Jami Gertz doesn't really "share" with her kids, but not for the same reason her character on "The Neighbors" doesn't share with her TV daughter.
"I have sons and so ... there's not a lot of sharing," the actress, who has three sons with her husband of 25 years, Tony Ressler, told me during a phone call Thursday. "There's kind of like, ‘I'm hungry, what's to eat?' and, ‘You need to take me here, Mom.' It's a little different raising boys, I find, and so I love that Debbie Weaver has some girls and I get to explore that part of society and humanity—the mother of daughters."
In the funny ABC sitcom, Debbie Weaver; her husband, Marty (Lenny Venito); and their three kids live in a gated community inhabited by aliens from the planet Zabvron. They have taken human form and named themselves after famous athletes such as Larry Bird (Simon Templeman) and Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye).
The show's second season begins at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 20 with the Weavers and their neighbors in shock. The parents learn their teens, Amber Weaver (Clara Mamet) and Reggie Jackson (Tim Jo), have been dating all summer. While the other adults worry about the possible repercussions of an alien-human relationship, Debbie is primarily concerned that Amber hasn't confided in her.
The harder Debbie tries to connect, the more Amber pulls away. "She's trying to be whatever the quintessential perfect mom is," Gertz said, laughing, "and failing on every level."
In her long career, Gertz has starred in "Square Pegs" and "Still Standing" on TV, as well as the films "Sixteen Candles," "Lost Boys," "Twister" and "Less Than Zero," among many others. But before her Hollywood career took off, she grew up in Glenview with two brothers on a street she says had similarities to the Weavers' cul-de-sac. Not that her family lived near aliens.
"We had a very diverse neighborhood," she said. "You got to experience all different cultures on that street. ... We just celebrated each other's differences in a very natural way, and I love that."
The Maine East High School grad talked more about her Midwest roots, Debbie Weaver and aliens.
Are you a Bears fan?
Well, secretly I am. [Laughs.] Not secretly, probably openly. I'm also a New York Giants fan, my husband's from New York. LA doesn't have a team. My boys root for New York. So I'm a little conflicted, I have to say. I do always love the Bears. I'm always excited for the Chicago Bears.
Debbie really wants to share and otherwise be involved in Abby's life in these new episodes. As a mother, do you find common ground with Debbie?
I think I do, although I have sons and so sharing with my sons is probably a little different than sharing with girls. ... I had two brothers growing up so I never had sisters. I've always been surrounded by guys, so I'm loving that Debbie gets to explore her daughters and the relationships and the complications that that entails with having and raising daughters. My boys are kinda like, "Hey Mom, what's up?" There's not much chatting it up.
Do you discover things about being a parent from Debbie?
Yes. It's interesting to me how Debbie so wants to connect with her daughter. We've explored a little bit that Debbie's relationship with her mother was not so great. Debbie, in not having that with her own mom, desperately wants to have that with her children.
In the end, basically she's doing the best she can. What I love about the Weavers is they do the best they can. They kind of wind up every episode going, "You know what, no one's in prison"—although there is something about prisons coming up in a few more episodes. But I think that's what's great about us as human beings and our frailities. We show that through the aliens' eyes—where our strengths are and our weaknesses.
They're obviously open to new things considering they are living in a community of aliens.
It's important that we suspend belief as the Weavers, that we kind of go along with this. We're stuck here; they seem harmless. So we're on the ride. It would take a certain kind of neighbor and a certain kind of human being to be accepting and to live and let live. And that's ultimately the Weavers. They are the ultimate live-and-let-live [people], love thy neighbor as thyself and just keep calm and carry on.
You grew up in Glenview. Did you ever have any alien encounters growing up here?
Well, it depends on what you call an alien. [Laughs.] Listen, I don't believe we're the only thing out here. I believe in all these galaxies there's gotta be something else out there as well. They've not actually knocked on my door, though.
What I loved about where I grew up, specifically—I had a really lovely childhood. I lived on a street in particular where we had a very diverse neighborhood. We had Greek families. We had Irish-Catholic families. We had German families. We had Jewish families, everything—Italians—on our one street. You got to experience all different cultures on that street,
What I loved about the Midwestern upbringing was that you're a good neighbor, you help out if someone needs you, but you don't impose yourself. And that's really how I grew up. We were helpful if you needed us. ... Someone would always take you to Dairy Queen. They'd throw you into the back of the LTD Ford and you'd be on your way for a Dilly Bar.
You were respectful of each other's differences. I would go to Greek Easter with my friend Effie; she would come to my bat mitzvah.
The aliens on your show are just a metaphor for "other" people.
Very much so. Our creator used the aliens but really what it is, is a look at humans and human behavior and Americans and American behavior. And the things we do that are awful silly and the things we do that are just lovely. Traditions that we celebrate as a country, traditions that we celebrate individually—and you get to see it through the prism of innocence in the aliens because they're a clean slate, they're an open book. But that could be someone from another country coming here who has never experienced the American experience.
You grew up in Glenview. Do you find that you carry your Chicago experience with you on all your jobs?
Oh gosh yes. Childhood really does shape a lot of who you are. Listen, I think you're born a certain way ... and then your environment growing up, for me especially, shaped who I am. Coming from Glenview and coming from the people who raised me and my teachers in school and my parents and my family and the culture—the pizza, the hot dogs, the Cubs—all of that, definitely I bring with me into the world and how I raise my kids and how I am in my relationships, what I think about the snow. All that stuff. It definitely shapes me and I definitely bring it into character development and all the things that I do in my professional life as well.
If you were an alien from Zabvron, what name would you choose?
Oh gosh, I would be—let me think—I would be Martina Navratilova, the greatest tennis player there ever was. Or maybe Venus Williams; it's a toss-up.
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