So there's Jennifer Grey, joking about her nose job, obsessing about her career, fast talking about her love life, telling people what she really thinks about them, hearing what people say about her, face-to-face and behind her back. But it's all a sitcom, and Grey is in on all the jokes.
The actress is playing herself, or rather a heightened reality version of herself, on "It's Like, You Know ...," a new half-hour comedy that affectionately skewers life in Los Angeles.
The show premieres 8:30 p.m. Wednesday on ABC. It stars Chris Eigeman as Arthur, a New York journalist determined not to be seduced by the culture and values of his well-heeled L.A. friend, Robbie (Steven Eckholdt), who just happens to live next door to Grey. The creator of this DreamWorks production is Peter Mehlman, previously co-executive producer of "Seinfeld."
"Practically everyone in Hollywood has a neighbor who's been famous, wants to be famous, is famous, has been married to someone famous, worked with someone famous, slept with someone famous, been blackmailed by someone famous ..." says Grey, who in real life has just given up her New York apartment to move to Hollywood with her dog, Lulu.
The slim, lively actress, who will be 39 on Friday, was seduced into playing this amalgam of herself and that essential sitcom character the wacky neighbor by Mehlman, a longtime friend. She says she admires his "rebel" humor. She also believes it's the ideal chance to jump-start a spluttering career.
"I don't remember ever not knowing about acting," says Jennifer, the daughter of "Cabaret" star Joel Grey. "I never remember wanting any other life. It was normal life. It looked great and was really fun, being on the road and backstage, seeing the dancers warming up, listening to the orchestra warming up, applying make-up, putting on costumes ... It was all pretty fantastic."
In the 1980s, Grey was a real star. She was a teenage guerilla fighter along with Patrick Swayze, Lea Thompson and Charlie Sheen in the action flick "Red Dawn" (1984). She teamed up with Swayze again in the successful romance "Dirty Dancing" (1987), earning a Golden Globe nomination for her character Baby. In 1986, she played Jeanie, Matthew Broderick's sister, in the John Hughes hit comedy "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." Ferris was played by Matthew Broderick, to whom Grey was once engaged. Running jokes about major stars she's dated, loved and lost, proliferate the sitcom.
But the work didn't come in the '90s. Then came her nose job. A second operation necessitated by a problem with the first resulted in greater change to her face than she'd expected or wanted, but, more troubling, a lack of recognition from even the most avid "Dirty Dancing" fans. Running jokes about her nose also proliferate the sitcom.
"I decided to make fun of this, to make my fiasco become my reality. After all, it's not cancer, and it's absurd that just a nose job could wreak such havoc," she says, admitting spending "years, months, days, nights asking questions" about why her career slumped, before realizing "maybe 'Why?' is not the question to ask."
She survived the down time by working in cable, low-budget and independent movies, but playing the "It's Like, You Know ..." version of herself is the best role she's had in years.
"I don't think of it as myself, but rather as me very well cast as an actress," she says. "She's is different from me because her priorities are different from mine for the sake of the comedy. Like many L.A. people she's driven by fame, the desire for it, the need for affirmation. There's a desperation there and no real sense of self in someone who is so self-obsessed. It's great to play, though it would be miserable to live!"
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