SANTA CLARITA — Jaime Pressly and her mother were riding down Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard 22 years ago with the agent who was guiding the 15-year-old's modeling career. Their drive took them past a large office building covered with the photo of an actor promoting a new project.
The sight was overwhelming to Pressly.
"That's when he said to me, 'You can be up there one day, kiddo,' " Pressly says during a break from filming of her TV Land series "Jennifer Falls."
He was right.
That same building on Sunset Boulevard currently features a giant image of Pressly to promote her new show. The Emmy-winning actress plays Jennifer Doyle, a former high-powered executive who has fallen and is having trouble getting up due to some anger issues. She and her teenage daughter (Dylan Gelula) move back in with her mother (Jessica Walter) and she takes a job in the bar owned by her meek brother (Ethan Suplee).
Pressly is reunited with Suplee, who she says became like a brother to her when they worked on "My Name Is Earl." She can't imagine anyone better than Suplee playing the leading man's role in "Jennifer Falls."
"In this show, there are five very strong character-driven women and one man," Pressly says. "And so, in order for him to not get eaten alive, you have to have somebody that is good with women and knows when to stop talking but is manly enough to own a sports bar and stand on his own two feet and not be a pushover."
"Jennifer Falls" is a big change for TV Land, which normally films its comedies in front of a studio audience using multiple cameras. Pressly's series is a one-camera production that is put together more like a feature film. She has worked on comedies that were put together both ways — "My Name Is Earl" was a one-camera show, "I Hate My Teenage Daughter" was multi-camera.
"Almost all the shows we watched while growing up were shot multi-camera, but not a lot of shows are done that way now, Pressly says. "Multi-camera is very hard because it's all about timing. Comedy is all about timing but with multi-camera you have to know how to hold for laughs from the audience. A lot of people get nervous in front of an audience, but I love it because it's an adrenaline thing."
Getting to the point where she can get that comedy rush meant going against the typecast for Pressly when she first moved to Hollywood from North Carolina. Pressly was being guided toward dramatic roles that banked heavily on her looks — "Poison Ivy: The New Seduction" — but she caught the comedy bug early.
Pressly understood that some directors and casting agents saw her only as "the pretty girl" but she was determined to also be known as "the funny girl." Making people laugh is what makes her happiest. It's also a comfortable fit.
"When I started doing comedies, I realized that I was having a much better time at work. I come from a funny family where we laugh constantly and everyone's a jokester, so this feels like a natural fit."
Pressly often will use the drama in her own life as inspiration for comedy, but her out-of-work character in "Jennifer Falls" differs from the steady run of roles she has enjoyed since that initial trip to the West Coast.
Her continued success has come from a determination to never give up on her acting career. The work has paid off from the Emmy she picked up for "Earl" to starring in her new TV series. She is very content with where all of that hard work has taken her.
"I can honestly say that I feel better now that I'm older. When you are in your 20s, by any means, you don't know who you are," Pressly says. "Until you become comfortable in your own skin and know who you are — meaning you can go into any group of people and be the same person — you are not going to be as good an actor."
A building-size photo on Sunset Boulevard doesn't hurt, either.
"Jennifer Falls": 10:30 p.m. Wednesdays on TV Land