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.