According to Nancy McKeon, the acting profession chose her. And it was a perfect match for the actress who came to fame as the tough teen-ager Jo on the popular '80s sitcom "The Facts of Life."
"I love what I do so much," says Ms. McKeon, 29, who stars in the new sitcom "Can't Hurry Love," premiering Monday on CBS. "I have been doing it my whole life."
Well, at least since she started modeling in New York when she was 2. "I had my own little portfolio," Ms. McKeon recalls, relaxing in her sparse but roomy dressing room at CBS Studio Center, where "Can't Hurry Love" films. "I did the Sears catalog -- the most hideous polyester outfits."
Her parents, though, never forced Ms. McKeon or her older brother Philip ("Alice") into the business. "My dad had his own travel agency and had a picture of my brother on his desk," she recalls. "One of his clients had a son who had done a few commercials. At that time, [talent] agencies would hold open calls. They would call everybody in and put them up against the wall and say, 'You stay. You go. You come back in a year.' My parents talked it over and my dad was concerned about money for college and said, 'If they do a commercial they could have fun. What the heck.' "
As fate would have it, the day her mother was going to take her brother to one of the casting calls, Ms. McKeon's baby sitter canceled at the last minute. "My mom just said, 'Let's take you with me.' And I kind of got shoved in along with everybody else. So it chose me."
Education, though, was her parents' first priority. "I was in a private Catholic school," Ms. McKeon says. And her parents, she adds, always asked her, " 'Do you want to do this? If you don't want to do this, that's great.' "
Ms. McKeon appeared on "Facts of Life" from age 14 until she was 21. "We were doing a lot of changing and growing up in every different direction," Ms. McKeon says. "You know, you are forming basically. And no matter what's going on in your life, you have to be there [on the set]. You are doing a job, no matter what you look like, no matter what you are going through, which is a little strange. But this time, I think I am formed. I sort of am what I am."
After "Facts of Life" left NBC in 1988, Ms. McKeon decided to take some time off to refocus and, as she describes it, "to replenish the well."
In "Can't Hurry Love," Ms. McKeon plays 28-year-old Annie O'Connell, a placement coordinator at a personnel office in New York who is looking for Mr. Right and so far has only met Mr. Wrong. Mariska Hargitay plays her spirited neighbor and best friend Didi, always quick with the advice. Louis Mandylor is Annie's sweet but unpolished co-worker who usually finds his dates on the New York transit system.
Ms. McKeon says she really doesn't have that much in common with her small-screen alter ego. "I think the basic things [are the same], trying to figure out the world today. . . . I am more progressive than she is. I have learned more of these lessons than Annie has."