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Ventura County Star
More Weaver vs. Romano

Expect more sparring as 'ER' begins its eighth season

By Dave Mason, TV Star editor
September 16, 2001

Laura Innes likes playing what she calls "a tough broad" -- Dr. Kerry Weaver.  She's the "ER" boss who's not afraid to make an unpopular decision for her staff.
And she likes it when Weaver, so secure in her hospital work, ventures into a world of uncertainty -- her own sexual orientation. Last season ended with Weaver telling homophobic Chief of Staff Robert Romano (Paul McCane) that, guess what, she's gay.

That's more fuel for the nonstop war between Weaver, who's in charge of the ER at County General in Chicago, and Romano, the jerk we love to hate.

"What happens is that it (the Weaver vs. Romano story) gets more complicated in an unexpected way," Innes said about the new season's first few episodes. "I love when I have scenes with Paul. You always love sparring with someone who's so wonderful."

"ER" begins its eighth season at 10 p.m. Sept. 27 on NBC, Channel 4.

As usual, the "ER" storyline moved ahead in real time during the summer hiatus. This week, a nervous Weaver has just returned from a sabbatical of sorts, and she's waiting to see how her colleagues will react to her. How many people know of her sexual orientation, and how will they view her now?

Innes was careful not to give away the plot, and "ER" is continuing its tradition of not sending preview tapes. I'm glad; part of the series' success is its surprises.

Weaver began as a recurring character in the second season of "ER" (1995-96). She became a regular character in the third season.

"I was brought on to create conflict," Innes said. "Right from the beginning, that seemed to be her (Weaver's) function. She was really compelling for me. Her lack of social graces was refreshing. Right from the beginning, the character felt contradictory and complex.

"I want her to always remain the tough broad she is," Innes said. "She loves going in there and knowing what to do."

But Innes said she likes Weaver's exploration of the uncertain world of her sexuality. "I love that she has this experience of real connected love."

The storyline led to her brief relationship with hospital psychiatrist Kimberly Legaspi (Elizabeth Mitchell of ABC's "The Beast"). Innes talked about how she allowed Weaver to discover her sexual orientation.

"I tried to imagine it in very simple, moment-to-moment terms rather than have her suddenly see she's gay -- in very small and surprising ways as she was talking to another woman. She notices how beautiful her hands are.

"What if you were around someone and felt the impulses? Kerry surprised herself with Legaspi. She was so thrown for a loop; she was charged with uncertainty.

"I think human beings are more complex than they are usually depicted dramatically," Innes said.

Weaver's new openness about her homosexuality marked a major turning point for the character. But it doesn't mean she's completely changed, Innes stressed.

"You have to earn your moments. She doesn't come back being totally transformed and a free spirit. That would be contradictory to the character; that would feel false. She is stepping bit by bit. She's starting to feel connected with other people."

A show like "ER" must avoid repetition with the characters, Innes said. "You have to always be trying to do things that pull them (viewers) back in."

Innes again will direct episodes of "ER" and "The West Wing" this season. Innes, whose background includes the theater and movies, said she became a director to better understand the mechanics of what she could or couldn't do as a TV actress.

During this year's "ER" hiatus, Innes and Ruby Dee starred as women trying to stop the building of a petrochemical plant in "Take Our Town Back," a Lifetime cable movie tentatively set to air around Christmas. Innes and Dee play the real-life Pat Melancon and Emelda West, respectively, in the rural Louisiana story.

"It's an Erin Brockovich-type of story," Innes said.

On "ER," Innes has done a great job in showing how Weaver, who must walk with a metal crutch, doesn't allow her disability to limit her. (In real life, Innes isn't disabled.)

"The producers wanted to bring a person with a disability who was authentic to real life," Innes said. "From my perspective, I never wanted her to be seen as a victim, that she not be limited. I also wanted her to bring a certain awareness to her work. Certainly at times she's been the advocate of persons who are disabled."

Innes said she likes when Weaver is the voice of the patients who can't speak for themselves. She finds the most interesting stories to be those when she must tell a doctor or a nurse to allow a patient to die. Those include times when a patient has asked not to be resuscitated.

"We've had to do those with children, elderly people, terminally ill people," Innes said.

While those episodes don't cast Weaver in a heroic or popular light, they ring true to reality, Innes said. "It's not the easy choice, but it's the right choice."

-- TV Star Editor Dave Mason can be reached at mason@insidevc.com.

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