Max Headroom
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Newsweek April 20, 1987

A High-Tech Heroine Heats Up the Screen
Jennet Conant with Lynda Wright in Los Angeles.

Playing a leading lady isn't as easy as it used to be. Consider for a moment the leading men central casting has been coming up with lately. Remember how Pam Dawber's Mindy had to compete for camera angles week after week with Mork from Ork? Or how all those overeager starlets were cast opposite ALF, a furry little alien who resembles nothing so much as an aardvark? Thank goodness Howard the Duck never made it to the small screen. But making matters worse, now there's Max. Despite his nice tan and coiffured hair, he's no Mark Harmon. Have you ever tried snuggling up to a cathode-ray tube? But as Max's lucky costar, Amanda Pays is warming to the role. Her Theora Jones is everything a high-tech heroine should be--smart, self-sufficient and steamy enough to trigger a power outage, on screen or off.

Of course, Theora has her work cut out for her. Max majors in upstaging ordinary actors, including his telegenic alter ego, Edison Carter. But as Network 23's "ace controller," Theora is a cool-headed video jockey who manuevers through computer mazes like an MIT graduate. In keeping with the show's mischievous humor, she literally controls her male teammate, programming Edison's every move. Her macho, tough-talking manner is the only mode for a woman in a no-frills future. "She's the sort of girl who takes men out for drinks," says Steve Roberts, Max's top writer. "She's not permanently aware of the fact she's attractive, but she uses it when she has to."

Bosomy body: Pays chose to use it recently when she posed nude for Vogue's April issue, revealing a rounded, bosomy body the magazine immediately hailed as a new image for the '80's. "She exemplifies the modern woman--feminine, but not dependent," declared Vogue. At 27, the British-born Pays seems as imperturbable as her on-screen persona. She fails to see what all the excitement is about. "I tend to be flippant and a bit cynical," she says.

A former model who took up acting only three years ago, Pays played TV roles until she landed her first feature film, "Oxford Blues," starring Ally Sheedy and Rob Lowe. She came to Hollywood last year to make "The Kindrid," a horror flick that quickly faded into obscurity. But Pays has already tired of playing bimbos for the big screen and is looking for better roles. Later this month, she starts shooting "Saigon," a Vietnam saga in which she plays a French nun. "I don't want to be sexy," she says. "I have been cast so far as pretty, privileged and glamorous, and it just doesn't interest me."

Pays isn't entirely satisfied with her current role, either. "I'd like Theora to show a bit more humor," she says. "She likes to take little jibes at people." When Max tries to comfort her in one scene, he innocently inquires, "What do men do when women are distressed" "Run away or boast, normally," Theora fires back. Both Pays and Theora live alone, work hard and remain wary of men. At times it's difficult to know where Pays ends and her TV character begins. "She tries to please everybody, which is not always a good thing," says Pays. "It's what I do. You can end up getting into a bit of a sticky mess."

Sexual tension: But if the series continues next fall there's every sign that the relationship between Theora and Edison could progress along the lines of Maddie and Dave in "Moonlighting," which directly precedes "Max Headroom" this spring. Since the famous detective duo consummated their relationship two weeks ago, Max's stars have been fielding questions about their on-screen flirtation. "She doesn't like to let her emotions show," says her costar Matt Frewer, who plays both Max and Edison. "But the hint of underlying sexual tension helps the story." Not to mention the ratings. Pays breaks into an impish grin. "I met Bruce Willis the other night," she says in a sultry voice. "I said thanks for leading us into our show with such a great climax." With Pays loose on the airwaves, TV's leading men had better watch out.

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