Interview with Jenna Elfman

Nearly 10 years after its series premiere, Dharma & Greg has finally arrived on DVD. Fans can finally toss out those stuttering old VHS recordings and enjoy the first season of this eccentric comedy in glorious digital clarity! Here, Dharma star Jenna Elfman takes a moment to chat with us about the good old days, her future plans for TV, and the time she played drums with Bob Dylan!

TV.com: The first season of Dharma & Greg is coming out on DVD tomorrow. I know that the show premiered back in '97, and you've done quite a lot since then. How does it feel to look back?

Jenna Elfman: It's such a pleasurable experience to look back, and all of the fun I had just comes rushing back. And I'm so excited to remind people and even gain new fans who find out about Dharma--a new generation who could find out about Dharma and enjoy her and all the characters on the show. And I mean, genuinely--I think I'm sounding really kooky right now--but I honestly loved doing that show so much, and I'm just so happy that it can come out in this format and be available for people to enjoy and discover and rehash the fun they had watching the first time.

TV.com: All the laughs on the show really made it obvious that everyone was having a great time. Can you tell me a little story about the funniest thing that ever happened on the set?

Elfman: God, there was a lot. I'm trying to think. OK, there's one episode and I think it was not the first season. The most memorable moment was playing drums with Bob Dylan.

TV.com: Wow, that is incredible.

Elfman: That was amazing and terrifying because I had never played drums outside of my house, and I think I'd only been playing drums for six months! And I didn't have any formal training, really, other than a musician friend coming over and giving me some lessons, and I remember he was standing behind Bob being a human metronome. My "drum teacher," who's a friend of mine, was standing there just going back and forth so that I would stay in correct rhythm because I was so nervous. And you don't want to just totally mess up the rhythm when you're playing with Bob Dylan.

TV.com: So that was your chance to be a total rock star.

Elfman: Oh, yeah. Big time. It was awesome. And it was all improv'd, none of it was written, scripted--it was basically the camera, the lights, everything was set up, Bob came in, did hair and makeup, walked in, sat down, turned his back to the camera, and just started playing.

TV.com: That must have been a really surreal thing.

Elfman: It was--for like two hours! And they just filmed all of it. And I would get sort of guidance, you know, off camera, like, "say a line," you know, and I improv'd all the lines to him. There was nothing written--it was awesome!

TV.com: That's really cool. So, often when an actor has such a successful and unique role that lasts for a long time, fans sometimes seem to lose track of the boundary between the actor and the character. Are you at all similar to Dharma?

Elfman: I think I'm definitely similar. When they pitched me the show originally, you know, it was this girl who just was raised and encouraged to be herself. And was never told "no" or given rules. And she was just someone who was allowed to become who she was and not made to be anything but who she was. And I was raised, not by hippie parents, but just by really awesome parents who were encouraging and supportive. So the way Dharma was raised instilled a confidence in her, and the way I was raised instilled a confidence in me. And so I think that was my reference point--someone who's just joyful and is excited about life, and doesn't say "no" very often. You know, she's a "yes" person. And who's willing to like, jump into experiences and just go for it. And I just LOVED that! I loved that about her because I knew it would open the door for a lot of comedy, because I knew that the conflict would come, because not many people live like the way she does.

TV.com: And that makes other people very uncomfortable.

Elfman: Yes. And I knew a lot of comedy was going to come from that, and I went, "This is good." And as a character, what I found very inspiring about playing Dharma, especially at that time, is that the women on television were more neurotic than they were free. And I thought, this is a rare bird and this is unique on television and I think it's really refreshing.

TV.com: I think that's one of the things that was so great about the show, that Dharma didn't have some agenda like many of the female characters on sitcoms have. They always make them neurotic, or they're hunting a man, but Dharma really didn't have that. It was just about her funny life.

Elfman: Yes. Exactly. And it's like...she wasn't trying to be a man! You know, she was a girl. She was a female. And she wasn't like, trying to compete in a man's world and she wasn't trying to be in a man's position, she was just who she was. And I think that was like, a good thing. There's a power in women being women. There's a role for men, but we don't have to be men, because we're women. I think that representing that on television is a cool thing.

TV.com: I definitely agree. Well, all that said, what are the ways that you are different from the character?

Elfman: I don't think I'm as willing to let just any old person come on into my home! I love people, but I don't just allow any old person into my life, you know. Not in a guarded way, but just in a smart way. Yeah. Being generous at heart is good, and having common sense and a good bull**** meter and an edit button isn't bad.

TV.com: I was thinking about the relationship between Dharma and Greg and how they got married the first day that they met. And I know you're married and you've been married for a long time. How does your marriage contrast with the relationship on the series?

Elfman: Well, let's see. Bodhi and I are, I think, less opposite. I think we're opposite in a lot of ways, or just different. But I don't think...well, I was raised probably a little more conservatively than he was raised. He was raised definitely by hippie parents. But he's actually--here's the interesting part--he's more conservative than me. I think that's a reaction to how he was raised, because there was probably not a lot of order, and he craved more order.

TV.com: Yeah, that makes sense.

Elfman: Yeah. And so it was kind of a different thing. But you know, he's got a crazy sense of humor and he's a total Elfman wild boy. Because all the Elfmans are just these renegade artist people. And so he definitely has the wild hair up the ass, Elfman artistic humor. And I'm more...I don't know, it's weird--I have more tradition but yet I'm a little bit crazier in certain ways. And then he goes more conservative in some ways but is way more crazy than I am, where I'll go like, "Honey, honey, honey!" So I think we have contrasts, you know, in both ways. Let me see if I can be articulate about this. I think Bodhi and I understood each other so completely from the first get-go of meeting each other. Where I think Dharma and Greg had more distance in terms of understanding each other's minds. I think they had that chemistry, but I think that they had to get to know each other. He would be like, "Oh, Dharma, what…?" He would be more amazed at things she would do. And I think Bodhi understood who I was right away. And I don't have a lot of fear, and sometimes he's like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa." But he knows I'm like a wild racehorse and you can't really tame me! But he wasn't quite as stunned as Greg would be. Does that make sense?

TV.com: Yeah, that totally makes sense.

Elfman: And so we didn't have like lifestyle conflicts the way Dharma and Greg do.

TV.com: They had a big gap to cross, I think.

Elfman: Exactly. That's what I mean--there's more distance at the start that they had to cross to come towards each other just because of their lifestyle and their upbringing. They had the love that kept them together that was totally intimate and they knew who each other were right away, otherwise they wouldn't have been able to get married. But I think their lifestyles, their realities, were more contrasted, and their point of reference for things was more contrasted than Bodhi's and mine. What I loved bringing to Dharma and Greg's marriage was just the love I have for my husband and the care for that person you're sharing your life with. I LOVED bringing that affection to Thomas, and I LOVED having the opportunity to show a good marriage on television. I think that marriage is an amazing institution and should be preserved, and you can have great marriages, and you must because sharing your life with someone is like the greatest thing. And I loved being able to set a good example for that on television.

TV.com: That must have helped a lot, to bring your experience in such a relationship to the show.

Elfman: Yeah. Because there is just a certain way, sometimes, you're looking at your husband. Or the way you share a moment with each other that's intimate, that you can only know if you've had that, you know? There's a special husband/wife intimacy. And Thomas and I totally had great chemistry from the get-go. And so it was just fun to share our own affection that we had just as individuals, and then also to bring my point of reference as a married woman. And he was a married man, so he had his own point of reference. And I think we both just understood that naturally.

TV.com: Yeah. It really worked.

Elfman: Yes.

TV.com: So you had a show this spring, Courting Alex.

Elfman: Yeah, no more.

TV.com: No more. It started out really well, but I think that move from Monday night to Wednesday night kind of killed it. Do you think that's what went wrong? Or was there something else?

Elfman: You know, I think there's probably a few things, all of which I've learned from now. Sort of like that whole experience was a bit of a pilot program, you know what I mean? Like a kind of recalibration, reentry into television. And it was a great learning experience, and I'm definitely optimistic about it, because I don't really look at anything other than how can I learn from it. I know what worked about it, and I know what didn't work about it…or I have a good grasp. I can't say I can foresee the future and tell the stars, you know. But I do have an understanding for my own reality, just elements and things that I've learned from. And I have a new deal with CBS and I'm going to hit it again.

TV.com: Yeah, I was just going to ask you about that.

Elfman: I'm so excited!

TV.com: It sounds like basically they're going to create a show for you and around you...

Elfman: Yes.

TV.com: Are there any ideas yet about what that series might be like?

Elfman: No, we're just getting into motion with meetings and writers now, so we're in the baby stages. But hilarious comes to mind! That's kind of my motto for the next show, "hilarious."

TV.com: "Hilarious"--maybe that's what it could be called.

Elfman: Exactly!

TV.com: Last year you executive-produced and starred in Touched, a romantic drama that had a much darker and more serious atmosphere than a lot of your previous work. How did it feel to branch out from comedy?

Elfman: It was really fun and interesting and challenging, and its own learning experience, and I'm proud of my acting in that film. And you know, we did it as an independent film, and we weren't expecting it to be on television, and Lifetime ended up buying it. And the viewers responded intensely to that film. They loved it, and they were very affected by it, and it made me happy to set out and do a dramatic role that really did affect people and they were really moved by it. And I was like, wow, OK, that's a good result for me as an actress to create that effect.

TV.com: Do you plan to take more dramatic roles, or are you going to stick to comedy for the time being?

Elfman: I'll probably stick to comedy for the time being. I mean, a great piece of work is a great piece of work, and I'm up for good work anytime. But I do love comedy!

TV.com: Are there any lessons that you learned doing this dramatic role that you can now apply to yourself as a comedic actress?

Elfman: Yeah, I think the common denominator--and this is probably going to sound like Acting 101--but the common denominator is belief in the character in the moment. In comedy, something may be more absurd, but you have to believe just as much as you do when you're doing drama. It proved to me, though, that comedy is so much harder. Drama is not hard for me. It just didn't seem hard. Comedy is much more challenging, because you have to have the same level of belief but you have to make people laugh, and that's definitely a challenge. My mom used to say, "it takes more muscles to frown."

TV.com: Do you have any last words for TV.com users regarding the DVD release?

Elfman: I just hope they dig it, and are reminded of what a great show Dharma & Greg is. And if I can get new people to discover the show, that would be fine by me.

TV.com: Cool. Thanks a lot for talking to us! Take care.

Elfman: Goodbye.

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Feb 23, 2008
I think Jenna is an great actress and pretty for an older woman.
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Jul 01, 2007
If Jenna Elfman wants to be a Scientologist it is obviously part of who she is and should not be feared or thought of negatively in any manner but supported by her fans, friends and family. She obviously makes us happy to follow her career. You just have to look at her accomplishments and inner beauty to figure this out. I for one cant wait to see her next project.
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Jun 15, 2006
First few seasons of Dharma and Greg were funny.
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Jun 14, 2006
What she loses by being a scientologist, she gains by looking extremely hot on those 2 Two and a Half Men episodes!
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Jun 14, 2006
she is a creepy psycho.
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Jun 14, 2006
If she has such a good bull**** meter why is she a scientologist?
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Jun 14, 2006
I really enjoyed Dharma and Greg, but in it's last season the show changed it's format too much an unfortunately that's brought the ratings down. Courting Alex was cute, but not all that great.
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Jun 14, 2006
Jenna Elfman: Talented and a great interviewee, finally, an interview worth reading.
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Jun 14, 2006
Thanks a lot for the interview !!
Jenna Your're amazing !!

I can't wait for that new show to come out. In the meanwhile, I'll Watch Dharma & Greg again and again ! Every single episode is a classic !! I really hope all the series gets released on dvd, and that we don't get the "malcolm in the middle" syndrom where only the first season gets out on DVDs.

( but there's no way i'm throwing my old D&G VHS :D )
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Jun 14, 2006
Nice interview!
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