In today's Sci-Fi Blast From The Past, actress Jennifer O'Dell talks about her early career and playing her vine-swinging alter ego Veronica in The Lost World.
Besides being an actress, Jennifer O’Dell is also a trained singer and dancer. She was eight years old when she made her TV debut in a national candy advert. “I was like, ‘Hey, I like this job. I get paid and I don’t have to go to school.’ When you’re a kid that’s pretty neat,” she laughs. After doing two other commercials, her mother decided to take her little girl out of the business so that she could have a normal childhood. O’Dell went on to appear in plays throughout high school, but it wasn’t until a while after graduation that she considered pursuing an acting career.
“I was doing 9 to 5 jobs, everything from massage therapy to secretarial work and even selling shoes at Nordstroms [department store],” says O’Dell. “I was working myself into the ground and not making very much money. One day I asked myself, ‘What am I doing here?’ I always knew what I wanted to do with my life but was afraid to take a chance. Finally, when I was around 21 or 22, I got so fed up that I said, ‘Forget this lifestyle.’ So I moved to Los Angeles, where I met my best friend, who’s also my agent. She’s one of the most wonderful people in the whole world and we clicked immediately. The day we met she arranged an audition for me and I got the job. She’s sent me out on many different auditions since then and I couldn’t be more happier with the way things have turned out.”
O’Dell’s feature film credits include Sometimes They Come Back…For More, Point Doom and Molly. On TV she was a regular on The Hollywood Squares, and has also guest-starred on such series as Renegade, Silk Stalkings, Pacific Blue, Beverly Hills 90210 and Diagnosis Murder. Even with all her previous acting experience, working on The Lost World has turned out to be an eye-opener for O’Dell.
“I was 23 when I came to Australia,” she notes. “There I was halfway across the world by myself, I didn’t know anyone, so it was a pretty big growing experience for me. When we did the pilot I thought, ‘Just go for it,’ and I ended up having a blast. However, there was so much more to the actual filming process than I initially imagined. I was and still am very eager to learn it all. I don’t just mean acting-wise but also technically insofar as everything that goes on behind the cameras. It’s great when you know all that stuff as well because it makes everyone else job much easier
“Although I had been acting for some time I hadn’t been on a show that shoots this intensely for such a relatively short period of time,” adds the actress. “This [third] season we did 22 episodes in six months, which is unheard of. In the two years previous we did it in eight months, whereas series such as Xena and Hercules took 10 months to film the same number of shows. Our cast and crew are doing 12 to 15 hour days with 10-hour turnarounds Monday through Friday, so we’re working our little butts off down here,” laughs O’Dell. “Thank goodness, though, everyone loves what they do.”
Long-time viewers of The Lost World know that a young Veronica was left to fend for herself when her parents, who were part of an earlier expedition to the Amazon plateau, disappeared. She grew up to have a healthy respect for the jungle’s beauty as well as the dangers lurking behind every bush. More civil than savage, the character has changed quite a bit since she first swung onto the scene.
“Veronica has matured by leaps and bounds,” says O’Dell. “When we shot the pilot I didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye with the director on how to portray her. He wanted me to play Veronica as a young, naïve little jungle girl, and that just didn’t work. My character is much stronger than that. I mean, this is somebody who has grown up in the jungle and taught herself how to survive. To be honest, I don’t like mentioning the pilot. I’d rather skip right to the first season where I was able to begin making some changes to my character. These were the result of my own decisions, which I felt were correct and that I should have gone with from the very beginning.
“I’m really pleased with how the writers have developed Veronica this season. After three years, they’ve become comfortable with who our characters are and are writing more for each individual’s story line. They’ve taken bits and pieces from all The Lost Worldshows we’ve done over the past two seasons and woven them into their writing this year. So we’re learning more about who Challenger [Peter McCauley], Roxton [Will Snow], Marguerite [Rachel Blakely], Ned [David Orth] and Veronica are, and I think the fans are really enjoying that.”
As The Lost World’s resident action gal, O’Dell has found herself in a number of interesting situations over the past three seasons. “In one of the very first episodes we did [Nectar], Will, David and I were covered from head to toe in goop,” chuckles the actress. “I remember another episode where Rachel and I had do a fight scene and we ended up wrestling in mud. It was so funny because when the director yelled, ‘Cut!’ all the crew guys held up scorecards. We have a ball working on this show and I’m pleased to say everyone gets along very well.
“I’ve fallen off a horse a couple of times and taken a few big jumps,” she continues. “I’ve also [accidentally] hit one or two people during fights. There was one take where I nailed a ‘cannibal’ right in the nose. Because he wasn’t a stunt guy he didn’t know how to snap his head back before my fist could made contact. He was standing a bit too close to me and I clipped him. I felt terrible, but luckily he wasn’t badly hurt. It’s a miracle, actually, that I haven’t hurt myself considering I’m such a klutz. I’ll bump and fall into anything in front of me. I’ve got really good balance, however, and I’m flexible. I can also hyperextend my whole body, which is one of the reasons why I can fight so well.
“I do all my own stunts, at least everything the producers will allow me to do. It’s all part of the fun. I’d rather handle my own fight scenes or whatever before turning it over to someone else. I will admit, though, that I have learnt to pace myself. If I’m filming a fight scene first thing in the morning I’m so tired by the end of the day that I can’t do anything else. I’ve got to keep my energy up, so that’s when my stunt girl will do my wide-shots and then I’ll step in for the close-ups.”