Rising TV Star: Down Under a Diff'rent World Says Aussie Actress Jenni Baird
By Stephanie DuBois
"It's a Diff'rent World than where you come from..." - theme song from "A Diff'rent World"
When Aussie actress Jenni Baird says Hollywood is a different world than where she comes from, she's not talking about the dearth of kangaroos, wallabies and koalas 'round these parts.
"There are like 20 million people in L.A. alone and 20 million total in Australia," says Baird, who joins "The 4400" as the new boss of NTAC, the National Threat Assessment Command agency in charge of the returned abductees, on the hit USA Network show returning June 17.
"In Australia there are fewer actors and almost no jobs going. Here the volume of work is huge, but the amount of actors is even more huge and I'm looking at a city the size of my entire country.
"They say part of being an actor is getting the casting directors to know you. Well, there are about 8 in Sydney and there are 450 casting directors in L.A. I've been here for three years and I still don't know six eighths of the casting directors."
Baird says she was misled by the ease with which she got her first job in Hollywood. After graduating from the Western Academy for Performing Arts in 2000, she was chosen in a worldwide search to play the femme lead opposite Keith Carradine in the ABC pilot "Metropolis," which unfortunately went nowhere.
"Then I auditioned in Sydney for a pilot and got it," says the single actress, who spent three seasons on the top-rated Australian medical drama "All Saints."
"When it was over I was like 'Cool, I'm going back to the States. I'll just book another pilot.' I had to learn it's not such a walk in the park."
First of all, Baird says, Aussies are a different breed that sometimes don't fit in Stateside.
"We drink in Sydney," notes the actress unapologetically. "It's cultural. It's not a problem to have a glass of wine at lunch. But I went to meet with some agents and had a glass of wine and they flipped out, asking my manager 'Is she okay? She's drinking at lunch?' My manager was like 'Oh, she's just Australian.'
"I used to get in trouble for swearing in auditions, too," she recalls, "and my manager would say 'Oh, she's Australian.'"
Baird says she also found she almost had to learn to speak English all over again.
"You wouldn't believe the difference in vernacular. What I say most times is I'm bilingual. I have a list of millions of words I have to swap, like we say 'singlet' instead of tank top. We say 'boot' instead of 'trunk of a car.' We say 'fresh coriander' instead of 'cilantro,' 'capsicum' instead of bell pepper. If somebody is goofy or geeky, but in a nice way, we call them a 'dag.'"
The wrong wording can sometimes get her in trouble "because the lingo's so different. I was talking to this guy about my garden in L.A.," she recalls with a laugh. "And I said 'I've got these huge pot plants' and I didn't realize he thought I was talking about pot (marijuana). He was like freaking out...'Whoa, this chick is really open.' I said 'I mean potted plants!'"
Baird says in comparison, the entertainment industry in Sydney is really "a little more like New York and the theater has a large part of play in that. Theater was always community based and an even, equal playing ground. It's an earthier medium and is not as dog-eat-dog. It fosters that community environment and that exists in Sydney.
"I have a huge role in the community back in Sydney," says Baird, who still runs a theatre company, Whoosh Productions, she started in 2000.
Of course, all that's being handled by others while she shoots "The 4400" in Vancouver.
Baird says her character, Meghan Doyle, is a most unorthodox new commander for NTAC.
"She's not at all like a boss. I'm completely weird and that gives me a lot of freedom. I can be slightly unconventional and off the wall. I don't have to be all stiff and professional. That's really hard to be as an actor. It means you have to be kind of perfect. It's like playing a lawyer, which I've played a couple of times...you have to be in control of all that legal jargon."
Baird and "The 4400" troupe are halfway through shooting the fourth season of the Emmy-nominated show.
"The season is 13 episodes and we finish in July," she says, adding she's not sure if she'll stay Stateside during her hiatus.
"I don't know. My manager is going to try and get me out to L.A., but I may try and get a job in Australia. I have an agent in Sydney. He has a drink with me - and doesn't blink."