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Associated Press
August 31, 2001

Laura Innes of 'ER' has Emmy nomination for directing 'West Wing' Turkey episode

By BRIDGET BYRNE, For The Associated Press

(BURBANK, CA.) The joke is corny but true, and the actress laughs softly as she discusses her burgeoning directing career over lunch at the Warner Bros. studio commissary.

A pair of turkeys vying for the annual presidential Thanksgiving pardon provided one of the plot lines in last season's "Shibboleth" episode of "The West Wing." Innes received an Emmy nomination for directing the episode. The Emmys will be presented Sept. 16 at the Shrine Auditorium. Innes plays no-nonsense supervisor Dr. Kerry Weaver on "ER," which begins its eighth season Sept. 20. She began her directing career on the hit NBC medical series.

Her first assignment was the "Power" episode when Chicago's County General Hospital was plunged into darkness by a blackout. When she saw the schedule for the technically complex show, she asked for a meeting with the show's producers.
"I said, 'You are aware that I've never directed anything, right? You are aware of that?' They had this amazing easy attitude about it all. ... I don't know why they had the confidence they had in me, but they did. So that made me have the courage to do it because I thought, 'Well, they think I can do it, so maybe I can."'

There's no cockiness about Innes, but there is a surety of spirit. She's attracted to the understated, but her point of view is clear, straightforward, quietly confident.
Her pretty face - usually presented to viewers in its plainest form, hunched and closed off as the ultra-private Weaver - has a natural charm, free of guile or vanity.
"I tend to be somebody who is more drawn to restraint, to what is unexpressed than to sort of laying my cards on the table," the 42-year-old actress says.

When confronted by the complexity of the "Power" episode, Innes said she had "no time to second-guess myself and to worry too much about what people thought of what I was doing because it was a such a very large undertaking."

More directing assignments for "ER" - and NBC's "The West Wing" - followed.
The Michigan-born actress had worked extensively in Chicago and New York theater before moving to Hollywood.

Television presented new challenges.
"I just got more curious about why the directors were doing the things they were doing," says Innes, who had a recurring role as Weaver in the second season of "ER" and became a regular the following year.

Noticing how stars like Anthony Edwards benefited from being so "camera savvy," she decided to pay attention to the broader picture "to sort of aid me in my acting."
Encouraged by Edwards and others, she began trailing directors, particularly Jonathan Kaplan, who's also an Emmy nominee for directing "ER's" "Visit" episode.

"Laura's really smart and she's able to articulate what she wants - she's courageous and really strong and she has a point of view," Kaplan says. "She's a terrific actress. The audience loves to hate her, but they also see the subtleties and nuances she brings which allow for some affection for the character."

Innes recognizes that her "ER" character was conceived as "a sort of counterpoint to the other voices on the show, so rather than being someone who was particularly charming or obviously heroic, she was somebody who was sort of matter-of-fact or straightforward."

She enjoys portraying this "very unembellished and direct and not pretty" woman, but was initially surprised by public reaction to her character.

When the first episodes began airing, she overheard a woman at the linen counter in a department store. "She was saying, 'I just want to slap her, I just want to slap her,' and I realized she was talking about me!"

Innes is more concerned about the reaction - which she says is often relief - when fans learn that unlike her "ER" character, she doesn't need a crutch.

"God forbid it would be such a bad thing if I was disabled - that my stock would go down, there would disappointment or anxiety or sadness," she says.

Innes also has strong feelings about Weaver not being characterized as asexual - a stereotype she says Hollywood too often inflicts on the disabled. Last season Weaver was outed as a lesbian and now returns this season to face her colleagues' reaction.

"It seemed such a good way to pull the rug out from under this very private, tightly coiled person," says Innes, who doesn't want Weaver's enigma to be totally shattered. "I think there is a lot of value in privacy and a lot of drama in the tension between what's unknown and what's known."

Innes will tackle the challenge of directing herself on this season's seventh episode. She's directed her husband, David Brisbin, who has a recurring role on "ER" as an anesthesiologist. Brisbin also played a homophobic politician on one of the "West Wing" episodes she directed.

"He's an incredibly supportive guy," Innes says. "He said, 'I was just thrilled. It was like you were just born to do this."

Copyright: Associated Press, 2001.

Laura Innes and Elizabeth Mitchell in the Media

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