”I never expected to play a wife and mother,” says Patricia Richardson. ”With the exception of Roseanne, they’re pretty boring parts.” Richardson can now exempt herself, too. As Jill Taylor, Tim Allen’s beleaguered mate on ABC’s top 10 hit Home Improvement, the 40-year-old actress keeps the household’s battle of the sexes a close match with an arsenal of power tools that includes dry wit, common sense, and smart, tart responses to anything her mechanically obsessed husband and three sons can plug in, blow up, or dish out. Richardson has an equally clamorous offscreen clan: her husband, actor Ray Baker (Down Home); son Henry, 6; and 13-month-old twins Roxanne and Joseph. ”I am never alone,” she says, laughing. ”I bring them to the studio every day. The first week of taping, I was running back to the dressing room whenever I could to nurse.” Richardson, whose last series was FM, didn’t expect Home Improvement to amount to much (”In my experience, things last 13 weeks and that’s it”) until her husband came backstage after the first night of shooting. ”He looked at me and said, ‘Don’t you know? This is going to run seven years!’ So unless Tim goes and cracks himself up in a race car, I guess I’ll have a job for a while. It’s exciting and exhausting. About a month ago, I went to a doctor, and he said I have positive stress.”
Weeks after Saturday Night Live’s producers watched Ellen Cleghorne’s audition at a New York comedy club, they called her with not-great news: They still couldn’t make up their minds. ”I said, ‘Listen, the next time you call me, if you don’t tell me I got the job, I’m going to jump out the window,”’ recalls the Brooklyn native. ”’And I only live on the second floor, so I’m going to have to do it a couple of times.”’ Good gambit. Cleghorne was hired for SNL’s featured cast last fall and has already created two recurring hit characters — an in-your-face NBC page, and the Afrocentrist critic Queen Shaniqua, whose six-word review of Pretty Woman (”Cinderella story?! She was a whore!”) won one of this season’s biggest laughs. Although SNL’s ensemble is currently a crowded 16 (”It’s like living in the projects with only one bathroom”), Cleghorne is getting noticed, thanks in part to an assertiveness she cultivated while teaching acting to inmates at New York’s Riker’s Island jail. ”I knew a lot of people in there,” she says, bemused. ”It never occurred to me until later that I could have been one of them if I didn’t have strict parents.” With Riker’s on her resume, it’s no surprise that Cleghorne doesn’t scare easily. ”My only fear in life,” she says, ”is not being funny.” Shouldn’t be a big problem.
Kyle Chandler & Tammy Lauren
Who is that sexy, funny, awkward, quarrelsome-but-made-for-each-other duo steaming up TV screens this season on ABC’s 1940s drama Homefront? Meet Jeff and Ginger: He’s ”young — very young — naive, and confused.” She’s ”the virgin from hell — she’s had sex once but she’ll never admit it.” And thanks to the witty interplay and off-the-charts chemistry between actors Kyle Chandler and Tammy Lauren, their fractious relationship has grown from a planned three-week plot line to a full-throttle, full-season romance with no end in sight. Both performers found an affinity for the World War II era during their Georgia childhoods — Chandler watched old movies ”on Ted Turner’s channel, before anyone ever heard of him,” and Lauren listened to war stories from her father. But neither predicted the heat they’d throw off as a team. ”I was too nervous to notice how well we did together,” says Chandler, 26. ”Our first scene was a love scene, which I’d never done.” ”Now,” says Lauren, ”the crew laughs at us — we’re like an old married couple. We’ll sit on the set and argue over a line for a half hour.” Chandler: ”Whenever I’m stuck, she throws me something that gets me started.” Lauren: ”Yeah, I remind him of the times we were both out of work. Now we go out after shooting ends and people think we’re really a couple.” She hoots with laughter. ”That is so cool!” (P.S. They’re not.)