Catching up with Olivia Clare Friedman from 'Any Day Now'

By: Start TV Staff     Posted: September 23, 2020, 4:45PM

Image source: The Everett Collection

Airing for four seasons in the late '90s and early 2000s, Any Day Now was a hidden gem that holds significant relevance to this day. Taking place in Birmingham, Alabama, the series tells the story of two women, Mary Elizabeth (Annie Potts) and Rene Jackson (Lorraine Toussaint), in both the perspectives of their childhood growing up in the '60s during the height of the segregationist movement and their present, in the late ’90s as adults.

Regarded as being far ahead of its time, Any Day Now touched on a variety of topics often seen as uncommon in the mainstream discussion at the time, including racism, sexism, and homophobia.

Recently, while scrolling through social media, former Any Day Now actress Olivia Clare Friedman, who played the role of M.E.'s daughter, Kelly Sims, saw that Start TV had brought back the series. She couldn't have been more excited. We reached out and had the wonderful opportunity to speak with her about her time on the show, what she's been up to, and her excitement to see the show back on the air again.

What have you been up to recently?

I'm a fiction writer and a poet, I'm also a professor of Creative Writing at the University of Southern Mississippi where I teach fiction writing. I’ve published two books, I have a book of poems called The 26 Hour Day and then I also have a book of short stories out called Disasters in the First World and I'm working on a novel now. I publish short stories in literary journals as well. I'm living in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, as a writer and a professor and don't act at all anymore!

Rewinding a bit, could you talk a little bit about how you got into acting originally with Any Day Now?

Any Day Now was one of the best things to happen to me in my life, no question. I first did acting in community theater when I was about nine, then continued in community theater in Baton Rouge. Then, when I was 15, there was a call for auditions for a pilot that was being shot in New Orleans and they were looking for local casting. I originally auditioned for the role of young M.E. (young Mary Elizabeth). They said, "You're a little too old for her, can you come back and read for the part of Kelly?" I did and got the role of Kelly! I couldn't believe it, I already loved Annie Potts from Designing Women and was thrilled when I saw she was a part of it.

So we shot the pilot in New Orleans when I was 15, and then when it got picked up it wasn't the norm where if you got cast in local casting you didn't go with the production but we did! So, I moved to L.A., with a job! Which is not common, because you usually go there and then look for an audition but I went when I was 15 with a job and it was fantastic.

How was the transition going from Louisiana to L.A.?

It was really exciting and also the first time I had lived outside of Louisiana. I was also still in high school, so I still did school on the set and I was very studious. It was actually Annie [Potts] who was so supportive of my studies! I was taking all these different courses, including AP, so they had to find all these different tutors for me. It was Annie that really encouraged me to make sure that I went to college even later when the show was over. So not only did I go to college but I ended up with two Master's Degrees and even a Ph.D., so I really ran with it.

It was all these different changes at once, which was really exciting!

That does sound exciting! What was it like working with Annie Potts on set? Do you have any backstage stories that you remember?

First, of all the thing to know about Annie, is that she's absolutely amazing. She's so personable and she immediately took me under her wing. The show lasted four years, and I was on all four years, so it was kind of like my college, because it was such a formative time of my life.

I remember when we were still filming the pilot, before I knew we were going to be a series, I was very shyly trying to ask her what acting methods that she used. She was so personable and answered my questions, I felt like we were part of a team. People ask me, "Is she really as great as she seems?" And I say yes, and she's even better than that! She really is a wonderful and genuine person, and that was true for all of us on the show. Working was such a great group of people.

With Annie encouraging you to keep up with your studies on set, is this where you found your passion in writing?

I graduated from high school and was still on the show, I got into UCLA's theater program but I couldn't go because it was full time and couldn't make it work with the show's schedule. Annie said, "Why don't you take some classes at the community college?" — and I did!

I took classes on Saturday morning and would also do some evening classes. I told my professors that I would be filming and couldn't make it sometimes and they understood, this was at the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita.

Later, I took some classes with Suzzanne Lummis through UCLA Extension. I thought, "I'll try my hand at creative writing," and took some poetry classes. After the show ended, I applied to UC Berkeley, and was accepted there and that's where I went to college. I did my MFA at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and did another master's at the University of Southern California and got my Ph.D. in Nevada.

So it's been a big road! Annie was always such a big part of that because she always encouraged me to keep that part of myself alive during my acting career.

Did your time working on the series have an impact on your writing?

Yeah! Like I said, the show was in a lot of ways like my college, it was such a formative period for me. I believe that acting and writing have a lot in common, I think there’s something that's very performative about writing. It's also different though because with writing you're alone with your pen and your journal or your computer. Unless you're giving a reading or teaching, you spend a lot of time writing in solitude.

Also, with fiction writing, I find that my ear for dialogue, if I may say so myself, is pretty damn good. I think back to not only dialogue from my life, from growing up in the South with those particular rhythms, I also think back to the show and it's dialogue and it's rhythms  that are in my head. The novel that I'm writing right now takes place in Louisiana, in a fictional town, so that takes influence. With my book of short stories, Disasters in the First World, I have stories in there that take place in the South as well; it's always with me.

It's always so interesting to me what acting and writing have in common. I have a new story called "The Real Thing," and it's about acting and a young actress. I'm writing more stories that have to do with acting and it's been so fascinating to unearth all these things that you know from your life!

Is there any particular episode(s) that sticks out to you that you think is most relevant still today?

I have the same reaction of looking through the episodes and the topics and was shocked myself that we were covering these relevant topics then. I think about the episode when Ajoni and Kelly got married. That was a really special episode for us to film. I would say that even then we knew how important these topics were for us to talk about.

Having grown up in Louisiana, did having a Southern background already play into your performance as Kelly?

It definitely did. There are still so many issues that we're still seeing now. It was something that I saw when growing up in Louisiana. When thinking of a backstory for Kelly, these things would all become a part of it.

I didn't feel like I had to play as a sort of cliché Southern girl, you know what I mean? I think about this with writing, too, because I write about the South. There's something about growing up and living in a place where it helps you look past the clichés, where you don't feel the need to put on a thick Southern accent.

Have you thought about returning to acting?

I sometimes think about it! I think about doing something with the community theater here. It's funny, because for theater, you have to be a night person, and I used to be a night person! Now I'm very much a morning person, I wake up at three or four in the morning to write because that's my writing time. I have a daughter now, she's almost a year old, and I try to get my writing in before she wakes up. Once we're on the other side of COVID, I'm definitely thinking about it and becoming a night person again!

Could you possibly see an Any Day Now reboot? Or maybe even a "Catching Up With Kelly" spin-off?’

I would love that! The storyline is such an important and relevant one, especially now and always, and I am definitely up for that.

Watch Any Day Now on Start TV