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An ebullient performer who earned fame with her role as a buoyant free-spirit on the popular sitcom "Dharma & Greg" (ABC, 1997-2002), actress Jenna Elfman broke through as a stand out cast member of the failed sitcom, "Townies" (ABC, 1996). A professional dancer who made the switch to acting in the early 1990s, Elfman made immediate strides on the small screen, landing guest starring roles on both dramas and sitcoms, including "Roseanne" (ABC, 1988-1997) and "NYPD Blue" (ABC, 1993-2005) before landing her first regular gig with "Townies." Though "Townies" was only on the air a short time, network executives were duly impressed with Elfman's talents and signed her to an exclusive deal to develop her own series. The result was "Dharma & Greg," which managed to stay on for five seasons while earning the actress three consecutive Emmy Award nominations. Once the show was canceled, however, Elfman's career hit a rough patch that included starring in the failed sitcom, "Courting Alex" (CBS, 2006), while a heated argument with a Scientology critic ignited a brief, but white-hot media firestorm. But Elfman continued to persevere, regaining her presence as a charming sitcom actress on series including...
An ebullient performer who earned fame with her role as a buoyant free-spirit on the popular sitcom "Dharma & Greg" (ABC, 1997-2002), actress Jenna Elfman broke through as a stand out cast member of the failed sitcom, "Townies" (ABC, 1996). A professional dancer who made the switch to acting in the early 1990s, Elfman made immediate strides on the small screen, landing guest starring roles on both dramas and sitcoms, including "Roseanne" (ABC, 1988-1997) and "NYPD Blue" (ABC, 1993-2005) before landing her first regular gig with "Townies." Though "Townies" was only on the air a short time, network executives were duly impressed with Elfman's talents and signed her to an exclusive deal to develop her own series. The result was "Dharma & Greg," which managed to stay on for five seasons while earning the actress three consecutive Emmy Award nominations. Once the show was canceled, however, Elfman's career hit a rough patch that included starring in the failed sitcom, "Courting Alex" (CBS, 2006), while a heated argument with a Scientology critic ignited a brief, but white-hot media firestorm. But Elfman continued to persevere, regaining her presence as a charming sitcom actress on series including "Accidentally On Purpose" (CBS 2009-10), White House satire "1600 Penn" (ABC 2012-13), family sitcom "Growing Up Fisher" (ABC 2014) and fantasy "Imaginary Mary" (ABC 2017) before joining the cast of established horror hit "Fear the Walking Dead" (AMC 2015- ).
Born Jennifer Mary Butala on Sept. 30, 1971 in Northridge, CA, Elfman was raised in a Roman Catholic home by her father, Richard, an executive for Hughes Aircraft, and her mother, Susan, a homemaker. Though her parents had nothing to do with show business, her uncle, Tony Butala, was a singer in the popular 1960s male singing group, The Letterman. At five years old, Elfman began training as a dancer and by the time she was eight, she appeared in the music video for Depeche Mode's "Halo." Elfman continued to study both ballet and jazz dance at the Los Angeles County High School for the Performing Arts, where she honed her skills until graduating in 1989. But by this point, she was suffering from repeated ankle injuries that failed to improve, which forced her to make some tough decisions. Though she had moved on to college, attending California State University, Northridge, Elfman dropped out to pursue acting, which came about after having been chosen as a dancer for the 1989 Academy Awards show. So in 1991, she began to study acting with Milton Katselas at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, which led to some quick early roles, including a commercial for Sprite where she met future husband, actor Bodhi Elfman, the nephew of composer Danny Elfman.
Having done extensive commercial work before landing her guest starring roles, Elfman eventually made appearances during the 1995-96 season on popular shows of the day, including "Roseanne" (ABC, 1988-1997), "NYPD Blue" (ABC, 1993-2005) and "Murder One" (ABC, 1995-97). In 1996, she had a role as a drug counselor in the made-for-television movie "Her Last Chance" (NBC), which focused on a teenager being wrongly accused of murdering her boyfriend. The charismatic Elfman auspiciously landed a regular role as the boy-crazy Shannon, one of three young working-class waitresses on the Molly Ringwald sitcom, "Townies" (ABC, 1996-97). Though short-lived, "Townies" proved a big break for Elfman, who impressed the network executives with her scene-stealing turn and signed her own sitcom deal before the last episodes of "Townies" even aired. The deal led to the popular sitcom "Dharma & Greg" (ABC, 1997-2002), a playfully romantic chronicle of an odd couple's happy marriage. Elfman played Dharma, the impossibly energetic and effervescent daughter of hippies who marries blueblood lawyer Greg (Thomas Gibson) in an act of spontaneity, much to the chagrin of his ultra conservative parents. The likable sitcom was highly rated and Elfman quickly emerged as the show's comedic crux, with Gibson setting her up as her straight man. Elfman flourished on the series, winning much praise and publicity as well as receiving three Emmy Award nominations for the role.
Happy with her small screen success, Elfman sought to expand her career to the arena of film. Her first role came with a cameo in the acclaimed John Cusack black comedy, "Grosse Pointe Blank" (1997), which she followed with a starring role as an obnoxious graduate student opposite Richard Dreyfuss in the comedy misfire, "Krippendorf's Tribe" (1998). After an uncredited cameo in the high school graduation party-set comedy "Can't Hardly Wait" (1998) as a straight-shooting stripper in the guise of an angel who advises a love-struck teen (Ethan Embry), she voiced the owl in the remake of "Dr Dolittle," starring Eddie Murphy. The following year, Elfman made her feature debut in a starring role opposite Matthew McConaughey in director Ron Howard's "EDtv" (1999), a mildly amusing satirical look at media frenzy wrapped around a traditional romantic comedy. "EDtv" followed a man (McConaughey) who agrees to have his life videotaped for a cable television station, only to discover that he got more than he bargained for. Elfman played Ed's self-conscious love interest, a UPS worker who is uncomfortable with the constant camera presence.
Elfman was next featured in the marriage and midlife crisis-themed comedy bomb "Town and Country" (2000), alongside Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton, followed by an appearance in the triangular romance "Keeping the Faith" (2000), Edward Norton's directorial debut which starred Norton and fellow actor-director Ben Stiller as a priest and a rabbi respectively who become rivals for Elfman's love. With "Dharma & Greg" closing up shop in 2002, Elfman turned to the stage, starring opposite Miguel Ferrer in the acclaimed production of "Visions and Lovers," staged by her acting teacher Milton Katselas. Elfman displayed a gift for dramatic acting on par with her comedic chops in the he said-she said, made-for-television movie, "Obsessed" (Lifetime, 2002), playing a seemingly clever and charming woman who insists that she had a torrid one-night stand with a prominent doctor (Sam Robards), only to have gradually unveiled facts shed new light on her story. She followed that with a high-profile turn as a Warner Brothers studio executive who makes the grievous error of firing Daffy Duck in the animated live-action hybrid, "Looney Tunes: Back In Action" (2003).
Elfman was next seen on a couple episodes of "Two and a Half Men" (CBS, 2003-15) as a seemingly crazy woman for whom Charlie falls, then provided the voice of Dorothy in "Clifford's Really Big Movie" (2004), an animated feature based on Norman Bridwell's series of children's books, Clifford the Big Red Dog. Elfman returned to regular series work with a new sitcom, "Courting Alex" (CBS, 2006), a midseason pickup in which she played a single, straight-laced Manhattan attorney trying to balance work and her relationships with the various men in her life. Also serving as producer, Elfman spent nearly two years developing the show and held considerable sway over all facets of production, including casting, set design and wardrobe in order to lay claim to what she felt was a unique and original show. Despite receiving mixed reviews, "Courting Alex" premiered to descent ratings and held a steady audience through the first part of 2006. But it was not enough to keep the show on the air - the network canceled "Courting Alex" after eight episodes, even though 13 had already gone through production.
Off-screen, Elfman made a bit of news that ran counter to her carefree onscreen persona when she allegedly confronted independent filmmaker, John Roecker, in the trendy Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Feliz in June 2006. Apparently, Roecker was on his way to his car when he was approached by a shirtless man and a tall blonde woman, who turned out to be the Elfmans. At the time, Roecker was wearing a provocative T-shirt that had on the front a picture of Tom Cruise with the words "Scientology is Gay!" underneath, while on the back was a picture of John Travolta with the words "Very gay!" Having felt personally attacked by the incendiary shirt, Elfman and her husband proceeded to give the director a piece of their mind. For his part, Roecker gave some back, asking the couple about their beliefs, particularly in regards to Xenu, the alleged dictator of the Galactic Confederacy who brought people to Earth 75 million years ago, only to kill them all with hydrogen bombs. The confrontation escalated to the point where, according to Roecker, Elfman repeatedly asked, "What crimes have you committed?" and then screamed "Have you raped a baby?" The incident quickly made the Internet rounds via TMZ and eventually ignited a mainstream media firestorm at a time when Scientology was under severe public scrutiny following Tom Cruise's continuous public missteps - couch-jumping; questioning psychiatry; insulting Matt Lauer. Meanwhile, Elfman's spokesperson claimed that Roecker instigated the argument while the actress and her husband were out for a Sunday stroll. True or not, the damage to her reputation was done as the incident formally married her to Scientology and the perception its members were "out there."
Back in her comfort zone on the small screen, Elfman logged guest starring roles on episodes of "Brothers and Sisters" (ABC, 2006-11) and "My Name Is Earl" (Fox, 2005-09), in which she played a cheerleading camp owner who has a badly scarred face and defunct eye due to a badger accident she suffered while cheering in high school. Elfman returned to primetime on "Accidentally on Purpose" (CBS, 2009-2010), playing a thirty-something professional woman who becomes pregnant after a one-night stand with a man a decade her junior and who decides to have the baby while reconfiguring her approach to both life and career. Derided by many critics, the show only lasted one season. Meanwhile, she was determined to make as big a name for herself in film as she did on television by co-starring in the romantic comedy, "Love Hurts" (2009), appearing opposite Richard E. Grant and Carrie-Anne Moss, and appearing in a supporting role in the Justin Timberlake/Mila Kunis romantic comedy "Friends With Benefits" (2011).
Following a dramatic guest arc on "Damages" (TBS 2007-2012), Elfman returned to network TV in the sitcom "1600 Penn" (NBC 2012-13), co-created by and starring Josh Gad; Elfman played Emily Nash Gilchrist, the politically impassioned wife of President Dale Gilchrist (Bill Pullman). Though the series was decently reviewed, ratings were poor and it was pulled after 13 episodes. Elfman returned to TV the following season in the family sitcom "Growing Up Fisher" (NBC 2014), playing Joyce Fisher, the estranged wife of blind lawyer Mel Fisher (J.K. Simmons), another series that lasted only a single season. After appearing in the romantic comedy-drama "Big Stone Gap" (2014) and political drama "Barry" (2016), Elfman returned to TV in "Imaginary Mary" (ABC 2017), a fantasy sitcom created by Adam F. Goldberg about an independent single woman whose childhood imaginary friend (voiced by Rachel Dratch) reappears when she falls in love with a divorced father of three kids, which was also canceled after a single season. In late 2017, it was announced that Elfman was joining the horror series "Fear the Walking Dead" (AMC 2015- ) for its fourth season.
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