Data Annex

A 'Pretender'

Actress savors playing mean in NBC drama

By Lon Grahnke, copyright The Chicago Sun-Times
January 24, 1997
Reprinted without permission

Andrea Parker pretends to be wicked in "The Pretender." Co-starring as the dangerous and mysterious Miss Parker, the real Parker previously appeared as strong recurring characters in "ER" (playing the pharmaceuticals sales rep who had an affair with Dr. Doug Ross) and "JAG" (as Lt. Kate Pike, an assertive Navy lawyer).

With her enigmatic "Pretender" role, Parker has emerged as a complicated villain who hides her vulnerability behind an aggressive manner and exotic style. Miss Parker, who never uses her first name, strides through NBC's Saturday suspense thriller like a darker, meaner, 1997 variation of Diana Rigg's Emma Peel in "The Avengers."

The chain-smoking femme fatale -- let's call her Miss P to avoid confusion -- is "so much of what I'm not," said Parker, a former ballet dancer who left her California home at 15 to be a performer. "She's demanding, gutsy and sarcastic. She loves power and control.

"I'm a chicken," claimed the actress and skeet shooter, who also trains as a precision stunt driver. Parker said she felt a sense of "synchronicity" and "destiny" when she read the pilot teleplay for "The Pretender" and saw her name throughout the script.

"I don't want to play myself," the former model and bartender said last week during a phone interview. "It's so much fun to be a witch! It's cathartic. I would never treat people the way she does."

"The Pretender" premiered in September, and the solid series has raised NBC's Saturday ratings from 8 to 9 p.m. this season. (This week's episode will air at 7 p.m. Saturday on Channel 5.)

"It's working so far," Parker said. "This is the longest commitment I've had with a character. It's a turn-on to play someone so strange and twisted. I do most of my own stunts and action sequences. I run down stairs in 6-inch heels."

Miss P's ongoing mission is to capture Jarod, a genius trained to master any situation. The Centre -- a Delaware-based think tank with corporate and military clients -- isolated Jarod as a boy, developed his pretender skills, exploited his talent and lied to him for sinister purposes.

Now an adult with a grudge, Jarod (played by Michael T. Weiss) has defied his keepers and escaped from the Centre, determined to redeem himself. A charming avenger, he brings justice to victims harmed by powerful organizations and individuals. For the first time in his life, he's free to roam alone.

As a pretender, Jarod can step into any job or profession and thrive. He has posed as a surgeon, jet pilot and firefighter, changing identities in each new episode.

Miss P, an elite Centre operative, has personal motives for pursuing Jarod. "He's the only one who knows her first name," Parker said. "They grew up together in the Centre. They shared their first kiss when they were 9 or 10. We learn about their early relationship through flashbacks. Now he's a fugitive, and that throws her sense of control out of balance."

The "Pretender" team doesn't know if NBC will renew the series for a second season. The show deserves to return.

"I'm not concerned," Parker said. "I'm at the beginning of my career. I'm happier than ever with my life. I get to kick ass all day long."

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