by Alex Cosper (6/29/15)
Jane: Ready to chat, with my old Rio Americano High friend and fellow DJ Alex Cosper in an online interview. Join us now?
Alex: Thank you for joining me today, Jane, for this interview about your TV and movie career. Sorry we didn't see you at the Rio Americano High School Reunion. But I did dedicate the song "Dreaming" by Blondie to you, dreaming you could be there next time.
Jane: Thank you, Alex Cosper! I was bummed I couldn't join you there. I heard there was a great mix of people AND music. And thank you for dedicating "Dreaming" to me. LOVE that and still and forever Blondie. See you in five years?
Alex: Yes. I had fun spinning the tunes, some of which you programmed at our high school radio station, KRAT. Tell us what you remember about that station.
Jane: HA! The carts! The sound of the carts of music and programming the top ten of the week. I remember the smell of the windowless studio and the amazing Mr. Chuck Gebhardt being such a stellar mentor and encouraging me to bring Sacramento music up to speed with newer trends. What a great launching pad that was for you and me both!
Alex: Yes, I went on to programming radio stations like KWOD in Sacramento while you went to Hollywood and got into acting. Do you remember the two phone interviews we did when I was on KWOD in the 90s?
Jane: How could I forget? You rock! Do you remember what you asked me?
Alex: Yes, I asked you about the TV shows you played in: "Herman's Head" in the 80s and "Friends" in the 90s. We'll talk about both those shows, but first tell us what happened after Rio when you studied acting at UCLA.
Jane: I was sooo lucky to get into the Theater Arts program at UCLA, especially after I had neglected reading the fine print and had applied to the Motion Picture and TV Dept. at UCLA, (for which you can't apply until you are a Junior). They had mercy on me and let me reapply as a Theater Arts major as a Sophomore and for the next 3 years I wasn't cast in but one thing! The talent all around me was stellar and I was still pretty new to the stage AND working 40 hours a week to help pay for school so you can imagine how grateful I was to get into the Acting Continuum as a Senior. Here I was immersed in a program akin to the Masters Acting program at UCLA and then everything shifted after that. Humility is one of the first lessons you learn at UCLA AND that it is an honor to be a part of a whole group of people who create. We learned everything from designing sets, to building them, lighting them, selling tickets, directing, stage managing, and finally acting. GREAT education which fortunately for me paid off. Soooo grateful.
Alex: How important was your education at KRAT and what you learned at UCLA in your media career?
Jane: VERY important. I had amazing mentorship first with Mr. Gebhardt and then all my professors at UCLA. While I was fairly scared of the theater group at Rio Americano High (still battling back my shyness, though maybe you didn't know) I was far too scared to audition for anything at Rio. But Mr. G helped me find my voice. At UCLA I had a phenomenal teacher for the Acting Continuum by the name of Jenny Penny (Jennifer Rountree now) and not for one minute do I or could I ever underestimate the power of a GREAT teacher and these two in particular. How these two lit fires for dreams can never be undervalued. Forever grateful.
Alex: I agree Mr. Gebhardt was a great teacher, for public speaking and radio and television. I'm curious, though, at what age did you become interested in acting?
Jane: You may have heard about Mr. French. There is a picture of he and I on my wall. He was like a second father to me because he was the father of my two best friends since I was five. He was a terrifying man who shouted loudly, demanded manners, respect and sent the three of shrieking from the room, BUT either because he was crazy or because he knew something that no one else could possibly know, whenever I'd enter the room, fairly hiding behind his daughters he'd boom, "There she is, Janie SIGHBOT (sometimes he used Sibbett, but he liked to mangle my name like EVERYBODY), STAR OF STAGE, SCREEN, RADIO, AND TELEVISION!" I'd run out of the room blushing! Maybe he planted a seed -- Not sure, but when I had my first taste of acting as a freshman and saw that I could PRETEND not to be so shy, I liked that feeling of trying on courage or other personas like one might like trying on a costume or a mask. It was thrilling. So officially, I'd have to say at age 13/14 when I really became interested. That was freshman year of high school in Alameda before I moved to Sacto.
Alex: When we were all back at KRAT in 1979 and 1980 with classmates like Rob Tonkin, who went on to radio promotion at 91X in San Diego then his own concert promotion business in Los Angeles, did you have any aspirations of a radio broadcasting career?
Jane: To tell you the truth, not then, but I think it would be great fun now. Think they'd hire a 52 year old woman? (Not likely, though I still love contemporary music!) LAVA 105.3 in Hawaii with Israel Gonzales and Danny have had me on a couple of times and I have loved it so much, I think ... wouldn't that be fun?
Alex: As far as music, what is your idea of a dream station? What would you put on the radio if you had your own station?
Jane: For 7 years in Hawaii I danced ecstatic dance every Sunday for about three hours and Nia three times a week, so I'd have to say global dance music. I LOVE EDM, but I know that has some drug soaked implications of which I've never been a part. If you go to Nianow.com they have a player there that has great music, too. Lots of e-dancers and facilitators have awesome music a la Burning Man mixes.
Most recently I danced Hot Buddhi Yoga with the amazing Maia Talbott where I was treated to lots of different kinds of dance music (rap, too), and initially not all I liked, but if I can dance to it, I generall like it. And if I had a flashback night as my friend Yisa Var had on her station in Hawaii when she was a DJ there, (she's in Florida now), I'd flash all the way back to a little high school fun... Journey, Cars, Foreigner, Steely Dan, and again ... anything that I could dance to.
Alex: Jane, before we talk about your success in television and the spiritual content that you are now producing, it's important that we touch on a topic that you kept silent about for many years but now talk about so that people understand the reasons why you became involved with helping abused women. Please relate, briefly, what you told me earlier today on the phone - that shocked and saddened me - about the disturbing story of how you were victimized by an attacker at age 21.
Jane: On my 21st birthday I was drugged, kidnapped, and raped. My assailant walks free for his influence at the time was so far reaching that the officer to whom I was reporting the crime said it would be career suicide, not to mention life endangering if I would try to bring him to justice. It's part of a bigger story which involves the FBI, ensuing stalking, and many horrible threats and break ins which kept me in fear for far too long. It was only recently that I broke the silence, but all evidence and records have been "removed." I found out from a friend who works in the LAPD, so you see, the detective wasn't completely wrong.
Because I wasn't able to bring my assailant to justice I advocate now for women to find their voice if they can, and to not just get help, but do better than I did and put their perpetrators away. We HAVE to stop this crazy epidemic that is -- as new stats share -- nearly the same for men and boys as it is for women and girls. (It is just under-reported by as much as 50%)
Alex: Sometimes stories like that make me feel we live in a cold blooded world. Yet you were able to still be strong and build a successful acting career. How were you able to pull things together after that tragic event?
Jane: I was so blessed to get help immediately from the Santa Monica Rape Treatment Center. My roommate was incredible, too, (and was so impacted by the event she now works for the LAPD.) I had such an intense case that they doubled the usual time for therapy and my therapist was amazing. I later went on to work with Darby Long out of Santa Fe, NM, who is a spectacular therapist not just for violent crimes, but for family/relationship work. There is no one better in the world, in my mind. She gave me such tools. I also have a wonderful family and along the way great friends who supported me as best they could. I had lots of stuff to work through - still do! Trust is hugely an issue after such a thing and I still work on myself, but I was and continue to be surrounded by great people. I had two choices after the incident. HIde in fear or go as far out there as I possibly could and be safe in the crowd. Being on "Friends" (TV Show) years later, was about as big as it could get in the hiding in the crowd, I think.
Alex: Prior to "Friends" you were on the TV show "Herman's Head" .. Tell us how you landed that role.
Jane: You know that expression, when one door closes, another one opens? A week after I was fired from my first regular gig -- a soap opera called Santa Barbara -- I landed my first regular nighttime gig, The Famous Teddy Z with Jonny Cryer. Though it was nominated for a couple of Emmy's when it was cancelled after just one season, it gave me a leg up in the comedy world. The same casting director who helped get me in the room for Hugh Wilson on Teddy Z, Deb Barylski, called me in for Herman's Head. It was another bitch on wheels, but a little sexier, and somehow they bought me being funny AND bitchy! Go figure! I have been so blessed by people who think I can do comedy, but I have to tell you -- it is way scarier and so much harder than drama!
Alex: Between "Herman's Head" and "Friends" what was the turning point leading up to your role on what became a top rated sitcom in the 90s?
Jane: It was directly after "Herman's Head" was cancelled that I came in to read with the producers for one of the regulars on "Friends." If there was a turning point it was that they wanted to make a test deal with me after we met, but I asked my agents if they'd told them I was 3 months pregnant with our second child. They said, "Noooo ... we just figured you'd get the job first, then tell them ..." but since I knew the math of baby timing and was certain that "Friends" was going to get greenlit and also because my husband is a producer I knew that would really throw a wrench in their production schedule if one of their main characters was out to have a baby, I told them I couldn't sign the test deal, but to please ask the producers if I could play Carol, the pregnant lesbian -- that'd be a cool role and I was already pregnant .. Do you know how that story went?
Alex: Please tell us that story.
Jane: ... to continue with the story ... the producers sweetly thanked me for my honesty and said they'd keep me in mind for other parts down the line, that I couldn't play "the pregnant lesbian" because the timing still wouldn't work out -- my baby was due Labor Day and they would likely go back into production in August. I was fine ... I was having a baby, for goodness sakes ... but you can imagine my challenge when I came home with our new son, Kai, after an 18 hour labor and the first call that came through was my manager saying they wanted to know if I could take over the pregnant lesbian THE VERY NEXT DAY! "Ugh, that's really sweet, but uhm, I'm a little sore. I had a baby yesterday and he was 8.7 pounds so ... uh ... not the greatest timing ..." "Pleeeeeeeeease? It'll only be for two weeks. We'll make it super easy for you ... How about we send you the pilot so you can see what 'Friends' looks like ..." "Okay," I said. How hard would two weeks be? I knew the script kicked ass, and so while I nursed my son I watched the pilot and laughed so hard I made my one day old baby cry! David Schwimmer was BRILLIANT. I'd never seen that kind of timing EVER. I wanted to play. So when my son was two days old, with my mom in tow to Warner Bros. to watch him in the dressing room while I shot, I agreed and the rest is history.
Alex: "Friends" made history by being the first show to feature a lesbian wedding. How influential was that episode to opening minds in Hollywood and among viewers about the issue of not just gay marriage, but gay people in general?
Jane: As to its influence on Gay culture and positive impact on the world .. I don't have hard statistics, Alex, but to (that) date it was the highest rated television episode in history. Two stations blacked it out and the backlash of press from all sides supported the lift that the LGBT community needed to get the word out that LOVE rules. I accepted an award on behalf of the show for a beautiful organization for Gay Families and the CEO of the organization said that if he'd had Carol and Susan as role models when he was a boy he certainly wouldn't have tried to commit suicide so many times. He was glad for his children to have such loving role models that were like his family -- two parents of the same orientation.
Alex: America is obviously now moving forward on the gay marriage issue. Do you see that as a giant step forward for human rights or is progress unfolding in baby steps? Personally, I think this issue should have been resolved 200 years ago.
Jane: I agree with you. It never should have been an issue. It's been a warping of the sacred texts which has caused this horrible rift. I had to stomp across America and did a lot of research to go toe to toe with my Christian friends, families and strangers and found that if one goes back to the original text they will find that the Bible has been grossly mistranslated for the purposes of subjugating the gay community as well as controlling the masses and keeping them from an intimate relationship with the Divine/God. AND in the separation of Church and State this should have been even more reason to not delegate what constitutes a legal union. Nonetheless, I'll take this long overdue step for human rights and pray that that we can all breathe easier in this win for LOVE and dignity to the very end.
I will add we have a LONG way to go in race relations, women's rights, too, as well as protecting our environment.
Alex: Yes, late is always better than never. How much of your role on "Friends" dealt with LGBT orientation? Did every episode in which you appeared deal with that subject?
Jane: Did every episode deal with the subject of orientation? Great question! I'm not sure. You know that I was so busy raising my kids that I only started watching "Friends" recently? I LOVE it! Loved it while I shot it, but have always put them to bed at 8:00 ... sooo ... I will say that we never made fun of orientation. Jess (Jessica Hecht who played "Susan") and I were the straight men to Schwimmer's hilarious discomfort. If we made fun of anything, the show made fun at how hard it was for him to deal with it.
Alex: That's interesting that you're just now starting to watch those episodes after all these years. Jane, tell us about your relationship with the cast of "Friends." Were you as close off-camera as on-camera?
Jane: I was friends with a few of the "Friends" before the show and during it was always lovely to be a part. GREAT people who were soooo loving and yes, what you saw on camera was real love and appreciation for all. Truly a high benchmark of how a great ensemble cast without ego can work with a phenomenal creative team where EVERYONE has a significant contribution from craft services to wardrobe, to makeup to script to director to actors and the most talented bright hearts in a producer ensemble, too -- EVERYONE - was treasured, so it was always close on set. Everyone was happy. I was blessed to be included in that circle for the run. So grateful! I've never seen anything like it before and since.
Alex: Why do you think the show "Friends" was so incredibly successful?
Jane: Just that. The love and appreciation for a chosen family and their unique talents was priceless. They loved one another and always, always honored the gift of working together with such joy. They worked hard gathering in one dressing room or another to go over a scene until it worked. Brilliant generosity between each one.
Alex: You're very much into love as a social theme beyond relationships. Explain how that vision developed for you.
Jane: I have been greatly loved and have also known true love from my very core. I was born from it and am sustained by it. I pray that we can all know it and if not the way I have experienced it, then as close to it as possible, because wuf, love IS grand. Love is everything. It is the most daring adventure we could possibly take -- to entrust our hearts to another, to be laid bare, vulnerable, and find the sweetness of the union -- it's worth every risk.
Alex: Thank you so much, Jane, for this interview. You've had a very exciting career in TV, films and your own documentaries you've produced. You now run a streaming service in which you do interviews about spiritualism at Streaming For the Soul .. We'll continue this discussion at a later time.
Jane: Thank you so much, Alex Cosper! I would love to continue this conversation with you. I'm touched that you'd be interested after all this time and it was a great way to connect with our Rio friends, too, I hope. Big hugs until next time.
Alex: Hugs indeed! It is an honor to interview you, Jane.
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