When Jennifer Love Hewitt burst onto the Hollywood scene in the mid '90s, her rise to fame was rapid.
The bubbly brunette was seemingly everywhere, playing everyone from a schoolgirl in Party Of Five to a haunted teenager in horror flick I Know What You Did Last Summer and, later, a supernatural force in Ghost Whisperer.
In more recent years, however, the 39-year-old has taken a step back from the spotlight to focus on raising her young family.
The actress – who has a daughter, Autumn, five, and a son Atticus, three, with husband Brian Hallisay – hasn't appeared on screen for more than three years. Until now.
As Jennifer prepares to dive back into action – literally – as emergency operator Maddie Buckley in Channel Seven drama 9-1-1, TV WEEK caught up with her to discuss motherhood and the unexpected call which thrust her back to work.
TV WEEK: You're coming back after a hiatus. Did you suffer "mum guilt" like so many working mothers?
Jennifer Love Hewitt: Oh, for sure. It's been a bit of a hard adjustment, much harder on me than my kids. My kids are great. They'll come to the set, eat craft service [on-set catering] and ask me, "Who do you play?" It's been hard at times, but I'm very grateful.
How are you finding motherhood so far?
It's been beautiful. It was my first really long break in almost 29 years [of acting] and I needed it. I needed to be a person for a while and experience new things to bring back to my craft. It was really important to me to have children and be there for them. I feel like I've been able to do that. They're these fully functioning, beautiful little people now.
How did you prepare for the role of Maddie in 9-1-1?
I didn't have a lot of time. The producers contacted me and I was scrubbing poop off the floor from my kid! [Laughs] I was like, "Well, I'm going back to work!" So I was sort of thrust back into it. But I'm looking forward to meeting some real 911 operators soon.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your character?
She has been in a very tumultuous, abusive relationship and sought out her brother to tell him the truth and be open about where she is. She's really finding herself as a 911 operator, but she's also hiding out as a 911 operator. I think we'll learn more about that, and who she is, as the season goes on.
What is her relationship with her brother like?
Their relationship is great. It's a lot like [co-star] Oliver [Stark, who plays Buck] and I – we give each other trouble, but the love is there and the kindness is too. Buck wants to protect her. But she just wants to find a safe place and deal with the rest of it later.
Is a one-hour drama series where you feel most comfortable? Does it feel like home to you?
I always end up there. I've tried a million times to go do something like a half-hour comedy and I always end up in a drama again. So I guess it's my home.
What do you still love about acting that you loved when you first started?
It's the ability to get to be someone else for a day? How many people sit in traffic every day and go, "Oh, God, if I could just be another person." And I get to do it all day and it's really fun. You get to escape, invent and sort of pick and choose these beautiful or flawed characteristics to put into these people.
Have you evolved as an actor?
For me now, being a mum, being married and having lost my mum almost six years ago – everything about me emotionally is different. My priorities and reasons that I do things are different. These things have made me more of an open person. And in acting, it's easier to access those things. I feel like I'm in a much more honest place, which is great, because I've figured myself out a little bit. I'm turning 40 in February, and once you just get there, it's like, "Oh, that's who I am!" I don't have to run around and figure that out anymore, which is nice.
Have your kids watched you in Garfield yet? And do they know much about it?
It's funny you ask that, because somebody at my daughter's school just watched Garfield and Garfield 2. She came home and said, "Mummy, there's this movie that I just heard about. It's about a funny cat and I want to watch it!" So we watched the whole movie and she said nothing. Then, at the very end, she goes, "You were very good in that, Mummy." And I was like, "Thanks, babe!" It was really good. So we've been watching it for the last three days, which is really funny.
It's funny how the public has come to know you in different ways. Recently, people have created internet memes and GIFs from your work in I Know What You Did Last Summer, which you starred in more than 20 years ago.
Yes! You know what? When people recognise that you've been around for a long time, it's really nice. As actors, we often wonder, "How long am I actually going to get to do this?" This is going into my 30th year as an actor and I still, even today, think, "Am I good? Did I do OK?" You just never get over that. So when people recognise you from another time – especially the '90s, which was such an awesome period – it's lovely.
There has been some talk about the possibility of remaking I Know What You Did Last Summer. Would appear in it?
I'd have to come back as the creepy old lady or something now!
Your character survived the first film…
She did. I would do it if they asked me, sure. I loved those movies. They were really fun and it was such a great time.
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