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"An American in London"

Date of Article's Original Publication: March 6, 2002
Original URL of Article:
© Paulette Cohn for Entertainment Tonight

ARIJA BAREIKIS is Emma Brody. Emma has taken a job as vice counsel at the American Embassy in London in search of a little adventure. But little does she suspect her exciting new life will begin with the struggle to transition from private citizen to government official -- all while grappling with the threat of terrorism.

Shot on location in London prior to the events of Sept. 11, "The American Embassy" is FOX's new one-hour drama, premiering Monday, March 11, at 9 p.m.

ET caught up with Arija before the launch of the show for her take on the producer's potentially controversial decision to include an attack on the embassy in the opening episode.

ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT: What drew you to "American Embassy"?

ARIJA BAREIKIS: I thought it was a wonderful new idea and a great medium for a great story. I think it is very important that actors act as role models. You don't always agree with what their character is doing, but I think Emma is a good role model for young women.

ET: Emma is a very Midwestern, na´ve character. Is there any part of that you tap into?

ARIJA: I grew up in Indiana. I'm a late bloomer, very na´ve. Actually, I think there are a lot of similarities. I think we get cast in roles that we have a piece of inside ourselves. And because JIM PARRIOTT (executive producer) created the project thinking of me, it also happened that way.

ET: What kind of tilt do you see the series taking since Sept. 11?

ARIJA: That is a central question right now. When it first happened, I thought immediately we'd have to bag the series. It wasn't important anymore, and it was a little too scary. It was so uncanny that Jim wrote this script before that had happened. The producers met and talked a long time about what to do and decided "American Embassy" could contribute in a bigger way than originally intended. I hope people can take something valuable from it, and (hope) they don't think we stepped over the line in any way.

ET: People compare this to 'Bridget Jones' Diary.' Do you see that comparison?

ARIJA: I do think it compares a little bit. A lot of stories you watch are about people trying to become a person. That is what life is really all about. If we all work really hard to do that, then we have lived our life well.

ET: Were you in London on Sept. 11? What was the reaction there?

ARIJA: It was very scary. Of course, I live in New York and my sister and her daughter have lived with me for the last four years, and it was really frightening. I really felt helpless. I really wanted to be in New York. Ultimately, I tried to figure out a way I could do something from London. When they did the candle-lighting thing there, I decided I was going to make flowers and hand them out to Londoners. It was a really interesting experience because people responded in all different ways. I handed out 1,600 flowers.

ET: In what ways did they respond?

ARIJA: Well, some people were very sympathetic and some people were angry. I think there is a reality now that we have to face our culpability for what goes on in the world. I think there are some people in England that find Americans feeling damaged or wounded by a terrorist attack to be hypocritical. I mean, it is a horrible thing, but London was bombed during the war, and now they have bombings all the time in other situations.

ET: What kind of research did you do for this show?

ARIJA: When we first got there to do the pilot, we were hosted to a really lovely reception where we got to talk to people who work at the embassy. Then we toured the embassy and had several other occasions where we basically got to hang out with these people, hear their stories and get a feel for it.

ET: How did things change for you after Sept. 11.

ARIJA: The biggest surprise ultimately was to see the change there after Sept. 11. It was profound. There was an amazing setup after the bombing where you could go and mourn with other Americans. Of course, the security now is completely different, our world is different, and that's important. At first I felt really blown away and helpless about that and ultimately I realized that the only way we win is to learn and move on and create something good out of something this horrific.

I mentioned before that I felt somewhat like the show wasn't worth doing, and what I do is just crap ... and narcissistic ... I e-mailed my dad a lot, and expressed that fear to him. He told me what it was like being a kid during World War II. He said ... there is a great opportunity to contribute something. Part of what was so amazing about going to the movies during WWII was that not only did you get to share news with your neighbors and have that kind of fellowship ... but it let you accept the reality of what was going on.

ET: Are you afraid the show might go too far?

ARIJA: I think that's a really good question. When we started doing this it was officially called a "dramedy." I really hope we keep that lightness to it. We have to learn to laugh at ourselves and find humor in things. I have a very dear friend whose husband was a fireman killed in the World Trade Center and I've spent some time with her. It's so inspiring to see her really feeling her devastation and then cracking jokes and laughing and playing with her son. I just think we have to let ourselves feel things.