Why Jenna Elfman Has to Work Extra Hard at Acting in ABC’s ‘Imaginary Mary’

TCA 2017: “It was actually a really great challenge,” star says of CGI-enhanced comedy

Jenna Elfman wants you to know that it’s not easy to have an imaginary friend. Or at least, it’s not easy to act alongside one.

Elfman is the star of ABC’s new comedy “Imaginary Mary,” a new comedy about a mom whose childhood imaginary pal (a CGI concoction voiced by former “SNL” star Rachel Dratch) now follows her around in midlife. Elfman, who rose to stardom on “Dharma and Greg,” found the acting more challenging than she did for the 2003 live-action/animated feature “Looney Tunes: Back in Action.”

“When we were filming ‘Looney Tunes,’ we had men in green suits, green screens, green little balls on sticks, a lot of like, ‘in the real world’ green-screen elements,” Elfman told reporters Tuesday at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena. “For this, because it’s CGI, it’s a whole different approach to animation; we had rehearsal with a stunt, life-size puppet; we had an amazing puppeteer. We would rehearse with her. We had an actress, a comedic actress, on set to do all the lines, so I felt like I had a comedic partner because Rachel was in New York.”

After the rehearsals, though, the puppet would be taken away. Leaving Elfman alone with her acting chops.

“There would be nothing,” Elfman said. “I didn’t even have a green ball. I had nothing. …. An empty chair, then she’d be walking across the room… Oftentimes, I’d have seven different eye lines.

“It was actually a really great challenge comedically,” she added.

That might not be the only challenge for this show. ABC ordered “Imaginary Mary” last spring but in September cut the episode order from 13 to nine, following a harsh online reaction to an early trailer.

“Imaginary Mary” will get a sneak preview airing at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday March 29, then move to its regular time slot of Tuesdays at 9:30 on April 4.