Mayim Bialik, one of television's reigning teen queens, is growing up.
Though she still plays the title role on the popular NBC sitcom "Blossom," the young actress is branching out into television drama.
On July 17 she will star as a teen from a dysfunctional, abusive family in "Jillie," an episode of Lifetime Television's women's anthology series "The Hidden Room."
"It was really different from 'Blossom,' " Ms. Bialik says. "It was drama, which to me is deeper. There was more thinking to be done, especially because 'Blossom' has become sort of easier for me to do.
"I didn't know any of the cast and crew on 'Jillie.' It was a part out of nowhere that I had to create."
"Jillie" is the story of a young woman who is traumatized by her parents' disintegrating marriage and her father's physical abuse.
Seeking refuge, she and her mother (Victoria Snow) move into the home of Jillie's aunt in the heart of farm country, where she forms a bond with her cousin Mike (Zachary Bennett).
That friendship is put to the test when Jillie's parents reconcile and Jillie, fearing she will be the victim of more abuse if she returns home, persuades Mike to hide her in a barn on the family's property. Then she swears him to secrecy.
When driving rains and a leaky roof leave Jillie soaked and desperately ill, Mike must decide whether to keep his promise to his cousin or betray his word to save her life.
"It's not really just an abuse story," Ms. Bialik says. "You never see her get hit. It's really more about the coming of age of a girl who's not used to living life the way her cousin does."
Dressed in black-and-white checked pants, a cream lace top, a blue denim jacket and heavy, black hobnail boots, Ms. Bialik is seated comfortably in a love seat in a suite at a Manhattan hotel.
An independent, opinionated and vocal 17-year-old, she speaks faster than a speeding bullet yet wastes few words.
Ms. Bialik says the role of Jillie challenged her as an actress because the troubled girl is so different from the free spirit she plays on "Blossom."
While she is hoping viewers will accept her in such an unfamiliar role, she doesn't seem overly concerned.
"My fans are mostly young people who like to watch 'Blossom,' " she says. "I hope they'll follow me to this, but I really do my work for me. Hopefully, people will receive it well."
The right part
The actress has wanted to do drama for a long time but had to wait until the right part came along.
"I'd gotten scripts for television movies and they were all either just the kid-in-the-family roles or really sensationalistic shows, which I didn't want to do. 'Jillie' was a nice project, and I liked the script."
Ms. Bialik shot "Jillie" in Toronto during her hiatus from "Blossom." Soon she will be back at work on the sitcom, which begins its fourth season this fall.
"Blossom" stars Ms. Bialik as Blossom Russo, a bright and
usually bubbly 16-year-old who lives with her father (Ted Wass), grandfather (Barnard Hughes) and two older brothers (Joey Lawrence and Michael Stoyanov).
The series mines its laughs, warmth and realism from its lead character's advancement into womanhood, a struggle both impeded and abetted by the males who dominate the Russo household.
The star finds the show's success hard to explain.
"Television audiences are so unpredictable. You never know what they'll like," Ms. Bialik says. "We always had confidence in what we were doing, but there are so many good shows that get no notice and so many not-so-good shows that get lots of notice.
"We try to do something for everybody."
During the years the sitcom has been on the air, the character of Blossom has matured -- along with the actress who plays her.
"Blossom has gotten older and she's coping better with her problems -- or at least coping with them, as opposed to avoiding them," Ms. Bialik says.
"She's got a boyfriend and everything is a little more serious. She's dealing with things now more as a young woman than as a child, which I'm happy about, because I'm doing the same
Through "Blossom," Ms. Bialik has become a sort of role model to the show's young fans. The way Blossom walks, talks and acts -- even what she wears -- all have a big influence on some of the series' viewers.
She's Mayim, not Blossom
It's a responsibility Ms. Bialik takes seriously, yet one from which she tries to stay a bit detached.
"Blossom and Mayim are two different things. Writers are supervising Blossom's actions and I feel good that they are creating a good role model for kids," she says. "As for myself, it's hard to live my life like Blossom. I'm not Blossom.
"I just try to live my own life and keep it as personal and private as I can."
Born in San Diego and reared in Los Angeles along with her older brother Isaac, Ms. Bialik knew early on she wanted to be an actress. Her first performances were on the stage at her elementary school, and it wasn't long before she landed guest shots on "Facts of Life," "Webster" and "MacGyver."
Then came her big break, the part as the younger version of Bette Midler's character in the 1988 tear-jerker "Beaches."
After that, Ms. Bialik starred in the short-lived Fox series "Molloy" and did other guest roles before signing to play Blossom.
"I'm still enjoying 'Blossom,' " Ms. Bialik says. "If I still enjoy it in two years, then I'll keep doing it. If I'm not enjoying it, then I won't do it."
Ms. Bialik recently graduated from the Los Angeles County High School's Independent Study Program. Though she was accepted to Harvard, Yale and the University of California at Los Angeles, she will defer college for at least a year or two.
A busy life
When not acting, she works for a variety of charitable causes, reads voraciously and does what she can to squeeze in a social life that includes friends, family and guys.
"I fit a social life in when I can," she says, laughing. "I like to keep that private, but for the most part I'm very busy."
Ms. Bialik isn't quite sure what the future will bring. A lifetime of acting is one possibility, but nothing is definite.
She remembers not too far back, during her elementary school days, when auditioning, trying on costumes, memorizing lines and performing were new thrills.
"That's when I said, 'I'm different from everybody else. Everybody hates this and I love it. Wouldn't it be cool to be an actress?' "
So has it been cool?
"Oh yeah, it's been cool," she says, then pauses. "But it's been work."
Though the old magic returns every so often, Ms. Bialik is no longer the awe-struck little girl absorbing the applause at elementary school.
"Now that it's become more of a career, I look at it differently than I did as a kid," she says rather seriously. "I'm still having fun, I still love 'Blossom,' so I guess that's what's important.
"Right now I'm too young for some roles I'd love to play and I'm getting too old for other things. So we'll see.
"I don't even know what I'm going to do yet [as a career]. I'd just like to be happy and content in whatever I choose."