When Jennie Fahn first started out as an actress, she was always cast as the crotchety older lady. Finally, at 50, she’s the right age for those roles and she’s booking more work than ever. In fact, she’s having a moment. The Los Angeles mom just won the Hollywood Fringe Festival award for best solo performance for her one-woman show, Under the Jello Mold, which is now playing at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks.
I know Jennie a little bit from when our kids were in elementary school together and a lot from Facebook where I’m always amazed by all of the incredible things she’s doing. I wanted to ask her about her work, her adventures and that time she won $30,000 on a game show.
What is it like to be a 50-year-old woman working in Hollywood? For me, it’s been pretty darn good! I’m what you call a “character actor,” so my wrinkles and lines have actually been working in my favor. In fact, I look forward to my grey hair growing in (ironically, I’m a little slow in that area – I guess you always want what you don’t have!) so I can play the “Where’s The Beef?” lady-types pretty soon. I actually have the fact that I have a “non-Botoxed face” on my resume, under my “special skills” — I figure that makes me a little unique in this town. At this rate, by the time I’m 80, I’ll work like crazy.
How have you navigated motherhood throughout your career? Motherhood has always been the priority. In fact, my first one-woman show was called “You Mutha!” because it was all about being a mother and other mothers and that was the whole focus, since that’s what my life was focused on. Now that my kids are a bit older, and I went through the part of being a mother to my own mother, the focus has slightly shifted. But I still keep a flexible schedule so that I’m around for my school-age son. I also think it’s important to set an example of doing what I love (at least most of the time) so my kids learn that it’s possible to have a career that is meaningful and fulfilling.
Observing your life from Facebook, it seems like you have a lot of fun and you’re not afraid to take risks. Why do you think these things are important – both personally and professionally? I have a funny habit of reading the obituaries pretty regularly. Someone said that sounds depressing, but actually, I find it quite life affirming. First of all, I’m READING, which means I’m alive. Secondly, I get to “meet” people who sound interesting, fun, wonderful, not-so-interesting, or whatever – but it’s a little handshake with someone that I never had the privilege of meeting in real life and that feels kind of special. And lastly, it’s a little reminder that tomorrow, I might not be the one reading — I might be the one getting read about. So I better get out of the chair immediately and DO SOMETHING. It’s usually the times I’ve done something a little wacky that I’ve seen the best results — like this show. I just took a leap of faith and said, “Yes!” and it’s actually turned into something quite wonderful. And personally, I guess I could point to the time I asked out that cute guy. He’s been my husband for 24 years.
Tell us about your one-woman show: Under the Jello Mold is about my mom at the end of her life (don’t worry, it’s a comedy). The title refers to the very specific spot where she hid her post-mortem instructions, but as it turns out, she was also hiding a secret. It premiered at the Hollywood Fringe Festival this past June and it won the award for Best Solo Performance, a Producer’s Encore Award, and was named Pick of the Fringe, which were really wonderful and surprising rewards for bringing this story to life.
Why did you want to do this now? Since my mom’s passing five years ago, I have shared a lot of the experiences I went through with friends and family. It occurred to me that these are conversations that are sometimes uncomfortable but important. One way to get through those conversations is with comedy, and my mom was definitely a character capable of invoking a lot of comedy. I happened to “try-out” the idea with about ten minutes worth of material at the film collective that I belong to (a wonderful group called We Make Movies) and my friend Tom Cavanaugh (a writer and director himself) called me the next day and said, “You have a show. I’m directing it and my brother and I are producing it.” I realized I had to say yes! And then I had to write the show. That was just about a year ago.
Please tell us about going on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? How did that happen? How much did you win? Haha! I’ve actually been on several game shows over the years but that was a really fun one! I noticed they were having auditions and I’ve always been a trivia buff, so I figured I’d give it a shot! I thought I flunked the test initially, but I must have skirted just over the line… We had to go to Vegas to shoot the episode and swear to complete secrecy about it! I won $30,000 with the help of all three lifelines. Not bad for Vegas!