Here’s Christine Elise’s rendition of her character’s big farewell scene with Noah Wyle on ER’s season finale:
”’Hey, is this your last day?’ ‘Yes, it is.’ ‘We’ll miss ya!”’
Elise laughs about it now, but the show was a study in frustration. ”I had minimal story lines on the show and very little to do. It wasn’t satisfying in any way.” Neither was it anything new: the 31-year-old Elise is a third-banana veteran, what with her supporting work in the final season of China Beach, and her 11 episodes of Beverly Hills, 90210 as one of Brandon’s token girlfriends.
But things appear to be heating up — literally. On location in sun-scorched L.A., Elise is dressed in a heavy flame-retardant fireman’s suit to play the lead, Erin Coffey, in the new Fox series L.A. Firefighters, an action drama featuring flare-ups in the field as well as in the firehouse. ”Christine told me I had to save her from becoming a professional supporting actress,” jokes LAF executive producer Gordon Greisman, who had befriended Elise when they worked on an ill-fated pilot. ”I wrote [the Firefighters] part for her, having no idea whether she’d do it.”
How could she refuse? Erin Coffey is the kind of gutsy character Elise inhabits so convincingly. ”I could play victims,” she says, ”but I just don’t get those jobs.” As ER’s Harper, she was the Air Force pilot-cum-med student who briskly dumped doctor-in-training Carter (Wyle). As 90210’s brash, motorcycle-jacket-wearing Emily Valentine, she hooked Brandon, before devolving into a crazed druggie — a ”disappointing” character reversal ”that came out of left field,” she says.
Elise’s consolation prize was boyfriend Jason Priestley (who plays Brandon). ”We hit it off as friends first,” she says. ”It took a while to develop beyond that.” She also forged a bond with 90210 executive producer Aaron Spelling. ”He’s been a godfather to me,” says the actress, who cowrote two episodes of 90210 (this season’s Halloween and last season’s Jeopardy! stories) for the producer.
The daughter of Boston-based artists, Elise moved to Hollywood in 1984 to become a director. ”I thought that would be the easiest gig in town. Obviously, acting is,” she says with a laugh, ”and that’s why I’m an actor.” Moments later, she’s hoisting a 30-pound oxygen tank and heading back, through 95-degree heat, toward a roiling blaze in a paint store. What was that about easy gigs? ”I had no idea it would be this physically intense. They keep telling us the smoke is fine, but the crew is wearing masks,” she complains, then can’t resist a quip. ”I just don’t want to have children in 10 years and find out they have fins.”