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'Thirtysomething's' office romance

Ken Olin and Patricia Wettig were wed before they were cast in 'thirtysomething' but played characters married to other people.

August 23, 2009|Greg Braxton

For Hollywood couple Ken Olin and Patricia Wettig, life began at "thirtysomething." Now at fiftysomething, they are still figuratively joined at the hip -- professionally and personally.

On the groundbreaking '80s drama, Olin and Wettig, who have been married for 27 years, played characters who were spouses of other people. One of the secret pleasures for "thirtysomething" fans aware of their real relationship was trying to detect any added spark or chemistry between Olin's Michael Steadman or Wettig's Nancy Weston.

While grateful and proud of their involvement in the series, Olin and Wettig said they have been too busy in the last several years to spend too much time traveling down memory lane.

"We haven't watched it in years," Olin said as he and his wife wolfed down salads in his Walt Disney Studios office during a rushed lunch break. "Patti has a few VHS tapes, which we never watch. We both have done a lot in the last 20 years, and it's nice to know we weren't stuck in that time."

While acknowledging the show's landmark status and its impact on future dramas, Wettig also sees "thirtysomething" as "such an important beginning for our film careers."

Wettig, who has been featured in several series ("Prison Break," "Alias," and the short-lived "Courthouse" and "L.A. Doctors") and films (she played Billy Crystal's wife in "City Slickers") currently costars on ABC's "Brothers & Sisters" as Holly Harper, the mistress of late family patriarch William Walker.

Despite his leading-man looks on the series ("Look how pretty Ken was!" exclaimed Wettig at one point), Olin, who directed several episodes of the drama, mostly retreated behind the camera in his post-"thirtysomething" years, concentrating on directing and producing. Stints on "The West Wing," "Felicity," "Alias" and "Eli Stone" have led to his current executive producer post on "Brothers & Sisters."

Olin said, "It was so important for me to establish an identity separate from Michael Steadman."

As they discussed their past and present, the chemistry and affection between Olin and Wettig was palpable. They frequently finished each other's sentences as they shared memories about "thirtysomething." Olin commented on his thinner physique while Wettig spoke with mock horror about the shoulder pads in her blouse and the "clippy" beret she wore in the first season.

ABC was not aware that the couple were married when they were first cast. "The producers hired us, and the network signed off," Wettig said. "It was only after they signed off on each of us that we told them. We had no identity as a couple then."

She added that she and her husband closely identified with their characters. "At that exact time, we were in the early years of our marriage, and we had just had kids, so much of what we played we were experiencing simultaneously in real life," Wettig said. "I just loved doing that job. I loved all the people."

The show's success was linked to its relevance, Olin said. "They really dealt with the issues of those times. And it was such an intimate show."

Olin and Wettig are back working together -- and they're an on-screen couple. In addition to directing and executive producing "Brothers & Sisters," Olin has taken on the role of David Caplan, the boyfriend of Holly.

"The first time I shot a scene with her, I was so nervous I was shaking," he said. "I like acting with Patti. She helps me. Everyone else is afraid of me, but she's not scared to say, 'That doesn't cut it.' "

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greg.braxton@latimes.com

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