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Jennifer Landon Interview: On Life with Famous Father and TNT's "Animal Kingdom"

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Image attributed to Jennifer Landon

Jennifer Landon

Jennifer Landon is known for her role as Gwen Norbeck Munson on As the World Turns. Other TV appearances include House, The Young and the Restless and Banshee. The three-time Emmy winner has joined the second season of TNT’s drama Animal Kingdom, and plays Amy, a church girl with a troubled past who finds herself at the center of the story with Pope Cody (Shawn Hatosy). Animal Kingdom also stars Ellen Barkin, Scott Speedman, Finn Cole, Ben Robson and Jake Weary.

Landon is the daughter of iconic television actor Michael Landon and his third wife, Cindy Clerico.

“When somebody passes away, they get a golden kind of image. When anybody passes away. Dad had a really golden image. Period. But when somebody has got this other thing around them, it’s a tricky thing to answer. Sometimes when I was growing up, I just wanted to hear something shitty about him because I, as a person, deal with my own shit, my own personality quirks and my own inclinations. But I sometimes feel just wildly genetic.”

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Jen, I’m enjoying your performance on Animal Kingdom. Did you watch the show before you became the character of Amy?

Jennifer Landon: I got the audition and then I watched it, not because I lacked interest in the show but because I don’t have cable and I watch only about three things. I‘m not a huge viewer of TV. I’m working on it. I should be a huge viewer of television, but I tend to find that between life and cleaning up after my two really disgusting bulldogs, which is a 24-hour maintenance thing with their slobber, I don’t have time.

But I was really into the show from the first scene even. With the character breakdown they gave me, I really felt a kinship with Amy, which was interesting. For example, I read something else today and I really felt no kinship for the project (laughs). But yeah, I felt very close to Amy.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I read an article about Animal Kingdom on a Christian news website. That was surprising to me because it’s not exactly what you’d call a “saintly” show.

Jennifer Landon: I googled the show and it does come up a lot on Christian websites.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Well, your character is involved in the church and Bible study.

Jennifer Landon: I really don’t know. This is a wild guess. I’m wondering if it has to do with the character named Pope. Well, that’s Catholicism, isn’t it? That shows how much I know. I didn’t know anything about the Bible going into this. If anything, I’m a quarter Jewish. So it’s like, “Oh, boy! I’d better learn fast.” (laughs) But I’m with you. This show is really basically about everything, as a good Christian, you should not do.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Exactly, and am I catching sort of an incestuous theme running throughout the episodes?

Jennifer Landon: Yes. It’s a completely oedipal situation. It’s how the mother has power over three boys who could choke her with very little effort. They’re very big and strong.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Had you ever worked with Ellen Barkin (who plays Smurf) before?

Jennifer Landon: No. I didn’t know her and had never worked with her and didn’t really work with her on this. I saw her at table reads and she’s really lovely. I was intimidated in my own way. The way I handle feeling intimidated is just really doing the opposite of whatever I think intimidated looks like (laughs). So I probably had my best “Don’t give a shit” look on my face (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What can you tell me about Amy and Pope’s future relationship?

Jennifer Landon: I don’t know what I can and can’t say in that regard. I feel like I might get in trouble. With keeping it really vague, I can say that they have some woes, but they will traverse together.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Jen, you were about seven when your dad passed away?

Jennifer Landon: Yeah. I was seven. Exactly right.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What are some of your fondest memories of him?

Jennifer Landon: He was incredibly fun and very funny. He was all of those things that you’ve heard. I had a lot of respect for him. He didn’t really ever have to get upset because you weren’t really going to do anything to piss him off, which was nice. It makes for a very calm household, I think, when parents have very clear roles with their kids about what is expected and what’s not and then everything just goes smoothly. I’m a big fan of that style of parenting because I see so many kids these days acting terrible in places. I’m like, “This isn’t even a place where you should have to reprimand your children.” That behavior should just be non-negotiable and should just not exist.

My fondest memory of my dad would be when we were on a ski trip. My best friend and I were both very little. Dad woke us up and said, “Come on! Let’s go!” He put our ski stuff on, we went downstairs, he opened up the backyard door and the snow went up to my waist. At three or four years old, I didn’t know how high that was, but I walked outside and all the fresh snow was pink … completely pink. He had taken Nestle’s Quik strawberry powder, which was my favorite food on earth and forbidden by my mother, and covered the entire backyard in it. He walked both of us out there waist deep in pink snow with spoons and we were eating it. That was one of the peak moments of my entire life. It was magic.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I can imagine the excitement of a toddler in that pink wonderland.

Jennifer Landon: I get excited now! I’m into it now. Are you kidding? If somebody did that for me, I’d be like, “Wow! That person really loves me.” I don’t think anyone’s ever done anything remotely close to the effort that took. It was just incredible (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I might just prefer chocolate though (laughs).

Jennifer Landon: You know what? If I’m going to go Quik, God, I’d still go for that strawberry shit. Red Dye #40 or whatever the hell else is in it (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is it difficult for you to watch your dad on television?

Jennifer Landon: No. It’s not hard. Because I don’t get the TV on very much without the cable, I haven’t watched it a lot recently at all. By recently, I mean the last 15 years. But if Little House on the Prairie’s on and I’m somewhere and I catch it, I’ll watch it for a bit. It makes me feel very good. If you lose a parent that’s not in the public eye, you don’t really have a lot of material on that parent. I guess it depends. You’ve got photos and home movies maybe, depending on what generation you come from, you know? So you don’t really have all that footage. It’s just something about having a parent in the public eye.

When I was little, it took me a while to realize he was really famous. I had no idea. In a weird way, there’s something mysterious about the person. I know all parents are mysterious to their children, but I feel like people who are in the public eye have this kind of elusive quality. So in a weird way, it’s weird to me that I get to feel close to him the same way that somebody who has never met him would that’s turning on the TV. That’s how I do it as well. I do it the same way that anybody who really adored him does it.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That’s interesting.

Jennifer Landon: Yeah. When somebody passes away, they get a golden kind of image. When anybody passes away. Dad had a really golden image. Period. But when somebody has got this other thing around them, it’s a tricky thing to answer. Sometimes when I was growing up, I just wanted to hear something shitty about him because I, as a person, deal with my own shit, my own personality quirks and my own inclinations. But I sometimes feel just wildly genetic. I know he was great, but what about this? You know. I think that might be true for all children who lost parents. It’s hard to get an answer on that.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you have a memory of being on Highway to Heaven at age five?

Jennifer Landon: I remember it. Yeah. I guess I was five. I actually don’t know, but if it says five on the IMDB, then that’s exactly how old I was. I have a very good memory. I think that I was very nervous because I’m pretty sure that I had diarrhea (laughs). I’m pretty sure I had diarrhea and that I was late to set. I think I was nervous. I was a pretty smart kid and intuitive. There were all these other kids there and acting clearly was their bread and butter.

They were child actors and I wasn’t. So I’m wondering if I picked up on energy from any of the other kids or whoever was there with them, like “Here she is. She can go to the front just by sheer nepotism.” My dad wanted to put his kid in something and he was allowed to do that. I always say if your dad owns a deli, your first job is probably working at the deli. But it changes the scope a little bit when a bunch of other people want that job, and I might’ve picked up on that a little bit. I watched it not long ago, and I was like, “I look traumatized! That poor kid!” (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So you didn’t want to pursue acting as a career at that time?

Jennifer Landon: I would say not in that moment. I could be wrong, and I could be rewriting history because isn’t that what all the studies say that our memory is completely untrustworthy? But I don’t think it was in that moment. I do remember the moment it did happen and it was at a friend’s birthday party. They brought all these Little Mermaid costumes out and we could pick which character we wanted. I wanted nothing to do with Ariel. I thought she was the most boring character in the whole entire thing. Some little boy had taken the crab costume and I was Ursula, the mean lady. I remember people laughing, really laughing. I just felt this thing turn on.

That time and maybe the time before that as a ballet dancer. We were doing a big performance at this huge university theater. I was probably four or five and I remember looking out at hundreds of people and everybody was really bored. I decided I would make it so that my skirt was not tied on tight enough and that it would start to fall during the performance (laughs). I knew even at that age to fix the problem and the show goes on, but I didn’t. I just milked the shit out of it and everybody laughed. I thought, “I really like entertaining people.”

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It sounds like you wanted to be a comedian and perhaps had your dad’s sense of humor.

Jennifer Landon: I know. The pendulum’s got to go the other way because all I do with the roles I get now is cry. That’s what happens most of the time. I’m actually far more funny than I am emotionally available sometimes (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You were the third Heather Stevens on The Young and the Restless. Any chance of returning to the role?

Jennifer Landon: No. Listen. She’s really a cursed character. It felt like four people in one month played her. I mean, so many people have played that Heather character that I’ve met two of them in completely random situations. I’m not kidding. Sitting in a sandwich shop, I’m saying, “We played the same character!”

I walked into this class about a year ago and looked across the room and said, “Hey, I’m playing the character that you were playing, not because I’m better but just because they don’t fucking know.” (laughs) If Heather had died on my last episode, then I would say I was definitely coming back. But because I said to Paul, my dad, that I was going to California to get the mail or had to pick up something, I will never come back (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What else is going on, Jen?

Jennifer Landon: It’s Animal Kingdom and Chicago Med. I did a couple of commercials and then I needed a little time off. So I moved. I’m writing a couple of different projects with my writing partner.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you worked on projects with any of your siblings, like Michael Landon, Jr.?

Jennifer Landon: He’s definitely a director and writes as well and my brother, Chris, does horror stuff. Mike and I talked a long time ago about working together and then it never really panned out. I think we keep work pretty separate. We’re all so busy and are different ages, so it’s hard enough just to have time to see each other.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What else fills your time?

Jennifer Landon: My slobbering dogs (laughs). I’m an avid walker. I can literally walk for miles. I’m kind of religious about watching House of Cards and Game of Thrones. I love good food and I can make a good meal. My fantasy is that one day I will have made enough money from acting that I can open up a restaurant that will make me no money. I just need to break even because I want it to be like a supper club in which my buddy from Alabama and I will get to sit down and interview people for 15 minutes. If we decide we want to talk to you longer than that then you are a member of the supper club.

The reason that came about was I felt that LA was the place that had really beautiful locations and really good food but was filled with really awful people. So I just wanted to create a place where I liked all the people, to have really good food, but to just keep the snooty brats out of it. I can’t handle that. They drive me nuts.

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