Scott's World -- UPI Arts & Entertainment

By VERNON SCOTT, United Press International  |  May 15, 2002 at 6:00 PM
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HOLLYWOOD, May 15 (UPI) -- Traditionally, leading ladies are contentious with their lovers, husbands and other lesser beings, but they sometimes confront mother nature.

A recent such casting finds Sharon Lawrence squaring off against a stronger adversary, an atomic twister, which also happens to be the name of the film.

"Atomic Twister" will make its debut Wed., June 9, on TBS, a two-hour drama about a storm of tornadoes hitting a nuclear power plant in a small Southern town.

This natural disaster is a worse threat to mankind than terrorists, a third world war or a political convention.

Actress Lawrence also must compete with co-stars Mark-Paul Gosselaar (NYPD Blue), Corbin Bernsen (L.A. Law) and Olympic gold medalist sprinter Carl Lewis.

The producers of this TV film characterize their story as "a harrowing disaster thriller threatening to cause a meltdown at a local nuclear power plant that could take out the entire Southern United States."

Actress Lawrence finds herself facing the same sort of nasty situation that Jane Fonda encountered in "The China Syndrome."

But Fonda at least had Jack Lemmon to count on.

Will actors Bernsen and Gosselaar measure up this time around?

"That would be giving away the ending," Lawrence said this week.

But one would expect the entire Southern United States will be spared a fate worse than Ulysses S. Grant wreaked on that area during the North-South fracas of the 1860s.

All the same, Ms. Lawrence is faced with her own professional dilemma: how to avoid being upstaged by an atomic twister during her highly dramatic scenes.

"This is a man-made force of nature," she said. "It just equates with what we as people never feel unless we find ourselves in those circumstances."

Because "Atomic Twister" is a movie rather than reality, it was filmed in its entirety in New Zealand, which is about as far as you can get from the American South without leaving the planet altogether.

Why New Zealand?

Because it is cheaper to film there, and that country provides more tax advantages than, say, Mississippi, Alabama or even California.

"We shot in an area that looks a lot like the Ohio River Valley," Lawrence said.

"I'm from North Carolina and my mother's from Tennessee, so I spent a lot of time growing up in the South.

"I was in New Zealand working on the film for four weeks and another two weeks vacationing with my fiance. His name is Dr. Tom Apostle."

A key element in the film is Lawrence's character's relationship with her seven-year-old son.

"This isn't a romance," she said. "It's about a woman trying to save herself and the life of her son. She has a devastating choice to make between saving the lives of a million people or putting her son's life first.

"Her initial impulse would be to save her child, as it would with any good mother. There's no question in their minds about giving their own lives for their children."

However, an actress' first instinct is to look her best for the camera. So how did Lawrence feel about looking like the wreck of the Hesperus?

"For an actress' vanity the hardest thing is knowing you're going to play a role where you only have one outfit for a whole movie with your hair blowing all over your face and little makeup.

"In many roles, including 'LAPD Blue,' wardrobe was secondary; my characters were sometimes very frumpy in the early years.

"In other shows I was a fashion hog and it became tedious to find new outfits every week. I had to make only one choice of what to wear for this movie.

"That was a breath of fresh air. I chose a pair of summer-weight gray slacks (six pairs) that were easy to move in, and starched white Oxford-type shirts.

"She's a scientist and manager who doesn't care that much about clothes. So I wanted her to look conservative and traditional.

"She is the dominant figure inside the nuclear plant while Mark-Paul is the dominant character outside the plant who takes care of my son."

Lawrence smiled and said, "The major star in this picture is the twister.

"We all knew that going in, which was important. The producers put a great deal of money into the post-production of this film.

"I was interested in my character's back-story when I read the script. She's a single mom who recognizes her son isn't flourishing and her personal challenge is making the right decisions for him.

"Unfortunately when a mother is overly protective she smothers her child's

self-confidence. She's a control freak, which makes her good at her job.

"So she has the challenge of meeting her professional obligations while being a caring parent.

"It's a good story and I don't want to spoil the ending."

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