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CHABERT, LACEY : Lost in Space

PENNY FOR HER THOUGHTS
Lost in Space has done much to enhance the career of teenage actress Lacey Chabert. But unlike her on-screen character, the 15-year old has her feet well and truly planted on the ground, as PAUL FISCHER discovered when he met the actress during her visit to Sydney.

"You know what? I think youíre about my 587th interview," she says laughingly. Itís been a hectic few weeks for Party of Five star Lacey Chabert, on the promotional road trip flogging the big-screen incarnation of the sixties tv series, Lost in Space One. One gets the impression that sheíd rather be doing something else. "God, itís exhausting to talk about yourself for so long; Iíd rather talk about someone else." But such is the price one pays for success. And you know youíve made it when you have at least a dozen Internet sites devoted to you. "Thatís so weird. The other day one of them really went to town imitating me, and seemed to know more about me than I do", the actress says. Impeccably attired in a neat, black dress, Chabert acts well and truly beyond her youthful years. Refusing to play the Hollywood game as much as possible, she keeps as grounded as possible "because of my family who wouldnít have it any other way."

"Oh, I think weíve all got a bit of the rebel in us, donít you think?"

In Lost in Space, which she filmed in London, Chabert plays Penny Robinson, the youngest of two teenage daughters of the Robinson clan, whoíd rather be anywhere but hanging out in space with her obsessive dad (William Hurt), doting mum (Mimi Rogers), older scientist sister Judy (Heather Graham) and bratty science whiz kid, younger brother Will (Jack Johnson). The familyís mission is to explore and colonise an uncharted part of the galaxy, and are flown to their intended destination by an unwilling Don West (Matt Le Blanc). Of course things go awry when the cowardly Dr Smith (Gary Oldman) ends up trapped on board, determined to destroy the family.

Though Chabert saw the old series, as written, the all new Penny Robinson was a nineties creation. "Sheís far more independent and feisty than the tv character", she observes. "Thereís no way it would have worked had we modelled her on the original." Chabert DID meet Angela Cartwright, however, who played Penny in the series. "It was very brief, but she was so nice and thought it cool that Penny was allowed to be this little rebel, which she was never allowed to be on tv." Perhaps that was why the young actress could identify with this character. "Oh, I think weíve all got a bit of the rebel in us, donít you think?" Chabert spent some time in London shooting the film, and admits to being nervous working with the likes of stars Hurt and Oldman. "I talked a lot to Gary whoíd discuss acting with me. He was amazing." As was the process of relying on her imagination for key scenes. "So much wasnít visible when we were shooting, so I really had to play at make believe. It really does challenge one as an actor, but itís real fun at the same time."

"This has much to do with family as space."

Chabert is not surprised that the film has been successful: she says itís more than just special effects. "If thatís all there was, the movie would be boring, and ultimately, audiences want more out of a film. This has much to do with family as space. I think audiences can identify with many of the problems faced by these characters."

Chabert was born in the small town of Purvis, Mississippi, not the most likely environment for a burgeoning actor. "I used to always sing around the house and took part in school plays when I was a kid. It was something I always had a passion to do."

After making her professional stage debut in Les Miserables, Chabert auditioned for and won the role that turned her into a star at age 13: violin prodigy, Claudia Salinger, who, along with her brothers and sister, takes on adult responsibilities in an attempt to keep her family together in tvís award-winning Party of Five, a character that she finds more difficult to relate to than Penny Robinson. "She has come from a much darker place than I, and sheís far lonelier than I am. To play her, I would often sit on my own in a dark corner of my trailer, imagining her life, before going out and doing it."

"Itís great; I donít have to worry about how I look or remembering lines." on animation work

Chabert continues to be busy, not only working on her hit series, but providing voices for animated characters, such as a new tv series, The Wild Thornberries. "Itís great; I donít have to worry about how I look or remembering lines." Chabert is also one of the featured voices in the upcoming animated feature, Anastasia.

Chabert has another two years on her Party of Five contract, but hopes to cram in as many good films as possible, though conceding "that to find teenage characters who are not cliched and simplistic, is pretty tough." Yet for young Lacey, it seems the party is just beginning.

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