Interview with Geri Jewell

 
 

AE: Even though you hadn’t figured out your sexuality yet, did you have a crush on anyone on the show? A lot of girls had crushes on Nancy or Lisa Whelchel.

GJ: No. Never. And Lisa and I were roommates. We lived together for about eight months.

AE: Lisa is a born-again Christian. How did that fact mesh with your life and the direction it was taking?

GJ: Her response, because of her religious background, was that I had to find Jesus and she would take me to church. I have nothing negative to say about that because her intention was absolutely in a good place.

But unless you have that same religious background, it’s hard to be a close friend. It’s like she loved me, but she doesn’t accept my lifestyle. And that’s OK. Lisa was so supportive of me as a friend. I wrote about her in the book.

AE: Have you heard any feedback from her about the book?

GJ: I have not. I’m hoping that she will like what I wrote. You know, in writing a memoir, one thing that you have to be sensitive about is boundaries and what is off-limits. I’m not writing about her life. I’m writing about my life. But I wanted to write about her and how I perceived Lisa. I have nothing but respect and love for her.

AE: Are you in touch with any of your old cast members?

GJ: I haven’t been in years but I just reconnected with Mindy [Cohn, who played Natalie.] Hopefully, I’ll reconnect with the rest of them at the TV Land Awards.  I love all those girls.

AE: Let’s talk about Deadwood for a bit. Creator David Milch saw you in a store and offered you a role, on the spot.

GJ: Yes. This was 2001. And I had had spinal cord surgery in ’99. I didn’t know that I would be able to walk again, or ever do standup or acting or anything. I thought that my career was over. That morning, I went into a pharmacy. I’m standing in line and this man turns around and he says, “Oh my god, are you Geri Jewell?” And he said, “I absolutely love you.” So I said, “Oh. Well, thank you.”

AE: You didn’t know who he was?

GJ: Right. And he said, “You’ve inspired me, you’ve made me laugh, I love you.” And this little tinge of sadness went through me because although I was glad I was able to inspire people, after my surgery, I thought, “I can’t do that anymore.”

And he said, “You want a television series? My name is David Milch. I just got a contract with HBO. I’m doing a new Western called Deadwood. You want to do a Western?”

AE: That’s amazing.

GJ: I was the very first cast member on Deadwood. Before Ian McShane. Before any of them.

AE: Deadwood question. Was Calamity Jane raised by wolves or what?

GJ: I’ll tell you an inside story. When I met with David at Paramount to discuss how I was going to be written into Deadwood, I looked at everybody at the table and I said, “What about Calamity Jane? I can be Calamity Jane?” And David looked at me. “You’re too cute for Calamity Jane.” Because she was rough! Oh my god, have you seen pictures of her?

AE: That’s why I’m thinking maybe she was raised by wolves. And she had a lesbian relationship of some kind with one of the women, right?

GJ: She had relations with Joanie Stubbs.

AE: It was a very well-written relationship. Speaking of the writing, I’m pretty sure Deadwood had more f-bombs per minute than any other TV show ever made.

GJ: I didn’t realize Deadwood was going to be DEADWOOD. I thought it was going to be like Gunsmoke and I was going to be something like Miss Kitty.

AE: [laughs] Do you have any behind-the-scenes stories?

GJ: OK. Nobody knows this. You’re getting a complete exclusive.

AE: Lay it on me.

GJ: One day, I found this contract in my dressing room. There was never any discussion with the producers prior to it – it just was sitting on my table, waiting for me to sign it. And it said, “I, sign your name, give the right to simulate sexual activity and to full frontal nudity.”
And I looked at it. Oh my. I thought, “Hmmm, how badly do I want Deadwood?” [laughs]

I sat there and I looked at this contract for over an hour debating in my mind, “Let’s see, what good can come out of this?”
And then I thought, “Yeah, yes, I am finally going to be recognized as a woman! Yes! I am going to show that people with disabilities are sexual beings!” And I really psyched myself up. It’s not Playboy. It’s Deadwood! So I signed it.

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