Biography: Valerie Mahaffey





Actress Valerie Mahaffey won a 1992 Emmy for her portrayal of Eve, the wealthy pathological hypochondriac who marries her beau Adam (Adam Arkin).

Born June 16, 1953 in Sumatra, Indonesia. She went to Austin High School in Austin, TX where she graduated in 1971. She is a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin - BFA 1975. She is married to actor Joseph Kell, and they have a son.

Mahaffey has appeared in several movies, including Seabiscuit (2003), and guest spots on TV shows, including a powerful role a mother with a terminally ill child on ER.

The following is an interview where Mahaffey described her original casting for the role:
"'Well, you have to play opposite Adam Arkin, do you think you can be really, really mean?"' Mahaffey recalled. "I yelled at him real good and I guess he thought I was funny. That's how it went. Apparently, they had been looking for [an actress to play] this girl for a long time. Later, I was told there was this big search. Originally, she was supposed to be Jewish. They changed their minds I guess."

Mahaffey is pleased by her work as Eve. "I got a letter from a friend of mine who I hadn't seen in years. I went to school with him and he's now a doctor. He wrote to me and said, 'I just wanted to let you know you're frightening. You're so much like my hypochondriac patients. You're great.' It was the most wonderful letter from somebody I knew. I just gave him the chills, you know?"

She wasn't sure about the character at first. "I didn't know what to do with it. There wasn't any initial, 'Oh, yes, this is how to do this,' but as soon as I got it and I realized what a great person she is, what isn't there to be attracted to? She's very sure that she's right, and that's great to play -- somebody who's sure of themselves."

Part of her problem may have been a lack of context. Mahaffey hadn't seen Northern Exposure before her role there. "I kept hearing about it, but this acting class was on Monday nights, so I never saw the show. I became a fan after working on it. This is wonderfully written. It's very real, but very funny and quirky and poignant, like life."

She sees a little of herself in Cicely's hypochondriac. "There's a bit of bossiness about Eve that apparently is true of me when I'm playing a game. I'm very bossy that everybody follow the rules. There's something about her that's like me. I'm not obnoxious, at least as obnoxious as her. I'm a bit of a hypochondriac, but I do always seem to have something wrong with me so I can relate. She looks a lot like me," she jokes.

Mahaffey also didn't initially know how long Eve's stay in Cicely might be. "Apparently, Adam was possibly going to be recurring, and he knew that. I didn't. I just thought it was going to be a guest part. Very soon afterwards, my agent said, 'Well, it looks like she's supposed to come back at least a couple times this season.' Which is exactly what happened."

She felt more comfortable when she did return. "I felt more at home. I thought oh, I sort of belong here when I went back the second time. It had been so much fun the first time. That sense of belonging makes you a little more relaxed. My work process is always the same, whether it's a guest part or a regular part.

"Sometimes if I was doing a scene opposite Rob, who I find very real, I would just look at him like, 'Is that a good one?' and he'd tell me yes or no. The director would too, but because I can see Rob's work all the time, I really trust his judgement. He's very professional and very too himself which I don't mind. We became friends after a while, after he had gotten to trust me.

"We had a lot of fun, especially with Adam there. We were kind of an unholy triumvirate because Adam can't look at me without laughing and Rob can't look at Adam without laughing. When the three of us are in a scene, the producers get very mad because one or the other of us breaks up. Adam said it was because he could see something in me that I get what he's doing. Who knows why Rob can't look at Adam?

"At first I was a good girl. The last time we broke up the boys were just going. It was my close-up and I was hanging on and one of the producers chided the boys, said, 'It's not fair to the crew and it's not fair to Valerie.' Then he walked off and the two of them went [mocking], 'It's not fair to Valerie,' just like two second-grade boys. Then we pulled it together and it was okay. The editor later, when he saw that scene, just said, 'What was going on? You don't have one complete take of this scene.' But I don't think they're really mad at us. We only held them up for twenty minutes."

Despite the uncontrolled hilarity breaks or perhaps because of them, Mahaffey and Adam Arkin developed a rapport. "Adam and I hit it off right away. He's so much fun it's unbelievable. It's just a gas to work with him. He's a very funny guy, very smart, and very talented. We've become friends. He can't look at me [without laughing] -- he can't do the scene. I said to him, 'Adam, would it better if you acted to space, just if I wasn't here.' He said, 'You know what, could you? Could you go away?' So he did the scene to thin air."

She also likes the on-screen relationship between Adam and Eve. "I think they really love each other, but I think they're like a lot of couples who have been together for a long time, it's not usually the lovey-dovey stuff you see on TV," Mahaffey noted. "But I think there's this thing where he's allowed to say whatever he wants about her, but if anybody else says anything bad about Eve, he jumps in to her defense. I don't think she'd do the same for him, though."

Like most, she enjoys her time filming in Roslyn, but can concede that the show probably gets in the way. "I think that they thought it would be neat to have a television show there, but we hold up traffic and it's kind of a nuisance."

The actress feels that Northern Exposure's "real, but weird," and that's what draws the viewers. "I think people enjoy that. There are so many times that I'll see a situation happen in life and I'll think that nobody would believe this, but it happens in life -- the strange things people do or say or that they believe. Some of the [episodes] have gotten pretty spiritual and I think people tune in to that."

Her work on the series has made a dramatic change on her life and career. "This is amazing -- I'm a guest on a show that I don't know anything about and suddenly everybody knows me. They don't know what the hell my name is yet, everybody knows my face. I just got off the plane and the stewardess said, 'I'm sorry to bother you, but what was it? Was it Cheers? I said, 'Yes, I was on Cheers.' Then my husband whispered to me, 'Northern Exposure.'


Mahaffey has been in many movies and TV series. Since leaving Northern Exposure, some of the shows she has done include ER, Desperate Housewives and United States of Tara (joining back up with fellow NX cast member, John Corbett).
© Copyright, 2010 • Northern Exposure is Copyright Universal City Studios. All Rights Reserved. • Created 12/28/01 • Updated 6/16/10