Mason jars us with her dancing/acting/knitting life


So far, "Roswell, New Mexico" has been a fairly good series, somehow juggling soap, sci-fi and serious drama. For one next episode (Feb. 5), it has an added advanage, in some time zones, as an alternative to the State of the Union address. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

PASADENA, Cal. -- Nine years ago, a
Miami teenager had a burst of fame.

Jeanine Mason became
the “So You Think You Can Dance” champion, raising the question
of where she would go from there. Las Vegas? Broadway? Oblivion?

Well, she does
sometimes work in Las Vegas ... but the one in New Mexico. She stars
in “Roswell, New Mexico,” spending her workday pondering
outer-space aliens. Her spare time is spent:

-- Knitting.
“Jeanine knitted hats for Lily (Cowles) and I, with little aliens
on them,” co-star Heather Hemmens said.

-- Or dancing. “I
do all the time,” Mason said, “particularly when we're out and
about in Santa Fe.”

Dance is how it
started for her. At 3, she was studying ballet and – reflecting her
Cuban roots – flamenco. She added jazz, hip-hop, modern and more;
in 2009, at 18, she became the fifth person (and the first Latina) to
win the “So You Think You Can Dance” title.

And then? She mostly
switched gears, graduating from UCLA and auditioning for acting roles
... a frequent route for dancers. “I grew up admiring the showmen –
the Rita Morenos and the Sutton Fosters,” she said. But “I will
always be a dancer at heart.”

Her first major role
(“Bunheads,” starring Foster) linked acing and dancing; other
roles didn't. Mason was an Israeli princess in “Of Kings and
Prophets” and Dr. Sam Bello in “Grey's Anatomy.”

In the “Roswell”
books, the central character is Liz Ortecho, Mason said. “There was
a big part of this story that was about this woman's Latin-ness.”

But when he first TV
version arrived in 1999, she became Liz Parker. TV was like that.

Now the reboot
restores her Latin roots. Liz is a medical researcher, returned to
the town where her dad has a diner. He's undocumented, a story that's
important to Carina MacKenzie, who wrote the reboot.

“My mom's
Egyptian,” MacKenzie said. “I was ... the blonde, blue-eyed girl
who was going to Islamic school on Sundays.”

After the Sept. 11
attack, she found herself overhearing anti-Muslim hatred “from
people who didn't know that they were talking about me. So (the show
is) a little bit of a story about passing, about not looking like the
enemy that people are looking for.”

In this case, three
people belatedly hatched from pods left by a 1947 UFO crash. They've
worked to assimilate. “We've got a cowboy, a housewife and a cop,”
MacKenzie said. “They look like the most ethnically cleansed
version of America, (but) they're holding a secret.”

The cop has loved
Liz since high school, thrusting the show into multiple worlds. It's
partly a soap, partly a serious drama and partly fun for UFO buffs.
The New Mexico settings provide:

-- Romantic
backdrops. “You point a camera toward the sun and two people kiss
and you're Steven Spielberg,” said producer/director Julie Plec.
“You can ... shoot a vista that you would get in 'Lawrence of
Arabia,'”

-- A chance to take
field trips to the real Roswell. Most of the actors have done that.
“It was vast and open and there was a UFO museum,” said Cowles,
who plays an alien. “I had a sublime time.”

-- The small-town
feel of this fictional Roswell. Most off the filming is done around
Santa Fe, but the show's downtown is 65 miles away in Las Vegas, a
town of about 14,600. Frequently used for filming (including “Wyatt
Earp” and “Longmire”), it has a folksy feel, MacKenzie said.
“It's like the hat store, next to the boot store, next to the book
store that's called 'Tome on the Range.'”

Adds Mason: “And
there is a knitting store for me.”

Hey, that's
important if you're a dancer-knitter-actress in a UFO drama.

-- “Roswell, New
Mexico,” 9 p.m. Tuesdays, CW

-- In some time zones, that gives it an extra edge on Feb. 5: It's the only entertainment show on a broadcast network, going against the State
of the Union address.