BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. —
Actress Jami Gertz finds herself surrounded by aliens. And no, it’s not the weirdo creatures that inhabit her cul-de-sac in ABC’s funny sitcom, “The Neighbors.”
Gertz’s aliens are the 6-foot kind who sport smelly T-shirts and track mud in the house.
As the mother of three boys — 20, 17 and 13 — she says, “A lotta energy! Go, go, go till they fall asleep talking. I have nieces who sit and color and, ‘Aunt Jami will you read to me?’ And boys are just all over. If I scream one more time, ‘Stop bouncing the ball in the house!’ or ‘Get off your brother’s head, he can’t breathe.’ ‘Don’t run through the house. . . .’ ”
Shaking her head, she says, “The stitches, the blood, the broken fingers, the broken collarbone . . .”
Who would’ve thought that the brunette who first breathed life into a television tube as the Jewish princess in “Square Pegs” and went on to star in “Still Standing,” “Lost Boys,” “Twister” and “Less Than Zero” would wind up in Hollywood a working actress, married for 24 years to the same man and somehow surmounting motherhood?
“They’re older now, and we’re becoming friendlier,” she says with a sigh. “I’m still bossy. I’m not allowed to cheer at their [basketball] games anymore. There was a time I could bring pom-poms, could have their names on my shirt. Now I have to be low-key. It’s not easy for me, by the way, to be low-key because I need to cheer, and then I need to tell them on the court what they’re doing wrong.”
Gertz knew by the time she was 16 that she wanted to be an actress, an inconceivable idea to her family. But her parents went along, she says, seated in a beige lounge chair in a coffee bar.
“I think I’m so lucky because I had parents who wanted their children to be happy. They wanted us to make a living, feed ourselves, be self-sufficient but also to be happy in life. . . . When I got ‘Square Pegs,’ my father flew with me to Los Angeles. They were just very supportive, loving parents. Probably ignorance is bliss, too, in a way. No one in my family were actors. We didn’t know any professional actors, we knew none of that. We were a clean slate. We didn’t associate acting with anything bad; it was just about entertaining people.”
Of course, it wasn’t that simple. “I think there have been multiple times when I’ve questioned my choice of being a salary earner,” Gertz says.
“It is a tough road. It’s one where people criticize you publicly, which is not always easy to take. You have to have thick skin. But I’ve dealt with rejection pretty easily in my life because somehow I was able to separate my inner Jami from someone not being right for the job. There were plenty of times that I was hurt or felt badly that I didn’t get a role or it didn’t come my way, but fortitude,” she says.
“It makes you strong. If you hang in there long enough and you’re good at what you do and you’re not too much of a pain in the [butt], you can continue to work.”
But the real challenge came when she had her first two children. “When I went to do ‘Twister,’ I had a 3-year-old and a 6-week-old, and I was in the middle of cornfields in the middle of Iowa, and there was no way that I could even get back to base camp where they were.
“And I barely saw them for about four months. And I thought, ‘I’m working so hard, but I’m not spending the quality time that I want to with my family.’ And I think this question: can you have it all as a woman? I think you can’t have it all gracefully. Things suffer. Pieces suffer at different times.
“And because I had such great parents in my life and a really carefree childhood, I wanted my children to have that as well. And I wanted to be in their life. I thought, ‘Why have them if I don’t want to be around them?’ There were times when my kids were little and I’d go off on location, and when they went into school I didn’t want to interrupt their schedule so they stayed home. . . . So there were plenty of times that I was lonesome and sad but still loved the job and task at hand.”
Gertz’s husband, Tony Ressler, is a financier. They met on a blind date. “I’m just a lucky, lucky girl,” she says, holding her palms up toward heaven.
“He’s a smarty-pants and a quality human being. There are times where he thinks [my job] is very destructive. But what can I say? He loves me, and opposites attract. We’re very different people. And I think I give to him what maybe he’s lacking in his personality, and he definitely gives to me what I’m lacking in my personality. I think that’s the secret. Even though I have a job that’s not his favorite, I’m his favorite.”