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Montreal actress takes lead in new CBS-CTV legal drama Close to Home

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TORONTO (CP) - Can you be a hard lawyer and a soft-hearted mommy at the same time?

That's the question raised at the beginning of Close to Home, a new U.S. legal drama debuting Tuesday on CBS and CTV. Montreal-born Jennifer Finnegan stars, playing Annabeth, one of Indianapolis's toughest prosecutors. At least she was before taking 12 weeks maternity leave.

Now she's back on the job. But when she asks for a mini-fridge in her office so she can store pumped breast milk, co-workers of both genders begin to doubt she still has what it takes.

"I don't think it's a sexism issue," Finnegan, 26, asserts in an interview. "People figure it's difficult to do both and do both exceedingly well."

The script does load the deck in Annabeth's favour. She has a wonderful husband and an understanding babysitter, and as for the baby . . . well, not only is it the cutest little thing but there's no evidence it doesn't sleep through the night.

Still, Finnegan (The Bold and the Beautiful, Committed) hopes real moms out there will appreciate her portrayal of the difficulties inherent in handling both a professional and personal life. She doesn't have kids herself yet but she researched not only the legal but the personal aspects of her role.

"(There are) people in my life who are extremely hard working and who manage to balance . . . that sort of juxtaposition between going to work and being hard-edged, and coming home and being able to shut down and be the softer side and the mother."

The point is, Finnegan stresses, that it's difficult but not impossible, hastily adding that it's not just a women's issue, that there are a lot of Mr. Moms out there, too.

But there's another premise at work here. Annabeth's maternal instincts extend to her suburban neighbourhood, too, and the need to preserve its blissful security. Episode one deals with a woman who lives nearby and is arrested after allegedly trying to kill herself and her children by setting their home on fire. The following week the neighbourhood is shocked to find a registered sex offender living there who may or may not have been responsible for a recent assault.

"The idea, and especially the reason for the title, Close to Home, is that it deals with. . .the types of cases that happen four blocks down. That, you're like 'Ohmigod, I knew him. He was such a nice guy!' "

Close to Home is a Jerry Bruckheimer series, which means very high production values - the pilot episode is reported to have cost $6 million US, one of the most expensive ever. It opens with a spectacular fire sequence straight out of a high-octane Bruckheimer action movie.

"Money, money, money," says the actress of working for the House of Bruckheimer. "You get what you pay for. You're working with a great director, a great writer, a great crew.

"As soon as you attach his name to anything, it garners so much respect in the industry. He truly has a magnificent track record."

Those less than impressed with the likes of Pearl Harbour or Armageddon might disagree. But Finnegan, who said she was desperate to land the role, is obviously impressed with the mega-producer's hands-on approach.

"He did come to set once, right in the middle. And ohmigod, I remember being so nervous. It was almost like God onset. Everyone was speaking in hushed tones. But I got to know him a little more recently when we found out the show was picked up.

"He's really a lovely man. He's really nice and sort of unassuming. I like him."

Of course there's a downside to such a big operation.

"The first few days on the Bruckheimer set were so high-pressure because everyone was trying to find themselves.

"It's a scary thing when you have that much on the line."

As for being one of those Canadians in Tinseltown, the fair-haired Montrealer says there's definitely something different about the Canucks.

"I think there's a sense of humour about ourselves, there's the humility," she said.

"The people are so friendly and so unassuming and so humble. In Hollywood, that's really hard to come by."

© The Canadian Press, 2005

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