Former 'Facts Of Life' Star Geri Jewell Talks 'Alcatraz' Role

Geri Jewell chats with AccessHollywood.com's Laura Saltman in Los Angeles on January 25, 2012 Geri Jewell chats with AccessHollywood.com's Laura Saltman in Los Angeles on January 25, 2012

Geri Jewell is headed back to the small screen – this time joining the cast of J.J. Abrams’ new sci-fi drama, “Alcatraz.”

The former “The Facts of Life” actress, 55, has signed on for a recurring role playing the “eccentric sister” of merciless Deputy Warden E.B. Tiller (played by Jason Butler Harner), and Geri said her character will help reveal E.B.’s compassionate side.

“It’s a wonderful role,” Geri told AccessHollywood.com’s Laura Saltman of her new gig on the FOX series, which follows the mysterious story of former Alcatraz inmates on the loose in modern-day San Francisco.

The role marks Geri’s second series return to the small screen since her “Facts of Life” days – she previously starred on HBO’s “Deadwood.”

“When I was on ‘Deadwood,’ it was a dark show — very dark,” she told Laura. “Some of my relatives couldn’t even watch it… but when a show is that dark, it needs contrasts, it needs light.”

Adding, “I think that’s what I offered ‘Alcatraz’ was the lightness… She’s a smart-aleck, she has a wonderful sense of humor.”

Geri, who suffers from cerebral palsy (she was the first actress/comedienne with the disease to land a recurring role on a TV show back in 1980), said “Alcatraz” writers have been creative when it comes to incorporating the physical evidence of her ailment into her role.

“In a scene that I filmed for this coming episode, I’m drinking a lot of liquor in it — drinking a lot of wine. I’m like, ‘Is she drunk or does she have CP?’” she said, laughing. “I think it’s a little of both! I like [my character]! She’s kind of cool.”

While Geri’s struggles with CP haven’t hindered her “Alcatraz” performance, she revealed her years on “The Facts of Life” were more difficult, and at times, painful – an experience she details in her new book, “I’m Walking as Straight as I Can” (in bookstores now).

“In the ‘80s when I got ‘Facts of Life,’ even though I was chronologically an adult – I was 23 – I was emotionally probably 12,” she told Laura. “And there were so many people in my life — outside of the show, who were manipulative and using me for the wrong reasons, and I didn’t know [about] boundaries.

“I didn’t understand that people lie… I grew up in special [education] and you believe what anybody said to you,” she added. “So it was forcing me to grow up, when emotionally, I was 12. The conflict was huge.”

Geri’s “Facts…” co-star Lisa Whelchel (Blair) was a tremendous source of strength while filming the ‘80s sitcom.

“I love her dearly and I always will. She was very, very supportive of me in those years,” Geri said, when asked if she and Lisa still keep in touch. “We became instant friends when I was on the show and I went to her house one night shortly after we filmed, and then the next minute I was her roommate. So, it was like, instant.”

“Alcatraz” – starring Sam Neill, Sarah Jones and Jorge Garcia – airs Mondays at 9 PM on FOX.

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