“I’ve been acting since I was 7 years old. I’m 43 now, and to be honest, I’m still waiting to see what I’ll do when I grow up!” Kellie Martin exclusively gushed to Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. It’s a funny admission from this wife and mother-of-two, whose impressive career includes starring roles on the 1989 to 1993 hit Life Goes On, ER and the new remake of her 1994 TV movie Death of a Cheerleader. Happily, Kellie feels this way for a good reason.
“Acting is hard work,” she said, “but I never feel like it’s a job I have to go to.” While raising Margaret, 12, and Olivia, nearly 3, with her husband of 20 years, Keith Christian, 44, may come with challenges, Kellie has achieved what seems impossible to many women: having it all.
“My life is like a light switch — I’m either working 16-hour days or I’m home,” she explained. “When I go to Vancouver to shoot my Hailey Dean Mystery movies, I don’t have my 2-year-old waking up with a bad dream, so I get a full night’s sleep. It’s a vacation for me!” Scroll down to read more of our exclusive Q&A interview with Kellie!
How did you end up in a remake of your cult TV movie Death of a Cheerleader?
They asked me if I’d like to be involved and said I could have any part. I chose the role of an FBI agent, which was written for a man. I feel very old now that I’m doing things that are being remade!
Was there a moment in your childhood that set your acting career in motion?
When I was 7, my aunt was a nanny for Michael Landon’s children, and I told his daughter Shawna that I wanted to be on Little House on the Prairie. They got me an appointment with him — that was the moment that made me an actor. I didn’t know how to act, and I didn’t realize the show was canceled. So he gave me a part on Father Murphy that set me on this path.
What did you learn from Life Goes On?
Playing Patti LuPone’s daughter could not have been better training for me as an actor. She’s the best crier I’ve ever met. And Patti’s like my second mom — I love her so much! She sang at my wedding, she was at my graduation and right after my sister passed away [from lupus in 1998], she came to stay with me at my mom’s and take care of us.
That’s really nice. Have you kept in touch with anyone else from the cast?
Actually, with most of them. Chad Lowe just did three episodes of Hailey Dean. I don’t see Chris Burke, who played Corky, that much because he lives on the East Coast, but I’m always checking in on him. He just told me he wanted to get back into show business, and that broke my heart. So I told every producer I know because he really loved acting so much.
Any chance there’ll be a reboot?
That would be great! Chris is at a really interesting time in his life — he’s 53, his mom’s in her 90s. What does a family do when someone has Down syndrome and is aging?
What was your 1998–2000 run on ER like?
ER was a train that you had to jump on to figure out. The 12-page oners [long takes], the insane dialogue — it was nerve-wracking. George [Clooney] is as nice as everyone says, but my first day working with him, I had new clogs on and was trying to keep up with him. I fell down and the camera didn’t stop. So I got back up, ran and caught up. That’s the perfect example of the show: You might fall, but you get up and keep going. We’re not stopping for you.
Have you ever considered taking a break?
I really wanted one after ER. My sister passed away right before I started it, then I did it for almost two years and [my character] had this really brutal murder. I thought I wasn’t going to act any more after that. I went back to college to finish because I took a big break to do ER. I was going to do something different — be an art historian, or a chef or something. Then, of course, I got a pilot. It didn’t get picked up, but I loved it.
How did being a child actor shape you?
Being on a television set is effortless for me. I said to my husband, “I feel like I’m good at one thing: working on a set.” I love my kids more than I can possibly say, but I find children very mysterious, just because I was never around many until I had my own. The fact that I have two kids surprises me every day. Being a mom is such a stretch for me, and such hard work. I often fall flat on my face.
Do you have any regrets about acting as a kid?
When I was doing Life Goes On and I was in high school, I really resented that I didn’t get to go to football games or school dances like everyone else. But looking back, because the show had an important message, I had the opportunity to go to Yale — and I met my husband there! So I wouldn’t change anything, and I’m grateful that I had a very strong mom on the set every single day, trying to keep me as young as possible.
On May 15, you’ll be celebrating your 20th wedding anniversary. Congrats!
I admire Keith so much. I feel like my husband and I have been little adults our whole life. We’re pretty different — he’s from a Montana ranch family — but we’ve been able to learn from each other. He’s always happy for me, but he’s always challenging me, like, “We can work harder.” We make each other laugh and continue to grow as a couple and as people. That’s been the secret for us.
It’s also been 20 years since your sister passed away from lupus.
We just set up the Heather Martin Education Fund at the Yale School of Medicine, and I’ve been the spokesperson for the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association for about 18 years. What happened to my family shouldn’t happen to anybody — she was misdiagnosed so many times. There are days when I miss her so much that I can’t get it together. The disease has a genetic component, so I’m trying to safeguard my kids.
Can you describe your life with them?
We have a little farm with a barn in Southern California. Three goats, four pigs, two horses, a tortoise, a dog and a bird. A big part of protecting people from autoimmune disease is being around animals, so we want to make sure our girls are.
Any big life lessons you’ve learned?
Keep your sense of humor! I used to take things very seriously, and being able to laugh at myself has made me a much happier person.
For more on Kellie Martin, pick up the latest issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now — and be sure to sign up for our newsletter for more exclusive news!