Actress Bianca Kajlich was down to $20 in her bank account and had spent the day riding the roller coaster at Magic Mountain. It was her way of saying goodbye to Hollywood and returning to her native Seattle to try some other field.
“I got home and there were 11 messages on my answer machine saying, ‘You need to be in San Diego tomorrow morning. They’ve let someone go, and you’re the replacement in the movie ‘Bring it On.’”
“That’s literally been the story of my career. I’m always the second choice. And you know what? I’m more than happy to be that person,” she says in her dressing room at Sony Pictures Studios.
She was not the first choice to play the young fiancee on the CBS sitcom “Rules of Engagement” either. Someone else had been cast in the pilot. And when Kajlich showed up to audition she was pitted against four other women who didn’t look anything like her.
“We couldn’t have been more different. There was a Spanish girl with an accent, a girl who was blonde and blue-eyed. I thought, ‘Oh my God, they’re just going to throw it against the wall and see who sticks.’”
Fortunately Kajlich has managed to stick not only in “Rules of Engagement,” but “Dawson’s Creek,” “Boston Legal,” “Vanished” and several movies.
Five minutes with her and you wonder how she did it. Kajlich isn’t anything like a TV star. There’s much more Seattle about her than Hollywood.
When she left home for Los Angeles she packed up her old Honda Prelude (the left side had been bashed in in a “fender bender,”) and her mom followed with the family Suburban loaded with Kajlich’s possessions. They kept in touch via walkie-talkie.
Once in L.A., she may have been second choice, but she got work within six months, and a small part in “10 Things I Hate About You” earned a Screen Actors Guild membership.
“That all happened pretty quickly,” she says. “The good thing about it was I was so naive that I never even considered the idea I would fail. So I blindly set out to do it and I guess that’s the right way to go about it.”
Kajlich, 31, hails from a close knit family. Her dad, who is ailing, is an anesthesiologist and her mom is an RN who teaches nursing. She has a sister and a brother. It was a tragic accident in her brother’s life that imbued Kajlich with a sound sense of priorities.
“In 2003 he was hit by a subway in Prague and lost both of his legs,” she says. “It made me realize that we take for granted every step we take, and my brother now has to physically challenge himself to take each step in his prosthetic.
“It made me realize we’re so hard on ourselves and our bodies and we don’t realize truly the miracle that occurs with actions that we do, each gesture we make ... I feel like we’re so critical about how we look, and we’re always obsessing about those last couple of pounds or we don’t particularly like a certain part of our body. But when you watch someone you love very much go through the loss of parts of their body, you just become so grateful for every part of yourself.”
Her dad’s lifelong heart disease (resulting in three surgeries) has forged her resilience. “He’s never once complained. And I think that’s taught me and my brother and sister that no matter what you’re going through in life there’s always somebody who has it worse, and to play the victim doesn’t really hurt anyone but yourself.
“I think that all three of us siblings feel that anything you want to do in your life you can achieve as long as you take responsibility for it,” she says.
“It’s easy when you’ve had difficulty or strife in your life to look at other people who seem like they’ve had it easier. But the thing we forget is that it is all relative and each person’s experience is uniquely their own, so that the worst thing they may be going through is truly the worst thing for them ... it’s just about having compassion. Everyone is truly going through things, fighting their own battle. Why we make it so difficult for others is beyond me because we’re all in it together and that’s the truth.”
Married to Galaxy soccer player Landon Donovan, who is preparing for the World Cup in two years, Kajlich says that while their fields are different, they share a commonality.
“We get it if someone has to cancel and at the last minute can’t be with you in that important moment. We both understand how important that is ... You have to retain your identity. Too many people get married and lose themselves. You have to fiercely hold on to who you are, and you need to celebrate that in the other person because that’s what made you fall in love in the first place.”
Sir Ian McKellen will be tackling the daunting part of “King Lear” on PBS’ “Great Performances” March 25. McKellen, 70, says you must approach Lear with a determined willingness to explore the depths of the character, no matter how many Shakespeare parts you’ve played.
“My stepmother, aged 100, had died just before we started rehearsing,” he recalls. “And I’d seen her decline and sense that life was meaningless. And she very movingly and honestly told me shortly before she died that, having been a lifelong Quaker, that she no longer believed in God. That was her revelation. But she never turned away from the love that she needed from other people and she happily gave to them. And that became the rock in her life, and that made her what she was for the last couple of years. And I think Lear goes on a similar journey. Now, you can’t get involved in all that unless you’re ready to do it wholeheartedly. So it’s a hard task.”
Another office sitcom will hit the copy machine when “Better off Ted,” arrives on ABC March 18. More like “Office Space” than “The Office,” this show is about corporate indifference to the underlings who keep the machine running. “I feel like I’ve worked in this environment for 20 years,” says creator-executive producer Victor Fresco. “I think any large company has a similar mentality, which is, as we say in an episode, ‘Profits before People.’ It’s on the logo downstairs. It just sounds better because it’s written in Latin ... You see kind of where we are now in our economy, and certainly that Profits before People has ruled the day for the last eight years. So I think it feels very familiar to me.”
Portia de Rossi (“Arrested Development”) plays a high-powered corporate officer who thinks nothing of freezing one of her employees as a cryogenic experiment. De Rossi says this is her choice role. “I’ve got to tell you, Veronica is my favorite character I’ve ever played, bar none. I’m really attracted to strong women - let me rephrase that actually ... strong female characters. And I just love her sensibility. I love how cold and uncaring she appears to be and how focused she is. She’s just a very fun, interesting character for me to play.”
Starz’s improv comedy, “Head Case,” returns on March 20 with a new load of celebrities willing to ad-lib their way through the spiky wilderness of unscripted comedy. Alexandra Wentworth plays a dithering female analyst who’s as neurotic as any of her patients. But what’s unique about this show is that big names are willing to play themselves without a parachute.
Wentworth thinks that Jerry Seinfeld’s appearance marked a highlight. Not only was he uncharacteristically risque, “You could almost play the episode without cutting it,” she says. “I mean ... it was really fun. It’s like my adrenaline. That was a fun session. When we came to New York, it just changed the energy from being in L.A. I loved Isaac Mizrahi because he’s such a great character. God, Andy Dick is so out of his mind that, you know ... he’s fun to just play with because you don’t know if he’s going to pull out a sword or - you don’t know what’s going to happen with Andy. So ... in terms of being somebody who is improvising with him, you have got to be on top of your game so you don’t die or get raped.”