Just two weeks into the new series “Drop Dead Diva,” Lifetime has a hit on its hands. Actually, they have two.
There’s the spirited comedic drama about a shallow, but not unkind model – Deb — who dies in a tragic car accident and fleeces one of Heaven’s office assistants to rejoin life, just not in the body she expected. And then there’s Brooke Elliott, the beautiful series star, who plays the model, whose new life is enhanced by the brimming brain of her host’s body — legal whiz Jane Bingum — and the lawyer’s size 16 figure.
The formula for the show could have been a disaster, full of campy performances and over the top emotions had it not been for AccessHollywood.com’s newest Rising Star, Brooke, who makes Jane fallible, relatable and down right human.
“The show is about identity, it’s about self acceptance and it’s about women being able to feel beautiful at any size,” Brooke told Access on the Atlanta “Drop Dead Diva” set. “We’re sometimes conditioned to believe that beauty comes in a very specific package and the truth is that beauty is in every woman in every size.”
Having grown up in Minnesota and Michigan, Brooke fell for musical theater at a young age, eventually studying the discipline at Western Michigan University.
Brooke spent her early 20s in Chicago, working with theater company Babes with Blades, which allows women to showcase their weapon training on stage.
Eventually, she found her way to Broadway with the help of one very famous fellow brunette – Rosie O’Donnell.
“When I did ‘Taboo’… Brooke came in and she was fresh from the Midwest and she looked like she had just come off of a Disney cruise,” Rosie recounted to Access. “I said, ‘Now listen; you are gorgeous, you are a singer and a dancer, you have to look like a punk-rock kid…. So she went and she got herself — that day — an outfit of fishnets and a T-shirt that was ripped.”
“Yeah! I came back with the doll color and the black lipstick and the hair pieces and things like that to audition for this show that needed [a] funky look,” Brooke chimed in. “Rosie was fantastic. She [said] to me, ‘How much did you pay for that outfit?’… I was like, ‘$117.’ And she was like, ‘Well, if you get the show, I’ll reimburse you.’ And the first day of rehearsal, I got a check for $117.”
After “Taboo’s” short-lived Broadway run, a few more parts followed, including roles in “The Pirate Queen” and touring productions of “Wicked” and Disney’s “Beauty and The Beast.”
Although the theater has been a welcome home to Brooke, it was hard to pass up the opportunity to play Jane on “Drop Dead Diva” when it came around.
Just two episodes in, Brooke has already won a host of critical acclaim.
The Los Angeles Times called her “a stage actress with fabulous comic timing and enormous dramatic flexibility,” while the New York Times said “Drop Dead Diva” has “humor and charm beneath its facile message, in large part (no disrespect intended) to a subtle, winning performance by Ms. Elliot.”
And she’s won over the viewers too. The show’s July 12 season premiere brought in 2.8 million viewers, Lifetime’s highest rated original drama series debut.
But although her star is most certainly on the rise, Brooke isn’t yet feeling the glow of fame.
“People have written texts to me and e-mails saying, ‘How does it feel [now] that your life has changed?’” Brooke said. “I was like, ‘Well, it didn’t.’ I’ve learned my lines and went to work for 15 hours.”
“The day after it aired, I wanted to take her to Target,” Rosie laughed. “I’m like, ‘Come here, I want to show you that your life has changed and you don’t even know it.’ She’s in this little bubble.”
And should she get a chance to step off the trail of long set hours followed by a few hours of sleep, Rosie is around enough to help show Brooke the ropes, having been brought on board “Drop Dead Diva” to play Judge Summers, someone who serves as a friend to Jane.
“She is a mentor to the character I play,” Brooke explained. “And it’s very appropriate because Rosie is a bit of a mentor for me as well.”
“She e-mailed me and said, ‘Hey Ro, I got this part…’” Rosie said of how Brooke brought her into the “Drop Dead Diva” fold. “I watched the pilot. It was so amazing. I loved it. She’s brilliant in it and I felt like a proud mother. I was like, ‘I’ll totally do it.’”
Rosie isn’t the only star to lend her acting chops to Brooke’s new show. Funny lady Margaret Cho is a co-star and guest spots are coming down the pipeline with Delta Burke, Liza Minnelli, Paula Abdul, Andy Dick, Nia Vardalos and “CSI’s” Jorja Fox.
But it’s Brooke who carries the show.
“I think any woman watching is going to relate to this. To see a show with a lead woman and there are so few… I said to Brooke, ‘You have to really take a moment to let that set in,’” Rosie said. “The one hour dramas with lead women are Glenn Close [in “Damages”], Holly Hunter [in “Saving Grace”], Kyra Sedgwick [in “The Closer”] and Brooke. And that’s fantastic and she deserves it. She carries it, she holds the screen, she’s absolutely gorgeous, the whole show I think, is going to be a huge hit.”
“Drop Dead Diva” airs Sunday’s at 9 PM on Lifetime.