Big Love: Beethoven Star Jennifer Finnigan
There’s an expression that comes to mind when talking with Montreal-born actor Jennifer Finnigan and, ironically, it’s one we Anglophones borrow from the mother tongue of her city’s denizens. Hers is a voice that emanates the purest form of it: joie de vivre-that exultation of spirit, that love of life, that appreciation for a great laugh. So it’s no surprise that this busy LA-based thespian plans her travel schedule around Montreal’s internationally renowned Comedy Festival. When we talk on the phone, she instantly apologizes for her voice: having caught half a dozen comedy performances ("show-hopping" she calls it) the night before, it’s a bit raspier than normal. But when it comes to sharing her enthusiasm for her upcoming film, the Universal DVD Original Beethoven’s Big Break-to be released November 25 and co-starring Rhea Perlman, Joe Fatone, and Jonathan Silverman-talking in a lower octave is an insignificant detail. And just one more thing to laugh about.
MD: What are the differences between your life in Montreal and your life in LA?
JF: Montreal has this real cultural feeling, there’s a lot of history here. The whole city doesn’t revolve around the entertainment industry. As much as I love LA and I love what I do and I love my life there, it’s good for me to come back home every once and a while. It’s grounding.
MD: I understand your dad was a radio personality. Did you ever give any thought to a career in radio?
JF: He would take me to the studio when he was doing his show and would try to get me to speak. I was shy when I was a kid, so I always refused. I would turn beet red and shake my head "noooo!" It’s something I have so much respect for, and I am a fan. But for a career, that was my dad’s life. And I chose TV.
MD: You started your career at 18. What was the first job that got you hooked?
JF: It was a show called Student Bodies. It was targeted to a "tween audience." And it was the first show I was a regular on. It’s actually still broadcast here in Canada, much to my dismay. I just can’t get away!
MD: It’s like having the old high school yearbooks come out. But for you, it’s broadcast.
MD: What was it like to sink your teeth into a role like The Bold and the Beautiful’s Bridget Forrester?
JF: That was the biggest growing experience of my life, professionally and personally. A whole new city, a whole different life…and I wouldn’t take it back for anything. I fell madly in love with the people I worked with; we were like a family. And I really credit that job with keeping me stable. I think it’s very overwhelming for a young girl to go to Los Angeles wide-eyed and naive and that is exactly what I was. That was such a tight-knit set, and everyone was so supportive and encouraging. It was a safe place.
MD: You were awarded three consecutive Daytime Emmy wins. What’s it like when they call your name?
JF: It was pretty much shock every time. And I hope to feel that again. It’s utter disbelief. I equate it to your wedding day. You’re completely elated and it’s surreal at the same time.
MD: You’re in an industry that can have its fair share of pauses. But you seem to be doing something very right. To go from The Bold and the Beautiful to a recurring role on Crossing Jordan. What was it like to work with Jill Hennessy and Jerry O’Connell?
JF: Jill was great. She’s Canadian, so we bonded on that. And I was still on the soap when I switched over to Crossing Jordan. All of a sudden jumping into the primetime world, I was so fearful of it at first. People often make such a big deal of transitioning from daytime to nighttime. Everyone was so welcoming, all very seasoned actors. Jerry was great and hysterically funny. That was such a good experience right off the bat. From there I went on to a short-lived sit-com, Committed, which was probably the best time of my life. I never knew I could do comedy, and I realized that is my love, having done melodrama for so many years. From that I went right on to [Jerry Bruckheimer’s] Close to Home, which was pretty dramatic as well. But comedy is a strength of mine, and I’m mad about doing comedy. For me, the kookier, the better.
MD: You star in the latest of the cult favourite Beethoven movies, Beethoven’s Big Break. And I understand you know the leading man, Jonathan Silverman (Gimme a Break, Brighton Beach Memoirs, The Single Guy), just a little?
JF: Yeah, you know, kinda, sorta….We actually just celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary.
MD: Is this the first time you and he have starred in something together?
JF: He did the last three episodes of Close To Home. But we only had one line together. Which was a relief to me because when I found out he was going to do the show, I thought, Please don’t make him my love interest. I’ll just be completely freaked out. And we actually go back every few months and do an episode of a show called Head Case on Starz. We play sort of an elevated, crazy version of ourselves in couples therapy. But [Beethoven’s Big Break] is the first time we went on location together.
It was so great. My favourite part about it was being able to come home after work every day and talk about the scenes we did, run our lines together for the next day, talk about our experiences on set. And being able to relate to each other. We had such a blast. I mean, it’s the person you know best in the world, the person you love most in the world.
MD: Can you tell us a bit about the premise? And your role in it?
JF: It’s almost like the prequel to the original Beethoven movie. It’s just this crazy adventure. It’s absolutely adorable. I play the writer of the film; basically it’s a film within a film, which makes it more interesting. The whole thing is set on the original Beethoven movie set, so in the background you see extras walking around, camera people; it really brings the audience into the making of a film.
In the story, the film we are making is originally intended for this little Bichon Frise, but then that dog is kidnapped and so all of a sudden my character, Lisa, has to re-write the script for this giant Saint Bernard. She’s frazzled at first and she blames it on [Silverman’s] character. Eventually, sparks develop and it becomes a little romance.
MD: What was it like working with a Saint Bernard?
JF: There were actually three different Saint Bernards. There was sort of the star dog. He was the one who was most well-trained in terms of doing tricks. Barking on cue, things like that. Then there were two others as well. I saw all these behind the scenes things I never thought I’d see. Like a trainer with a piece of steak on the end of a stick, trying to get them to run in a certain direction.
MD: The dogs? Or the humans?
JF: I hope it was for the dogs.
MD: Do you have dogs?
JF: Yes. I have a Miniature Dachshund, Saucisse-French for "sausage." Johnny has a rescued Boxer, Gibby. The two of them sort of look like matching luggage. Mine is the carry-on, and his is the check-in.
MD: There are a number of things I love about that. Not the least of which is knowing that Jonathon Silverman actually goes by "Johnny." And Gibby is a rescue?
JF: She was found tied to a tree. A member of The Bill Foundation, a charity Johnny had done some work with in the past, contacted him and said they just found this dog and they knew he was looking for one because his Cocker Spaniel had just passed away and he was devastated. This dog had just been so mistreated, they were desperate to place her and Johnny said "Of course!" right away.
MD: Did you bring your carry-on with you on location?
JF: I actually brought her to Florida for the filming. I especially wanted to get her in the movie. There’s this really great scene where all different dogs are auditioning to be the star of the film and I was desperate to get her in there, but it didn’t work out.
MD: You’re like one of those TV moms, aren’t you?
JF: I am! I am!