Alien Trespass star Jenni Baird told to play it straight

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Jenni Baird, co-star of the upcoming '50s sci-fi homage movie Alien Trespass, told SCI FI Wire that writer-director R.W. Goodwin instituted a no-winking policy during the film's shoot.

Baird, an Australian actress who played Meghan Doyle on The 4400, is Tammy, a spunky waitress who helps a good-guy alien, Urp (Eric McCormack)—who's taken over the body of astronomer Ted Lewis (McCormack)—track down his fellow alien, called the Ghota. The ship occupied by Urp and Ghota crash-landed in the desert in 1950s California, and Urp must capture the Ghota before the creature kills everyone in town on its way to conquering the planet. The film also features Robert Patrick and Dan Lauria and will open nationwide on April 3.

SCI FI Wire spoke exclusively to Baird last month and discussed both Alien Trespass and her days on The 4400. Following are edited excerpts from that conversation.

The film pays tribute to the sci-fi B movies of the 1950s, which were often unintentionally funny. What was Bob Goodwin's approach to the material?

Baird: He said, "No winking at the audience. No sending anything up. I cast you because [in your audition] you played Tammy in all her earnestness, and that's how I want this." He didn't want any hamming it up. He didn't want to do a send-up.

Your scenes with Eric are very entertaining. How did you enjoy working with him?

Baird: We had ridiculous fun. Eric and I work in the same way. We're both fairly non-precious in terms of acting. There are some actors that go away into the corner to get into character and then don't speak to people between takes because they're focusing. But Eric and I are not like that. We just laughed and laughed between takes, and I think you can tell that, because on screen I like the way our performances match each other.

Were you at all a fan of this kind of film?

Baird: I have to admit that I wasn't. I hadn't seen any of these kinds of B movies, but by the end of it I definitely was a fan. I'd watched a whole bunch of them. I saw The Day the Earth Stood Still. I saw War of the Worlds. I saw It Came From Beyond Outer Space. I saw ones whose titles I can't remember because they were so ridiculous. I saw a whole bunch.

For a lot of people out there, your biggest credit is The 4400. You spent the fourth season playing NTAC director Meghan Doyle. How do you look back on that experience?

Baird: That was brilliant. That was one of the breaks of my career. I'd shot three pilots before that [including Global Frequency]. But pilots are tricky. They're wonderful to get, but then it's not so often that they go to series. I'd done three that didn't go, and The 4400 was a show that was on the air, in its fourth season, a main character. It was my dream. When I came to America that's what I wanted to do. And it was a wonderful experience.

What intrigued you about Meghan as a character?

Baird: When I auditioned, they said, "Don't play her like your stereotypical government official." And I think I wouldn't have gotten it if they'd been looking for a stereotypical government official. I'm only 32. I was like, "Am I going to get this part?" But they wanted her young. They wanted her to be casual. So I got to bring myself to the part, and I didn't have any of that stricture. When you do procedurals, a lot of the time there's a whole lot of stricture, and you have to sell that you've been in the government for however long, sell that you're a bureaucrat. And I didn't have to sell any of that.

Any idea what Meghan might have been up to if the show had returned for a fifth season?

Baird: In the final episode I developed an ability. So I was saying to [producer] Ira [Steven Behr], "Come on, man, we've got to go again. I've got to see what I can do, apart from turning pens into flowers." I was joking about that, but my ability was to turn inorganic matter into organic matter, and I would've liked to have seen more of that. Like, if there was a car, I could turn it into an elephant.