Josie Bissett is a breath of fresh air. Talking to her is like catching up with that old girlfriend you haven’t seen in a while, but you immediately fall into the familiar rhythm of gabbing about everything under the sun in one phone call.
It’s a week before her new Lifetime movie “Pregnant at 17” premieres, and while she excitedly chats about her latest role as Sonia Clifton, she’s just as open to talking about the other things that matter to her most – her family. It’s been nine months since a fire caused by the barbecue grill at her Washington home left them living in temporary housing. She lost most of her and her kids’ possessions. It happened during the day when a propane grill on her back porch exploded and the fire quickly spread inside. The entire house will need to be rebuilt and Bissett is hoping to start the process later this year.
“It took a lot to get through the reality that it happened,” Bissett said, adding that she realizes she is fortunate and feels for those who are not in a position to readily recover. “We put all of this money in insurance and then [a fire] happens and then it’s like, ‘how can this be?’ How can they not be doing anything to make it better for me? It is an awful process.” Bissett said her two children, with actor and ex-husband Rob Estes, were not home at the time of the fire. “Thank God for my friends and family. They stepped in until I got a grip,” she added. She is remaining optimistic and knows that one day she may be able to look back and see a silver lining in it all. “I do believe that something is going to come my way and I will look back and see it.”
Bissett, 45, is well-known for her beloved character Jane Mancini on Fox’s hit 90s show, “Melrose Place.” When women weren’t asking for “The Rachel” haircut at the salon, they more than likely were asking for Bissett’s famous pixie cut. The primetime soap opera was a pop culture fave and at the peak of its popularity, Bissette and her four other kick-butt costars, which included Heather Locklear, appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Hollywood can be a fickle place, and many of our beloved stars from yesteryear are no longer gracing our TV screens on a regular basis. However, Bissett has managed to find longevity and consistently successful projects that keep her employed and that allow her to focus on the priority role in her life – being a mother.
In her latest role as Sonia Clifton, Bissett plays a veterinarian who is married to Jeff (actor Roark Critchlow), a successful, but self-involved businessman. Sonia, who desperately wants to have a child, recently suffered a miscarriage and finds out she will never be able to conceive. Hoping to find comfort from her husband, she instead discovers he is having an affair. When she finds out who his mistress is, she uses a fictitious name and develops a friendship with Chelsea (played Orphan Black’s Zoe De Grand Maison). To Sonia’s surprise, she actually likes the young woman she expected to hate.
Bissett could relate to some of her character’s pains as she has suffered a miscarriage in real life. “I was shooting ‘Melrose’ at the time I was pregnant. That’s just how I grew up, with a really big family. So I was super bummed and devastated. I got pregnant the first time we tried and [after the miscarriage] I could not get pregnant for two years. You don’t know what you don’t know. If you haven’t been through a miscarriage, you don’t know. You don’t know what death feels like until it happens. I get that feeling of what she (my character Sonia) went through. I tapped into that feeling of loss and hopelessness and wanting to become a mother.”
Co-parent now to Mason, 17, and Maya, 14, Bissett wanted to find work that allowed her to be home with her children as much as possible. She’s starred in a number of TV movies and shows, including a long stint on the ABC Family hit, “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” The series, which debuted in July 2008 and ran for five seasons, afforded Bissett the luxury of traveling to Burbank, Calif. from her Seattle home every other week. Like many other working moms, Bissett is not immune to the guilt that can come from being away from her children due to work.
“It’s really hard. I think all moms must feel it, but especially moms who have this drive to succeed. After I had Mason, that’s when I started writing books. I could not not create,” Bissett said. “I found a different way to create. I didn’t want to be on set and miss raising my child, but I also couldn’t just raise him. I had to fulfill that creative side of me. If I didn’t, I don’t know what I’d do with myself.”
Bissett said from early on she has taught her children about the pie of life and the importance of making time for things you care about. “I’m a Libra so if I’m off balance, I feel it … You have to be aware.”
What started out as an opportunity to continue her self-expression while raising her first born turned into a successful writing career. Bissett has authored two children’s books, “Tickle Monster” and “Boogie Monster,” as well as co-edited two additional titles, “Little Bits of Wisdom” and “Making Memories.” She’s currently working on her third title about a young girl and her adventures. And now that her son Mason and daughter Maya are in their teens, she’s also dipping her toes back into feature films for the big screen. She recently returned from shooting a scene in Korea for the upcoming film “Operation Chromite” starring Liam Neeson.
Next month Bissett is answering questions from her Lioness fans and chiming in on the state of women in Hollywood, what young women should do if they’re interested in acting and how she stays inspired and motivated.
“Pregnant at 17,” premieres on Saturday, Feb. 20 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime.