A Minute With: Marilu Henner's "Unforgettable" life

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 14, 2011 5:23 AM
A Minute With: Marilu Henner's "Unforgettable" life

By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actress Marilu Henner has enjoyed living with a fantastic memory since she was a child, but it was only recently that her special powers were diagnosed as real-life condition and given a name.

Now the "Taxi" actress and self-help author is a consultant on the new TV crime drama "Unforgettable" featuring a detective played by Poppy Montgomery who can't forget the past. Henner also has been cast on the show in a very different role.

Henner, 59, who also appeared in the movies "LA Story" and "Perfect" spoke with Reuters about her work on "Unforgettable", and her upcoming book that helps others uncover their past.

Q: "Unforgettable" wasn't based on you, but the character has the same condition. I've heard it called Superior Autobiographical Memory, hyperthymesia. Which do you prefer?

A: "It's called highly superior autobiographical memory, or HSAM. They are creating gradients of it now. They stopped calling it hyperthymesia, which I really did think sounded like an illness."

Q: And what's your work as consultant?

A: "I feel so protective that it (HSAM) doesn't come off as this weird creepy kind of thing because that's not what it is ... So I said, 'I can tell you guys what it's like to have this and live with this all the time and what happens and give you some story ideas.'

"One of the things I was very insistent on was that for people who have HSAM, when we go back to a memory, we are there in present time looking out through our eyes. It's not third person. We are not looking at ourselves ... we are back in our bodies looking out. So it would be ridiculous for (actress) Poppy Montgomery to have a camera on her head and walk through the memories. I think they handled it brilliantly."

Q: What's the best way to describe it? Is it like flipping through photos?

A: "It's only what you've experienced ... If you give me a year, I will access it. I see it like selected scenes on a DVD, imagine all these little movies but I am in the movie ... I go to that day and I am there in my body looking out. I can go and experience that day again, or that moment, or that party, or that restaurant."

Q: When did you become aware that your rare powers of memory had a name or were regarded as a 'condition'?

A: "I have had a great memory my whole life ... In college, people used to test me all the time just for the heck of it ... I was called the memory kid, a univac and a brainiac when I was a little girl. I had no idea how rare it was, and it seems so strange to me that people are so fascinated by it because I can't imagine not having this ... It's been very interesting for me to take this journey with this discovery of it. I am thrilled to discover it while I am alive because I would hate my kids to be watching TV day one day, saying 'Oh my gosh, my mom had that'."

Q: Do you see it as a blessing or a curse?

A: "Totally a blessing! Never, not one day, not one moment, nothing has ever been a curse for me with this. Never. I know some people don't feel that way but for me it's always been a tremendous gift. I was an adult before I knew that other people didn't see things this way."

Q: What character will you be playing on "Unforgettable"?

A: "I haven't read the script yet, but they told me I am going to play Poppy's aunt ... But I think I am going to have early onset Alzheimer's, which would be new to me -- I can't even imagine that! I am going to have to do my homework. I am going to have to put someone else's brain on ... That would be the cruelest thing that could happen to me. I can't imagine anything worse."

Q: Tell us about your book -- "Total Memory Makeover: Uncover Your Past, Take Charge of Your Future", which comes out in February.

A: "It is about helping other people. It is based on my classes and my seminars and all the things I have done to keep in shape with my brain ... I know I can help people access their autobiographical memories ... and I cannot believe the results some people have had with these techniques ... No one who has this has ever written a how-to book, so it is exciting for me to break new ground."

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Patricia Reaney)