When Laura Innes told her ER cast mates she was competing on Celebrity Jeopardy! against Frasier’s John Mahoney and opera diva Beverly Sills, she didn’t get much support. ”Noah [Wyle] said, ‘Oooh, I hear John’s really good.’ And Tony [Edwards] said, ‘Oh, man, Beverly Sills — you just know she spends hours doing crossword puzzles,’ ” Innes says. ”They were just trying to terrorize me.”
It didn’t work. She won $24,400, becoming the first female Celebrity Jeopardy! champ. It’s just another incarnation for Innes, currently ER’s testy Dr. Kerry Weaver, but formerly a serious stage actress (she appeared with John Malkovich in A Streetcar Named Desire in Chicago) turned funny lady. ”After my son was born, we decided I’d better make some money,” she says of moving west with her husband, actor David Brisbin. Innes found success in 1993 with a stint as naive nympho Bunny on Wings, but for a while, she says, that ”pigeonholed me as a comedian.”
Fortunately, ER producers knew she could play it straight. In 1994 she auditioned as a love interest for George Clooney’s Dr. Ross, but when the role (of Diane Leeds) went to Lisa Zane, Innes was free to audition again — for what is arguably ER’s most complex character.
When she arrived in 1995, Weaver was a socially inept authority figure with an undisclosed disability. Today the brusque doc is evolving into a compassionate, wry personality. Innes, for one, says she always found her character likable. ”I never had a negative reaction to her,” the actress says. ”I thought she was a straight shooter.”
The actress now hopes she can keep Weaver from going too soft. ”You do have to expand the character,” she says. ”But I don’t want to lose her center. I’m hoping for an episode where I’m PMS-ing so I’m a total bitch.”