Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Ryan Neal
Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: RidiculouslyExtraordinary. Posted by Ryan Neal
Dharma & Greg, Keeping the Faith, Fear the Walking Dead
Currently Known For:
Actress and Producer
September 30, 1971
Dharma & Greg, Keeping the Faith, Fear the Walking Dead
“My motto is that I enjoy life. I think there’s a kind of simplicity to that way of thinking.” Jenna Elfman is an actress who made a name for herself in the late 1990s after landing her first starring role on television in the short-lived series, Townies. Although the series was canceled after only 15 episodes, Elfman went on to make her film debut the following year in Grosse Point Blank opposite John Cusack and Minnie Driver. Luckily, even bigger things were in store for the California native as she was then cast in a sitcom written especially for her, Dharma & Greg. Spending five seasons on the show, Elfman took home a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Television Series Musical or Comedy and earned three Primetime Emmy Award nominations. Along the way, she also starred in films like EDtv (1999) and Keeping the Faith (2000) as well as in short-lived series like Accidentally on Purpose (2009-10), 1600 Penn (2012-13), Growing Up Fisher (2014), and Imaginary Mary (2017). Now a series regular on AMC’s horror drama Fear the Walking Dead, let’s take a look at Elfman’s Hollywood career and how Scientology has grounded her over the years!
Jennifer Mary “Jenna” Elfman came into this world on September 30, 1971 in Los Angeles, California where her mother was a housewife and her father was an executive at Hughes Aircraft. The youngest of three children, Elfman enjoyed a happy childhood and was introduced to the performing arts early on since her uncle is singer and musician Tony Butala of the vocal trio group, The Letterman. When Elfman was five years old, she started dance lessons at the Westside School of Ballet but was forced to quit shortly after when a tendon tore from her bone. Although dancing was out of the question, Elfman refused to give up her dream of performing and studied at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. After high school, she enrolled at California State University in Northridge.
Elfman casually pursued a career on stage and caught the first of many breaks in the early 1990s when she auditioned for and won parts in several music videos. She appeared as a dancer in videos for Depeche Mode’s 1990 single “Halo,” for Anthrax’s 1993 single “Black Lodge,” and for Chris Isakk’s 1995 single “Somebody’s Crying.” She also went on tour as a “Legs Girl” with ZZ Top in 1994 and then returned to California where she appeared in a string of television commercials before making minor appearances in popular series like Murder, She Wrote, The George Carlin Show, The Monroes, and Roseanne.
In 1996, Elfman’s youthful charm caught the eye of the sitcom creator Matthew Carlson who cast her in his newest series, Townies, alongside Lauren Graham and Molly Ringwald. Unfortunately, the series was a huge flop and was canceled after 10 episodes. Elfman, however, landed on her feet and made one-episode appearances in Murder One, Almost Perfect, and NYPD Blue before she ventured to the silver screen in the 1997 comedy Grosse Pointe Blank.Becoming Dharma
Although Townies was a flop, Elfman made a lasting impression on Twentieth Century Fox who invited her to negotiate a development deal on her final day of filming the series. “That morning before I went to work, I had a meeting, and then by the time I got to work and filmed the last episode, they called and offered me this awesome development deal,” Eflman recalled. “So, I ended up taking it, and they gave me a list of their writers they had deals with, and they said meet whoever you want on this list and have them make a show for you. I was like, ‘Uh, alright!’ I hadn’t even had an agent for six months. I didn’t have an eye for development. I was just an actress for hire.”
Despite being naïve about the process, Elfman’s enthusiasm gave her enough momentum as she met with Chuck Lorre and Dottie Dartland. “They had an idea in their head about this girl who was raised by hippie parents who basically never had rules and was never told no. She just is who she is, and when you scratch the surface, you just get more of her,” Elfman said of the early development of Dharma & Greg. “And then, what is it like when you pair her up with someone who is totally opposite, and I just knew that was it. Like I literally heard the pitch over breakfast at Jerri’s Deli in the Valley and then said, ‘Yes,’ and we shook on it right then. I didn’t talk to my agent. I didn’t ask my husband, I went, yes—this is it—and I never looked back.”
Elfman jumped feet first into the series and quickly built a rapport with her on-screen husband, Thomas Gibson. Together, they became one of primetime television’s favorite couples as they embodied various culture clashes and the age-old idea that opposites attract. “It’s interesting because you have the surface layer of the opposites attract—he’s a lawyer, she’s free-spirited… and what was kind of wonderful about Thomas and I was the moment he came to audition, it was instant chemistry,” Elfman said. “Like he gave me sh*t about my toenail polish as he sat down to read with me—and I probably did have like blue toenail polish on. And he’s, you know, went to Juilliard and I’m from the Valley, and his dad’s a judge, so he had a little bit more formality in his upbringing… There were guys who were coming in to audition who were funny, but it didn’t have that dynamic between us, and Thomas came in and it was literally like we’d already been playing it for years. It was there—we didn’t have to think about it. That’s what’s great about good writing and then good casting; it just goes into alignment. We didn’t have to go for a while to get to know each other; it just kind of kicked in.”
Dharma & Greg certainly kicked in and spent five seasons on the air earning Elfman a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in 1999. The show itself earned eight Golden Globe Award nominations, six Emmy Award nominations, and six Satellite Award nominations until its final season wrapped in 2002. “It was the most pleasurable thing I’ve ever done, playing this character, and I just remember feeling so at home and so—I don’t know, I was just happy—and it just wasn’t ever work,” Eflman said of her time on the hit series. “It was like a sandbox for me, and I would crack myself up rehearsing. Playing in front of an audience was just such a turn-on for me, and you have 200 people in the audience and it’s like doing live theater. And filming something that goes to millions of people several weeks later, it’s an interesting dynamic.”
It was also apparent that Elfman truly loved her character and embraced the chance to break free of the typical female stereotypes on television in the new millennium. Dharma undeniably did that in more ways than one. “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,” Eflman said. “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.”Life After Dharma & Greg
“It’s such a pleasurable experience to look back, and all of the fun I had just comes rushing back.” By the time Dharma & Greg was canceled in 2002, Elfman was a household name and had already established a nice film career for herself. During the show’s run, she worked alongside talented actors like Richard Dreyfus in Krippendorf’s Tribe (1998), Matthew McConaughey in EDtv (1999), and Ben Stiller and Edward Norton in Keeping the Faith (2000), the latter of which earned her two nominations for Best Actress at the Satellite Awards and at the Blockbuster Entertainment Awards. She also did some voiceover work in the 2003 animated film, Looney Tunes: Back in Action.
Elfman went on to find steady work on television and made several appearances on the popular series Two and a Half Men. She starred in several short-lived series including Courting Alex (2006), Accidentally on Purpose (2009-10), Damages (2012), and 1600 Penn (2012-13) in addition to making cameos on Shameless (2012), Royal Pains (2013), and So You Think You Can Dance (2014). Most recently, she starred as Alice in Imaginary Mary in 2017 and is currently playing three roles—Naomi, Laura, and June—in the hit series, Fear the Walking Dead, which is certainly a far cry from her early role as the quirky and free-spirited Dharma!
“I had been really craving having the opportunity to dig in deeper to the human condition—to lean into exploring that. I’ve lived so much life for myself and raising children, and have been with my husband for 28 years—I wanted to actually explore some of that and be able to stay in it and that was appealing to me,” Eflman said of her latest role. “I’m honored… This show just landed in my lap and I am so grateful. When I found out I got the show, I watched all seasons and was very excited to join the cast because I had so much respect for all the characters involved. And I’m just taking one episode at a time, and exploring what the possibilities are for my character and enjoying every minute of it.”
Apart from starring in Fear the Walking Dead, the 47-year-old Eflman stays incredibly busy at home with her husband, actor Bodhi Elfman, whom she met at a Sprite commercial audition in 1991. They married four years later on February 18, 1995 and started a family over a decade later with the birth of their son, Story Elias, on July 23, 2007. Three years later, they added to their family with the birth of son Easton Quinn Monroe on March 2, 2010. So, what’s Elfman’s secret to balancing her life as a wife and mother? Scientology…
A longtime member of the Church of Scientology, Elfman credits the religion to providing a strong foundation for her marriage and keeping her grounded over the last three decades. “Well, I’ve been a Scientologist for 28 years and that’s a huge part of what helps us keep our communication going and our relationship. We’ve never cheated on each other, we’ve never broken up. We hang in there,” Elfman says. “I use [my faith] every single day of my life and it keeps me energized and vivacious and happy. I like literally have so much going on. Why am I going to go: ‘You know, let me put some negativity in my life. Let me go see who’s being a bigot.’ Why would I search for bigotry in this world when it’s the one thing that’s been this huge help in my life to keep me sane and to raise great kids?”
Aware of the negative publicity surrounding the Church of Scientology, Elfman encourages everyone to do their own research over the controversial religion rather than “believing everything they hear or read on the internet.” “I think that anything that works tends to get attacked,” Elfman said of her faith. After all, Scientology is what Elfman credits for helping her survive the wild world of Hollywood. “Raising children, maintaining my sanity in a crazy world,” Elfman says of her life these days. “Our world is crazy, it’s getting crazier, and Hollywood is the ne plus ultra of crazy.”