You probably know actress Jenna Elfman, for her role as Dharma on the hit tv series “Dharma and Greg”. She’s also had roles in several films including “Friends With Benefits” and “Keeping the Faith”. This season she’s returning to television to play the first lady in the new comedy series “1600 Penn”. She recently stopped by the SiriusXM studios to sit down with Ron Bennington and talk about the new series. Excerpts of the interview appear below.
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Ron Bennington: The new show “1600 Penn” premieres tonight at 9:30 on NBC. It’s got everybody talking.
Jenna Elfman: This is true. We’ve actually been working so hard and we have such a good time doing it. We’re excited to share it with the world.
Ron Bennington: Now, you say share it with the world, but Obama got to see this?
Jenna Elfman: Yeah, well he hosted a screening at the White House last night, so we got to meet him, and then he escorted us all to the screening room and said a few kind words. But he is clearly a busy man and so he didn’t stick around for the screening, but we had sent him some screeners so he can watch them in his private time.
Ron Bennington: I feel lucky enough because I think he might have looked at this and went ‘What? Is this what you guys think we’re like here?’ (Jenna laughs).
Jenna Elfman: Well, you know it is a fictional first family and no one really knows what a first family is behind closed doors, so you have a bit of freedom to play.
Ron Bennington: Yeah, once you get in there they’re probably just a family at that point.
Jenna Elfman: If you’re a human being and you have a family, I’m sorry but it’s not going to be perfect.
Ron Bennington: Yeah it’s gonna be far from it.
Jenna Elfman: That’s right. We’re in this heightened, stressful setting and trying to raise kids, and I play the step-mother to the 4 children on the show.
Ron Bennington: Have we ever had a step-mother –
Jenna Elfman: Yes. But not with active young children, they were grown.
Ron Bennington: Okay.
Jenna Elfman: Like Nancy Reagan was a second-wife step-mother, but the children were grown and not in the White House.
Ron Bennington: And yeah that family never came around the White House. Remember, it was always the other two.
Jenna Elfman: Well I was very young and wasn’t really paying attention to the White House at that time (laughs). I was like, I think, trying to figure out if any boys were going to kiss me…. And then I met my husband when I was 19, and then I’ve been with him ever since, so you know.
Ron Bennington: Is that true? Since you were 19?
Jenna Elfman: Yeah, I’ve been with my husband for 22 years.
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Ron Bennington: But do you guys ever go, wow that was awful young, that was awful young.
Jenna Elfman: You know what’s been lucky and unique for us, I think, is we have continued to grow, and I credit all of that to him. As annoying as he is — my husband — he is the one who pushes towards growth. And it’s been a very creative, evolving relationship, and it’s been really good.
Ron Bennington: Now you say annoying though, what part of its annoying?
Jenna Elfman: He’s annoying.
Ron Bennington: Yeah, in what way?
Jenna Elfman: Ahhh god. We have a podcast called “Kicking and Screaming” on iTunes and that is our relationship. It’s all laid out in that podcast.
Ron Bennington: And you guys love to sit and talk…
Jenna Elfman: We just basically tell stories for 27 minutes of our life together about life, annoyance, marriage. We don’t edit. We don’t re-record. We don’t script or plan what we’re gonna say.
Ron Bennington: See I think that that is all healthy until one thing happens, and we don’t know what it is yet, but at one point something will come up.
Jenna Elfman: Here’s the deal and what I find. We are not serious about our marriage. We are unprecious. We are always about to get divorced. We would probably be much better friends if we got divorced, but at the same time we are best friends, total partners. I have such admiration for him, as much as he drives me crazy. And you know I look back over the massive landmark moments that have happened in my life that stand out as the most significant, important, pleasurable, whatever, and he was at the source of them. You know I can’t just ditch him that easily.
Ron Bennington: And you know it’s also nice to have that person that you’ve shared so much with so you could go ‘What was that neighbor’s name?’ Because when you don’t, when you go through a series of relationships, all those things — all those memories — just kind of go away.
Jenna Elfman: Yeah you don’t have that museum of experience together, which is really so special. And you know we have a lot of pride on having stuck it out for this long in this town that we live in.
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Ron Bennington: You never hear of someone from a big family who decides to have a big family. Because I grew up in a Catholic neighborhood where there was like a lot of 11s and 7s and 8s, and all those people have one kid.
Jenna Elfman: Yeah, cause they did it. And it’s almost like they did it with their brothers and sisters, you know?
Ron Bennington: Right.
Jenna Elfman: They’re like I’ve had that experience of sort of parenting their siblings.
Ron Bennington: It becomes like a schoolhouse that you’re living in. Just a 24-hour-a-day school.
Jenna Elfman: With my dad, it was 4 boys to a bed. They slept perpendicular, like across the bed, not lengthwise.
Ron Bennington: Wow.
Jenna Elfman: I know. It’s amazing.
Ron Bennington: And then you just think in that one generation life gets a lot easier, and then the next generation these kids that you’re trying to teach things are really probably going to be living with robots half the time anyway (Jenna laughs). So whatever information you give them is probably going to be useless.
Jenna Elfman: You know that’s the thing though. I am really passionate as a woman, as a mother, that my 2 sons grow up to be gentlemen. I have a real button about my generation that guys are not gentlemen, and it seriously ticks me off.
Ron Bennington: Alright, what pisses you off though?
Jenna Elfman: I’ll give you an example okay. I was very pregnant with my first son and I’m at a burger joint. I go to the bathroom. I walk up, the doors locked, so I back up and then I realize there’s a guy standing there. He was actually waiting, I didn’t see him. I said, ‘Oh I’m sorry, are you waiting for the bathroom?’ He’s like ‘Uh huh.’ He didn’t say yes, but you can go ahead.
Ron Bennington: Right.
Jenna Elfman: Then the person came out. He had another opportunity to say please go ahead. I’m very pregnant, okay, I was gigantic. He didn’t. Went in and used the bathroom. That was just like uurrrrr for me. Then when he came out he had left the seat up.
Ron Bennington: And that’s the world now. So casual.
Jenna Elfman: I honestly wanted to call his mother and go are you frickin’ kidding me? Like a pregnant woman comes up and needs to use the bathroom and you go before her?
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Ron Bennington: We were talking the other day about what’s wrong with America with the violence and stuff. And a big part of it is everybody feels like they should get something right away. They want something and they don’t have it. Or, oh look, David Letterman has a bigger house than me so I’m a failure and I’m pissed off and I’m gonna take it out on the world.
Jenna Elfman: Yeah.
Ron Bennington: You know they always find somebody who is doing better and then they’re pissed about it.
Jenna Elfman: I think from an early age it is very important that people — children — are involved in volunteer work and charity work and at a very early age are aware of the world around them and that there is work to be done as a fellow human being.
Ron Bennington: Right.
Jenna Elfman: And I don’t have teenage kids yet, mine are 2 and 5, but I’ve obviously been a teenager and I see people who are having problems with their teens that are being all snotty and selfish and entitled, you know feeling so entitled and materialistic. And I’m like just go have them do volunteer charity work like twice a week and I think you’ll hear a different tune out of them.
Ron Bennington: Did you do stuff like that when you were a kid?
Jenna Elfman: Yeah, we would. I sort of naturally felt inclined to help others when I was young. I think that is the glue, if your ability to help is intact. You know, to what degree do you feel you can be of service and value to your fellow human beings. And I always was inclined towards that, and luckily my parents didn’t squelch or invalidate that. And I think anytime anyone is having a hard time you just go out and help someone and it really changes your day, and it changes your whole mental attitude towards life, and it really brings you into a better frame of mine.
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Ron Bennington: The gossip thing too is so strangely getting bigger and even darker, and I’m always confused by it because a lot of it seems to be anti-woman, but it seems like women are the biggest consumers of that stuff. So do women somehow like to see other women in trouble, or like to see other women fail, or talk about other women?
Jenna Elfman: You know I think men are very just — (laughs) this is like an anthropology session — but like men are simple. I’ve really learned this from being with my husband for 22 years.
Ron Bennington: Just knuck draggers, yeah.
Jenna Elfman: Simple. Not beastly, but just way more simple. And I think women, because we have to raise children and do all these things where you’re just built to be multi-taskers. And women do have the instinct to sit around and talk and compare, and it’s just an inclination we have and I think we are kind of manipulative by nature. It’s just what do you do with that ability. You know, do you use your powers for good, or you use your powers for bad. But yeah, women do compare and I do think that the magazines have taken that to a — you know what bugs me is like this whole like body-after-baby thing that the magazines run on women.
Ron Bennington: Right.
Jenna Elfman: Cause I’m sorry I gained like — I mean this is a dude’s show — but like 80 pounds with both of my kids, and I did not look like those actresses. I mean I really didn’t. And I looked like every other woman in America that’s like ‘What the hell, how do they look like that on those magazines!?’ I was right there with them going I don’t understand. And then I was filming a movie 9 weeks after I had my first kid and I still had belly like there, and I’m like oh my god I’m doing a movie. And I had to be clever with my costume and use a coat, you know to kind of hide until it went down a bit. They took a photo of me on set and they were putting it in the magazines going ‘Body after baby! Look how amazing she looks!’ I’m like if you only knew what was going on under that coat. And I felt like I was betraying woman, but then I didn’t want to come out and be like ‘No, I had a belly really!’ (Laughs) It’s like, alright, but I just think that those women that look that way are so rare.
Ron Bennington: Yeah.
Jenna Elfman: But when you see them in that context of the media it makes it seem like that’s some standard and ideal, which is so unfair. It’s like being a mother is hard enough, and like putting some standard that you have to look like some 19-year-old cheerleader after you fucking give birth is like a joke to me.
Ron Bennington: And yet again, it’s women that are editing those magazines.
Jenna Elfman: Some.
Ron Bennington: They could easily say, hey look, you know this is all bullshit.
Jenna Elfman: I know, but maybe they’re like drinking the Kool-Aid too; and they’ve like lost perspective on womanhood, the sisterhood (laughs).
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Ron Bennington: So no matter what your plan is with the show you’re still going to be forced to see what the direction of the country is. Cause even though you’re not playing Obama’s family, the audience is gonna have that in the back of their mind.
Jenna Elfman: You know what’s interesting, the writers have taken on this “West Wing” rule that the writers of the “West Wing” operated on, which is basically history accurate up until about the Carter administration in terms of their referencing. And then from there forward it’s like their own little world of the presidency.
Ron Bennington: Yeah, another alternate reality.
Jenna Elfman: Exactly.
Jenna Elfman: Yeah cause it’s more of the craziness of the family. This show is like totally family centric.
Ron Bennington: Well the kid in this, Josh.
Jenna Elfman: Josh Gad from “Book of Mormon,” Tony-nominated. He is fantastic.
Ron Bennington: Everybody loves him in New York, but once this show gets out, every kid in America is gonna be doing impressions of him.
Jenna Elfman: I’m obsessed with him. He is a dear friend of mine. He is a wonderful person, a great dad to a little 2-year-old girl. Tremendous talent. I mean we’re so proud of the work we’ve done. Every show, every episode just gets better and better, so we’re so excited for America to watch it and all of the other countries that get to view it too. But I’m most excited that people are going to get to watch him every week, because he’s just so entertaining.
Ron Bennington: Well the thing is, from a comedy standpoint when someone knows what physically makes them funny it’s such a gift, and particularly to get that when you’re young. You know like Jim Carrey had it. It’s such a rare thing that we get to see physical comedy of the guy who doesn’t quite fit in everywhere, and he’s nailing it. He’s just nailing it.
Jenna Elfman: He really is. And he improvs and like I can’t keep it together. The way I was obsessed with Harvey Korman and Tim Conway on “The Carol Burnett Show” growing up, I’m like obsessed with him like that. He makes me laugh like I can’t take it.
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Ron Bennington: Well congratulations to you to have this thing popping like this and everybody’s talking about it. Thank you so much for stopping by.
Jenna Elfman: Thanks for having me. It was fun having a meaningful talk (laughs).
You can hear this interview in its entirety exclusively on SiriusXM satellite radio. Not yet a subscriber? Click here for a free trial subscription.
You can learn more about Ron Bennington’s two interview shows, Unmasked and Ron Bennington Interviews atRonBenningtonInterviews.com.