Man, time sure does fly. It was way back in 2008 when a then 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears had to end her four-year run as the star of Nickelodeon's acclaimed Zoey 101 because she was pregnant with her first child. Her teen pregnancy was the talk of Hollywood, and Spears quickly felt the need to retreat to her hometown of Kentwood, Louisiana to get away from as much of the gossip and tabloid scrutiny as possible. Now, the 29-year-old has returned to the spotlight in the Netflix drama Sweet Magnolias, and she's been able to bring some of her personal experience to her role.
Sweet Magnolias follows three best friends, Maddie (JoAnna Garcia), Dana Sue (Brooke Elliott) and Helen (Heather Headley) as they navigate romance, their careers and families in their small South Carolina town. When the show begins, Maddie's doctor husband, Bill (Chris Klein), has already left her and their three children for his much younger nurse, Noreen (Spears), who's currently several months pregnant with their child. And, as you might imagine, their small town is abuzz with gossip over the affair and looking at the trio closely for any signs of drama that could be gabbed about.
Obviously, Jamie Lynn Spears knows quite a bit about having people gossip about you when you're pregnant, so she was able to bring some of her real life knowledge to her role as Noreen on Sweet Magnolias. Spears spoke with The Hollywood Reporter recently about her return to television, and had this to say about what it was like to act again, and how she used her history to inform her work as Noreen:
It didn't even feel like acting. Although it was nerve-racking to get back in front of the camera, this felt very natural for me. I remember being 16 years old, being pregnant in a small town. And then on top of it, the whole world was watching. Don't get me wrong, I didn't view myself as a victim. And with Noreen, it was important to not play the victim either. She put herself in a compromising situation. She's a young girl who made some adult decisions, and she's trying to take some responsibility for that. That was me, too.
Considering all the mistakes and bad decisions that Noreen has made, it would be very easy for Sweet Magnolias to have set Noreen as a villain, and for Jamie Lynn Spears to play her as one. Instead, it's pretty clear from the beginning that Noreen is someone who generally has the best of intentions, and really just managed to, somehow, get in way over her head with Bill. And, if there is any true bad guy in that situation, it's definitely him.
As Jamie Lynn Spears noted during her interview, now that Bill has left his family for Noreen, she's trying very hard to make the best of a very bad situation, and, as Season 1 goes on, it's not hard to actually feel a bit bad for her. She's doing everything she can to mend fences with what will soon be her step children, but it doesn't always work out too well for her. And, even though Maddie has managed to be civil to Noreen, the rest of the town isn't so kind.
Spears also said that she really understood Noreen's desire to try to look toward the future hopefully, even in the face of some tough obstacles, because it's all about doing what's best for your baby:
Noreen is trying to deal with it as gracefully as she can, but she's also trying to maintain some positivity. She's still hopeful for a happy ending. And in my own situation, I was as well. But at the end of the day, you have to stand up for what's best for you and your baby. I think that’s what people didn't understand about me and my first pregnancy. Every decision I made came from a place of wanting to do right by [my daughter] Maddie and being the best mom that I could be. For this part, I really just drew from the experience of being a young girl who was trying to do what was best for her and her child. I was under a microscope, and in Noreen's case, she has the whole town of Serenity watching her. So there are definitely parallels there.
If you ask me, Jamie Lynn Spears did a wonderful job of working all of her real experiences into her part as Noreen and succeeded in making her way more than another version of "the other woman" stereotype. You can watch the full first season of Sweet Magnolias on Netflix right now, but if you need more to watch in the coming weeks, check out our Netflix premiere guide and see what's coming to TV this summer!