Half-baked

 By Janet Di Lauro, Soap Opera Weekly, 1990

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She is affectionately called "Crazy Annie" by her Santa Barbara co-workers - a name actress Sharonlee McLean answers to proudly. Cast back in February as Laura's (Christopher Norris) sanitarium sidekick, the talented McLean has stretched a short three-week role into three months and counting. "It's certainly been interesting," laughs McLean, about her newfound soap fame. "Usually, (my agents and manager) try to sell me in more of a comedy vein, but I enjoy doing dramatic work, too. That's why Annie is so neat. I get to be depressed, yet in that depression there's comedy. There are a variety of feelings that I'm allowed to show and feel. Annie can be a grown-up or a little girl. She can be nasty and mean one minute and the nicest person that ever lived the next. I'm really jazzed about the character."

And so is the Santa Barbara audience !  They've fallen in love with the little lady (McLean's a petite 5'1") who packs a great big acting wallop. "I never thought I'd do a soap, because I'm a character actress," says McLean. "I have very low self esteem... the physical side of me. Everybody would tell me, "Why don't you do a soap ?" I'd say, "A soap ? Look at me !" Then, the first thing I land that I can sink my teeth into is a soap."

Perhaps Annie's uniqueness is a reason for her popularity. Clad daily in "Plain Jane" duds and McLean's "good luck" saddle shoes, Annie doesn't resemble the typical daytime damsel or the actress who portrays her. "I have a feeling people wouldn't know me away from here. The only way they might recognize me would be by my voice or my laugh," she says. "I have a very different look outside work. My hair is blonde. They put a rinse in it every day, because (the producers) wanted the character to be a brunette. And I dress totally different," she continues. "I like to wear jeans and boots, but then I like streamlined suede dresses, too. It all depends how I feel. I dress sort of Annie Hall-ish. On the show I wear little black and gray sweats. Now I'm branching out and wearing dresses," she laughs.

While McLean and Annie have very different looks, McLean notes there are similarities between them. "When I'm home alone and doing things by myself, it's amazing how much I'm like Annie. Not the schizoid type thing, but that little munchkin type way of being... that little person type way. That little girl side of Annie is very prominent in me," confides McLean.

The rapport between McLean and Norris has developed quite effortlessly. "It just started happening when we started working together. The first day we ran lines once or twice. Things just seemed to fit. I don't know why. Some people work better together, some don't. We clicked."

For McLean, it all couldn't have happened at a better time. The role of Annie has truly been a godsend for the actress. It was only a year ago that her life and career took a dramatic nosedive. "I went bankrupt last year," McLean admits. "I lost all my money. I'd been living as an actress for eight years. I worked consistently all that time. Then, all of a sudden, the type of work that I was getting... well, the residuals were coming in every 13 weeks rather than every week or two." Having no other alternative, McLean filed for bankruptcy in early 1989. She also came to the painful realization that she had to get a steady job outside the industry. "It was a really hard decision for me. Psychologically, I wasn't ready to get an eight-hour-a-day job, but I had to do it. It humbled my butt," she says. "I took a job at Webby's Bakery in Studio City, California." McLean continued to work there even after she got Santa Barbara.

These days McLean is a full-fledged Santa Barbara girl and hopes to continue on the show for a long time to come. "I hope the public likes Annie enough to keep her on," McLean says. "She's an unusual character. There aren't other people like her on soaps. She's unique. That's something I really like. I try to do the best job I can and believe what I'm doing (with her). Hopefully, other people believe it, too."