Farewell to Dharma hoodoo

Af­ter 10 years, Jenna Elf­man feels her ca­reer is mov­ing on, writes

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - TELEVISION - Dar­ren Cartwright

JENNA Elf­man says it’s taken a decade but she has fi­nally bro­ken past Dharma in the new se­ries 1600 Penn.

Elf­man says it has taken 10 years to con­vince Hol­ly­wood power­bro­kers to see past her por­trayal of Dharma Finkelstein Mont­gomery in the smash hit com­edy Dharma and Greg.

She cred­its her ‘‘break­out’’ roles as be­ing cast in the fi­nale of the US se­ries Shame­less and in a re­cur­ring role on Dam­ages in 2012.

In 1600 Penn, which de­buts on pay TV’s The Com­edy Chan­nel this week­end, Elf­man is cast as first lady Emily Nash Gilchrest to Bill Pull­man’s US Pres­i­dent Dale Gilchrest.

Emily is also the step­mother to Dale’s four chil­dren.

Elf­man, 41, said Dharma and Greg gave her a huge break but there was a down­side when the se­ries ended in 2002.

‘‘It’s been a nav­i­ga­tional chal­lenge for my ca­reer, to find my way through and to be per­ceived greater than the char­ac­ter (Dharma),’’ Elf­man says.

‘‘I had a great role on Shame­less and did the fifth sea­son of Dam­ages and that kind of springed (sic) things loose and peo­ple saw me in a dif­fer­ent way.

‘‘Hav­ing to rein­vent your­self is all part of the jour­ney. Af­ter hav­ing all that success, you then re­alise you have to change course.’’

1600 Penn is set in and around the con­fines of the White House and the an­tics of the dys­func­tional first fam­ily, led by Pull­man and Elf­man.

The pair may be the big­gest names, but they are not the fo­cus of the show.

El­dest son Skip, played by co-cre­ator Josh Gad, has most of the gag lines, while Amara Miller, Ben­jamin Stock­ham and Martha MacIsaac play his sib­lings.

Elf­man wanted to bring her own style to the role of First Lady with­out ridi­cul­ing the po­si­tion en­tirely.

That’s why you may spot some Michelle Obama man­ner­isms shin­ing through Elf­man’s char­ac­ter.

‘‘It’s a hard area to re­search when you don’t have a lot of first ladies on your speed dial,’’ Elf­man says, laugh­ing.

‘‘I was try­ing to get a sense of the ac­tu­al­i­ties of their ex­pe­ri­ences and try­ing to learn from what I ob­served of Michelle Obama and what I would love to con­tinue to see about first ladies.’’

1600 Penn: Sun­days, 8.30pm, The Com­edy Chan­nel.

The cast of 1600 Penn in­cludes Jenna Elf­man, front right.

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