Like many males now in their mid-20s, I first became aware of Jodi Lyn O’Keefe from her co-starring role on Nash Bridges and subsequent ubiquity on men’s magazine covers.
But while many young, pretty faces at the time have faded from memory, the New Jersey native has kept extremely busy, building up a resume of TV appearances (Prison Break, The Big Bang Theory, Lost) and film work, including the upcoming thriller Frozen Ground (about real-life Alaska serial killer Robert Hansen) with Nicolas Cage and John Cusack.
Shortly before the premiere of her Lifetime drama Stalkers, we spoke with O’Keefe about obsessive fans, the anxiety of watching oneself act, and nostalgia for the ‘90s.
Tell us about Stalkers.
It’s based on a book by Rhonda Saunders, who fought to change laws against stalking. It’s really about victims’ rights. Lifetime has been trying to adapt it for years, and it’s finally happened. Saunders is being represented by two characters, played by myself as a district attorney, and Drea de Matteo, as a police woman.
But it’s more or less based on her true story?
We had to make some (dramatic changes); the book covers a much longer time period.
Is this the first time you’ve played a character that is based on a real person?
I’ve done it before. It’s always a lot more interesting — and scary. You can’t just make (characterizations) up in your head, you have to stay as true to life as you possibly can. The good part is having so much research already available to you.
Have you ever had any problems with stalking or obsessive fans?
I have. It’s not something I like to talk about, but yes. I just don’t like to put any more energy towards it, I want to let it go and keep it in the past.
It did draw me to this project somewhat.
Have you ever been struck by a character’s resemblance to yourself, in their actions of behaviour? Have you ever read a script and thought, “This is exactly how I would react in this situation?”
It’s never been exact but I usually find bits of myself in every character I play. Except when I played an assassin on Prison Break [laughs]. That was a bit of a stretch. But still, like me, she was a bit of a smart-ass.
I like having it both ways. It’s great to have a connection to a character, or to try something completely out of the box. Either way, the best reference point I have is myself.
Do you enjoy watching yourself on screen?
No! No [laughs]. I cringe, and hide. I can bear it alone but not if people are in the room. I’m my own worst critic.
How then do you analyze your own work?
I do watch my work, I just don’t enjoy it. On set I can feel if I’m really becoming a character, with great writers, directors and producers guiding me along. There has been a time, or two, when I’ve thought to myself, “Hey, good job.”
What performance are you most proud of, or at least, what gave you the least anxiety to watch?
Prison Break, because making it was just so much fun.
Aside from that role, what do you find yourself getting recognized for the most?
Strangely, a movie I did called She’s All That (1999). Every year there’s a new wave of then-teenage girls who recognize me at the airport and flip out over my character.
What part will you be playing in Frozen Ground?
My part is based on a real person, somewhat, as well. She was a madam in Alaska. She’s not very savoury, I’ll put it that way. Her business was in women.
It was based on recent history, ‘70s to ‘80s, so a lot of the people involved are still around though I didn’t get to meet her. So I don’t know much about her aside from what I was told from people that knew her.
How much of that could be conjecture?
I mostly heard the same stories over and over again – that the reality of these lives came out of left field. We learned how shocked everyone was about Hansen, how he seemed like an outstanding member of the community. He owned a bakery, had a wife and kids. Nobody suspected him.
As an attractive woman, was there a point you realized you were being taken seriously as an actress? Is that something you’ve had to fight for?
I started quite young so that really didn’t happen until my twenties. I’ve never had the same opinion of myself as others. I always joke that I look like my French bulldog, so that’s a hard question to answer!