“The Wonder Years” actress loves the Midwest

For actress/singer Olivia d’Abo, there’s something about the Midwest that reminds her of her native England. 

“I love the Midwest. My favorite people in America are from the Midwest because they remind me of people in the northern United Kingdom…They’re the best kind of people out there; they’re salt of the earth people who have great values and morals and they’re also the smartest people that I’ve come upon, as well as the most artistic,” said d’Abo, of Los Angeles, who will appear in Sept. 23’s “Bandit”, playing the wife of Oscar winner Mel Gibson. 

Known for her roles on “The Wonder Years” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” d’Abo will be one of the main guests at the 10th Annual Monroe Pop Fest Sept. 16-17 at the MTB Expo Center, located at 3775 S. Custer Rd. in Monroe. This is d’Abo’s first appearance at the Pop Fest.

Other guests include “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” stars Blake Foster, Tracy Lynn Cruz, and Christopher Khayman Lee; WWE wrestlers Al Snow and Rhyno; Detroit Red Wings alumnus Darren McCarty; Detroit native/comic book artist Arvell Jones (co-creator of the Marvel character Misty Knight); Lincoln Park native/artist Bill Morrison (The Simpsons); Detroit native James O’Barr, creator/artist of The Crow, among others. 

“I am very excited for the Pop Fest,” said co-owner Gary Pillette. “We’ve increased the size of our Outdoor Fun Zone and added an eating competition, kids’ activity tent, and a huge horror display from Michigan’s own upcoming Horror Town…We also are excited about the addition of WWE legends Al Snow and Rhyno for 2022. But for the fan in me, I’m most excited about Olivia d’Abo, Princess Jhenna from (1984’s) Conan the Destroyer… She doesn’t do a ton of shows and we’re excited to have her here in Monroe.”

The Wonder Years

The daughter of Mike d’Abo of English rock band Manfred Mann fame, d’Abo made her acting debut in the above-mentioned Conan, alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Her best-known role is Karen Arnold, the hippy sister on the 1988-93 Emmy-winning period drama “The Wonder Years.” Her free-spirited liberalism conflicted with the conservative views of her father, Jack (Dan Lauria), a Korean War veteran who grew up during the Great Depression. In one of his early roles, a pre-”Friends” David Schwimmer played Karen’s husband Michael. 

Karen was a smart, opinionated young woman – she was a dyed-in-the-wool activist,” said d’Abo. “I’m always so happy and moved when women say to me, ‘I was Karen.’ Mothers come up to me and say, ‘That was me.’ Younger girls look at Karen and see her as the prototype for the quintessential hippy. What I found in Karen is how much she really affected young females with her style, intelligence, and opinions – she really walked the walk.” 

She continued, “I made sure as an actress that I walked the walk too, that I knew exactly what teen-angst youth would be like in 1968, what kind of music she’d be stimulated by – Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf – why she was so anti-Vietnam. There was a division in the country at the time when we portrayed each character, but it’s different than the division we’re experiencing right now, which – hopefully in the not-too-distant future – we’ll be back in a place where we can all be harmoniously connected again.”

Critically acclaimed, “The Wonder Years” – which won an Emmy in 1988 – earned a spot in the Nielsen Top 30 in its first four seasons. TV Guide named it one of the best shows of the 1980s. 

“When we rewatch an episode, we’re reminded that life can be bittersweet but, ultimately, there’s hope. That has a lot to do with the show being narrated by an 11-year-old,” said d’Abo. “It’s funny over time, the show becomes more valuable – especially right now during the pandemic when the world is much more uncertain than it used to be. When the performing arts come into that, it’s crucial. It’s not only a way to escape the reality we’re all contending with and doing the best we can with, wanting to go back to a nostalgic series like “The Wonder Years” is vital.”

Star Trek: The Next Generation

D’Abo has the distinction of playing the first female Q, a race of godlike beings, in the 1992 episode “True Q” on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” In this fan-favorite episode, it was revealed that d’Abo’s character, Amanda Rogers was part of the Q Continuum. 

“What attracted me to her was the vulnerability yet the tremendous power she had,” said d’Abo.

Amanda’s parents were Qs who became human when she was conceived. Her powers began manifesting as a young adult aboard the Enterprise. Q (John de Lancie) arrives to teach Amanda how to use her powers, as well as help her decide to remain a human being or return to the Q Continuum. 

“I was attracted to the fork in the road she’d come to, where she had to make a decision, which way she wanted to exercise that power she has within her… To me, that was a beautiful moment to be able to play,” said d’Abo. “What it came down to with her – which is not too dissimilar with what I love about people from the Midwest – is I loved her morals and her values – that’s what ultimately guided her… Q was like the monkey on her back, ‘No, Amanda, you can do so much with this power if you go a little more dark.’”

Criminal Intent

On “L&O: CI,” she portrayed Nicole Wallace, a female serial killer who was Det. Robert Goren’s (Vincent D’Onofrio) archnemesis, the Professor Moriarty to his Sherlock Holmes. A criminal mastermind and sociopath, Nicole appears on five episodes, debuting in the 2002 episode “Anti-Thesis.” 

“The Sherlock Holmes-Moriarty dynamic between myself and Vincent was something that took off like wildfire,” said d’Abo. 

Nicole was slated to be killed off in the 2004 episode “Great Barrier.” However, producers gave fans the option of voting whether she lived or died. It was revealed Nicole faked her death, returning in the 2005 episode “Grow.”

In her final appearance in the 2008 episode “Frame,” Nicole is murdered by Dr. Declan Gage (John Glover), Goren’s former mentor. Gage sends her heart in a package to Goren. 

According to d’Abo, Nicole is alive and well. She showed up on the 2013 mini-series Jo, living under the alias Madeleine Haynes in Paris. Both d’Abo and “Jo” creator René Balcer, who previously wrote for “L&O:CI” and who created Nicole, have confirmed that Madeleine is indeed Nicole. 

“After I died – or so I thought – in the episode where (Glover) sends Goren my heart in a box… I wouldn’t have thought Nicole would’ve been able to come back from that, but then again, she’s a sociopath and always 10-20 steps ahead of everybody. She’s beyond Machiavellian – she’s calculating and very, very smart,” explained d’Abo.

When she read for “Jo”, d’Abo had no idea Madeleine was Nicole. 

“The only way, first of all, that would’ve been pulled off legally on a Dick Wolf (“L&O” creator/godfather) show was René. He and Dick have a really good relationship,” she recalled. “I was told I had an offer for this mini-series that was shooting in Paris. I recognized René’s name. As I was reading the Madeleine role, it started talking about her having another identity.. Jean Reno’s character was starting to pinpoint her to a murder, and she became one of the prime suspects. As things transpired, they learn her other alias was Nicole Wallace. I thought, ‘Omigod! This is amazing!’ I was thrilled and excited.”

For d’Abo to play Nicole, she had to tap into her dark side, which she admitted was scary. 

“I love always having another challenge and playing something that’s a complete antithesis of the last thing I played because it keeps me on my toes,” she said. “If something scares me a bit, it’s a good thing because you push yourself self-consciously past your threshold to get the kind of performance you want. Whenever we have scenarios like that, it’s a godsend because it reinforces why I do what I do and why I love what I do because there has to be a real deep level of determination that you have something to say and that your interpretation could be something right for the piece. I love the diversity, the opportunities I’ve been given as an actor. They’re not all the same and I thank God and the fans and the people who hire me to continue playing different roles. The worst thing for an actor is to be pigeonholed in some role where you’re playing the same thing over and over again.” 

Coming to Monroe

D’Abo has also done plenty of voiceover work, most notably as Jedi Master Luminara Unduli on “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” She had a voice cameo as Luminara in 2019’s “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”

She’s looking forward to the Pop Fest and shared what she loves most about attendingcons. 

“I do (cons) primarily for the panels and for the fans… people come up to your table and talk about the stories you’ve shared in the panel – they’re all illuminated and lit up and excited,” said d’Abo. “They’re generally so moved, it’s the best way for an actor to get to know your fans and also to hear their stories about how the work you’ve done – in some small way or large – has really affected their lives. Those stories are priceless. They’re like gold to me. Everyone seems to have an association with a character you’ve played or the message in a particular show you were in, and it’s stuck with them.” 

She continued, “Ultimately, particularly for an artist… when you’ve been able to be part of something that’s touched people’s lives, it’s that wonderful give-and-take the fans give to the artist and the artist gives back to the fans. To me, it’s the best way to experience the aftermath of the work you’ve been part of that’s ricocheted its way out into the world, and people come back to tell you how it’s moved them or made them laugh or helped them through a difficult time. For me, being able to do that and speak to somebody who’s ill or having a hard time, it’s about giving back that love.”

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