Life imitates art far more than art imitates life, wrote Oscar Wilde.
That seems to be especially true for Anne Heche, who stars in "Men in Trees," ABC's sophomore drama premiering Friday, Oct. 12.
In one of the more surreal collisions of art and life, Heche moved to the Pacific Northwest last year to play Marin Frist, a New York-based relationship coach and author who travels to tiny Elmo, Alaska, to give a lecture. While she is there, her engagement back home in Manhattan falls apart, prompting her to make a fresh start, building a new family with the eclectic people of Elmo -- and finding romance with soulful wildlife expert Jack Slattery (James Tupper).
While filming "Trees," Heche discovered that her own marriage back home was kaput, but she received plenty of moral support from the show's extremely close-knit cast and crew -- and found romance with soulful actor James Tupper.
"I definitely think Marin and I are very similar," Heche says. "Marin's spirit and optimism resonate with my present. She's a girl on a mission of finding herself, and that certainly has always been my path."
While Heche has been finding herself, "Men in Trees" has been finding a growing fan base since the show was launched without a lot of fanfare last fall. It helped that ABC Entertainment president Stephen McPherson recognized that "Trees" was a refreshing, character-driven departure from the usual TV fare. And while the series never became a breakout hit during its freshman season, it won a renewal -- although fans were disheartened when ABC yanked the show from its schedule last spring with five episodes left unaired.
The upside to that situation is that, after an eight-month hiatus, "Trees" huggers can look forward to a 27-episode second season that picks up where things left off.
"There's a wedding with a lot of problems thrown at it, so it may or may not happen," series creator Jenny Bicks reveals. "You can expect a lot more from Marin and Jack in terms of the two of them getting closer, with Lynn (Justine Bateman) as an ongoing obstacle. Jack also has to make a hard choice about whether he stays in Elmo or goes far away for something else.
"Ben (Abraham Benrubi) will be making a very big purchase, and a lot is going to be happening with Patrick (Derek Richardson). Cash (Scott Elrod) will start playing a more significant role, and Jane (Seana Kofoed) and Plow Guy (Ty Olsson) will revisit their relationship, which I know will make a lot of people happy. She comes back to Elmo for this wedding, and a lot of unexpected things happen. Let's leave it at that."
Indeed, the hilarious odd-coupling of Jane, Marin's brittle New York editor, and Sam, Elmo's snowplow driver, was one of the happiest developments of season one, and Bicks credits the actors for sparking her imagination in that direction.
"If I didn't have such a talented actress playing the part, you would have seen Jane more as just the voice of the friend from New York," she says. "As soon as I saw what Seana did in the pilot, though, I knew she would be a lot of fun to write for. Her comedic timing is just perfect, and she and Ty ... have such great chemistry and have made such an interesting relationship that it would be stupid not to write to it."
Many members of the cast credit Heche with playing cheerleader and keeping up company morale during the ratings-challenged early months of the first season. It wasn't a Pollyanna act, the actress says. She just sensed that the warmhearted "Men in Trees" would offer viewers a safe haven from all the turmoil in their own lives.
"I think I believed so strongly in the message that Jenny founded this show on," Heche says. "It's a show about hope and people coming together and finding that supportive, loving friends can surround your life and help support you through the difficulties and the fun and the romance of it. I just think that's a really important and necessary thing for entertainment to offer, a way of being in the world.
"Obviously there's a lot of strife and chaos and turmoil going on right now. Who we are and who we can be to each other within that is part of what this show talks about. I love that they say that I'm a cheerleader, because I believe in ... every single one of the actors who was hired to show these individual stories. And I think it has been proven that this is just a 'necessary' show."
Having won a second season, Heche, Bicks and the rest of the "Men in Trees" company have their fingers crossed that tiny Elmo will enjoy a Nielsen tourist boom this season. After all, on top of everything else, the show, which films near Vancouver, boasts some of the most spectacular natural sets on television."I am standing right now on the location where Marin's cabin is, and it's just beautiful, surrounded by trees, and there's a pond and birds flying by," Heche says. "People get to see a different part of the world than they normally would get to see by watching our show. You can't match Mother Nature on a back lot. The show really is about the relationship not only of the people in the community with one another, but also the connection to this Earth that we are blessed to be living on. That's part of the magic of this show.
"It's one of the most unique visual shows on the air. Every place we go is one more stunning visual. We're looking at mountains. We're fly-fishing. We're ice-skating at the top of a peak. In our show, people get to escape to a place that is extraordinarily beautiful, but it's also a town of people who are really caring and loving and nurturing. We're an eclectic group of people, as Elmo is, and all these individuals have come together and found their family. I think everyone is represented here, because Elmo is filled with all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds."