Making A Difference: A Conversation with Felice Schachter
Most of us remember her as the wholesome brunette Nancy Olsen from the first season of Facts of Life. I personally remember her as Bernadette from the movie “Zapped!” where she played the class president and was the only one who wanted Scott Baio’s character Barney to use his newly acquired power of telekinesis for the good of mankind.
In an environment where nerdy science student Barney (Scott Baio) and rich jock Peyton (Willie Aames) promote recreational drug use and freely drink alcohol on school grounds, Felice’s character was the voice of reason – even telling Barney not to use his new-found ability to cheat at gambling!
In addition to the ridiculous antics, we as viewers also get to see the seed planted for what will become Felice’s future in real life.
In one of the later scenes, Felice’s character is shown setting up for the high school prom while wearing a Brown University sweatshirt. Normally, a movie about high school students wearing a college sweatshirt might not be all that big of a deal. But in this case it means much more. Felice had already committed herself to take a break from acting and pursue college and asked producers to wear this particular shirt for the scene. Wearing the shirt made a statement about where her life was going.
Today, Felice is making a difference in the lives of children by teaching those with special needs and helping them reach their fullest potential.
It was a pleasure for me to speak with Felice and find out what she’s been up since the “Facts of Life” days and “Zapped!”
gJg: I guess the first big questions are: How are you and what are you doing now?
Felice Schachter (FS): I’m doing really well! I’m a special education teacher working with children from 2 to 10 years old.
My job now is to work with children with special needs, especially children with autism. I use ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) to help these children learn social and language skills. I also work with the typical population, teaching them skills that raise their IQ’s, enabling them to gain acceptance into the elite private schools of New York City.
gJg: What’s a typical day like for you?
FS: As a single mother, a typical day for me includes getting my son ready for school and myself ready for work at the same time in the morning. After dropping him at school I see my students, either in their homes or at mine.
gJg: So this isn’t a typical classroom setting?
FS: No, not at all. The teaching is actually done one on one. I go to my student’s homes, and in certain cases I may even go to their school with them.
Here’s an example: If a child I’m working with has autism, I might go to their home to do ABA (Behavior Therapy) or, if a child is high-functioning and in a school, I’ll go with them to that school to make sure they’re using appropriate behavior, language and social skills. I support them in participating in class, finishing tasks, being flexible, etc.
To sum it up, I am an independent contractor who does early intervention and SEIT (Special Education Itinerant Teacher) work, using ABA. I balance my day by tutoring typical kids.
FS: It really is, but I love what I do. I’m also fortunate because I get to work around my son’s schedule. My day is usually done when he’s done. I’ll pick him up, make dinner, help him with his homework and get ready to do the whole thing all over again the next day.
gJg: How long have you been doing this for?
FS: I’ve been doing this for about eight years now. Prior to that, I worked in film and television production.
gJg: What does a job in Film/TV production usually entail?
FS: I was a production coordinator, which meant that I coordinated everything to make the production run smoothly. I made sure the actual film is ordered, all of the actors have their scripts, pretty much everything you could think of from A-Z. Basically, I was responsible for everyone having what they needed to do their job.
gJg: I want to ask you about some of your earlier roles.
FS: “The Facts of Life” actually started out as an episode on “Diff’rent Strokes”. That episode was a pilot and from there it went on to become its own series.
gJg: There was a rumor that you had actually auditioned for Kimberly on “Diff’rent Strokes”. Was that true?
FS: I not only auditioned but I actually had the part. I did the presentation for NBC but they decided that they wanted someone who was more “wholesome”. So the role went to Dana Plato.
gJg: Were you originally to have much larger role on “Facts of Life” as well?
FS: Yes, it started out that way but then they minimized it, and ultimately my character was taken off.
gJg: What do you suppose was the reason for that?
FS: I think it was because there were too many girls and it became a bit too confusing. They decided to go with just four strong characters. I was supposed to return to do recurring appearances, but at that point, I had decided that I wanted to go to college and dropped acting for a while.
gJg: What made you decide to do that?
FS: I think it was when I was supposed to travel to LA to film an episode of “The Waltons” and actually had a psychology test conflict at that same time.
I also began to think about how during high-school I was always missing out on a lot of things because of work. So I made the decision to just concentrate on going to Brown University and then go back to the business once school was over.
gJg: In a scene in “Zapped!” You’re actually wearing a “Brown” University sweatshirt. Was this done on purpose?
FS: Yes! I had asked to wear it because I knew at the time I would be going to Brown. <laughs>
gJg: What was the chemistry like with all the girls that first season of “Facts of Life”?
FS: We had a lot fun together. We all went to school together. I remember that we all used to go around the lot on roller skates. Even though Tootie was the one who wore them on the show, we all used to skate around the lot on them.
gJg: One of my favorite “guilty pleasure” movies is “Zapped!”. I loved how you were the only grounded person. Even when Willie Aames’s character is walking around school with an open can of beer.
FS: You’re right, that’s a good point! I never thought about that. <laughs>
FS: Yes that was the big feature one that I did.
gJg: What did you like most about the script when you read it?
FS: I liked the fact that it was a spoof on the horror films at the time. I thought it was very clever.
gJg: How was it working with the cast?
FS: Everyone was nice. I got along well with everyone. I especially enjoyed being around Scatman (Crothers). He was just so adorable and sweet!
gJg: Any interesting facts from the movie you can share?
FS: A couple of the other actresses who auditioned for the role of Bernadette were Demi Moore & Helen Slater. Quite a few up and coming actresses at the time were also considered.
I remember being told that when they were deciding on the role, one of the executives asked their kid who their favorite person was from all of the old “Tiger Beat” and “Teen Beat” magazines. At the time, I was in those magazines quite a bit, so their kid knew me. That was one of the deciding factors as to why they chose me. <laughs>
gJg: Do you have an interesting Scott Baio story?
FS: Here’s a good one:
After the movie was completed we came back a year later to redo the love scene to make it “steamier”. I remember the acting technique I used was to just be “in the moment” and be real.
So when we did the make-out scene I was really making out with him but he just had his mouth opened moving it around. I was sticking my tongue in his mouth but he wasn’t reciprocating and I remember thinking: “Oh my God! He is the worst kisser ever!” <laughs>
Then years later, I was in an acting class and the teacher was talking about screen kisses. How you just open your mouth, put it on the other and you just move your mouth around. You do NOT put your tongue in the other person’s mouth.
I was SO embarrassed thinking there he was giving me a professional screen kiss and was probably thinking: “What the hell is this girl doing sticking her tongue down my throat?!” <laughs>
FS: When I lived in LA I used to run into Scott every so often at whatever clubs were “hot” at the time. <laughs>
I remained friends with Bob Rosenthal (director) for many years. Most of my friends now are in education.
gJg: Do you have any desire to go back to the business again?
FS: No, not really. Like I said before, I love what I’m doing now.
gJg: Do you find that people still recognize you a lot?
FS: Once in a while they do. Sometimes people will come up to me and say: “You look familiar but I’m just not quite sure where I know you from.” <laughs>
gJg: Have you ever given thought to writing a book?
FS: You know, it’s funny you mention that. I’ve had people who have asked me to write. I wouldn’t write about myself but about education and/or parenting.
Right now I’m in the process of designing and developing educational apps for the I-pad to help children with test prep and raising IQ’s.
Article first published as Making A Difference: A Conversation with Felice Schachter on Technorati.