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Hemingway returns to 'First' role

Sunday, August 11, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Sequels, prequels and trilogies are common on the big screen. But it's a rarer thing among movies made for television. With only a few exceptions - most notably Glenn Close in the "Sarah Plain and Tall" movies on CBS - TV movies don't inspire a sequel, let alone two.

But as cable takes up the slack from broadcast networks that have severely reduced their movie output, TBS has found success in a movie series about a Secret Service agent.

TV Preview
"First Shot"
When: Tonight at 8 on TBS.
Starring: Mariel Hemingway, Doug Savant, Gregory Harrison.

Mariel Hemingway starred as Alex McGregor in 1999's "First Daughter," sat out the 2000 sequel "First Target" (Daryl Hannah played Alex in that one), but returns to the role she created for "First Shot" (8 tonight on TBS).

"It's very unusual," Hemingway said of the TV trilogy. "It's been nice for me because it's a short-time commitment, yet it's consistent. There's something to be said in this business for working with people and on projects you have a tremendous affinity for and revisiting them. It's a great luxury, and they don't do it in television often enough. It's either series or movies, no in-between."

Hemingway said she sat out the second film because of scheduling conflicts and script quality. She didn't watch it, either, because she didn't want it to influence how she played the character or in the event she'd regret passing it by. When the script for the third film arrived, she said yes.

"I come from a background of being somewhat of a tomboy, and I like to think I can shoot a gun, not that I do it very often," she said in a phone interview last month from her family's summer home in Sun Valley, Idaho. "It's cool to run and be tough. I can act out some sort of childhood fantasy."

In "First Shot" McGregor has recently gotten married to outdoorsman Grant Coleman (Doug Savant), and she continues to work as a Secret Service agent protecting President Jonathan Hayes (Gregory Harrison). This time, McGregor comes up against the same militia group that kidnapped the president's child in "First Daughter."

The new film's climax was shot in an unused part of an operational sugar plant in Vancouver. One scene required Hemingway to ride up a vertical conveyor belt, no safety wires attached. That's the beauty of doing low-budget films, Hemingway said, reenacting the sort of on-set conversations that occur:

"Do you mind doing this?"

"Nah."

"You won't fall?"

"OK."

"Don't tell anybody you're not hooked on."

"OK."

Hemingway said it's all part of the fun.

"I like doing anything a little bit dangerous, which is pathetic."

It also requires a different kind of acting.

"I like the physicality of it," she said. "It gives you a lot of places to go. By virtue of the action, there's less acting seen on screen, it's less visible. You're working through whatever you're doing and when you're doing you don't see the wheels of acting happening, you just see action."

"First Shot" was filmed in April 2001 and was originally scheduled to air last fall. After Sept. 11, Hemingway said, TBS executives decided to hold the film.

"It was just too close for comfort because of the whole thing with bombings and freedom fighters. They just felt uncomfortable about it," she said. "I think we'll do well this August because of our incredible interest in security in the country. It has a place right now."

Since completing "First Shot," Hemingway has been at work getting financing together so she can direct the independent film "A Moveable Feast," adapted from the book of the same name written by her grandfather, Ernest Hemingway.

Shooting is set to begin next winter, though there's no cast yet.

"I had thought about playing my grandmother, but I would prefer to wear just one hat, which is a big hat when you're directing," Hemingway said.

With the family connection, there's more pressure than usual.

"Over the years it's taken me through some different feelings about inadequacy, but I've been with it now for so long I feel very competent about my ability to get this done."

Hemingway, who starred in the network series "Civil Wars" and "Central Park West," may not be done with TBS's "First" series yet. She said there's been talk of another sequel or possibly turning the Alex McGregor saga into a weekly series.

"I'm not sure I can do that myself. I'm directing now and have lots of other projects in my life, so I don't know if I could, but I'd certainly consider it."

You can reach Rob Owen atrowen@post-gazette.com . Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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