The ad was fetching. It offered an intriguing trade: A year of your life for the year of your life.
And for Shawn Weatherly, it seemed like a chance to make a trade of her own. "It was a chance to prove I had guts," she said. "It was a chance to be seen as an adventuress and not as Miss Universe."
The transformation of Weatherly from blond glamor girl and neophyte diver to blond glamor girl and budding adventuress is part of the storyline of "oceanQuest," a five-part undersea series on NBC starting tonight. The series also features impressive film sequences from locales as diverse as Antarctica, Australia, Newfoundland and Santo Domingo.
Under the guidance of Al Giddings, a highly accomplished underwater photographer, Weatherly i shown facing a variety of stressful -- and mostly beautiful -- undersea venues.
She was impressed by what she saw above water, too. "The real thing is to watch people make these films," she said. "You don't just ask a whale to jump and it jumps. Al waited in bleaching sun in Santo Domingo for nine hours to get the right whale shot."
She also liked what she saw in herself. "I felt I'd achieved somethng in my life -- more than becoming Miss Universe and the jobs that I've gotten before because of the way I look. I've gained confidence . . . I'm not going to let people walk over me."
That translates into standing up to agents and their idea of what roles she should be after. Don't look for her to decorate any more episodes of "The Fall Guy," for instance. She's looking for parts that require more acting depth.
"I feel I've gone thorugh five years in one," she said. "I feel differently with friends and when I'm going for a part. I surprise people by not being afraid to say how I feel."
Giddings also sensed the compression her life in the year of work on "oceanQuest."
"When I met her, I'd say she was 25 going on 20," he said. "After the year, she was her age and perhaps more mature than her years."
The maturing process was nurtured by crises ranging from the perceived to the real. Running out of fresh vegetables caused one sort of anxiety for Weatherly. The death of her father during the filming caused another.
"After he died there were a few moments when I thought I should quit," she said. "He was my last parent . . . I had missed the last six months of his life. I wondered if I should go home and enjoy the rest of my family while I could." But she had made a commitment, she said, and didn't think her father would want her to quit.
Hers was an Air Force family that called Sumter, S.C., home. She followed a boyfriend to Los Angeles and modeled before getting into television. She hosted a number of talk shows and co-starr on an ABC comedy, "Shaping Up."
Then her career took what she hopes will be a permanent turn when she answered the cleverly advertised casting call. "I think they wanted a woman because she would be more emotional," she said. "It might be easier for a woman to talk of her fears in front of professional divers." Not to mention in front of a rolling camera. And of course the idea of picking a woman had nothing to do with how Weatherly looks in a high-cut-low-cut swimsuit.
But the glamorous veil of the adventure wore a bit thin in spots, especially in the antarctic where foul weather and temperatures in the 70-below-zero range made swimming a strange and hazardous idea. At one semi-frost-bitten point, Weatherly asked Giddings, "Why am I doing this?" His response: "To have fun."