Actress JoAnna Garcia Swisher has built a career out of making appearances on all your favorite shows. She’s been on Party of Five, Freaks & Geeks, Gossip Girl, How I Met Your Mother, Once Upon a Time, and The Mindy Project. She’s also been in the regular cast of Reba, Privileged, and Better With You, but something is different about The Astronaut Wives Club, premiering on June 18th.
The show is based on Lily Koppel’s book The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story, and is set in the 1960s when astronauts were like rock stars, and their wives were a close second. If this retro-fabulous series can give culture hounds their fix of sixties glam that went missing with the end of Mad Men, ABC may have a serious hit on their hands.
“There were a lot of expectations on these women as to how they had to manage their home and maintain their image,” says Swisher. At last the women behind the men are getting their historical due. “These ladies instantly became famous—posing for magazine covers.” It wasn’t all glamor though, “These were very strong women,” explains Swisher. “It was an extremely stressful situation. These ladies were having their husbands launched into space, unsure of what might happen.”
The women were integral to their husband’s careers. “If these first seven men weren’t married with a happy home life, they weren’t going to be chosen for the program.” Beyond that, Swisher’s character is good role model for her young two-year-old daughter she has with husband Nick Swisher of the Cleveland Indians.
“We’re like gypsies,” says Swisher, who divides her time between Los Angeles, and Cleveland, Ohio, and chooses roles that take her elsewhere very carefully. JoAnna met Nick when he was playing for the Yankees and she was filming Gossip Girl. “We were both kind of ready to start a family and be married when we met,” she says with an infectious giggle. “We’d had our fun and had enjoyed our wilder days.” The thing that makes their union work is that they both respect each other’s careers and just how much work goes into them. The other? Staying together as much as possible. “My number one priority is making sure that the family is together. That’s a big part of being Cuban.” It may also just be a smart move for anyone in Hollywood (or professional sports) trying to keep a marriage strong. Swisher’s Cuban roots can’t be underestimated though, as her family arrived as refugees on Florida’s coast, arriving somewhere on the coast between Fort Lauderdale and Pompano in the 1980s.
She was raised in Tampa, Florida, away from the Cuban hub of Miami, where she began acting at a very early age. It started at age ten when she was just looking for an extra curricular. “I took a little acting class in Tampa and it just sort of felt great to me. I loved it and one thing lead to another. I got an agent and it just really happened naturally.” By 13 she was on Nickelodeon and appearing in movies of the week, building up her long list of credits.
Despite the acting, Swisher kept up a fairly normal childhood life, riding horses, and even getting elected as prom queen at her high school. Swisher says, “My parents stressed the importance of balance, placing as much emphasis on my dream of being an actress, as doing well in school, and being a normal kid.” Even her college experience looked like it was going to take a predictable path after she joined Delta Delta Delta sorority. But after her first year of school, the pull of Hollywood was too great.
“I just really wanted to do it. I wanted to see where it would go, and I was lucky enough that immediately I was given opportunities. One thing lead to another and then I started Reba. I never looked back from there, and all of a sudden I became a grown up.”
“When I go back to University of Florida or Ohio State for a game day, I still feel like I’m one of the [college] gang. Then my husband says ‘do you realize you’re a lot older than these people?’ I think, ‘No way, I still feel like I can kick it with the youngsters.’”
But despite the fact that the bubbly actress could still pass for a sorority girl—she is a full-fledged adult. Especially when it comes to philanthropy and their Swisher Family Foundation, which gives money to charitable organizations like Providence House in Cleveland Ohio. “We are lucky enough to be able to follow our hearts and be a part of helping different causes and different initiatives that resonate with us, specifically now we are really emerged with the Cleveland community,” says Swisher. “Our focus is on children. We want to provide opportunities and a better life for kids.” That means giving money to many different organizations including Metro Health, and assisting with tornado crisis relief.
“Your own backyard is a great place to start when you’re trying to make a difference in the world.”