By Luaine Lee
McClatchy-Tribune News Service.
Actress Kellie Martin was celebrating the best role she’d ever had. Even though she’d starred on shows like “Christy” and “Life Goes On,” she was costarring on “ER,” a cosmic hit on television. But Martin’s character was soon to be obliterated.
“I took a break from college to do ‘ER,’ for a year and a half and then my character was going to die a terrible death,” she says over an English muffin in a cafe here, “which was actually such an honor to be killed off. After I left ‘ER’ I decided to go back to college. I had to re-apply, and got in again.”
She’d left Yale between her junior and senior year. By the time she returned she was 25 and married, a coed who’d spent most of her life on sound stages.
“Of all the things I’ve done in my life, graduating from college is probably up there with giving birth to my child as one of the things I’m most proud of,” she says. “It was so hard for me to do, it was really, really hard.”
It was so trying because during that time she lost her beloved younger sister to lupus.
And though she was a seasoned professional, she knew little about life. “(Child actors) are very mature and wise in a lot of ways because they have to be little professionals,” she says. “Yet I feel like, at least in my case, there was a certain arrested development.
“I didn’t know how to talk to a kid my own age. There’s a lot of things I wasn’t capable of handling. I’m still terrible with money. Thank God I’m married to my husband … I didn’t know how to do my laundry when I got to college. There were certain things I didn’t know how to do because I was a professional little actor. So I had to learn how to do all that.”
She was also learning about her major, art history. And it was a lecture there that prompted her latest endeavor: co-authoring a book of historical fiction, “Madam: a Novel of New Orleans” (Plume: 319 pages, $15).
“My professor put up a photograph on the screen, and it was this woman dressed in striped stockings drinking a glass of Raleigh Rye which is the cover of the book … She was a prostitute in 1908-ish in New Orleans.
There was something so amazing about this photograph that I just wanted to find out more about why this woman looked so self-possessed and comfortable in her own skin, yet she worked in a brothel. … She’s who sparked my interests.”
A year later Martin graduated. “I thought, ‘OK, I’ve got this great degree in art history from Yale, what am I going to do with it?’ Of course, I got a job as an actor.”
Martin’s most recent role was in the Hallmark Cannel’s quasi-series, “Mystery Woman.” While she hopes they do more, she’s not worried if they don’t. “Because I started so young it’s very hard for me to think of turning down a job. I do sometimes, but it’s hard for me. When someone offers me a great job with people I’d like to work with I’m going to say yes because it’s ingrained in who I am,” she says.
The erratic nature of her work doesn’t bother her. “I’ve never done this for the money or necessarily been a planner … My life has been a roller-coaster that I’ve been a bit of a passenger on. Going away to school, having a child, maybe writing this book, those are things I’ve chosen to do but with acting, I’ve just had an actors’ mentality in that you hope you get the job. It’s such a funny thing. The thrill is actually getting the job, it’s thrilling every single time.”
Martin, 38, has been married to Keith Christian for 15 years. They have a daughter, 7. For a while he worked as an attorney but has returned to his original passion, cattle ranching in his home state of Montana.
She credits her family for keeping her on the straight and narrow. “My dad’s from Brooklyn, came to L.A., worked at JC Penney’s for 35 years. My mom was a teacher and our lives didn’t change really ever based on what I did … It was before paparazzi started following people around, and it was before the Internet so I think I was able to avoid a lot of the pitfalls,” she says.
“But I also feel that a lot of kids who are child actors and end up quote unquote going wild or whatever don’t have the family support generally … Even if they weren’t actors and had access to money they might’ve still explored that wild side of their personality.”
But that’s not part of her. “I don’t have a wild side, I freely admit. I am boring, and I was a very prudish teenager. I would never take the name of the Lord in vain, I was a very good girl. And I was a real pleaser. I’m not as good as I used to be. I allow myself to make mistakes more and I’m OK with that … I think that’s attributable to my husband … Stable doesn’t even cover it. He’s a rock,” she smiles.
“The thing that’s so nice is he really embraces all of my crazy ideas. I think I do with his, too. When he wanted to make a job transition that was a spooky thing for us, but I think we both have respect for each other and for each other’s dreams. We don’t live a lavish life. It’s not like we’re driven by money. We have one kid who’s super awesome. So we’re a funny bunch of gypsies who go where the wind blows us, but we’re smart about it.”