming.”
(one hour) airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.