by Ian Spelling
Photograph by Jeff Katz
Jessica Steen loves her day job. The talented, attractive actress who shared
the small screen with handsome Antonio Sabato, Jr. in the short-lived series "Earth 2" and gave funnyman Michael Richards his first screen kiss in the film Trial & Error, stars next in the much-hyped summer blockbuster Armageddon, where she gamely co-pilots a space shuttle laden with the testosterone of Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, and Ben Affleck. SMOKE caught up with the energetic, Canadian-born actress, whose other credits includes the series "Homefront" and episodes of "ER" and "Touched By an Angel," at home in Los Angeles, for a chat about Armageddon, her obsession with video cameras, and fire twirling.
Just how big a film is Armageddon?
It's the biggest thing that I've ever seen or been a part of. It's definitely the biggest feature that Disney has ever made. That alone tells you how big this thing is.
The story focuses on a group of people determined to prevent an asteroid from smashing into Earth and destroying a good portion of the planet. Liv Tyler plays Bruce's daughter on the ground, but once the film takes flight, you're the only lady in sight, right?
Yep, and it was glorious! I felt very privileged to be surrounded by such an array of masculinity. I play Jennifer Watts, who has to train these roughnecks and then get them
onto the asteroid. Once we land, because of the way we land, I have to get the ship up
and running again so that when the time comes we can actually get home in one piece.
Did you speak with real astronauts as part of your preparation process?
The producers had NASA technicians on set whenever possible. When we were on location in Houston and Florida, at Cape Canaveral, we were surrounded by astronauts and we got to pick their brains at will, which was incredibly helpful. I didn't get as much time to prepare as most of the other people in the film, as I got hired last minute. I auditioned for a second time on a Monday, got the job on Tuesday, and signed the contract on Wednesday On Thursday I was fitted for my suit, and on Friday I was at the helm of the shuttle. I really had to rely on
everyone I could, whether it was the other actors or whatever professional they brought to the set.
Did you get the chance to go into a real shuttle while you were at Cape Canaveral?
No, not quite. We did get to go nose-to-nose with the nose cone of a shuttle, though. We
were right up there in the gantry. We got into the "white room," which is the anterior
to the shuttle. It's the last chamber you enter before you actually step into a shuttle. They
let us take a peek in there. I'm a video freak and they were generous enough to stick my
camera into the shuttle and shoot some footage for me. It was a real shuttle they were prepping for an upcoming mission.
Hypothetical question: You're on a shuttle with Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, and
Ben Affleck. Disaster strikes, you can only save one guy, and you must forever roam the
skies with this one guy, because the ship can never come home. With whom do you get lost
Oh man, that's a tough one. Bruce, Billy Bob, or Ben? Oh, my God. Aaaah ... They're
all funny. They're all charismatic.
You're stalling, Jessica. Tick, tock. Tick, tock.Tick, tock.
If I were to be stuck eternally in space, I guess that I'd have to take the youngest, most malleable man. That would be Ben, in this case, wouldn't it?
What made you want to become an actress?
Acting wasn't really a conscious decision for me. It was always part of my life, and then I
started making a living at it. It went from being a hobby to a job. I don't think I could
do anything else.
If you could be any other actress in history for just one day, who would you choose?
Kate Hepburn. In the days when she was doing films like The Philadelphia Story she
was just all sass and smarts. For the time, she really pushed the envelope.
You co-starred on Steven Spielberg's science fiction series, "Earth 2." The show didn't last very long, but it still has an incredible following, doesn't it?
You can't even begin to believe the reaction I still get from the fans of "Earth 2." I still get
tons of mail about the show, about my character (a genetically engineered doctor) The
Internet is alive with the fans of "Earth 2" talking to each other, trying to get someone
to green-light a reunion movie. It's remarkable. I had a great time doing the show and
we were all sorry to see it end.
What are you up to when you're not acting?
I try to engage in as much stuff as I possibly can. I love to coordinate activities for myself
and my friends. I love to mix and match my friends and new acquaintances. I'm starting
to get into drumming and fire twirlin'.
Fire twirling? We won't even go there.
Thank you. I'm also into yoga and meditation, and I'm what you'd have to call a video
freak. I just like to dabble and get into everything I can.
You've called yourself a video freak twice now. Can you define that for us, please?
I document every little thing, to a painful degree. I take my camera and drive everyone crazy. It's just constant updating on life; on situations, babies, big moments and little
moments. It's amazing what you can capture if you always have a camera ready for
SMOKE - Summer 98