She's been a nagging wench, a sexy housewife and a miserable dieter with carrots growing out of her ears.
The parts may be comedic, but the player, Laura Summer, is as earnest as her best-known character, the trainee of Hanes' merciless underwear inspector, Inspector 12.
The trainee is perky and directed. "I want to follow in the steps of F. Murray Abraham," said Summer, sipping Diet Cokes on a quiet Sunday afternoon at the Improv, her frequent hang out. (Before winning an Oscar for "Amadeus," Abraham was the leaf pile in the Fruit of the Loom commercials.)
"I'm a fun girl," said Summer, in a thoughtful voice, different from the funny ones she assumes for voice-overs and cartoon characters. "I wear glasses and work in an underwear factory. I'm also very serious about my life and my work."
She's "always studying"--most recently with director/acting coach Joan Darling--and dreams of starring opposite Robert De Niro. "I was cute when I started," she said. "I'm still cute, but now I'm an actress."
The Hanes trainee series--there have been seven spots in all--has been running three years. When Summer auditioned for the original, she bought a pair of glasses that may have clinched the job for her. The look stuck. Many pairs of glasses later, Summer is still trying to be the best student of Inspector 12 that she can be: "I want to be like her. I want to get a number someday."
Still, her favorite acting moments are playing dumb blonde stars, "cause then I can boss everybody around."
As with most folks in the acting biz, Summer doesn't talk age: "Let's say I have an age range that stretches as far as the waistband on Hanes underwear," she quips, alluding to one of her duties as inspector-trainee. " Now is it Hanes?" she says in one commercial, gritting her teeth and tugging on a pair of jockey shorts like a claustrophic trying to pry open elevator doors.
"I know what makes a good pair of underwear and if somebody doesn't wear Hanes, forget it!" she jokes. But she takes her contracted role with Hanes very seriously and is grateful for the money, which has brought more acting classes and her cross-country move to California.
Plus, the leader of the next generation of inspectors has become an underwear expert. "I have no personal experience wearing Hanes (even her father wears boxer shorts), but it stretches very well."
Summer grew up in New York, moved to Florida where she did a year of college ("I studied acting and boys"), then returned at 18 to New York to act, a ambition provoked by watching the Little Miss America contest on TV at age 5: "First I wanted to a princess, and if I couldn't be a princess, then I wanted to be an actress and make people laugh."
Comedic parts haven't been her only pursuit, hiowever. "I need different parts at different times because I'm always changing, much to my parents' unhappiness and shock."
Summer is proud of recently landing a voice-over job with the new "Ghostbusters" cartoon, but she's done more serious stuff as well. She 's won roles in films such as "Hard to Hold" with Rick Springfield and the horror film "Girls Night Out" with Hal Holbrook. She's done Shakespeare off-Broadway and a few off-off Broadway plays, plus roles in TV soaps and sit-coms, including "The Facts of Life."
She loves acting. But she sometimes gets frustrated waiting for her star to rise. "I really enjoy the jobs. But auditioning is not that much fun anymore. I like them to just hire me, I like them to say, 'Laura, you're booked.' "