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"Bareikis, an Ambassador of Charm"

Date of Article's Original Publication: March 2002
Original URL of Article: Exact URL unknown but Associated Press' website is http://www.ap.org. Article found on Arija Bareikis Online but fairly certain that wasn't the original.
© Frazier Moor for the Associated Press

New York (Associated Press) - An ocean away on Sept. 11, Arija Bareikis felt terribly distant from her Manhattan home. And as news of the attacks was reaching her in England, where she had come to play the title role in a new Fox TV series, her show became a relic from a lighter time.

"Emma Brody" had been created as a romantic comedy-drama set in the U.S. Embassy in London, where Emma, fleeing from a bad relationship and a pushy mother, arrives to take a job as a rookie vice consul.

During the premiere episode, filmed a year ago, Emma shares her dreams with a drag queen, flirts with a lord and gathers wisdom from a young man from Oregon who strips bare in the embassy lobby. In jaunty voice-overs, she says things like "There's a direct correlation between temptation, humiliation and self-doubt."

Think "Ally McBeal" with diplomatic immunity. Then, at the end of the hour, a car bomb blasts the embassy in leisurely slow motion.

All in all, "Emma Brody" clashed with the nervous new zeitgeist. "Frankly, I thought we were gonna get canceled," Bareikis says.

Turns out she was wrong. Her new show premieres 9 p.m. EST Monday on Fox. But it has a new name "The American Embassy" and with its second episode adopts a more serious tone as an issues-oriented ensemble drama.

"It's very important to not be just another 'chick show,'" says the star (who pronounces her name AH-ree-ah buh-RAH-kus). "I understand that. I'm all for it. And it takes a lot of the pressure off of me."

The series is still very much about Emma Brody. It is still seen through the eyes of this good girl from Toledo who is determined to escape her put-upon past and make a bold, new start in the diplomatic corps.

"But we decided to look at the embassy as a whole," says executive producer James Parriott. "Not as a workplace for a young woman, but as an outpost of the United States in a world that changed after 9/11."

And, after much deliberation, he kept the car-bomb scene. Week two will deal with the bombing's consequences.

"We decided to let the bomb be a metaphor for what the country is going through," he says.

Parriott, who also created "Matt Waters," a drama series starring Montel Williams as a high school teacher, has had "The American Embassy" in the works for several years.

Early on, he chose Bareikis as his leading lady. No wonder. She boasts a fresh, scrubbed beauty redolent of wheat fields and box socials. ("That's what people always think if you have freckles, a round face and blond hair," she says with a laugh).

She is, by turns, kittenish and remarkably unguarded. ("Did I just spit on you?" she interrupts herself to ask her dining companion.)

She has acting chops, too.

She has performed both on and off-Broadway, and had a recurring role as the wife of an inmate on the HBO prison drama "Oz." Her films include "Snow Falling on Cedars" and the Rob Schneider comedy, "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo."

But first she had to get to New York.

Over lunch in a diner near her SoHo apartment, Bareikis curls up in the booth and recalls hitting town from her native Bloomington, Ind.

"I came not knowing anybody, and it was very scary and frustrating," she says, sounding a bit like Emma. "Then I began taking dance classes, an acting class, working as a paralegal. And I started doing the odd play."

One early production: the ancient Greek comedy "Lysistrata" mounted at the ancient rock club CBGB. "It was fairly out there," she says with fond understatement. "We had a good time."

She had a good time filming "Emma Brody," er, "The American Embassy," too, despite its frantic transformation from the series she originally signed to do.

"I have to believe that everything that happens is for the good," she says. "That's a big part of Emma Brody, too."

Filming wrapped just after Thanksgiving. Whether the series goes beyond six episodes will be decided by Fox no later than May. Production would resume in late summer. Or not.

Either way, "I'm profoundly unemployed as we speak," Bareikis sighs. "I'm worried that I'll never work again. Do you know anybody who needs an actress?"

Perhaps her jitters are stoked by publicity beginning to appear for her new show. She keeps encountering herself in print ads and TV spots.

"I'm totally freaked out," she admits. But with the premiere so close, she has a plan: "kind of ride that out, let it pass and have a nice day."