“Terra Nova” star Shelley Conn on how playing gay helped her career

We first met Shelley Conn in 2006, she was playing the lead in the lesbian-helmed film Nina’s Heavenly Delights from out director Pratibha Parmar. As Nina, Shelley played an Indian woman who goes up to Glasgow from London for her father’s funeral, and ends up falling for an old childhood friend (played by Laura Fraser). Shelley was endearing as a woman struggling with her sexuality, simultaneously bringing attention to a community that is so often less un-explored — lesbians of color, especially of Indian descent.

Two years later, Shelley scored a gig on the BBC show Mistresses as Jessica, who ends up falling for another woman (played by Fringe star Anna Torv). Though she later went back to dating men on the show, Shelley has given lesbian and bisexual women a beautiful face to identify with burgeoning sexuality.

On her new show Terra Nova, Shelley will be playing quite a different role as a surgeon who goes back in time with her family to a prehistoric era where Earth was supposed to be better off than it would be in the future.

“I’m a married lady with three kids in this one,” Shelley said at the Fox party for TCA this week. “So unless it goes completely off the wall, you’d have to talk to the writers about that. I don’t think there’s any girl action for me in this one!”

Since her former on-screen girlfriend Anna Torv is also on a Fox show, I asked if a crossover could ever be possible, especially considering both shows have a fantasy-like element to their science fiction basis.

“Wouldn’t it [be great]?” Shelley said of the idea. “She sent me a lovely e-mail when she heard I got the role. Obviously she’d gone through the whole thing, since she’s the lead [on Fringe.] So she wrote me ‘Wow congratulations.’ We film in Queensland, and she said ‘Oh I have a house nearby where you’re shooting, you must come by’ but of course whenever I’m over there shooting, she’ll be in Canada, so I never saw her.”

With both Anna and Shelley scoring lead roles on major network shows, it’s great proof that actresses who play gay are given even more opportunities because of their broad range and appeal.

“If anything, I think it heightened my profile,” Shelley said. “I think it did me favors for my career. And I don’t just mean titillation — because I never approach the roles like that. For Jessica and Nina, the stories were about a woman falling in love and it’s surprising that it’s with a woman. But at the end of the day, falling in love is the same, whoever you’re falling in love with.”

Although we won’t be seeing Shelley in a lesbian role on Terra Nova, we’ll still see her in a strong female role.

“There’s some great female characters, I have to say,” Shelley said. “Elizabeth is kind of different from Jessica, for me. I think she’s just more straight down the line. She’s a more traditional character. Mira, played by Christine Adams is a wonderful character that I’m sure you’ll love. There’s a lovely scene where the two of us meet. What’s going on between them is not sexual, but it’s a kind of female camaraderie and kindred female spirit underneath it all. There is a certain friction to start with.”

Terra Nova premieres on Fox in May.

 

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