Kristen Baldwin
March 08, 1996 AT 05:00 AM EST

She may play a manipulative viper on TV, but in real life, Jamie Luner is a hardcore softy. ”My daddy carries every clipping [about me] in his briefcase. I said, ‘Daddy, you must be tired of hearing Savannah, Savannah,’ and he said, ‘Are you kidding — it still brings tears to my eyes,”’ says the actress, getting all choked up herself. ”Oh, now I’m going to cry.”

You won’t find Luner shedding many tears on TV — real ones, anyway. As conniving maid’s daughter and cocktail waitress Peyton Richards, she sleeps with her best friend’s husband, smashes said husband over the head with a bottle, and steals a priceless Faberge egg from her best friend’s father (her father, too, as she has just discovered), all in the first few episodes. ”I consider Peyton a survivor,” says Luner, 24. ”She’ll do what she has to do to take care of herself, because no one else has. It might be at the expense of others, but so be it.”

Hard to believe there was a time when the L.A. native was considered too nice to play mean. But after her first starring television role as the bubbleheaded Cindy Lubbock on Just the Ten of Us, a 1988 Growing Pains spin-off, the actress seemed doomed to goody-two-shoes roles. ”I had to fight my way in,” Luner says of her first bad-girl audition. ”They said, ‘Jamie can’t play bad, she’s a nice girl. She’s the dumb one.”’

Add the producers of Savannah to the list of doubters; they asked her to come in and read for sweet-as-pie Lane MacKenzie, considering her for the role of Peyton only after her scheduled audition. ”When I tested for Lane, I was the straight girl; I had a nice little suit and jacket on,” says Luner. ”Then I went into the bathroom and let the hair down, put on a slinky dress, sauntered past all those girls in the waiting room, and said, ‘Okay. I’m ready.”’

That kind of brazen confidence makes Luner the perfect woman to play the latest in a long line of Aaron Spelling bitch goddesses, although the actress says preparation did not include studying her boss’ other nighttime soaps. ”I’ve seen an episode or two of Melrose. It’s…well, it’s Melrose Place. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” she concludes diplomatically.

Now that she’s a bona fide, prime-time vamp, any fears of getting typecast again? ”[The image] is not going to control me,” she insists. ”I’d like to control it. I’d like to take the bull by the balls — if you’ll excuse the expression.”

Spoken like a true Spelling diva.

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