Actress still defining her role in 'Happy Town'

Actress Amy Acker says that playing killers and crazy people is easy.

Portraying a devoted wife and mother on ABC's Happy Town, on the other hand, "is actually one of the hardest things I've ever done."

Never mind that the Dallas native and SMU grad, formerly of such TV shows as Angel, Alias and Dollhouse, really is a wife and mom in daily life.

"It's just a little close to home for me, in a way," Acker says with a nervous giggle. "I'm more comfortable playing characters that are completely different from me."

She handled two different characters, one of which was a powerful blue demon goddess, on Angel. She was a ruthless terrorist on Alias. She was one of the dolls of Dollhouse, which meant embodying a variety of larger-than-life personalities.

"A lot of people seem to think I look innocent," Acker says. "So the writers like to surprise everybody by turning me into a crazy killer."

Still, who could have guessed that the role of domesticity would be her biggest challenge?

Growing up, Acker was a painfully shy kid who embraced dance because it allowed her to express herself creatively without having to speak onstage. When she switched to acting, she realized that she was still in safe performance territory because she could "hide" behind someone else's words.

"I think that's still kind of true for me," she says. "Do I owe you any money for this therapy session?"

Happy Town, which premiered last week and will air at 9 p.m. Wednesdays for the next two months, explores the ominous goings-on in the small town of Haplin, Minn.

The community was plagued by mysterious disappearances in past years. Now the townsfolk are on edge again after a brutal spike-to-the-head murder in Episode 1.

Acker plays Rachel Conroy, the deputy's wife. It's a somewhat innocuous role for her at first glance. But in this town, where everybody seems to have secrets, don't rule out the possibility of Rachel having a dark side.

"I do know I haven't killed anyone yet," she says, "but it's only been eight episodes. Every time I'd think I knew where this show was going, they gave us a new script, and I would discover I was totally wrong."

Acker is married to actor James Carpinello, who's starring on Broadway in Rock of Ages. They celebrated their seventh anniversary in April.

They currently live in New York with their two kids, but she still considers herself a dyed-in-the-wool Texan.

"Wherever you are, whether it's New York or L.A., whenever you meet someone from Texas, it's like an instant bond," Acker says. "It's like: 'Hey, you're from Texas? Me, too.' That's definitely something that never goes away."

She has fond memories of doing theater in North Texas in the late 1990s. That includes a play called Beast on the Moon at Stage West in Fort Worth.

She is back in Texas this month, in fact -- not just so her parents could see the grandkids, but also because she's shooting an independent movie in Waco during the next few weeks.

"It's called Sironia, and it's the story of this musician named Wes Cunningham," Acker says. "He was an up-and-coming musician who decided to drop everything and move with his wife to Texas. It's their story, and I play his wife. It features all his original music. I think it will be pretty cool."

In the meantime, she's hoping Happy Town will rate a second-season pickup from ABC.

"It's one of those shows where the characters really get to grow and change and keep surprising you as the show progresses," she says. "The pilot raised a lot of questions. I think it will be fun to answer them all. And I think there's a lot of interesting stuff that can happen with Rachel, too."

Who knows? She might turn out to be a crazy killer after all.