Manheim's Spirit Soars on 'Ghost Whisperer'
It's crucial for the single mom to attend Saturday basketball games and to usher in Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) Friday evenings. She volunteers, teaching sign language at her son's school, to balance work with motherhood.
Her latest gig, as recent widow Delia on CBS' Friday supernatural drama "Ghost Whisperer," is a perfect match because it allows her to act on a weekly series but gives her flexibility, such as appearing as a guest star on a Disney Channel show.
"I need some street cred with the kid," Manheim says. "I called the 'Hannah Montana' people for tickets; they asked, 'Would you do the show?'
"What I wouldn't do for my son," Manheim says and laughs.
Manheim, 46, was just two years older than Milo is when she knew what she wanted to do with her life.
"Prior to that time I was kind of a kid that disappeared, no one paid much attention to me and I didn't require a lot of attention," she says. "I was sitting under a big oak tree. I remember the minute it happened. I was eating a frozen lemonade in a carton that you tear around the edges.
"And a camp counselor asked if I wanted to be in a play," Manheim continues. "I had no idea what it entailed. She asked me to play Lucy in 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.'"
Once she performed, Manheim attracted new friends. "I always say I didn't find acting; it found me," she says. "I never thought of anything else. My parents are very practical, and that's when I learned sign language. I thought I could work on campaigns or go to Washington and be a lobbyist. I could have done a lot of different things. Nothing else has ever fulfilled me that way."
Between work and her son, Manheim is well aware of how lucky she is. So many of her actor friends are unemployed, she says. She's weighing options for what to do during the hiatus and until then will concentrate on "Ghost Whisperer."
In the April 6 episode, "Delia's First Ghost," Manheim's character goes on a date and learns about Melinda's special powers.
"The experience has been really lovely and heartwarming," Manheim says of the show. "No drama, it's sort of a complete pleasant and delightful place to work. After 'The Practice' was over, I spent a couple of years doing movies out of town -- Canada, New Orleans. And everywhere you go, it's a new crew and lots of drama, and it's exhausting. I told my agents I want to be on a show in town."
When she heard about this role, Manheim did what any professional in a career for a while does: She gathered intelligence on her potential boss, the show's star and one of its producers.
"I called everyone who ever worked with Jennifer Love Hewitt, and they just said she was the most charming person," she says.
Manheim, who retains a New York edge, is not the sort to kiss up to the boss. "She is the hardest-working girl and never complains," Manheim says of Hewitt. "I work one-tenth the amount, and I kvetch all the time."
Hewitt is equally effusive.
"When her name came up, we were all thrilled," Hewitt says. "I thought 'Oh, my gosh, I am going to have to be a much better actress if I'm working with her.'
"She needed somebody really grounded and would give her some safety, and Delia being a little older and having her son, Melinda feels she's someone to take care of her," Hewitt says.
Because the show features communication with the dead, Manheim says people approach her about spirits.
"I also have witnessed how grateful the viewers are to have a show that sheds light on that kind of world," she says.
"People are always telling me they are hopeful that they can make contact with people who have passed on," she says. "It helps them with their grieving. My father is a mathematician, so I am a person who requires evidence and proof and scientific backing for things. So I came into it a bit of a skeptic -- I don't tend to believe for the sake of it. I need an experience, and I have never had an experience with a spirit or a ghost.
"I keep saying if a ghost wants me to believe in them, come up and scare the crap out of me," she says. "And I will believe in ghosts. I do believe people have those experiences. I just never have. Part of being a witness is being open-minded and sensitive enough, and I am a little closed-minded when it comes to it. Maybe I am on because I need to open my mind a little more. I am much more open than I ever was and not as judgmental as I ever was."
That openness has her making new friends as she teaches sign language at Milo's school. Though he's a kindergartner, Manheim, the daughter of two educators, is already focused on getting him into a good college, hence Saturday hoops.
"He is in basketball so he can get into college," Manheim says. "My nephew had a 1575 on the SATs but had trouble getting in. He didn't get into all of them because he didn't play a sport."
That's one of the many lessons she's learned since becoming a mom.
"Before I had Milo, I felt I was somewhat of a narcissist," she says. "I was consumed with myself all the time and it was exhausting. One of the wonderful things about being a mother is somebody else is more important than you.
"It is a burden and a relief at the same time," she continues. "I have learned I am fierce when it comes to my son. The Amazon woman I am, you don't want to mess with me. I didn't know I had this. I know that I have incredible power and ferocity -- I have learned that. I have learned I am a really great problem solver and alert and aware. I am incredibly prepared because I feel this great responsibility to take care of this precious, precious thing."