The Working Actor EDITOR'S INTRO
This is the eighth in a continuing feature at IndustryCentral profiling "The Working Actor".
William Shakespeare said "There are no small parts.....". William Shatner may have said it too, but the longhair with the tights was first, or so the reports go. In this feature we will explore what it really means to be an actor working in Motion Pictures and Television.
Broad public acknowledgment may have eluded some who find their way to these pages, or perhaps they may have brushed against what is referred to as stardom by virtue of one or more remarkable performances. However for many, the rewards of plying their craft in a field which has allowed them to earn a living may exceed the burdens of public acclaim. Given the chance, some in this clan might prefer the longevity offered by anonymity over the potential for short lived fame.
These individuals, either by design or fate, have managed to sustain a career by crafting performances which rendered them a good casting choice. They are usually thought of as a face you recognize, but you just can't get the name past the tip of your tongue.
Most of these folks have spent countless hours on stage in theaters ranging from 20 seats to 2000, building characters from the works of Ibsen, to Eliot, to Williams, to yes even Shakespeare, and so many of the modern Playwrights. They have rounded their skills doing drama, comedy, & musicals. Their work is a serious venture.
These people have given us screen performances which quite often were the catalyst that brought an Oscar or Emmy to another and yet they continue to work as "Characters" or "Co-Stars" without the trophies and plaques adorning their mantle.
Amy Aquino
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Amy Aquino (Ak wee' no) represents the essence of what this feature is all about, as she may hold the record for most recurring characters being played concurrently: At one point this fall she recurred as

  1. The tough OB/Gyn Janet Coburn on ER
  2. Amy Brenneman’s fellow judge on Judging Amy
  3. The outrageous publicist Connie Hunt ("say that 10 times fast") on Action
  4. Felicity’s straight-shooting therapist on the show by that name.
  5. The vulnerable mom Mrs. Schweiber on Freaks and Geeks.
Says Ms. Aquino of this phenomenon, "I always knew that my traditional stage training at Yale and work in repertory theater over the years would come in handy in Hollywood, but it never occurred to me I’d doing ‘repertory television’. I’m not complaining - they’re all wonderful shows and I feel very lucky."

Amy started acting in junior high, then performing original comedy as part of a group in high school. She went on to Harvard University, a school with no theater program at all, as a pre-med student. "I figured that no matter how much I loved it, acting was no way to make a living. Statistically speaking, I was right." By her senior year, however, she realized that she was spending more time on her extracurricular theater than on her biology major ("though I did squeeze out a thesis - on breast-feeding"), so she decided she needed to give acting a try. She was very lucky that her wonderful parents Salvatore and Adele were unbelievably supportive of this shift. So off to NY, the shared 350 sq. foot apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, the night job in a law firm that paid for the classes she took, and auditions for tiny productions in nameless theaters. After three years with practically no luck, she made a reconnaissance trip to Minneapolis, MN, a city she was told was actor-friendly, and immediately landed an Equity lead and a commercial. Her plans to move there for good were foiled by the Yale School of Drama, which after two years of rejections finally relented ("if at first you don't succeed…") and let her join the class of ’86.

"Going to Yale was the best and hardest thing I could have done. I got great training and had my ego destroyed. I never was the star, just the character actor that you could count on…hmmm, sort of like now." At the end of the three years, however, were the "League" auditions, where the top acting programs brought together casting directors and agents from across the country to see their graduating actors work for 3 minutes each. She decided - against the advice of almost all - to do an irreverent interpretation of Agnes of God, with talented classmate Kimberleigh Burroughs as a nymphomaniac Agnes and Amy as a completely neurotic Doctor. The day of the audition, she was exhausted, and her voice was as low and gravelly as it could be, from closing two plays the night before involving smoking and screaming. "I stepped out on stage to light my ridiculously long cigarette, and the lighter refused to work, and I let it make my character completely insane, which terrified Agnes and let the audience know that this was a little bit different. After that, they were in the palm of our hands, applauding and yelling. Thrilling, terrifying, but a lot of fun." At the end, 25 agents expressed interest in meeting her, and the tale lives on among acting students. The lesson? "Go with your instincts - creatively speaking, don't try to please anyone but yourself."

She has been very grateful with the shape of her career since then. For five years she was based in NY, doing primarily theater. She worked with Kevin Spacey and Paul McCrane at Playwrights Horizons and was a member of Circle Rep, worked in the regionals, and did Broadway in The Heidi Chronicles with dream co-stars, including Tony Shalhoub, David Hyde Pierce, Brooke Adams, Christine Lahti, and Deborah Hedwall. She also made her feature debut in Moonstruck, followed by a short but memorable scene at the end of Working Girl.

Although she had at first told her agents otherwise ("I will not audition for series regulars - I want my artistic freedom!") each year she made the pilgrimage to LA for pilot season. She always managed to book something to supplement her off-Broadway salaries. In 1991, after a tough audition process, she booked a wonderful pilot with an order - Brooklyn Bridge. When this modern classic was picked up for a second season, she bought a funky pagoda-style bungalow in Hollywood and made the move west. She fell in love with Drew McCoy, a stage carpenter turned stockbroker, and they married (at the Actors Chapel in NYC) in 1995. Her career, since then, has been primarily in TV. "Though I'd like to do more features and theater, I've had wonderful opportunities on television. My character on ER was introduced in the episode that won the Emmy that year, and shooting it was one of the highlights of my career. I also had the joy of working with the extraordinary Kathy Baker on Picket Fences, playing the delicious Dr. Joey (and winning a SAG award nomination and Viewers for Quality TV award for it).

During years when work was slow, she found other ways to be productive. She joined the board of the Screen Actors Guild in 1994, and served as vice-president and chair of a number of committees for 4 years. Though there’s still lots to be done there, she's proud to have worked with former president Richard Masur to help transform the union to suit the vastly different industry - and world -that we all work in now. At the same time, she and her husband fell in love with a neglected little inn and restaurant in Palm Springs, CA. Knowing that the town was on the rise, they assembled some friends and bought the Villa Royale, and for two years have overseen its rebirth. Now that the acting work is picking up again, she’s pulling away from the other things in order to focus. "For better or worse, I think that this is the wave of the future in TV - more shows, very small casts of regulars and lots of recurring guests. As a woman of a certain age, I’m just enjoying the activity and the challenge."

Representation:
Raw Talent
Glenn Robbins and Doug Wald
310-246-1100

Amy Aquino's advice to the aspiring actor:
"In this business, it’s all basically arbitrary. You may be cast for your talent and you may not. Period. So keep an eye on what you want from life and if you’re getting from acting, great. If not, move on to something that will give it to you."

Amy Aquino's Credits (partial)
  • Felicity (2000) (TV Series) .... Recurring as Dr. Toni Pavone
  • Freaks and Geeks (2000) (TV Series) .... Recurring as Mrs. Schweiber
  • Judging Amy (1999) (TV Series) .... Recurring role as Greta Anastasio
  • ER (1994-1999) (TV Series) .... Recurring as Dr. Janet Coburn
  • Picket Fences (1995-1996) (TV Series) .... Recurring as Dr. Joanna 'Joey' Diamond
  • Boys on the Side (1995) .... Anna
  • My Brothers Keeper (1994) (TV Movie) .... Terry DiPresso
  • Madman of the People (1994) (TV Series) .... Sasha Danziger
  • Once in a Lifetime (1994) (TV Movie) .... Barbara
  • Blood Brothers: The Joey Dipaolo Story (1992) (TV Movie) .... Carol DiPaolo
  • Brooklyn Bridge (1991) (TV Series) .... Phyllis Berger Silver
  • Last to Go, The (1991) (TV Movie) .... Ginny
  • Descending Angel (1990) (TV Movie) .... Catherine
  • One of the Boys (1989) (TV Series) .... Bernice DeSalvo
  • Working Girl (1988) .... Alice Baxter
  • Moonstruck (1987) .... Bonnie

    Notable TV guest appearances

  • Zoe, Duncan, Jack & Jane (1999) .... Mrs. Milch
  • Action (1999) .... Publicist Connie Hunt in episode: "Mr. Dragon Goes to Washington"
  • Becker (1998) .... Bev in episode: "Pilot"
  • Roseanne (1988) .... Linda Wagner in episode: "Dances With Darlene"
  • Ally McBeal (1997) .... Dr. Harper in episode: "Boy to the World"
  • Larry Sanders Show, The (1996) .... Rabbi Susan Klein in episode: "My Name is Asher Kingsley"
  • Murphy Brown (1993) .... Juliana in episode: "Murphy and the Amazing Leaping Man"
  • Law & Order (1990) .... Erica Stohlmeyer in episode: "Prisoner of Love"

    For more info and credits see IMDb

         ---End

WORKING ACTOR ARCHIVE
Danny Chambers [January 2000]
Danny Chambers
January 2000
Eve Gordon [December 1999]
Eve Gordon
December 1999
Barbara Niven [November 1999]
Barbara Niven
November 1999
Bill Lucking [October 1999]
Bill Lucking
October 1999
Richard Roundtree [September 1999]
Richard Roundtree
September 1999
Pat Harrington [August 1999]
Pat Harrington
August 1999
Robert donner [July 1999]
Robert Donner
July 1999

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