Penny Johnson Jerald is an American actress who portrays Claire Finn on The Orville.

Background[edit | edit source]

Johnson is an acclaimed actress who is known for her roles such as that of Kasidy Yates-Sisko in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, wife of Benjamin Sisko; Beverly Barnes on The Larry Sanders Show; and Sherry Palmer, the villainous wife of President David Palmer on 24. Jerald also appeared on Castle as Captain Victoria Gates.

The Orville[edit | edit source]

Creator Seth MacFarlane wrote the character of Claire Finn with Penny Johnson Jerald in mind, and thought of Finn as a combination of Yates-Sisko from Deep Space Nine and Barnes from The Larry Sanders Show.[1]

Jerald did not know the character had been written for her. She visited Fox studios in 2016 and spoke with MacFarlane to convince him to give her the role - never knowing the role was practically hers from the start.[1] Jerald recalled,

When I first met with Seth and he was describing Dr. Finn, I marveled at the fact that he had been watching my career all along. So, I was pleasantly surprised. It felt pretty good! He described Claire Finn as having the guts of Beverly from “The Larry Sanders Show.” And he had just finished binge watching “24” so he mentioned the solidity of Sherry Palmer. I thought, “Okay…Alright…Let’s do that.”[2]

On October 31, 2016, Penny Johnson Jerald and Halston Sage were cast as series regulars in The Orville.[3]

After filming of Old Wounds concluded, Jerald decided that she wants The Orville to be her last ensemble cast television show. "I saw the pilot, I looked at [the cast] and I said 'okay, great. This is my ‘Swan Song'.' And they looked at me and said 'what do you mean? This is over?' and I said 'No, this is the show I’m going to keep doing until I don’t want to do this anymore.'"[3]

When Jerald first gets an episode's script, she first "turn[s] back all the pages" that refer to her character or introduce a technical term.[4]

While filming on set, Jerald says she maintains an upbeat, optimistic attitude: "I come in dancing every day. . . . because I know that I'm going to be there all night long." Jerald continues that the set has a shared, communal bed that anyone may sleep on, which the cast calls the "family bed."[5] By Season 2, Jerald began calling it her "morning dance-off."[6]

Reaction to critics[edit | edit source]

The sharp divide in opinion between critics and regular television audiences, where critics often rate the show poorly while audiences rate it highly, is not lost upon Jerald. Shortly after The Orville was renewed for a second season, Jerald responded to critics who complained that the show does not know whether it wants to be a comedy or a drama. "The dialogue [of critics] when we first started was, 'Oh, my gosh. What do they think they are?' It's a dramedy, and what we we need to do is teach the audience how to watch us."[5]

Her comments grew more acute as time went on. " We were advertised as this sci-fi comedy ... and we truly weren't. We're a dramedy. So last year [was spent] trying to find the proper balance of the funny and the drama. This year, we've found it."[4]

Musical episode pitch[edit | edit source]

While details are scant, sometime during Season 1 or, more likely, Season 2, Jerald pitched an idea for a musical episode to MacFarlane while the two were on set: a planet where no one can speak except musically.[7]

Trivia[edit | edit source]

  • Jerald says that portraying a mother-character in the show comes naturally to her because she is a mother as well.[8]
    • She is protective of the child actors who portray her kids: Kai Wener and BJ Tanner. "I become this mother hen. I protect them behind the scenes, and then when we’re [on-camera], I feel like they’re my kids. And then I have to be reminded I have to give them back to their parents, because their parents are always there."[9]
    • Knowing Jerald loves to dance each morning, Wener and Tanner taught her various dances from the video game Fortnite.[10]
  • As a practicing Christian, Jerald has commented that the opportunity to portray Claire is a chance to be a "light in the room."[11]
  • She says her time on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine taught her to stick closely to the script "to give honor" to the writers of The Orville.[4]
    • She later said she became a "Trekkie" (a fan of Star Trek) while acting on Deep Space Nine, and her new passion led her to joining The Orville.[12]
  • The greatest challenge of acting on The Orville is the "physicality" of the action scenes: "I think when these things are written, Seth is believing that we are in tiptop physical shape, so he can like for us to run forever...."[12]
  • If she could, she would trade places with co-star Mark Jackson to act as Isaac because she wants the challenge.[12]
  • Her favorite episode is Into the Fold.[13]
  • Jerald says that she had met Seth MacFarlane prior to auditioning for the role of Claire Finn, but he does not remember it.[1]

Interviews[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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