Joan Severance:
No Femme Fatale on the Love Boat

by Michelle Erica Green

Joan Severance has had enough of playing femmes fatales, which is a big reason she decided to climb aboard The Love Boat when Aaron Spelling asked her to. "The fact that it was a comedy attracted me to it," the actress said from her home in Los Angeles the week after getting the word that UPN had picked up Love Boat: The Next Wave for the fall season. "The comedy, the ensemble cast, and Robert Urich and Aaron Spelling - those were the draws. But I don't know why they wanted me - no one had ever seen me do any sort of comedy one way or another, so it couldn't have been that!"

Playing bad girls has served Severance well - in particular Darcy, her character from Roger Corman's Black Scorpion, who is the subject of several adoring web sites. The Texas native isn't sorry she's so well-known for playing femme fatales, but was ready for something else when the call came from the new Love Boat series' producers. "It was an offer, they wanted me for the part. They had to talk me into it, though!" she recalled. "It had that stigma, you know - anytime you redo something, it's panic time. But there wasn't a security chief [on the original series], so at least I don't get comparisons!"

Camille Hunter, the chief of security on the ship, has strength and sexiness in common with Severance's other roles, but a better sense of humor. "No femme fatale - or if she is, she's funny," noted the veteran of two dozen films. "If you can do a femme fatale, then they usually want to stick you in leather and boots and have you be a superhero or a supervillain, because that's how they see all femme fatales: kicking men and beating them up and having sex with them. I've done a lot of femme fatales - that's how people see me, because of my physical look, and they were fun to play, but I've done it - time to move on to I Love Lucy stuff, and hopefully they'll write it."

Thus far, the writing has been very comedic, with some of the slapstick aspects of the original - characters diving into the pool fully clothed in the throes of romance, women attempting to seduce the virtuous captain and doctor, in addition to the foibles exacerbated by the close quarters on the ship. Severance said, "I hope they make a show like M*A*S*H, which dealt with a lot of difficult subject matter but was very funny. This deals with relationships, which is a difficult subject matter - most of them these days are not happening as they were in the '70s, if at all, so there's a lot to be dealt with there. You can't just fall into bed."

Since this is the Love Boat, is there romance down the road for Hunter, who taught Captain Kennedy to dance this season and seems to be becoming his confidante about his problems with his son Danny? "We'll have to see!" Severance laughed. "What they've done with these initial six episodes is tried to introduce our characters - the captain and his son of course are a running thing throughout, but in each of the other shows, they gave one character more to do, so you'd see a little bit more about them. I had pieces that deal with my character like scenes with the captain that show a different side - it's not all muscle and steel, as she said. I'm sure they're going to play that up, they have to, but the fact is that they can go anywhere with it, and I really don't know where they're going."

The previous Love Boat series was renowned for its emphasis on goofy guest appearances, but The Next Wave promises greater emphasis on the cast. "And that's good, because it's like Friends," Severance pointed out. "We're stuck together on the ship. Eventually there will be some guest stars coming in, but then again, if you get a great story going for a couple of guest stars, you go with them, and that's fine. It's wonderful for us because it doesn't put a heavy burden on any one of us, work-wise."

Both Severance and co-star Corey Parker stressed the closeness of the cast, which surprised them given the tight production schedule and the fact that they were literally tossed at sea together. "We bonded immediately as if we had been working for five years - Phil, Robert, and I certainly did, and it feels that way with everybody from my standpoint." She credits the fact that "we're all professionals, we've all been working, we don't have any new kids on the block, and we know what television is all about" with the immediate comfort levels. "After my first scene, I kind of looked at Robert and Phil and went, 'What year is this? How long have we been doing this?'" she laughed. "It's a wonderful feeling, and it happens very rarely."

The actress had known Aaron Spelling for years, but had never worked with him previously. Her one reservation was fear of comparisons with the previous series, but Severance has found that fans are happy just to have The Love Boat back. "I'm getting tons of letters," she said, noting that some fans wish the other characters were more like the original captain, doctor, purser, bartender, and cruise director - a problem Severance has been spared since there was no chief of security.

"I guess those were the people who were avid fans of the show before, but they need to broaden their horizons a bit!" she exclaimed. "We have just as good a cast, it's the '90s not the '70s, things have changed and so has the ship." There have been rumors about the old Love Boat castmembers making appearances as guest stars, but Severance doesn't think that's going to happen.

Severance does expect to get more of Hunter's backstory, which was scanty during the limited production of the initial episodes. "We went to shoot the first week on the boat, and I just hung out with the security guard and asked him questions," she explained. "He said there's never been a woman security chief in the cruise line. They're all veterans, and I guess women haven't been doing it for that long. The man I spoke to liked the fact that it was a bit out of date - the Navy sort of thing. All the security people are seventeen-year veterans of the FBI or the Secret Service, some have worked under the Queen, they've done a lot of heavy-duty bodyguard kind of stuff, so it's not like, 'Oh, I just graduated from high school and I get to be on a boat!'"

If the relative lack of female security guards is addressed on the series, it opens up the possibility of Hunter being portrayed as a pioneer - which appeals to the actress, who says she can't help noticing that the major roles in the entertainment industry still mostly go to men. "In general, I was watching something the other day which started out with five guys walking towards you and one woman, and there you go - it's still being dominated by the male society," she noted. During her hiatus from Love Boat: The Next Wave, Severance is working for Lifetime on the reality-based drama The Life of the Party, in which she will play Babe Pailey, a friend of Ambassador Pamela Harriman. "I'm ecstatic to be working for Lifetime - it's all female, you read the list, the crew is all women, it's like being on Venus!"

Pailey, explained Severance, was a femme fatale in a way, "because she wanted Harriman to marry all these men so that she wouldn't take her husband away. It's a really great part, but because she was a live person, I'm just reading as much as I can." Ann-Margret will portray Harriman in the film. Severance said she was a bit intimidated about playing a real person, recalling that she heard Joey Bishop interviewed on the radio about an actor who was portraying him in a film, "and he was not complimentary at all! It's hard to portray somebody especially if you don't have her to speak to or any close friends - she was born in 1916, so they're fading away quickly. Frank Sinatra was born the same year."

The former model is nonchalant about being typecast as a vixen, exclaiming, "I don't see me like that. Other people can see me however they wish, but it's obviously just something visual that pops into the casting director's head and that's it." One internet fan page identifies the actress as "The Goddess of the Universe," which just makes Severance groan. "The guy who runs that [page] 'owns' my name on the Internet, he informed me," she laughed. "I don't know the internet - I'm not on it, I don't even have it, so that's all right - I'll just change my name!"

Severance would like another chance to play Susan Profitt on Wiseguy, which she cites as her favorite so far. "That was my first job, and I really wish they'd write her again so I could do it older and more experienced as an actress," she sighed. "I also did a movie called Payback where I played a southern waitress that was fun to do, and have blonde hair and a twang. Every part I've done has been for one reason or another - money, or the part, or the director, or the location. I'd like to get one thing that's all of those combined."

Her focus, however, is shifting from performing to work behind the camera. She co-produced the second Black Scorpion film and hopes to produce and direct a script given to her by a friend which made her cry when she read it - "I only cried when I read two scripts, one was Ghost and the other was this." In addition, she has been writing for five years, and has a script which is close to a production deal. "It's called The Immortal, and it's about the oldest living American woman and a very young Southern Baptist-type girl. One believes in God and the future - that's the young one - and the one who is in the future, and has seen it all, doesn't believe in anything. It shows how the young can learn from the old and how the old can learn from the young, so it's a sweet, touching story."

Severance has not directed since high school, but has "always been fascinated by cameras - we used to have one of those reel-to-reel home video cameras when they first came out, and I was always doing commercial spots and talk shows with my brothers and editing." She also learned a lot during her modeling career, which came before she trained as an actress, though she noted that the experience helped her to learn her craft. "I did commercials since I was 16, and that's kind of acting depending on what you're selling. The modeling career took me all over the world, and I met people that were always older than me and in more powerful positions, so I had to act like I was worth their dollar. Everyone always thought I was older because of how I represented myself. When I got bored modeling, I'd just go in my head somewhere and create stories."

"I now have a plan - I haven't had a plan up until this year," declared the actress with a laugh, stressing her desire to move into production and directing and to get some more challenging acting roles. "I really think the mind of someone who hasn't been welded into place by their work or studios or actors or this whole society is a wonderful mind to work with, so I'd like to do a big picture with an unknown director. They don't always do well, because when you get the big budget you get, 'You've got to do this,' and they can't always do it well, but I want good and different parts, different from what I've done."

The actress said she has always liked psychology, though "I don't think I'd want to sit down and listen to people's stories all day long." Though she's not heavily into Method technique and doesn't depend on the ability to immerse herself in a character to play a part, there was one time in her career when Severance was doing a scene that became so real it frightened her. "It was a rape scene, and it was happening, as far as I was concerned - it took me about 45 minutes to snap out of it. Needless to say, it did not get into the film. I can usually snap in and snap out pretty quickly, and it was only once, but that's how I have chosen, if there is a rape scene, to play them all - very real. There are three rape scenes that I've had to act in, and none of them have gotten to film. I don't think it's something that should be promoted in any way."

Her favorite aspects of her profession? "It gives me the opportunity to discover how other people are - how shy people are, how women who are overtly sexual are, how murderers are. You get to get in there and go, 'Wow! What would make someone do that?'"

Despite her plans behind the camera, she's looking forward to next season on The Love Boat, even if it means being away from Los Angeles for quite a bit of time. "I don't know how many cruises for next season - we did two for these six episodes, probably since the sets weren't built. It would be cost-effective to film in L.A. ... but maybe we're just going to take two or three hundred rooms on the boat and cruise the world!" she laughed. "Not a bad life."

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