Jaime Pressly

To make it big in the world of situation comedy, you can’t be just another pretty face. In fact, jaw-dropping good looks often work against you. Jaime Pressly was an absolute revelation in the demented, over-the-top sitcom My Name Is Earl—giving as good as she got with comedy veterans Jason Lee and Ethan Suplee, and setting new standards for questionable parenting as Earl’s ex-wife, Joy. Now a mother herself (son Dezi is 11 and twins Leo and Lenon were born last year), Pressly has landed on yet another hit comedy series, co-starring with Alison Janney and Ana Faris in Mom. Gerry Strauss talked to Jaime about her unique upbringing, and how it has influenced her career choices.

EDGE: After your Emmy-winning performance as Joy on My Name Is Earl, the world got a chance to fall in love with you again as Jill when you joined the cast of Mom in the show’s second season. What appealed to you about the new role?

JP: Well, the first thing that was appealing was the fact that Chuck Lorre called me and said he wanted me to do it. Anytime Chuck Lorre calls you and says he wants you to do something, you’re like, “Yup, okay.” It’s kind of like if [My Name Is Earl creator] Greg Garcia were to call me and say he wants me to do something, I’m there. So the opportunity to work with him was a no-brainer for me. And to go to work with Allison Janney and Anna Faris? That was another no-brainer for me.

EDGE: Jill is in recovery. Was that interesting to you?

JP: I was excited about the role…when Chuck called, he said, “She’s a girl who’s a recovering drug addict and alcoholic.” At the beginning, we thought she was going to be bipolar. I was like, “Well that sounds interesting. Write me in, I’m down.” The writing on Mom is incredible—much like the shows, I loved when I was a kid, like Roseanne and Maude and All in the Family and Cheers and Golden Girls. All those shows weren’t afraid to end on a low note. They had drama and comedy, and the comedy came from real-life drama, which is what made it real. It wasn’t just hitting the punchline.

EDGE: As a mom yourself, how does the shooting schedule work?

JP: I just couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity. To be able to go to work and have that great schedule when I am a mom was extremely appealing. Unlike the schedule on Earl, which was tougher because it was single camera. You know, I get to come home. I get to be with my kids in the morning and at night.

EDGE: How about your own childhood, growing up in Kinston, North Carolina? I know you competed in gymnastics. Were you a competitive kid?

JP: It was a pretty idyllic childhood, I’m not going to lie. It was a tiny, tiny town, and everybody knew each other. We rode our bikes to school in kindergarten all the way through. It was safe. My mom was a dance teacher—she only retired like a year ago. I was a gymnast for 11 years but I was actually more of a dancer. I danced for like 25 years. And competitive? No. I’m only competitive with myself. Even with going on a casting call or an audition, I would talk to everybody in the room because I’m not out to cut anybody’s throat. If I get the job, great. If I don’t, good luck to you. So it has always just been about topping myself, not anybody else.

EDGE: What do you think your parents passed down to you?

Upper Case Editorial

JP: I would say, from my mom, I learned discipline, because dancing teaches you discipline certainly. My dad would tell me that good things come to those who wait, so from him, it was more about taking things slow and learning how to be patient. With my mom, it was about learning discipline and working hard for what you get. And then manners came from both my parents because we’re southern… you know, it’s a thing there. Everything was really about manners. And with my kids, everything is about manners. My son Dezi, who’s almost 11, he’s one of the most polite children you’ll ever meet out here, I promise, in California.

EDGE: When you began your modeling career, you had to be legally emancipated from your parents’ care. How did that go down?

JP: It wasn’t a bad thing. It wasn’t like I divorced my parents. It was because neither of them could go with me, and as a teenager, I had to get past child labor laws. So we emancipated me so that I could go to Japan on the contract.

EDGE: Amicable as it may have been, you were still very young to be traveling and living on your own… across the globe, no less. Did you feel ready?

JP: I was. I had no fear. You know, really, fear never came into my body until I had a child. I was just fearless in every way. I was excited and eager to travel. It was fun for me— although I can’t imagine ever sending my child away at 15 and not going with them. But for me, it was different. I was a different kid. I grew up very quickly and I had a good head on my shoulders. I knew what I wanted, and I was a fighter. I wanted to get out there and see the world and I wanted to travel. So it never even crossed my mind to be afraid.

EDGE: When did acting enter the picture? 

JP: I always wanted to act. I started out modeling first because I had entered a model search when I was back home in North Carolina. I found it in the back of a magazine, and I ended up winning. My mom and I came out here to California, and they brought us back out again because they wanted me to shoot for the cover of Teen magazine. Two other girls and I ended up getting it, and my mom and I moved out the month that my first cover came out, which was June of ’92. So that was how I got my foot in the door. But standing in front of the camera and just posing was never the plan. It was fun for a minute and I loved the travel. But it was never my end-game plan, by any means.

Chuck Lorre Productions/Warner Television

EDGE: A couple of your early roles involved some nudity and sexuality. Were you comfortable being placed in those situations?

JP: I was and I wasn’t. I mean, there were moments of me feeling like I hate doing this, but like I said, I grew up as a dancer. Dancers are very comfortable with their bodies. Also, I had a European brain back then when it came to showing your body, so I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. And then, you know, you have kids and you cover up. Overall, I didn’t love it and I can tell you that the manager that I had for many years pushed me in that direction. So it wasn’t necessarily my choice, but it was how I was managed. Whether that was right or wrong, I have my own opinions but you know, it worked.

Courtesy of Original Film

EDGE: It seems as if you began to hit your stride in the teen comedies of the late-1990s—movies like Can’t Hardly Wait. How was that experience?

JP: It’s just the age that I was. We were all well out of high school. None of the people that were ever in those movies were actually teenagers. We were all adults. But those were the roles, those were the movies that were hot at the moment, and so everybody was in them.

Chuck Lorre Productions/Warner Television

Can’t Hardly Wait had everybody in it—I swear—and then Not Another Teen Movie. I mean, Chris Evans, Captain America, came out of that, you know? The roles were fun, the scripts were good and it was experience. The movies did well in the theaters, so it wasn’t like it was a bad direction to go in. And at that age, those are the roles that are offered. The older you get, the better the roles get, the more intense and deep and meaningful the roles might be. When you’re younger, you’re catering to the younger demographic and the younger demographic doesn’t exactly go out and watch heavy movies.

EDGE: Let’s talk about My Name Is Earl. You won numerous awards for your role as Earl’s ex-wife.

JP: Awards were never something on my brain. I never even imagined—I mean, every kid that wants to be an actor imagines accepting the award one day—but I never actually thought it would happen. It never occurred to me that I would even be nominated, to be honest with you. So I just was doing what I loved to do with an incredible group of people, with amazing writing that I was so fortunate to have. It was never like, a plan: I’m going to do this and go win awards.

EDGE: And of course the irony is that Joy was never meant to be a recurring character.

JP: Joy was only supposed to be in three episodes. I was given an incredible opportunity by the creator, Greg Garcia, to just kind of do my thing. After doing those three episodes, I was like, “You know, I really want to be here. I love it here, I don’t want to leave.” And so he just started writing me into all the episodes because he didn’t want me to leave, either. Thankfully. Earl was one of the greatest experiences of my life. 

Marlyne Barrett

You don’t often hear it discussed, but the role of “television nurse” is among the most coveted in the entertainment business. Like real-life nursing, it offers the challenge of creating order from chaos, as well as the opportunity to leave an indelible imprint on every shift. It has supercharged the careers of many of our finest actors (Julianna Marguilies , Maura Tierney, Loretta Swit, and Edie Falco, to name a few) and given us countless unforgettable TV moments. Marlyne Barrett brings something extra-special to the role of Maggie Lockwood, Head Charge Nurse at Gaffney Medical Center in the NBC series Chicago Med. She has a real-life nursing degree, and several family members—including her mother and sister—are medical professionals. While playing a nurse is literally second nature to Barrett, she has been winning critical acclaim for her stage and screen performances for more than a decade, including an unforgettable turn as a crooked politician on The Wire. EDGE editor Mark Stewart wanted to know what it takes to balance the subtle strength and intense conflict her characters exude. As he discovered, it comes naturally. But never easily.

EDGE: I think about the characters you’ve played throughout your career and they are without exception powerful and highly competent women. Do you look for those roles as an actor, or do they find you?

MB: That’s a chicken and egg question, isn’t it? Where you are in your career often mirrors where you are with your characters. What you can play in a rich, dimensional way often determines the roles available to you. What you ask yourself as an actor is: Am I ready to do this role…and is this role ready for me?

EDGE: What are the demands of the Maggie Lockwood character on Chicago Med?

MB: Maggie plays the spirit of the E.D. She’s the one that maintains the professionalism and the humanity. The current of her presence impacts the entire atmosphere. When you initially get a role like Maggie, you’re like I can do it I can do it and you find the swagger in the character, and you’re really excited to have the swagger. Now three seasons in, Maggie is in a place where she’s asking herself about her signature in nursing.

EDGE: It’s interesting how much depth has been added to this character this season. Why now?

MB: I think Maggie is one of those characters that the writers put in their back pocket for later development. You watch these shows where they may introduce new characters in the third season to bring a fresh breath to a show. Chicago Med is a little different. What we’ve decided to do is to develop Maggie slowly, to be kind of an ace in the hole. So you sprinkle her everywhere in seasons one and two, and here we are in the third season expanding Maggie in some really interesting ways.

EDGE: I hope you take a little credit for that.

MB: Oh, definitely. And I’ve enjoyed this process. When you know you’re going to play a character for many years, you want a slow burn. Unless you’re going to do it the British way, where in one season you may have six episodes. As an actor, it’s better to have these back pocket moments with the characters you’re developing.

EDGE: Normally, an actor spends weeks shadowing the real-life version of the person they are playing. Since you had a nursing degree, did you get a reprieve from that? A note from the doctor?

MB: No [laughs] but it was helpful. The cast actually works with Dr. Andrew Dennis frequently for medical rehearsals, but we don’t see nurses that often. However, there was a nurse at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago who influenced how I play Maggie Lockwood. Her name is Gloria. I remember walking into a situation where a woman who had been hit by a semi was wheeled into the emergency room. Her body was pretty damaged. Gloria was so focused, working her environment like a symphony conductor…she had syringes, she was advising nurses what to do, she was assessing the situation, she was not overwhelmed by the urgency. The maturity in her eyes told me she knew exactly what she was doing, And the wrinkles in her face made me understand that there had been a price paid for her talent in nursing.

EDGE: Are those wrinkles familiar?

MB: I definitely recognize them in my sister, who is a doctor, a young doctor. And I recognize them in my mother, who is about to retire as a NICU nurse. The vocation anchors itself in you. It drives a depth of commitment inside you. The deeper you go into this commitment of bringing healing to people’s lives, the more it invades your life. Nursing isn’t just something my mother did. It was part of her language, part of her swagger, part of her education, part of everything. Same thing with my sister.

EDGE: Maggie can be pretty tough on the young doctors and nurses. Did you get pointers from your mother and sister?

MB: I’ve never seen my mother interact with the residents. But it is something I actually witnessed firsthand in nursing school. And I’ve seen it in my sister. Often senior nurses and doctors collaborate to ensure that young doctors become the doctors the profession should have, so being tough is a calculation made to improve and maintain the healing atmosphere you offer patients.

EDGE: If you never planned to work as a nurse, why get the degree?

MB: It was a promise I made to my parents. My father worked for Siemens as a medical engineer. And we have cousins who are doctors and nurses. So it’s a family thing. When immigrants—my family is from Haiti—come into this country, this is what they call “royal” blue-collar jobs. Doctors, nurses, engineers. There is a regal-ness to doing these professions. You can use these jobs to enter any area of society.

Courtesy of NBC Universal

EDGE: Tell me about the friendship you built with Ian McShane (above) while you were on the NBC series Kings.

MB: Everyone, in a number of professions, across the board, says the same thing about that man: Ian McShane is an authentic, incredible human being and a phenomenal artist. Ian was involved in the resurrection of my career. There is a five-year gap in my résumé. I was the victim of an assault. I’m a person who loves to laugh. I love life. I love human beings. After I was assaulted, to say that I was distraught would be an understatement. I became introverted and depressed. I needed a lot of prayer and a lot of counseling, in addition to the physical help I received. During that time of major pain, that’s when I met my husband. I met him a month after the event. He took the time to love on me well. And it was Ian McShane who was my true north.

EDGE: How so?

MB: Ian was there to help me get back on my feet. I thought I was leaving acting for good. He did not think that I was, and he said that when I was ready to come back, I should contact him. When the time came, I reached out to a lot of friends who were A-listers, people with whom I had worked. They said Yeah, I’ll help you. But I never heard from them, really. I made one call to Ian and he had representation ready to hear from me, he had a meeting set up for me, and within two weeks I was back on-air, on American Crime.

EDGE: He has a reputation for being generous as an actor, too.

MB: Yes exactly. You know, I did a scene with Ian on Kings and, after it was done, I was so bummed. I felt like, Man I wish I’d done that a different way. I went to see him the following day and said, “Hey remember that scene we did by the water?” He said, “Ya, doll. It was great, love.” I told him I felt there was something missing there. He said, “No, no. It was great.” I got very serious and told him he had a chance to pass on his gift and make me a part of his legacy. He laughed. And then he gave me the instruction. Well, you could do this, this, this and this— giving me pointers on how he’d approach it. From then on he really expanded my craft. And after Kings, I wanted to do some studying in London. He wrote me a great letter of recommendation to his alma mater, RADA [the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art] and I went on to study there.

EDGE: I would be remiss if we didn’t talk about your two seasons on The Wire. Nerese Campbell (facing page) was a brilliantly conceived character—a politician who used people and power in the same ways the criminals did. You were disturbingly convincing. 

HBO/Blown Deadline Productions

MB: Thank you! I made the conscious decision that if Nerese—as a politician—was going to rub shoulders with the boys, we were going to dance. It was Baltimore. And the truth is that I wanted her to go all the way to Washington. I calculated this idea that having a law degree and going into politics, she knew she would be dealing with people who weren’t necessarily refined. So what would I bring to the table when I wanted to sway a situation? I needed something as strong as a gun—something in her speech that was as potent as gunpowder, something so specific that my words balanced between intelligence, wisdom, and a threat. That’s what I thought Nerese was—all in a sexy body. There was one scene that captured her perfectly. She is going to work in her Mercedes on a sunny day, Bubbles is passing by and hands her a newspaper. Her window goes up, she opens the newspaper and we see that her illegal activity is on the front page. She’s exposed. And we see her, through the window, cursing like it’s her first language. Not like a politician, but like a gangster.

EDGE: So having lived through these two characters, Maggie Lockwood and Nerese Campbell, what do you think you’d be if you weren’t acting?

MB: [Laughs] A gangsta nurse.

Jim Gaffigan

What can you say about a standup comic who heckles himself? In the case of Jim Gaffigan, you can’t say enough. His observational comedy on the challenges of parenting, horrendous eating habits, and his own laziness has made him the most American of American comics. Professionally, Gaffigan is living the dream. He has conquered every platform a comedy icon can: television, film, radio, large venue, small venue, voiceover, publishing, CDs, DVDs, writing, directing and producing. He even earned rave reviews on Broadway in That Championship Season. Gaffigan, who received his third Best Comedy Album Grammy nomination this year for Cinco, will be making a stop in the Garden State this summer on his Fixer Upper Tour, with two shows scheduled for The Borgata in Atlantic City on August 4. Jim Sawyer caught Jim between gigs a few days before the tour began. 

EDGE: Is there such a thing as a “New Jersey audience?”

JG: New Jersey is three different worlds. And I’m sure it’s more than that. There’s Northern New Jersey, which is the suburb of New York, and there’s South Jersey, which is decidedly influenced by Philly. And then there’s the Jersey Shore.

EDGE: What do they have in common?

JG: You know, there is something about the Northeast. I chose to live in the northeast—I talk about this in my new special. What I love about Jersey is that it has this Northeast anger and passion, where, if you don’t deliver they’re going to throw you out. Yet Jersey also has this quality of “being taken on” by other states in the Northeast. I’m from one of those states, Indiana, which has to deal with being the butt of other cities’ jokes. So there’s a similar underdog quality that translates to a certain amount of pride.

EDGE: Do you set aside specific time for writing or do you jot down ideas as they come to you and develop them when you can?

JG: You know it’s always changing. Sometimes it is jotting down things on my iPhone and kind of fooling around. I wish it was more like that. But, sometimes it’s, you know, 20 minutes before a show talking to my friend who works with me on the show and I’m just coming up with an idea. Yeah, so I wish I could figure out where it all comes from because I’d go to that mind a lot more. But, in the end, there is nothing more rewarding than coming up with a new joke, or a new chunk, a topic.

EDGE: When you have reached the top of the comedy business- which you have- you have to think a lot more about the “business of comedy.” How has your business model changed over the years, and where do you see it evolving in the future?

JG: I think standup comedy, over the time that I’ve done it, has changed so dramatically in just accessibility to the public. And it’s changed from you get five minutes, and you try to get on the Tonight Show to you provide hour specials and they’re consumed on different platforms. My journey has changed so much. But I love writing new hours of material and finding myself getting better at standup.

EDGE: Is that a constant challenge?

JG: It’s all about self-refinement, right? So I don’t know. I love standup so much and it’s something I feel like I’m getting better at. So I like where it’s heading and, who knows, it’s like, in five years it will be a completely different business. When I did Beyond The Pale on Comedy Central that’s probably one of the more impactful things that happened in my career. But, in the next 10 years, there will probably be two other things that are the equivalent of YouTube or Netflix or satellite radio. Things just really keep changing and making standup more accessible to the world frankly.

EDGE: What are the parenting challenges that are peculiar to your particular profession?

JG: I think the unique one is probably balancing travel. I mean I’ve made a point of traveling as much as I can with my kids. You know, you forgo kind of making money on some trips, but I wouldn’t do it any other way. And I think the other thing is as a comedian, by necessity, you have to peak at night. Whereas parenting, it’s a 24-hour job.

EDGE: What for you is the most important part?

JG: I think the morning is a very important job. When I get the opportunity to go to school with my kids or drop them off…I wish I could do that more often. But, if I’m flying in from doing a show and I get home at 1:00 a.m., it’s unlikely that I’m going to be able to get up and make them eggs.

EDGE: You’ll be at The Borgata this summer. Casino crowds traditionally have been different than theater and club crowds. Do you find that’s still the case?

JG: It used to be much more the case. But now, you know, whether it’s The Borgata or Vegas, I think people are there for the shows. It’s kind of changed dramatically—just as performing at colleges has changed dramatically. Obviously, the casinos want people to stick around. But a lot of the venues in casinos are just so beautiful, they’re the best in the area, just great venues.

 

THE GAFFIGAN FILE

Born: July 7, 1966

Birthplace: Chesterton, Indiana

College: Georgetown Class of 1988

Residence: New York City

Fun Facts

  • At the age of five, Jim announced that he wanted to grow up to be “an actress.”
  • Jim was a football star in high school and played varsity ball in college.
  • Jim took a comedy class after moving to New York in the late 1980s and fell in love with standup.
  • His beloved Hot Pockets routine was inspired by an actual commercial that he mistook for a Saturday Night Live sketch.
  • Jim is one of several actors who have played Colonel Sanders in KFC’s popular TV ad campaign.
  • Jim’s acting skills have earned him guest appearances on some of TV’s most popular comedies, including Portlandia, That 70s Show, Sex and the City, Bored to Death and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
  • His own series, The Jim Gaffigan Show, ran for two seasons on TV Land.
  • Jim won an Emmy in 2015 for his contributions to CBS Sunday Morning.
  • Jim played attorney Paul Markham in the 2018 film Chappaquiddick.
Editor’s Note: Although no one would call Jim Gaffigan a visionary, in 2005’s Beyond the Pale, he did correctly predict that Dunkin Donuts would one day unveil a glazed donut breakfast sandwich. Of course, he meant it as a joke.

 

Wendy Williams

Wendy Williams is all about curves. She isn’t shy about showing hers off, of course. And she isn’t above throwing one or two at the celebrities she interviews. The Wendy Williams Show is 60 minutes of live, hold-on-tight entertainment, where anything can happen and almost anything goes. Make no mistake, however. Williams is both under and in control. She understands her business as well as anyone and, although she lives for the moment, her eye is always on the horizon. Indeed, as EDGE’S Gerry Strauss discovered, the most important curve for Wendy is the one she always seems to be out in front of.

EDGE: When did you decide that you wanted to be in broadcasting? 

WW: Sixth grade. I didn’t have a whole lot of interest in school, but I enjoyed reading books and I enjoyed writing. I knew I could do it. I thought that being a newscaster or a radio personality was definitely it. One of the two.

EDGE: Who were your influences?

WW: The black broadcasters in New York, like Sue Simmons, Vic Miles and Chi Chi Williams. In college, I majored in communications and minored in journalism. I immediately got involved with the college radio station, where I was reading news at the top of the hour. Radio was my second choice, actually, because I thought that you had to know an awful lot about music and you had to have an air of cool. I was a lot of things when I was younger, but cool was not one of them. I wasn’t in the in-crowd. So I read the news on the college radio station. One day, one of the DJ’s did not show up and they said, “You have to do it.”

EDGE: Were you scared?

WW: I was frightened to death. But I found that it’s not about cool. It’s not even about the music. Radio personalities—back then they called them DJ’s—were just the conduit from one song to the next. If you wanted the personality part kicked in, where I would know a little bit more about something, like: “That was LL Cool J, this new rapper on the scene with ‘I Need a Beat.’ When I was home at Christmas, LL Cool J performed at this club in yadda yadda yadda…and I heard that he left with three girls.” People would be curious, “What else do you know?”

EDGE: And as your career developed, how did you develop sources for celebrity gossip?

WW: At clubs. Fast forward to 1988. I was 25 years old and got my first New York job. It was at a dance music station called Hot 103.9, which is now Hot 97. I was a single, young New York girl making $60,000 a year, with no student loans and no car notes, living life like it’s golden. I would do two or three appearances a night, seven nights a week, being paid to go to nightclubs. I was in the VIP area so, of course, I would be seeing things that I would bring back to the radio. Through the years, that’s how it’s been.

EDGE: That kind of access is a powerful thing.

WW: It is. And when you have that access, you have to choose, if that makes sense. I chose the audience over the celebrities. People like that extra information, but you have to choose which side you’re on. You can’t serve two masters. You can’t be friends and go to a party and hang out with celebrities, and then betray their trust and talk about them. You cannot do that. That’s not being a good friend.

EDGE: As you worked your way to the New York market prior to 1988, did you spend time in some wacky places?

WW: Fortunately, I didn’t. It all happened pretty quickly for me. I spent eight months in Saint Croix, then I worked in Washington, D.C. for another eight months. I desperately missed Jersey while in Washington. They’re so conservative. And you can’t get a parking space! Then, right after D.C., I started working in Manhattan, and I lived in Jersey the whole time. Jersey has never been far from my heart.

EDGE: Your radio career coincided with the rise of the “shock jock,” and often you are mentioned as part of that genre.

WW: I don’t particularly care for the term “shock jock.” It brings up distasteful man humor and I don’t find anything that I say so shocking. My delivery is not so shocking—I speak like you speak. But I’ll take it as a compliment, only because it put me in good company with my friend Howard Stern, who is one of the greatest personalities on radio ever…which means that I must be one of the greatest personalities ever!

EDGE: Does that realness and honesty you bring to the air ever present a challenge for you when you’re off the clock?

WW: It can be challenging. When I walk in a room, people sort of react as if Godzilla walked in. They’ve always wanted to see or be near me, but they don’t know how to react. It’s like, “If I touch her will I burn? If she catches me looking at her, will she say something?” It’s partly my reputation and partly my presence. I’m taller than most men and women once I put my heels on, and I have a larger frame than the average woman—but it all works for me. I actually enjoy walking into a room and watching everyone scatter, because the truth is that I’m a pussycat. I’m honest, not mean-spirited, so whatever is making them scatter, I know that if they gave me a chance, they would love me.

EDGE: Celebrity gossip has become a 24-7 industry. As someone who helped to pioneer that type of reporting, what do you think of the way our celebrity culture has grown?

WW: I’m very happy about how the thirst for celebrity information has grown. But, if you pay close attention, you’ll notice that we continually hear about basically the same 150 celebrities. They are in the weekly magazines. They are on TMZ. Every once in a while, you’ll get a new celebrity in the mix. But it’s basically the same 150 celebrities. There are a lot more than 150 famous people out there, but they are not in the magazines or on TMZ.

Photo by Nadine Raphael

EDGE: Why is that?

WW: Because they live in Jersey. Because they live in Maine. Because they live in Connecticut. Not Manhattan. Not L.A. or Calabasas, where the Kardashians live. If Alec Baldwin doesn’t want to be bugged, then he should move to Jersey. Do you understand? We know where to get “papped” [photographed by the paparazzi]. In Manhattan, there’s a place called Michael’s. They have Celebrity Wednesdays. I only go there with my mother and father because they love the whole celebrity culture. I think it’s cute. When they come to the show, they come on a Wednesday and we go to Michael’s afterwards. They know to straighten up because, as soon as we open the car door, we’re going to get papped—and then put in the Daily News the next day. If I don’t want to get papped, I’m not going to go eat lunch at Fred’s At Barneys. I’m going to go up the street to Lair. There’s no paparazzi at Lair.

EDGE: So you think a lot of it is voluntary?

WW: Absolutely. Can I tell you something? Paparazzi aren’t just sitting in people’s neighborhoods taking pictures of them strolling with their kids. Fifty percent of them get photos because they go to places like The Ivy or Michael’s. And then the other fifty percent, they call the photographer and say, “I’m going to bring a blanket in the park and I’m going to have my kids.” Isn’t that stupid?Stupidest thing ever!

Photo courtesy of Essence Communications, Inc.

EDGE: Let’s talk about your show. For those who don’t know, The Wendy Williams Show is broadcast live.

WW: I love that.

EDGE: How was that decision made?

WW: They told me You’re going to be live and I said, Great. I’ve got stuff to do after the show. I’ve got groceries to buy. Nobody has time to be up in this dusty studio all day. At 11:01, I’m free. I go home, I become Wendy Hunter. We’re live out of New York four days a week. We tape Friday’s show on Thursday afternoon, so Friday I’m free to go to Home Depot, work on an outside project, whatever.

Photo courtesy of Essence Communications, Inc.

EDGE: Do you ever worry about something going wrong on live TV?

WW: I may make it look like perhaps something will go wrong, but remember, I had almost 25 years of broadcasting live radio four hours a day. I’ve been inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. I’ve won several awards. I’m part of an elite group. You don’t get that far by slipping up; you get that far by making it look easy. But it really is not. I curse like a sailor in real life but I’ve never cursed on the radio. I’m a trained broadcaster. So, for me, live TV? It’s the best.

EDGE: Who haven’t you interviewed yet, but want to? Who’s on your wish list?

WW: I would love to talk to Michelle Obama. I don’t even want to talk to her about First Lady stuff. And I wouldn’t ask her to do a push-up or to dance, or talk about issues. I’d want to talk about life. “When is the last time you drove a car, girl?What kind of moisturizer do you use?” I’d want to talk to her because she just turned 50, and I just turned 50. She’s a mother, I’m a mother. She’s a prominent person and I’m working on my prominence. In terms of having a wish list? Well, doing a talk show and being a professional talker, you realize that there really is no such thing as a wish list, because sometimes the very people that you wish for end up being the worst conversationalists. I’ve had better conversations with cab drivers than I’ve had with some celebrities I’ve met.

EDGE: If your show ever got to the point where they wanted to move it to the West Coast, would you consider that?

WW: Oh my gosh, I shudder and I wince and I wince and I shudder! There was actually an informal offer to do that back when I was in radio and I couldn’t do it. It’s a nice place to visit—all due respect—but I’m not that girl and those aren’t my people. These are my people in the Northeast.

EDGE: Will you reach a point where you’d want to do something other than TV, or just stop doing TV?

WW: I do have a date when I want this show to end if—God willing—it doesn’t get canceled. Listen, we’ve been renewed to 2017. I’ll need a few more years after that. I knew that when I signed up for this show, and I had the conversation with my husband. I told him that I don’t want to do this forever—and we hadn’t even gotten started at that point. I treasure my privacy. I treasure having a life. The best part about my job is actually doing my job. Maybe the worst part about it is taking pictures and doing autographs—the stuff that regular people would consider fabulous is really not. Right now, I’m taking steps to set things up to earn a living after The Wendy Williams Show, but behind the scenes as opposed to in front of the cameras. It’s a situation where my husband will take the reins, and my son will have a built-in opportunity to work in the family business. The Wendy Williams Production Company will create everything from reality TV to Lifetime movies to docu-series. That’s what I want next. I also want to establish a platform where I can do more public speaking—from keynote addresses to charity events to PSAs. I want to get out and be able to do things that I don’t really have the time to do now, things that would be helping to make the world a better place.

EDGE: Talk about the privacy issue if you would.

WW: Ten years ago, I could take my kid to Great Adventure and I didn’t have to think about what time or day we are going to go. These days it’s, “You know what?I can’t go. I’m going to have my assistant drive you and your friends.” Ten years ago, life was just different. I never want to discount my radio career, but it wasn’t as visual and it wasn’t as widespread. It was mostly an urban audience, and you knew where the How you doin’s were going to come from. Now they come from everybody. So yes, there are challenges, but nothing that I can’t get around. Also, I have to say that people treat you the way you put it out there. When I am driving around my town, I do all the Home Depot-ing, all the Target-ing, all of the grocery shopping—all of the everything—and people know it’s me. But when they say How you doin’ I say, “Hi, how are you?” and that’s it.

EDGE: Friendly.

WW: Right. You engage…and then you disengage. Busy, busy, busy. People respect that. EDGE

Editor’s Note: If you know anything about Wendy Williams, then you know that the entirety of this interview couldn’t possibly be contained within these pages. For more on her career choices, being a parent and role model, the future of radio, and her list of favorite things, log onto edgemagonline.com!

Vincent Kartheiser

Photo by David Walden

Would you invite Pete Campbell into your home? Maybe a better question is: Could you keep him out? While you think about that, consider the man behind the mask, Vincent Kartheiser, who breathed life into one of Mad Men’s most indelible characters. He has been honing his craft since childhood, in films including Masterminds, Alaska and The Indian In the Cupboard, and later in Another Day In Paradise and Crime and Punishment in Suburbia, for which he received critical acclaim. Kartheiser is also familiar to fans of the WB television series Angel. When Editor-at-Large Tracey Smith sat down with him, she was wondering what all Mad Men fans do: How much of what we see on screen is Vinnie and how much is Pete? So, naturally, she asked…

EDGE: Peter Campbell is manipulative, maniacal, devious, shrewd and success-driven. Is there a little bit of Pete in Vincent Kartheiser?

VK: Is it me? No. But is there a little bit of Peter in Vincent? Yes. I think that if we did a really thorough search and investigation of our history, we would find that we all have those personality traits, either momentarily or in the long term. So, yes, there’s a part of Peter in me. I’m capable of things that aren’t great.

Courtesy of AMC

EDGE: Why do you think Matt Weiner cast you as Pete?

VK: I would like to believe that I fit his vision, that he was looking for somebody who had a certain amount of cockiness and confidence and sliminess, but didn’t really know he had the sliminess. I don’t necessarily have any of those things in real life…but I guess I did in the audition room. (laughs)

EDGE: Thanks, by the way, for doing the fashion shoot for us. Is that fun for you—like a vacation from your everyday wardrobe?

VK: Sometimes. We generally schedule those sorts of things on the weekend. If I’ve had a big week of work, sometimes I have lower energy for such events. And lots of times they put me in stuff that I would never understand how to wear, or hope to wear.

EDGE: On Mad Men, which era of fashion is closer to your taste?

VK: I don’t know. I can’t pull off loud outfits. It doesn’t suit me and I don’t have a great physique, so those really tight pants and those form-fitting shirts aren’t as great as a suit that covers up and makes everyone look relatively similar.

EDGE: You looked great in the Bespoke Couture. Will we be seeing the Vincent Kartheiser collection someday?

VK: No. No we won’t. I know nothing about fashion, nor do I really aspire to. That being said, you know Photoshop is one helluva thing and I’m sure it was utilized. I’m sure a lot of Photoshop is done on my photos!

EDGE: When Season One of Mad Men started shooting, how did you see your character evolving over the years?

VK: You try not to think too far ahead when you’re acting. I do try to think of the past and the present of the character. A character has dreams and hopes and fears, and I do access those, but I tried not to put too many of my own kind of desires into Pete’s character. I didn’t want to put that pressure on myself. I knew what the character wanted in the first season; he wanted to be Don Draper and he wanted to switch out of accounts and be a creative guy. That was something he thought he was more suited to, something that was exciting. I focused on that and I never made too many assumptions of where he’d end up plot-wise.

EDGE: Is Pete Campbell the first character you’ve played that has had to age significantly? 

VK: Yeah, because most of the time you play characters—or at least I’ve always played characters—where the timeframe for the experience is very short. It’s one week, or one year, or one day. Very few stories span ten, twenty, thirty years. In the case of Pete, I aged as well, so it worked out.

EDGE: Is there anything about 30-something Peter Campbell you like better than 20-something Peter Campbell?

VK: There are quite a few things about Peter Campbell that have changed, and I admire them. I think he fits his place in the world and his place in the office. He understands what his role is, what his limitations are, and what his fortés are. In those ways, it makes him an easier person to be around for other people. When a character or a person is always trying to change, or fit a mold that isn’t quite right for them, it’s uncomfortable—not only for them, but for everyone around them. It causes a lot of conflict. So I think it’s wonderful that he’s come to peace with his role in the world, which is to be an account man. At least that’s where he’s settled in. I think his envy and jealousy of people around him has simmered down a bit. He doesn’t need to hate as many people as he used to, which I think is partly due to aging. We all experience that. Because it was such a prominent part of his personality, it’s nice that it’s gone away. He still gets frustrated very easily and feels that nothing ever goes his way, that he’s always getting the short end of the stick, and has a “woe is me” outlook on life—and he still has a sense of entitlement. So not everything has changed. But he has calmed down a bit and stops trying to set fire to everybody around him.

EDGE: What is the value of a Pete Campbell to an ad agency?

VK: I think his value is obvious. He’s a good account man, he works hard, he has ambition, he has loyalty to the people around him and to the company, he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty—he’s not afraid to get his name dirty—and he’s not afraid to use everything in his arsenal to get the job done. He used the death of his father to get an account, he convinced Joan to spend the night with Herb Bennet to land Jaguar, and he is willing to go pretty far into a moral shadow. I don’t think it’s good for the world, but it does bring value to the agency. Actually, I have a hard time calling those things “value” because they’re unscrupulous. Unfortunately, that’s a part of the business world. I don’t think that all companies run their businesses that way, but some certainly do, and in those businesses there are people like Pete Campbell that drive the train, and it accomplishes something.

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EDGE: What’s it like playing a character that many viewers love to hate?

VK: I’m just the actor. The people who really created this character and did the work are the writers. In that writer’s room, we have people who have been agents, who have been advertisers. We have people who are still in advertising who consult, and we have a team of people who spend hours and hours doing research on the time, on the year, on the date, on products, on ad campaigns, on the types of people and the types of stories. Matthew Weiner and the writing team take all of this info and create these characters. I think it’s an honor that I haven’t ruined what they are trying to do—but it’s really that I’m just a vessel, and they really are owed the credit. By the way, you’re right. I get this all the time, people come up and say, “I work with a Pete Campbell.” They did a really good job of writing him in a realistic way, but still in a melodramatic way.

EDGE: Looking back, would you have written your character any differently?

VK: I wouldn’t have written anything differently. I’m very happy with everything they’ve given me. I’m honored that they’ve written what they’ve written. I don’t really live in a world of what-ifs. It gets too complicated.

EDGE: Pete says to Don Draper in an early episode, “A man like you, I’d follow into combat blindfolded.” Would you, Vincent, follow Jon Hamm into battle blindfolded?

VK: Well I wouldn’t follow anyone into battle. (laughs) I do feel he has my back. I think I can speak for all the actors that Jon is so supportive and is so consistent, he’s always giving 100 percent, he’s always present, he’s always good. I have off-days—there are days I can’t remember my lines or I’m struggling. Jon and many of the actors I work with are so, so strong. Jon is there so much and it’s Don’s story, so it is pivotal that he supplies his presence. Yet he does it almost effortlessly and I don’t know how. It’s a character trait that I admire greatly.

EDGE: There’s a lot of smoking and drinking on Mad Men, which is period-appropriate. But what are we to make of Pete’s food choices?

VK: He’s always eating childish food, like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Cap’n Crunch. I think Matthew is making a statement about this boy-man that Pete is—which is something that I can relate to. There’s something about being an actor, especially from when you’re very young. I’ve never had another job, I’ve had a very blessed life, I haven’t had to roughen up my hands too much. I think there’s something about being an actor, particularly though, that keeps you a little bit childish. It’s make-believe, it’s imagination, and I might be guilty of being a boy-man in some ways.

EDGE: I know you’re a fan of Jack Kerouac. He wrote that “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” Who are Peter Campbell’s people?

VK: The man who never grew old enough to understand what he wrote! I think you start yawning when you hit a certain age and Jack never got to that age. Who are Pete’s kinds of people? New Yorkers. Not the “new” New Yorkers, not the hippies that are taking over the Village in the late 60’s, or the drug dealers in the boroughs or any of those sorts of things, but the “old” New Yorkers. I would say his kinds of people are the logical ones, the ones that he can understand why they do what they do. They don’t get off-course, they stay the course. I think that statement by Jack Kerouac, he’s really just talking about himself. He’s saying the kinds of people I like are like me. So, the kinds of people that Pete Campbell likes—if we’re using that template—are the kinds of people like Pete.

Photo by Michael Yarish courtesy of AMC

EDGE: And who are Vincent’s kind of people?

VK: Personally, as Vincent, I like quiet people…and I wish I were one. (laughs) I like people who think about what they say before they say it. I wish I were one of them, too!  I like kind people, gentle people, people who aren’t out for number-one, people who are out for everyone—people who don’t jump to judgment but try to empathize. I’m not really any of those things, and I’m not talking about some crazy-eyed cult. I’m just talking about someone that is real, someone who really sees that their needs aren’t the needs of everyone. That their life isn’t any more important than anyone’s. I don’t know, maybe there’s no one like that in the world, but I feel like I meet them all the time.

Editor’s Note: The only question Vincent Kartheiser dodged in this interview was about his girlfriend, Alexis (Gilmore Girls) Bledel. Now we know why. Vincent and Alex tied the knot over the summer in a secret ceremony. Log onto edgemagonline.com to read more about Vincent’s other television and film roles, and how he kept the EDGE crew loose on his fashion shoot.

Todd Bowles

Courtesy of the New York Jets

When Todd Bowles was throwing passes to his buddies in pick-up football games in Elizabeth, the Meadowlands and the NFL seemed light-years away. The actual distance is only 15 miles, of course. However, to get to East Rutherford as the newly minted head coach of the Jets, Bowles detoured through Philadelphia, Washington, San Francisco, Washington again, Louisiana, Green Bay, Atlanta, New Jersey (he was the Jets’ secondary coach for a year in 2000), Cleveland, Dallas, Miami (where he was interim coach for three games in 2011), Philadelphia again, and Arizona. Along the way he earned a reputation for building creative and unpredictable defenses. Zack Burgess connected with Coach Bowles at the beginning of training camp, and talked about the various stops on the decades-long journey that ultimately brought him home.

EDGE: What attracted you to football as a kid?

TB: It’s all about the camaraderie. Growing up, you play with all of your friends. It’s just something that you get used to doing, just playing outside.

When I was growing up it was just a part of everyday life. You played football and you had fun. When it was time to go out for the teams, you didn’t really have too much pressure, because you were already playing every day with the guys that were going to be on your team. Every weekend we played, and you kind of crafted your skill that way.

EDGE: You were the quarterback.

TB: Yes, I was the streetball quarterback.

EDGE: Who were your football mentors and heroes growing up in Elizabeth?

TB: I didn’t have a true mentor as far as going to camps and everything. You kind of did everything on your own. We grew up playing a lot of street football. It was about 20, 30 kids that I grew up with. You looked up to the guys that were one, two, three years older than you. My brothers, they both were older than me. Just watching what they did and hanging out with them taught me a lot about the game.

EDGE: Don Somma coached you at Elizabeth High School.

TB: He did a heck of a job. We were just developing the team and the program when I was there. The year after I left, they went all the way and won the states. I played tailback, tight end, wide receiver, corner, safety—I don’t think I ever came off the field. We had some good athletes on our team.

EDGE: You played under Bruce Arians at Temple. Was he pretty much the same guy then as he was when you were on his NFL coaching staff with the Arizona Cardinals?

TB: He was a lot more fiery at Temple. He was a young coach, just 30 years old when he got the job. But for the most part, he was always the same guy. He taught boys how to be men. You could always trust him.

EDGE: How good was the Owls defense your junior year? The team was in every game that season.

TB: Defensively, we were pretty good the whole time I was there. We had some very good defensive players in Anthony Young and Kevin Ross. We just couldn’t get over the hump. We played tough schedules back then. It seemed as if almost everyone we played was in the Top 25. There was some good competition back then. We fought pretty hard.

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EDGE: You joined the Washington Redskins in 1986 and became a starter in your second year—the same year that team won the Super Bowl. At what point in the 1987 season did you start thinking, Hey, this is a championship-caliber team?

TB: The Redskins were good when I got there. They had gone to the championship game the year before against the Giants. All season, we talked about who we might be playing in the playoffs. That was our mentality going in with Coach [Joe] Gibbs. Everybody practiced and played that way. You carried your own weight whether we won 43-0 or not. If you didn’t play well, you weren’t going to be playing that next week.

EDGE: You won a lot of tough, close games that season right through the playoffs, then boom you destroy the Broncos in the Super Bowl. What goes through your head as a young player when you are part of a game like that?

TB: It’s something that you can’t even describe. When you get into those types of situations as a young player—going to the Super Bowl—everything moves so fast. It’s one of the happiest moments of your life. But you don’t realize it until five, ten years after it’s gone. You’re so busy having fun, enjoying the moment, that you don’t realize that you’re in it. It was one of the best things to happen to me.

EDGE: What influenced your decision to go into coaching? What did you feel you could teach others?

TB: When I first retired, Emmitt Thomas, who is now in Kansas City and was my defensive backs coach when I played, told me if I wanted to be a good coach that I should get away from the game for at least two years. Otherwise, I would be teaching guys the same way as if I played, and I would be very disappointed. In other words, I would be teaching more from a player’s standpoint rather than a coaching standpoint. So I got out of the game for two years. When I jumped back in, I wanted to learn it from the ground up. So I went into scouting first, with the Green Bay Packers. Then I went to college to see if I liked coaching. And I did. I enjoyed teaching young guys, the X’s and O’s part of it, and that really got me heavy into coaching.

EDGE: Which coaches really opened your eyes to what a head coach in the NFL had to do to be successful?

TB: It was a little bit of everybody. I think Doug Williams started it. Coaching with him in college at Morehouse and then at Grambling—seeing the things he went through and dealt with, and seeing how he treated people—that started me off right. Obviously, Coach Gibbs, playing in that system for him for years and seeing how he conducted things. He taught you how to be a professional. And Coach [Bill] Parcells really taught me how to see the whole game from an organizational standpoint and from a coaching standpoint. Coach Arians, as a player in college and later coaching with him in Cleveland and Arizona, I saw how he respected people and got the most out of his players, especially the second- and third-level players. Coach [Andy] Reid, the year I was in Philly with the Eagles, I probably learned more from a humility standpoint—with the passing of his son and all the things that were going on there—just seeing the difficult things he went through and never letting it affect his coaching. He stood in the face of adversity and he was the same guy every day. That taught me a lot. Wade Phillips for a year in Dallas, he taught me how to have fun with the game, be yourself and just go with the flow. I had a whole bunch of guys who have affected how I look at the game. I haven’t even named them all.

Courtesy of the New York Jets

EDGE: In what ways do NFL teams function as families?

TB: You have to learn to work together. You have to sacrifice and put all your egos to the side. You’re going to be in a building 8 to 16 hours a day, every day, with all these people—especially coaches, who work year ’round. For players it’s half the year. So you get to know these guys on a personal level and what makes them tick. They see what makes you tick. You kind of figure out what buttons to push; they figure out what they can and can’t do with you. There are a lot of personal relationships that go on behind the scenes that everybody doesn’t see. And you put out fires just like any other family. There are spats here and there, but for the most part we’re around each other so much, we kind of get a good feel for each other. And whether you like it or not, you’re going to be a part of a family. You have your bad people and good people—and everything in between. But at the end of the day, we have to be on one working relationship.

EDGE: What are some of the do’s and don’t’s for an NFL coach taking over a new team?

TB: Don’t try to do more than you can. Keep it about football and don’t let the outside stuff bother you.

EDGE: When we watch the Jets this year, what should we be looking for that tells us This is a Todd Bowles team?

TB: Hopefully, as this thing develops, we want to be a smart, tough team. We want to be very physical and we want to be very good at handling game situations.

EDGE: How great is it to be home again—more pressure, or more relaxed?

TB: It’s more relaxed. As a kid growing up, you don’t see the outside world. You don’t travel very much being from Elizabeth. But growing up over the years and coming back to things you haven’t seen in a long time, that’s great. It’s great to be back.

Editor’s Note: As the NFL season gets underway, Zack Burgess is completing his most ambitious sports project to date: a series of 32 books for young readers, one on each pro football team. His work for EDGE has included interviews with a wide range of non-sports celebrities, including Jaclyn Smith, Gloria Gaynor, Danica McKellar, and Beth Ostrosky Stern—all available on edgemagonline.com. More of Zack’s sports interviews can be found at zackburgess.com.

 

Terence Winter

Photo by Macall B. Polay/HBO

Earlier this year, fans of the New Jersey-based HBO series Boardwalk Empire were surprised to learn that it would be shortened from its initially proposed run of seven seasons to five. Editor at Large Tracey Smith, who interviewed series creator Terence Winter for EDGE in 2013, doubled back this fall to get his take on the Nucky Thompson experience, find out what¹s coming next, and talk a bit more about what keeps his creative juices flowing.

EDGE: Shortening this series to five seasons was a big decision. How did that conversation go between you and fellow executive producer Howard Korder?

TW: Somewhere around the middle of Season 4, Howard and I looked at each other and said, “I get the feeling that we’re kind of headed toward a conclusion here.” It was completely inadvertent in our storytelling, but we felt like if we were listening to Nucky and what he was saying and where he was taking us, that he was trying desperately to get out of this business and to wind down.  The more we talked about it, the more we said, “Yeah, we don’t have a whole lot more to explore with this character.”  We didn’t want to just milk it, and the last thing we want to do is to become repetitive. We’re lucky enough to not be in a situation where, like network TV, for example, you have to hit a certain amount of episodes in order to become syndicated. That’s not the model over here, and that’s not the model that exists anymore, and creatively it’s not anything I’m comfortable with. We always felt that when this story runs its course that’s when the series ends. We felt like that with Nucky and started to have that conversation with HBO. Creatively, they are incredibly supportive; they said, “Okay, well how much do you think you need?” We felt we needed eight more hours to properly tell this story, and that’s where we ended up.

EDGE: Give me the two highlights that stand out for you personally on this project?

TW: One would be Martin Scorsese becoming involved—getting to work alongside my cinematic hero, who was the reason I got into this business in the first place. I saw Taxi Driver when I was a teenager and I can draw a straight line from Taxi Driver through the rest of my career. That was a movie that made me sit up and take notice of movies as being something other than just something to do on a Saturday afternoon. I walked out of that and thought “Wow, what was that? Who is this guy Martin Scorsese and what else has he done?” When I hung up the phone after Martin Scorsese told me “I’m going to direct this pilot” I almost fell out of my chair. That was just an amazing highlight. Part two? All the rest of it!  Having my own show for the first time, getting to work alongside my dear friend Tim Van Patten, getting to know and become dear friends with Howard Korder, Christine Chambers—who started as my writer’s assistant fourteen years ago and now is one of our writers—that whole experience. Just lump it all together.

Photo by Macall B. Polay/HBO

EDGE: You’re about to fast-forward 40 years with your new project about CBGB. Are you nervous about how fans will receive it?

TW: No. I try to approach things that I write as if I’m an audience member. What would I like to see? The rule of thumb is, if I think it’s interesting, hopefully other people will too. If I think it’s funny, hopefully people will agree. Rock and Roll…1973…New York City. I’m there!! If I had nothing to do with this, if I saw a trailer for this, I would absolutely tune in to it. And then you say that Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger are involved in it, Bobby Cannavale stars in it—you’re going to see the beginnings of punk, disco, hip-hop, see these bands, hear this music, spend time in that crazy rollercoaster world of New York  when the economy was horrible and crime was to the roof. I’d watch it so I’m confident that there are people that are equally interested. Hopefully, I’m right.

EDGE: It’s just one great project after another for you. What’s it like to be Terence Winter?

TW: I feel like any moment I’m going to wake up and it’s 1975 and I’m going to be late for my job at the butcher shop. I couldn’t have written a script for my own life that would have played out better. I am unbelievably blessed, I am unbelievably fortunate and I don’t take that for granted for one second. I look in the mirror every day and just think I am the luckiest guy in the world. And I really am.

EDGE: What was the toughest choice you had to make along the way?

TW: Leaving a promising law career to embark on a writing career was pretty crazy. I left in 1990 after two years to move to Hollywood to become a screenwriter. People thought I was out of my mind.

EDGE: Had you ever written a screenplay?

TW: No. Nor had I ever been to Los Angeles.

EDGE: When you think about your legacy, what comes to mind?

TW: First and foremost, I want to entertain people. At the end of my career, if I’ve succeeded in that, then I think that’s really all I could’ve asked for as an artist. When I look at movies done in the 40’s or 50’s, I think Somebody wrote that—someone reached out across time and made me laugh. I remember reading Tom Jones by Henry Fielding and there’s a passage that made me laugh out loud. I thought, God, this guy reached out from hundreds of years ago and made me laugh, which is pretty amazing considering sensibility has changed so much. It makes me feel good to know that this will live beyond me, and my kids one day will be old enough to watch The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire and get more of an insight into me creatively. That is, in some way, psychologically sort of a denial of death— “It doesn’t matter because my work is going to live on.” It’s funny. David Chase and I laughed about this. In The Sopranos, I wrote a similar line for Christopher, who’d made that movie Cleaver, a ridiculous horror movie. Christopher said to Tony, “Wow, that’s really cool. Hundreds of years from now people are gonna be watching this thing.” It’s the same way I feel about our work. It’s great that the written word survives and goes on forever. It’s so great to be able to do this.

Editor’s Note: Tracey and Terence covered quite a bit of ground in their conversation. To read more about the actors, characters and experiences that came together in five seasons of Boardwalk Empire, log on to edgemagonline.com for exclusive bonus content.

Robert A. Caro

Photo by Larry D. Moore/CC BY:SA3.0

Robert A. Caro has spent nearly four decades chronicling the life of Lyndon B. Johnson, tracing his roots from a Texas farmhouse all the way to the White House. Through his biographies of Johnson and Robert Moses, Caro has illuminated the American political process and how power is wielded within our government. He is a recipient of the National Humanities Medal, and has won numerous other awards and accolades throughout his career. To EDGE interviewer Jesse Caro, he is something more than that: Caro is his grandfather (aka “Bop”). A recent college graduate embarking on a career in journalism, Jesse wielded his own political power to arrange a sit-down with the two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author. The topic: Caro’s own formative post-graduate experiences in his chosen profession.

EDGE: After graduating from Princeton—where you were the Managing Editor of the Daily Princetonian—you became a reporter. What drew you, early on, to journalism?

RC: That’s a question I’ve been asked before, but I’m not sure I know the answer to that. In the beginning, I liked trying to figure out how things worked, and wanted to explain that to people. When I first went to work for this little paper in New Jersey, I almost immediately narrowed that down to an interest in politics because, it seemed to me, that’s what matters. Almost immediately, I realized the idea of politics I had in college had very little to do with the way politics worked, and that I didn’t know how politics worked. Every day, I was learning something as a reporter. And since I felt like, if power in a democracy ultimately comes from us and the votes we cast, then the better informed people are about the realities of politics—not what we learned in textbooks in high school and college, but the way they really worked—the better informed our votes would be. And presumably the better our country would be. So I almost immediately started to be interested in politics for that reason.

EDGE: How did that lead you into investigative reporting?

RC: Purely by accident. I went to Newsday, and I was the low man on the totem pole. But Newsday was a crusading newspaper.

EDGE: Is that why you wanted to work there?

RC: Yes, that’s I wanted to work there. But I hadn’t done any crusading—I was still low on the paper. They had a managing editor named Alan Hathway, a figure straight out of the 1920’s and The Front Page—rambunctious, freewheeling, crusading. But he really didn’t like the idea of the Ivy League. He had always said he didn’t want anybody from the Ivy League in his city room. While he was on vacation, his assistant, I think as sort of a joke, hired me. Hathway was so mad when he came back, he wouldn’t talk to me. He would walk by my desk without saying a word. But Newsday was doing a terrific thing.

There had been an Air Force base in the middle of Nassau County called Mitchel Field, and the Air Force didn’t need it any more. Real estate developers were coming into to Nassau County and they wanted it.

EDGE: How was Newsday covering the story?

RC: Well, the FAA wanted to give most of the land to real estate developers and keep part of it as a general aviation airport—which means a corporate airport—so all these big companies could have corporate jets and fly into the middle of Nassau County. Newsday was trying to prove that influence was being used by the developers and big corporations on the FAA, but the paper wasn’t having success in doing that. So I was in the city room on a Saturday afternoon and the phone rings. It’s a guy from the FAA. He said, “I know that what you’re doing is right, and if you want to be able to prove it, I’ll let you. Just send someone down here…there’s no one here but me.”

EDGE: So this story fell into your lap.

RC: Yes, totally out of nowhere. It was the weekend of the Newsday picnic, and everybody went except basically me.

EDGE: Did you try to contact anyone?

RC: I called all the editors. Everyone was away; everyone was at this beach. Finally, I get some editor who tells me I’ll have to go myself. Well, I had never done anything like this before. So I drove down and the guy let me in, and he basically pointed me to a couple of file cabinets. He said, “Those are the things you want to look at.” I didn’t go home—I worked all that night and all the next day, and wrote a memo for the editors on what I had found. The Monday morning after this, Alan’s secretary calls early in the morning and says, “Alan wants to see you.” Alan had never said a word to me. All the way driving in I was thinking, I’m going to be fired…I’ve got to keep my head up. When I get to the doorway, I see he’s reading the memo about what I found in the files. He looks up and he says, “I didn’t know someone from Princeton could go through files like this. From now on, you do investigative work.”

EDGE: Is it something you’d wanted to do?

RC: Yes, but you say it like I planned everything out. That’s an exaggeration. I knew that what I wanted to do was politics. What I wanted to do was find out how politics really worked.

EDGE: You’ve told me in the past you worked for a county Democratic organization in New Jersey in the 1950s? Did that experience spur your interest in politics?

RC: It did. I graduated from Princeton in 1957 and got married the day after I graduated. We went on this honeymoon for two months, driving around the country, and got back somewhere around Labor Day. I went to work on a paper in New Jersey that was tied in with the Middlesex County and New Brunswick political machine. It almost sounds funny—their chief political reporter would be given a leave of absence for every election so he could write speeches for the Middlesex County Democratic organization. He had a heart attack, so he couldn’t work for a while. He wanted to make sure he had this speech-writing job when he came back, so he wanted to be replaced as speechwriter by someone who was no threat to him. So who better than this kid from Princeton? That’s why I got the job. There was an election coming up and Joe Takacs was the political boss of the city of New Brunswick—a guy who ruled that city with an iron hand. I really did get a look at politics because he really liked me, and he took me with him everywhere. But then the following thing happened. On election day, he did what I later found out was called “riding the polls.” His regular driver took off, and a police captain was the driver for the day. We drove around in this big black car from polling place to polling place. At each place a police officer—a lieutenant or a captain—would come over to the car and basically say that everything was in order. Then we got to this one place where there was a commotion going on between a group of black people and police officers. This [police officer] came over to the car and said something to the effect of, “We’ve had trouble here, but we’re taking care of it now.” I looked over, and they had brought two paddy wagons, and there was a bunch of policeman herding these neatly dressed men—ties and jackets—and young women none too gently into the paddy wagons. They had been trying to be poll-watchers, to make sure the voting was honest, so they had to be gotten rid of.

EDGE: How long did you stay on after seeing this?

RC: When this happened right in front of me, a number of things got to me. It was the meekness with which they were taking this treatment—as if it was expected and they were resigned to it, and I couldn’t stand it. I knew in that moment that I didn’t want to be in the car; I wanted to be out there with them. So the next time the car stopped I just opened the door and got out. I didn’t know it then, but my interests were coming more and more to politics, and more and more to how politics really work. I wouldn’t say I was interested in investigative journalism—I was interested in understanding how politics really worked. And then this [story] happened at Newsday, and Alan said to me, “From now on, you do investigative work.” With my usual savoir faire in moments like this, I said, “But I don’t know anything about investigative journalism.”

EDGE: I’m sure that’s what he wanted to hear.

RC: Well, he said, “I’ll sit you next to [Robert] Greene,” who was a great investigative reporter, and he taught me a lot. And Alan taught me a lot. I learned a lot of things that a lot of reporters never learned. I know how to go through court papers. I know how to trace land transactions. I learned that all from them. I was getting a lesson every day. I learned things then that have guided me all my life, and the simplest thing is: Turn every page. I was going through some files, and I asked Alan some advice about something, and I’ve never forgotten: He said, “Never assume a damn thing. Turn every page.” That has guided me through my whole life.

EDGE: You mean to be thorough, to make sure you don’t miss anything.

RC: Yes. You don’t assume. You never know what’s going to be on a piece of paper. When you get to the Lyndon Johnson Library, the first two floors are a museum. Then you come around the corner and there is this marble staircase. And here are Lyndon Johnson’s papers…there’s four floors of them. They go back—I keep wanting to measure this—it’s like hundreds of feet. The last time they counted, they said there were forty-four million documents, so you couldn’t possibly turn every page and read every page. You’d have to have many lifetimes to do it. My first book [on Johnson] was going to be almost all on his congressional period. So while there were thousands and thousands of boxes, the number of boxes that had to do with the congressional period was manageable—there were 349 boxes. I thought if I was doing what Alan taught me, I would go through every piece of paper in those boxes. It would probably take about a year and a half or something, but you can do it. And by doing that, I found out all these things that people thought could never be found out. All the biographies—there were already a lot of Johnson biographies when I started—they all sort of knew that Brown & Root, this big Texas contracting firm, had financed him. And everyone said, Well, we can never find out about it because no one would talk about it. But I said, “If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this the same way I was as a reporter—I’m going to turn every page.” And in some file—whatever the file was, it didn’t seem to have anything to do with this—there was this telegram from George Brown, an actual telegram from George Brown to Lyndon Johnson in October, 1940 saying, Lyndon, the checks are on the way.

EDGE: How many years have you spent on Lyndon Johnson now?

RC: I started in 1976.

EDGE: I imagine that immersing yourself in one person’s life for that long must give you incredible insight into who that person is—which is something that I don’t think you could get from being a journalist. Is that something you were seeking, or is that something that just happened based on the nature of your work?

RC: That wasn’t something I was really interested in, in the beginning.

EDGE: Do you feel as though it’s something you have come to appreciate?

RC: If you spend that much time with someone, you feel like you know them. My interest is not telling the life of a great man.

EDGE: It’s in political power?

Robert and Jesse Caro. Never turn your back on grandpa!

RC: Yes, but you immerse yourself, and when Johnson is doing something, you say to yourself, “Well now he’s going to do something.”

EDGE: The way you might with a friend or a close acquaintance?

RC: A really close acquaintance that you’ve spent a lot of time with.

EDGE: Have you found that LBJ’s political life reflected his personal life? Or was Johnson a different person at home than he would have been in the White House or Congress?

RC: Johnson—I can answer quickly—he was the same person.

 

Rhea Seehorn

Photo by Ben Leuner for AMC/Sony Pictures Television

A year ago last February, fans of the AMC series Breaking Bad tuned in to the most highly anticipated “prequel” in television history, Better Call Saul. The series introduced us to a young(er) Saul Goodman, aka Jimmy McGill, played with great heart and humor by Bob Odenkirk. No surprise there. The eye-opening performance on the new series was delivered by Rhea Seehorn. Seehorn (her first name is pronounced Rey) portrays lawyer Kim Wexler—the object of Jimmy’s affection and one of the most appealing and complex characters on series television. Known for her TV work on the sitcoms I’m With Her, Franklin & Bash and Whitney, along with her many stage roles, Seehorn brings an edgy sophistication to Kim’s role that only a veteran player could. Editor-at-Large Tracey Smith was curious what it feels like when the stars align with a great part, great show, great writers and great directors. Who better to ask than a great actress?    

EDGE: Jimmy McGill is the larger-than-life character who drives Better Call Saul. But it’s Kim who brings out the best and worst in Jimmy—which makes her one of the truly compelling characters on TV right now. Is this the kind of love story an actor can really sink her teeth into?  

RS: It’s a great part. Because the character Kim is independent and the relationship itself serves the story well, she is not an appendage to the lead. She is fully realized as she is. It’s a gift to get to play someone that has layers and layers that keep unpeeling, to play subtext and backstory—and to play things in the middle, where your audience goes on the ride with you instead of your character telling them what to think. It’s great.

EDGE: What are the things you look for that help you play Kim with increasing depth?

RS: On set, everything is meticulously crafted before we receive the script.  Every single thing you need is there to craft your character. The text is everything.  Every clue you need is there.  Once I’m on set, I have the pleasure of letting the rest of it be shaped by my awesome directors and scene partners.

AMC/Sony Pictures Television

EDGE: Kim is the sane, moral center of a story that’s populated by a lot of unhinged and amoral characters. Is it a challenge having to hold it all together in your scenes?

RS: No. Kim is navigating through a world where everybody insists that things are black and white. But Kim is in the middle. [Laughs] If she saw herself that way, my guess is it would be an unbearable burden! I don’t believe Kim sees that dichotomy between her and the others.  If anything, I think the past two seasons have been a continuing exploration of all the gray areas there are in life, and how futile it can be to try to see things as only black and white.  

EDGE: What’s different about playing a character in a prequel? Do you sense that things aren’t going to end well for Kim? Or will she survive and ride off into the sunset?

RS: I have the luxury of playing a character that could end up anywhere, so that distinction does not apply to me. Better Call Saul is a fresh landscape for me.  I don’t sense anything. [Laughs] I honestly don’t know! I think that the writers are smart enough to have not painted themselves into a corner. The story could go anywhere. Anything could happen. I’m not as smart as these writers and saddled with the job of figuring out the best story to tell. 

EDGE: So what can you be certain about where Kim is concerned?

RS: I am 100% certain of one thing only—that Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, and our whole amazing writing staff will write what is the absolute best story they can. And the characters—mine included—will serve that story.  I have absolute trust that it is equally possible for new characters from Better Call Saul to exist or not exist during and after the Breaking Bad years, and that they will have a meaningful and provocative effect on progressing the story forward either way.

EDGE: Do you wonder—as the audience does—if a new Breaking Bad character is going to suddenly show up?

RS: No, never.  

EDGE: Did you have a “Eureka Moment” as an actress? 

RS: It was much more of an organic thing for me.  I never had one moment where I was sure I was going to be okay in this field. I just worked on whatever role I could get my hands on, and strove to work with great people who would make me better with each project.

EDGE: How do your strengths as a seasoned stage actress help you in your television and film roles?

RS: I’m very thankful for my training, history, and experience with theater. My personal grab bag of techniques and methods—which I’ve picked up from all different people, classes, plays, shows, and projects—is what I have to rely on each time I’m creating a character, preparing a scene, taking direction, doing multiple takes, and attempting to be present for my scene partner, so that each time we tell the story, it’s for the first time. I think that, certainly, there is something to be said for doing a play eight times a week. You learn how to do the same lines over and over, know how to live and breathe them organically as though they are new each time. I find that that helps when you’re on your ninth or tenth take. You’re remembering why you’re new to your character. 

EDGE: Do you collaborate smoothly with directors?

RS: I love directors that love to direct. There is nothing better for me than a character interpretation that you come up with together with other people. I have had so many great directors. I’ve been very, very lucky—stage and on-camera work, just really wonderful directors, including the directors on my show now.  

EDGE: Something we’d see on the screen?

RS: Yes, you have some freedom to single out pauses and breathing in the scene. They allow you to sit in the moment. That comes from everybody involved, Sony, AMC, Vince and Peter, as well as all of our directors. There’s an allowance to really explore scenes a lot. Our directors are wonderful.  

AMC/Sony Pictures Television

EDGE: What were some of the things you learned as an actor from your experience on the sitcom I’m With Her?

RS: It was my first series regular part, and when the show was picked up for a full season, it was the reason I moved to L.A. from New York. There was a huge learning curve, of course. And everyone in the cast and on the crew was incredibly generous in helping me, teaching me, and answering all my questions. Being that it was a multi-cam sitcom, there were many things that were very familiar—the somewhat proscenium-style staging and the live audience, for example.  

EDGE: Robbie Benson directed that series.

RS: He was a lovely, very helpful and supportive director. As were Ted Wass, Shelly Jensen, Arlene Sanford and all of my other directors for those 24 episodes. My cast—Teri Polo, David Sutcliffe, Danny Comden—as well as the creators Chris Henchy and Marco Pennette, and all of the writers and producers, really were the best gift I could have asked for. They were so talented and supportive. I work really hard and I don’t take any of that for granted.

EDGE: How did you land the role of Roxanne on Whitney? Had you crossed paths before with Whitney Cummings?

RS: I was asked to audition for the role and then I got picked. I didn’t know anybody on that show. You know, Whitney’s so funny and such a great woman. A lot of people think she cast a bunch of her friends on that, but she didn’t. She and Chris D’Elia knew each other, but the rest of us had never met.  

EDGE: Is there a common thread to your roles—on stage, on TV, in film…

RS: All the roles I have gotten were roles I had no idea I would get, but I was at my best. The bigger the character is, the more I’d get nervous and think, “What an amazing character. They could have anyone they want.” So I’ll get freaked out, and then I eventually get fatigued of being freaked out, and then just say to myself, “This is a little black box theater production and a three-minute character sketch…let’s just make up somebody that you would love to play…do the scene on a curb as if four people would watch…then just do your best and let go of whether or not you are the right person to tell the story.”

EDGE: Did you always have good comic timing? 

RS: I don’t know [laughs]. Comedy is definitely a science. I coach actors, so I know you can study it. You can have an ear for it or not.  It’s a weird thing to try to teach if someone can’t hear it.  

EDGE: Is there a better degree in comedy than being involved in a Neil Simon play on Broadway?

RS: I was not cast in 45 Seconds from Broadway. I was an understudy that got to go on…and it was thrilling. Julie Lund was cast in the role, and she was just amazing—absolutely beautiful and charming and wonderful in the role. The one and only Jerry Zaks directed. He requires that his understudies be present at all rehearsals and remain in the building, just below the stage, for all performances. 

EDGE: That was during the September 11th attacks.

RS: Yes, we rehearsed up through 9/11, then we took a break. I was living in Brooklyn at the time. We actually went back to work during the time when they were telling everyone to not take the subway and to not go to public gathering areas. We premiered soon after. It was a beautiful thing to see audiences pour in because they needed to escape.  I’m so thankful for that whole experience because not only did I get to watch and listen to Julie craft and perform her wonderful role, I got to listen to and watch some of the greatest theater actors of all time on a daily basis—Louis Zorich, Lewis Stadlen, Bill Moor, Alix Korey, Dennis Creaghan, Judith Blazer, Rebecca Schull, Kevin Carroll, Lynda Gravatt, and two of my favorites, the late, and irreplaceable, Marian Seldes, and David Margulies.

EDGE: Back to Kim and Better Call Saul. You do a great job with a great character on a great series—what are some of the great things that happen as a result of that?

RS: Well, thank you for that. I’m just so grateful to continue getting to do what I love. And, really, to have the incredible fortune of working with people and material that continue to challenge you and make you better…what’s better than that?  

 

Reid Scott

Has anyone portrayed a conniving Washington insider better than Reid Scott in HBO’s political comedy Veep? His character, Dan Egan, can never quite tell whether he’s living the dream or trapped in a nightmare, but he never seems to take it personally. It’s all part of clawing your way to the top in D.C. Reid is part of a brilliant ensemble cast that has won more than two dozen awards, including multiple Emmys. You’ll be seeing a lot more of Reid in 2017–18. He co-stars this fall with Reese Witherspoon in the romantic comedy Home Again. Season Seven of Veep is slated to premier in the spring of 2018. Mark Stewart caught up with Reid in Paris, where he is shooting another rom-com with Veep co-star Matt Walsh entitled Under the Eiffel Tower. 

 

EDGE: Whenever I see a unique character—especially one that makes me laugh and cringe at the same time—I’m curious how that character evolved. Tell me about the evolution of Dan Egan. 

 

RS: When I first read for the part, like so many characters, in the beginning it was almost a caricature or sketch of a character. That’s what drew me to this show in the first place, Armando Ianucci, the show’s creator, really wanted the actors to fill in these characters. It came through in rehearsals, when we improv’d, that we would become the custodians of these characters. Dan is charming and conniving, your typical D.C. former frat boy political wonk. 

 

Courtesy of HBO

EDGE: How do you research that type of role?

 

RS: Over the years, because I’ve had this incredible access to people in D.C., I’ve added nuance to Dan that’s sort of an amalgamation of all these people. I have a close buddy, Jay Carson, who was a consultant on House of Cards and a real-life mover and shaker on the Hill. I sent him the first script and said, “Tell me everything.” He wrote me back, “Oh, my God, you’re practically playing me!” I’m not playing Jay, but he definitely helped me add all the ticks to Dan, who is like so many wonderfully horrible people in D.C. 

 

EDGE: Do you ever channel the Communications students you met as a student at Syracuse University?

 

RS: It’s a huge school and I was always underground in an editing bay or rehearsing something on stage. I didn’t co-mingle with any Communications guys. I did do research on the world of broadcast journalism for Dan and that was really, really helpful. 

 

Photo by Alba Tull

EDGE: What was your major there?

 

RS: I ended up making my own major at Syracuse. I was in the Film department but I didn’t have a whole lot of access to actors because of the way the campus is set up. Syracuse Stage is a very reputable regional theater. The Theater department is located downtown, where that stage is. I was making my crappy little films and my teacher suggested that if I really wanted to know what it is I was asking of my actors, I should do it myself. So I started taking acting classes and learned their weird little language—what actors do and how to communicate with them. Which was amazing. I did a couple of black-box plays, things like that. I was terrible, but I loved the thrill of the live audience. I don’t know that I ever turned off my director’s brain, and I’m sure I drove my directors crazy. But in the end, I graduated with a degree in Directing, which wasn’t offered to undergrads at that time. Now it is, and I’m proud to have been the first.

 

EDGE: Usually in a TV series, a character has a particular trajectory. But in Veep, Dan is up, down, sideways, all over the place. Is there a challenge in inhabiting a character like that, or do you just sit back and see what the writers come up with next?

 

RS: It’s a little bit of both. Like, in Season Two, the writers said, “Dan’s going to be really bored.” I thought, crap, I don’t know how to do “really bored.” But slowly it came to light that he’s gunning for a position and eventually he became campaign manager. So they give you little hints as to what’s going to happen. The writers are truly inclusive about sharing information with us. From the beginning, Dan Egan was a guy—and he still is—a guy who to some degree is always shooting for the top. But they discovered it was much funnier for him to have him almost reach that top rung and then fall… [Laughs] almost as many times as I have!

 

EDGE: Dan is most entertaining when he has a foil, and you’ve had some good ones on Veep. Which character brings out the best in you and the worst in Dan?

 

RS: I’ve been lucky—in that Dan’s been lucky—to have great adversarial characters. Obviously, Jonah Ryan is the best. I love playing opposite Tim Simons so much. Not only are we good friends, but we slip in and out of those characters so easily now that we waste no time pussy-footing around it. We just get right into it. It’s such fun.  

 

EDGE: How much of what we see on-screen is scripted versus improvisation?

 

RS: Honestly? It’s kind of right down the middle. The writers write very well thought-out, tight scripts. But because we’ve been inhabiting these people so long, they really trust us and encourage us to fill in the blanks. We have a long rehearsal process so we may have weeks with the script before we get in front of the camera. During that time, the writers may go back and re-write the scripts to incorporate our improvs. But by the time we get there, there’s a really wonderful framework. When we’re shooting, we’re shooting it as written, but we’ve had a hand in that. Then, of course, the day we are shooting, they say, “Take the leash off and do what you guys do.”

Courtesy of HBO

That’s what makes the show seem so natural, when we use the script as a roadmap and they choose the best takes in editing.

 

EDGE: The key to your character, I think, is that he is both relentless and just relentlessly self-absorbed.

 

RS: Oh, yeah. Dan is very into himself. He’s always got to climb. It’s always about him. Even when he’s serving someone else, he’ll serve them to the death…[Laughs] but that’s because it’s the other person’s death, not his.

 

EDGE: You’ve been a member of ensemble casts before. What makes this one work so well?

 

RS: We have a very large cast, which is unusual in and of itself. The fact that everyone gets along, even on a social level, that’s pretty amazing in Hollywood. We all really do. We’ve gone on vacations together! On this show the “family” has become a real family. Also, it’s unique that we all share the same sensibility. We just run with each other now, like a well-oiled machine. We’ll give each other little signals when we’re improv-ing. We know how to “dance” with each other. 

EDGE: How does that happen?

RS: It feels like lightning striking. I’ve really got to credit our show runners and writers. They did an amazing job in casting. I don’t mean to sound self-serving but they found people who really worked well together. A lot of people don’t care about that—they just want the star, the famous name or face or whatever. But here they got actors who could really do this job, including the guest stars. It’s always great to see them parachute in for an episode or two and say, “What’s happening here? You guys are, like, speaking your own language.” And we wouldn’t want to work any other way. 

 

EDGE: And yet, on camera, all the characters are slitting each other’s throats.

RS: Oh, totally. Everyone is out for themselves. They’re horrible and reprehensible.

EDGE: Your previous series, My Boys on TBS, had a pretty impressive cast, including Jim Gaffigan. Did you have a good comfort level with those actors over its four-season run?

RS: Yes, in fact that was the first thing that happened. During the tests for that show, we kind of sniffed each other out immediately. There were a dozen or so actors in there, all really wanting this job with this great, fun script. You could look around the room and almost tell who was going to make the cut. We instantly all gelled and bonded, and that’s because Betsy Thomas, the show’s creator, was like, “Get over to my house—we’ll play poker and get drunk together.”

 

EDGE: There seemed to be a fair amount of improvisation on that show, too. 

RS: We did do a lot of improvisation on that show, which didn’t get talked about a lot. And that was really my first foray into improv. They’d do long takes and just let us go and go and go. It was wonderful, but I was terrified. I had taken some classes so I was familiar with how to improvise—I sort of wanted it in my quiver—but I hadn’t done it professionally. When I got around Mike Bunin, Jim Gaffigan and Jamie Kaler, who are incredible improvisers, it was an education. I learned on the job. At first, I was very uncomfortable, but by the end of Season Four I was, like, “Man this is what’s fun, this is real performance for me, letting go and having it come from yourself.” So that was the training that set me up to hang in with people like Julia Louis-Dreyfuss (above, left) and Matt Walsh. They were idols to me. It if weren’t for all that time on My Boys, I don’t think I would have been as comfortable on Veep.

 

EDGE: Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jim Gaffigan (right, center) are old pros when it comes to performing in front of live audiences. What do you think they brought over to their roles on the filmed shows?

 

RS: Jim’s strength is that, right in the moment, he knows what’s funny. You always want to follow his lead. If he had a suggestion to make something funnier, maybe not so on-the-nose, we took it, and it was great. Julia is the same way but, like, on a gallon of steroids. She works so hard. I’ve never seen anybody who constantly works to make everything and everybody around her better—whether it’s tearing the script up and starting from scratch or finding those little funny moments. Julia has a tremendous work ethic and she’s also incredibly funny. It just comes naturally to her. Jim is more of a craftsman. He knows how to bury a joke in there, then tease it out in just the right way and deliver it. That’s what he does as a stand-up. Julia works the scene, she works the whole script. So on My Boys and Veep, I’ve basically had two masters courses in comedy.

 

Sony Pictures Television/TBS

EDGE: You also played Dr. Todd on The Big C opposite Laura Linney. There was nothing comedic about that role.

 

RS: No, that was just the opposite. But again, I was very lucky. Laura is a lot like Julia, only on the dramatic side. She’s a workaholic. She breaks down every single moment, doesn’t rush things, plays things small. It’s amazing how comfortable she is. I learned so much from her. Laura is always willing to try something new, something different. On top of that, she is such a professional. 

 

EDGE: In what ways?

 

RS: I mean, she knew everyone’s lines. Perfectly. There was a scene in Dr. Todd’s office where she’s crying because the cancer is progressing. She nailed it every single take, brought that raw emotion every single time. Meanwhile, I needed a couple of takes to get it right and I said, “I feel bad that I’ve been putting you through the wringer.” She said, “No. This is what we do.” For me it was like a lightbulb going off. You bring 100 percent every time—for your partner, for yourself, for the show.  

 

Editor’s Note: The past few years, Reid Scott has made the most of his hiatus time from Veep. In addition to this year’s Home Again with Reese Witherspoon and Pico Alexander (above), he has co-starred with Kevin Kline in Dean and Jessica Alba in The Veil. He also played opposite Blythe Danner in I’ll See You In My Dreams.  

 

Regina King

Rare is the actress who doesn’t pad her résumé with a couple of characters that sound a little bigger or more important than they actually are. Choice parts for women—and particularly women of color—are few and far between. By contrast, Regina King can barely keep track of the primo parts she’s snagged since she first starred at age 14 in the sitcom 227. Her film credits include featured roles in Boyz n the Hood, Friday, Jerry Maguire, How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Ray. In 2017, she supplied the voice for Dynamite, the leader of the smokejumpers in the animated film Planes: Fire & Rescue, while Netflix binge-watchers know her as Latrice Butler, the female lead in the new Netflix series Seven Seconds. Gerry Strauss recently caught up with Regina, whose television work includes indelible characters on The Boondocks, 24, Shameless, The Big Bang Theory, The Leftovers and American Crime, for which she has won a pair of Emmys. Based on her shattering performance in the Season 3 finale (spoiler alert!), she can probably start dusting off a spot for a third.  

 

Columbia Pictures

EDGE: You were only fourteen years old when you played Brenda Jenkins on 227 in 1985. How did you land that role? 

 

RK: I’d done the play that the show was based on. I did it for about a year, and the creator of that play sold it as a series to NBC. I didn’t play the daughter in the play. I played the girl that lived around the corner. But everyone that was in the play had a chance to audition. That was one of the stipulations that Marla Gibbs made sure that was in there, that everybody got a shot to audition. Beyond that, it was still a regular audition process—as far as the callbacks and coming back in and coming back in and coming back to see more people and more executives. Back then you didn’t have the internet where you could send a video.

 

EDGE: What was your relationship like with Marla?

 

RK: She is an amazing woman, and she is definitely someone who influenced my life in such a humongous way. She was a trailblazer in the ’80s. She had a very successful jazz club in L.A. She was on a hit show where she was executive-producing the show, and handling part of the writing on the show. She was doing a lot. I had a role and center seat to all of that. It was impressive. It really made an impact on me. 

 

EDGE: Okay, so 227 ends and now you’ve been on TV for about five years playing a teenaged daughter on a family sitcom. Was it challenging to transition from the teenage daughter on 227 to other types of roles, to get people to see you in a different light? 

 

RK: Yeah, yeah, I did go through a little bit of that. But Boyz n the Hood helped break that out. 

 

EDGE: You worked with John Singleton on some of his other movies, including Higher Learning and Poetic Justice. Was there a chemistry between you? 

 

RK: Yes, definitely. That’s a very common thing in the industry. People who have a good working relationship and grow together, continuously work together. 

 

EDGE: You also had tremendous chemistry with Cuba Gooding Jr. in Jerry Maguire playing Marcee, the wife of Rod Tidwell.

 

RK: We have a great chemistry, Cuba and I. I think no matter what culture or color you are, if you’ve been in a relationship where you have been through highs and lows together—and you’re still best friends—then you understand. You feel Rod and Marcee. No matter what your situation is, if it’s football or running the family business that’s a chain of dry cleaners, whatever it is. If you’ve been through that fire together and still are best friends, anyone that’s experienced that knows the feeling. 

 

EDGE: Looking back at all of the film and TV projects you’ve done, does it ever surprise you how enduring they’ve become?

 

RK: No, because everything, when I was working on it, was a big deal to me. Friday [co-starring with Ice Cube] was my fourth movie. Things were starting to go. I got to play a different person from what I did in Boyz n the Hood or 227. It was a big deal for me when it was happening. Then, when I actually saw the movie, the movie is hilarious! It’s a classic. Just me as an audience member seeing it, I thought it was dope, so no, I’m not surprised. There were a lot of people from L.A. that were working on that movie together, people who were already feeling a little bit of their success, so it was a great time for us working on that film. It was a big deal.

 

EDGE: A lot of people know you for your recurring role as Mrs. Davis, the head of HR in zThe Big Bang Theory. Is it fun for you to go back to your roots and perform in front of a studio audience for laughs? 

 

RK: That was fun. It’s a nice little departure, especially when you’re hitting drama back to back to back. I was very grateful for them to give me a chance to exercise some different muscles. 

 

ABC Studios

EDGE: One of your biggest critical successes has been your work for HBO on The Leftovers. It’s such an interesting niche program. Do you think it would have survived or even existed even five or ten years ago?

 

RK: Forty-five percent of the shows on right now wouldn’t have survived. What would be the show that you would say it was comparable to fifteen years ago? I don’t think there was one. So I guess it goes right in that category with that forty-five percent. I take a lot of pride in being part of a show that’s so unique.

 

EDGE: American Crime is an amazing show in that it hits the reset button each season to feature brand-new stories and characters. Do you enjoy the process of starting from scratch and entering an entirely new scenario each year?

 

RK: Yes, yes. I think it’s an actor’s dream. You have the opportunity to do it like a long movie. That’s one of the things that is the beauty of doing a film—you let that character go after you finish. Whereas on the series, you’re doing that same person and trying to find a way to make that person evolve over 20 episodes and multiple seasons. 

 

EDGE: Does having that definitive one-season story enable you to develop a clearer understanding of your character’s journey? 

 

RK: We have an idea, but we don’t know because we’re getting the scripts as we go. In the first and second seasons, John Ridley would redact a lot of the scenes for other people. I wouldn’t necessarily know what’s happening, or know the outcome for Felicity Huffman’s character, for instance. That was really helpful because, in real life, that’s how it works. I don’t know the day-to-day things that are going on with someone I just know from a distance. The top priority is always to tell the story. That’s our number-one commitment. 

 

Glenn Francis, www.PacificProDigital.com

EDGE: After everything you’ve done so far in your career, what’s something that you want to try to do—or maybe revisit—as you look towards the future.?

 

RK: Actually, I used to own a restaurant. I want to do that again. I was too young when I did it before, so I always say that I’m going to do it again when I grow up! 

 

Prospectors
Omar Miller

Photo by Irvin Rivera

Actors often talk about the challenge of establishing a physical presence in the scenes they play. Not a problem for Omar Miller. If anything, the challenge is for his directors, who must find a way to wedge his 6’6” frame into the shot. From his breakthrough role in the 2002 Eminem film 8 Mile, to his critically acclaimed turn in Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna, to his current co-starring gig with Dwayne Johnson in HBO’s pro football opus Ballers, Miller has turned in one thoughtful, touching performance after another. In a wide-ranging Q&A, Ashleigh Owens ventures into the “O-Zone” to trace his evolution from a baseball star in Anaheim to an acting star in San Jose—to the scene-stealing “gentle giant” he has become today.  

EDGE: The characters you play tend to be gentle and sensitive. Is that something you like to bring to your roles, or is it something directors are looking for when you read for parts? 

OM: You know what? It’s a combination. But really, this is one of those Hollywood pigeonholing things, to a certain degree. Every now and then I get to do something where I get loose and I really enjoy it when I do.  I think that in Hollywood, when they find one of your characteristics or traits that resonates with audiences, they continue to use you in that capacity.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just that you like to show other wrinkles from time to time. So, with me, people seem to love a giant dude that is also very gentle. It’s been an interesting element in my career. 

HBO/Warner Bros. Television Distribution

EDGE: Where does that pigeonholing come from? 

OM: If you watch movies and television, I’m definitely not the pioneer in the “gentle giant” space. It’s just a position that those audiences and creators like. They like the idea of contrast, and when you have a person who is eligible and able to do a lot of physical damage—yet takes extreme care and sensitivity—there’s something interesting about that. 

EDGE: Did you have a particular moment where you said, “Hey maybe I can make a living as an actor?”

OM: Actually, I was still an audience member when I had that light bulb moment.  I was in college at San Jose State watching Homeboys in Outer Space and I was like, Wow. I could do this. I was done playing baseball and was trying to figure out what the next step in my life was going to be. And thank God that I found acting, got into theater, and ran into wonderful professors who helped me hone my abilities and understand what the craft and skill set actually is of performance. Things have really fallen into place. I am blessed. 

EDGE: I know that during my own college career, theater class was something I was able to jump into and I found it to be an enjoyable subject. 

OM: I feel like it’s an exploratory thing—anyone can take a theater class. I know my first theater class was a General Education class, and part of the reason it was offered as a G.E. class is because theater can help you in other areas of your life, no matter what it is. It just makes you more self-aware, able to speak in front of people more comfortably and get your point across. There are a lot of things that theater can teach everybody. 

EDGE: How does it feel to combine your dual passion for acting and athletics?   

OM: It’s cool because both areas are so captivating in society right now. One of the things that I love about being an actor is that it gives you access to so many different worlds. The world of sports is something I know a bunch about. So, when you combine that with the actual performance, it adds a little bit. 

EDGE: Is that something you’ve discussed with your Ballers co-star, Dwayne Johnson? 

OM: No, not really. Those connections are obvious. With his background as a professional football player at one point, doing a show about football has a special place in his heart.  A guy like Dwayne is living such a bizarre life compared to what regular people know about. That’s one of the things that’s great about him—he’s able to keep a level head despite the heights he continues to rise to. 

EDGE: What’s an important take-away from Ballers

OM: We’re putting out material that can give people a sneak peek into the world that they’re interested in, but may not actually know much about. I think the show gives a good inference into the world of sports and finance, the excess that can happen, and how easy it is to get caught up in that and lose yourself, your soul, your morals and mind. I love that it entertains people, but also helps them to understand that the people they idolize are real people as well. 

40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks/Touchstone Pictures

EDGE: You played a World War II soldier in Miracle at St. Anna and obviously you didn’t have military experience. How difficult was it for you to convey the terror of warfare—what did you draw on? 

OM: I spoke to one of my uncles, who was a Buffalo Solider and is still alive. I spoke to him about the experience and what it was like to be an American, then to go to Europe at the time, and the different ways you were treated, and then also be literally facing the Nazis. I did a lot of research for that role, and I had to lose 75 pounds. I shot that film at the end of the summer, right after I made a movie called The Express, where I played an offensive lineman who was a very, very big dude. It was drastic—there was a lot that went into getting that role. To date, it’s still my favorite thing I’ve ever done.  

Imagine Entertainment

EDGE: How did Spike Lee get what he wanted from you as an actor?

OM: The beauty about Spike is that he knows what he wants out of making his films. You have the confidence of a veteran to understand what it is that he’s going for, so there’s not a lot of confusion about what he wants from you as an actor. I got along well with Spike because he’s a master at capturing your performance, and as an actor, he makes it very clear that it is your responsibility to craft the performance. What he’s going to do is capture the performance. And I was able to really benefit from his structuring.

EDGE: How did the film impact your life?

OM: It opened me up to my own popularity worldwide. And also to travel. The majority of the film was shot in Italy. And in that respect, a beautiful thing took place. I started to grow. Ever since I made that movie, I’ve gone to Europe once a year, every year. Miracle at St. Anna also opened me up to more opportunity, because Spike selected me for the film. Whenever you’re directly working alongside Spike, and he gives you that stamp of approval for using you, it’s a good feeling. You’ve grown up watching this man and his films and you can definitely see why he’s great at what he does. My favorite film is Mo’ Better Blues. It was a great experience to sit on set and get to talk to him about it. 

EDGE: You also had the opportunity to work with Eminem in 8 Mile and, a couple of years later, 50 Cent in Get Rich or Die Tryin’. How do they compare?

OM: It was like night and day! Both of them were extremely popular. Eminem is very introverted and 50 is very extroverted. 50 is like your friend that won the lotto. Eminem is somebody that isn’t made for that massive attention. 

EDGE: Looking back, if 30-something Omar  could offer 20-something Omar a piece of acting or career advice, what would it be?

OM: Be persistent and make your own stuff. Nowadays, there’s so many different outlets. Someone, somewhere wants to see what you create…but you have to create it for it to be seen. 

: Ashleigh Owens is the daughter of the late Tracey Smith, EDGE’s longtime Editor at Large. Ashleigh’s conversation with Omar Miller also delved into the craft of acting and his love of sports. Log onto EdgeMagOnline.com to read more of their Q&A.

 

Ming-Na Wen

Photo by Gage Skidmore

What a character! When an actress hears those words, they usually refer to the person she’s playing…or the actress herself. For Ming-Na Wen, one needs to be a bit more specific. She slips in and out of her roles with the ease one would expect from a veteran stage and screen performer. Yet, as EDGE writer Gerry Strauss discovered, the perspective, humor and irony she brings to those parts comes from her very core. From her breakthrough performance in The Joy Luck Club to her starring role on ER to breathing life into the voice of Mulan, Ming-Na has consistently surprised audiences with the depth and subtlety of her work. On the hit ABC series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., she has won over fans of the Marvel universe by playing Agent Melinda May brooding, stoic and scary. In other words, totally against character.     

Buena Vista Pictures

EDGE: What qualities did you try to bring to your breakthrough role in The Joy Luck Club?  

MNW: I brought my whole Asian-American experience to the role of June Woo. One of the reasons why I think I was cast for that part was because there’s something inherently difficult about being Asian in America. You tend to feel like people treat you sort of as a foreigner even though you’re American. For me, I had that kind of mixture—having come from China, from Hong Kong, and having had to learn English in America and assimilate—but then, at the same time, having these immigrant parents who really didn’t assimilate as much and sort of staying in their own culture. So that was all about June, feeling like she didn’t quite fit in and having a cultural gap, as well as the age gap with her parents, and feeling inadequate in certain ways. She dealt with it in a more shy way and in a more enclosed way. I, of course, became an actor. That’s the only difference between me and June.

Warner Bros. Television

EDGE: How about your work on ER? 

MNW: Oh, yeah. Well, I brought my “vast” knowledge of medical experience [laughs]. As an Asian, we had to be doctors or lawyers, so I’d already “been” to Harvard, Yale, John Hopkins….in fact, that’s one of the jokes that I would say to my parents: “Hey. You wanted me to be a doctor, so I was a doctor for five years!” [laughs] I think the thing that I brought to Dr. Chen was the fact that she gets a little snarky. She always wanted to prove that she was the best at her job. She was very different from who I was. I’m not snarky, but I’m definitely sarcastic, as you can probably tell.

EDGE: And funny.

MNW: Okay! [laughs]. But for me, her character was definitely someone that I had to create more based on who I thought she was. It came from observations of some of the people that I grew up with, who just feel like they are always having to compete and always having to prove themselves. The really interesting thing about her character, who became pregnant on the show, was that I did become pregnant for real. I guess that’s really kind of a strong connection. The writers and the producers were like, “Oh. I think you just slept your way into a really good storyline.” 

It was really funny because they wanted her screaming and doing all this stuff and I was, like, into holistic birthing and all-natural kind of stuff. So, we shot the scene before I actually gave birth and I thought it was way too overdramatic. After I actually did have my kid—and realized how painful of an experience it really was—I called my director back and I said, “We need to re-shoot all of those scenes. I wasn’t dramatic enough.” That holistic stuff didn’t really work for me.

EDGE: Your first TV series actually was The Single Guy in the late 90s, a sitcom. What was special about playing Trudy in that series for you?

ABC/Kurt Iswarienkio

MNW: Getting that pilot—and the mere fact that I was working with a legend like Ernest Borgnine—that blew me away. It was so fortuitous because I came from theater and, with sitcom, it is theater. It was like putting on a show, a play, every week, which we did in front of a live audience. Trudy was just this great character who was not shy about her opinion and had a lot of attitude—but also a lot of love for her friends and for her husband. So, yeah, she was really fun to play. It was just my cup of tea. I hope to retire with a sitcom.

EDGE: You’ve been a part of so many strong ensemble casts. Is that the environment that you enjoy the most, being a member of a group of talented people who are on equal footing?

MNW: I thrive in that environment. I think any show requires that, unless you’re doing a one-woman show. It appeals to me because of my theater background. The whole idea of being with a group and sharing an experience together in creating something, it’s just so satisfying and so much fun. I guess my karmic energy, or whatever it is, it keeps leading me to that…and I certainly have no desire to do a one-woman show.

EDGE: Let’s talk about Mulan. In hindsight, that iconic role broke a lot of barriers and inspired and empowered girls. Was that a focus for you in providing the voice for that character?

MNW: I knew about the story because she’s a legendary character in China and for me it was about bringing her heart and soul. Mulan came early in my career and I was just so enamored with Disney and the writers and the producers, who put so much research and time in creating her. My stepfather was twenty years older than my mother at the time, so his health was not at its best. All of the stuff that Mulan did for her father and for her family—it just was so true to what I was going through. So for me, I was focused on bringing her heart and her desire to kind of figure out her self-worth.

EDGE: Making sure that it wasn’t just a cartoon character. 

MNW: Right. She was a real young woman trying to figure things out, even though she was rebellious and she was reprimanded for it all the time. Something about her is very, very different than all the other princess stories because she really wasn’t a princess. She kind of became, like, an honorary princess. The emperor kind of endowed her with his blessing. Ultimately, she was just a regular girl trying to live in a society that either accepted her or didn’t accept her, believed in her or didn’t believe in her, and she had to figure it all out. I think that’s why it resonates with so many people. Ultimately, Mulan just followed her heart, which is the beam of the movie. And everything turned out right in the end. That’s kind of my philosophy in life. I’ve always wanted to be an actress. My mother certainly did everything in her power to dissuade me from doing it, but ultimately, I just followed my heart and followed who I was and that’s a great, great inspiring motto for any little boy or girl.

EDGE: Your family owned a restaurant in Pittsburgh. Were you involved from a young age?

MNW: Yeah, very involved. It’s always interesting when you grow up in an environment where you’re basically immersed in your parents’ work. That’s what I did. I would do my homework. I would socialize with the waiters and the cooks and then, as I had free time, my mother taught me about how to be at the cash register, doing take-outs and, then when I was strong enough, how to do waitressing. I did it all. It taught me a lot about business and it taught me a lot about communicating with people—and taking their money.[laughs] No, I’m just kidding.

EDGE: Interacting with such a variety of people every day must have provided you with a lot of character studies for later in life.

MNW: Absolutely. That’s a very good question because on any given day we would have our regular customers come through, as well as some colorful characters. Every day I was bombarded with people! Our cooks, as well as our waiters, all had very distinct, wonderful personalities and I was definitely immersed in an environment where I wasn’t just isolated in a house. Yeah, I definitely think that helped me to always be observing and watching people. And I still love doing that to this day. Living in New York, sometimes I would just grab a cup of coffee and a doughnut—when I used to eat doughnuts—and I would just sit down and watch people walking. You would be amazed at the variety of walks that people have. It was always fun.

ABC/Florian Schneider

EDGE: What do you like about playing Agent May, your character on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D

MNW: Whatever transpires, Agent May is very buttoned-down and maintains this incredible wall, hiding behind her mask, so to speak. She’s one of those interesting characters who, with every moment that she’s had, kind of goes back to square one in some way, where she just feels safest by not dealing with emotions. She is able to function in life by just compartmentalizing.  

EDGE: What happens when she tries to open up?

MNW: It never works out. It makes me laugh because the writers know how much I want her to emote more. That’s just the actor in me, how much I want her to be able to share and open up. And they’re just, “Nope. Nope. Less Ming. More May. That’s how we like her.” I think Agent May will still stay very much the “bad-ass” that she is and I think the audience really loves that in her. [laughs] Which is so masochistic. Our fans know it’s all in there, because I do. I feel it all…but then I have to flatten it all up. She is absolutely, out of all the characters I’ve ever done in my life, the absolute opposite of who I am. Completely. You would never see Agent May laughing at a potty joke, for sure.

EDGE: Agent May is a character in the Lego Marvel Super Heroes video game that was released earlier this year. You’ve actually lent your voice to a number of video games. How does that process differ from acting onscreen, or voicing an animated character like Mulan?

MNW: It is the most bizarre session you can ever imagine. I really wish I had video tapes of those sessions, working voices in games. Basically, you don’t know which version they are going to pick. It depends on how the player is playing the game. You basically say “Hi” five different or ten different ways and I’m like, “Hi! Hello. Hey. What’s up?” Also, a lot of it is very, very dramatic. You do weird noises like, “Oh! You’re falling down a cliff!” It’s ultimately very, very bizarre. You do this stuff and after three hours, four hours of it, it’s exhausting and feels silly.You’re feeling kind of stupid about it, but then when you see the game and how it’s put together, you realize that all that variety does help in different situations. 

 

MNW: I grew up going to the arcade every day after school with my boyfriend and spent a lot of quarters so I just think it’s the coolest thing that I’m in games. It’s so crazy. You’re this little Lego character. It’s amazing. For a geek girl like me, it doesn’t get any better. 

 

Mike Recine

Photo by Mindy Tucker

There’s something inherently funny about New Jersey. If you live here, you know what comic Mike Recine is talking about. Not the tired, old “Jersey jokes” other comics like to tell. It’s more of an inside-out point of view—a winking, hardscrabble ethos that blends sly finesse with all the subtlety of a punch in the forehead. Recine, born and bred in Hamilton, is a leading light in the next generation of Jersey stand-ups. With a pair of recent Conan appearances under his belt and his own Comedy Central special this past fall, he is poised to write a new chapter in the story of New Jersey comedy. But then, writing has always come easily to Mike. As he told EDGE editor Mark Stewart, it’s performing where he’s had to pay his dues.      

EDGE: What is something about being a successful comedian that audiences might not fully appreciate? 

MR: That there are two parts to being a stand-up: writing and performing. You can write great jokes but if you don’t sell them—if you’re not confident and have a funny presence—people won’t want to listen to you and there will always be something missing. Writing jokes has always come easily to me. Performing is something that took a lot of work. You need to develop confidence, stage presence and timing. 

EDGE: How does that evolve?

MR: There is definitely a specific rhythm you have to learn to do stand-up. You develop that by watching some of the great comics—people like Seinfeld or Louie C.K. or Woody Allen, the great joke-writers. And you watch shows like The Simpsons. The writing on The Simpsons has some of the best comedic timing. In the end, you try to be honest but you also want to make sure that your delivery is interesting and people actually want to listen to your stories. The most important thing is to meet your own standards, to write something you think is funny, jokes you care about. You want to stay relevant and have an idea of what’s going on in popular culture. A big part of being a comic is absorbing the world around you and figuring out your take on it.

EDGE: Are there times when you write something you believe has great potential, but you just can’t quite get it right?

MR: Yes. For some reason it doesn’t work on stage, so I have to just let it go.

EDGE: When was your first time doing comedy in front of an audience? 

MR: I was 15 at a Panera Bread “Open Mike” night. I went with a friend from high school. I was supposed to do five minutes. I think I did about three minutes. I was nervous but it was fun. I continued doing stand-up in high school and then, as a freshman at Montclair State, I made my first appearance at Rascals in Montclair on a New Talent night, where if you bring in a certain amount of people they’ll let you perform. No one is good at comedy at that point, but if you bring enough friends they’ll give you stage time. Then, after a couple of months, your friends get sick of you…and the two-drink minimums.

EDGE: You were in the Theater program at Montclair State.

MR: For two years. Then I decided it was time to go to the city and begin my stand-up career. My first job was as a doorman at Carolines. I did that for three months. I was 20 and got to know a lot of comics as they went in and out—a lot of comedians who were farther along in their careers than I was. Julian McCullough—another Jersey guy who lives in LA right now—and Mike Vecchione were some of the guys who were generous with advice. The experience at Carolines helped me understand the business and get a sense of the career path of a stand-up comic. But obviously I was working the door at night. I realized that if I was going to be serious about this I had to get a day job

Conaco LLC

so I could be free to perform. 

EDGE: What kind of work did you do?

MR: I did everything. I wore a sandwich board in Times Square. I was a mover. I worked for 1-800-GOT-JUNK. I had restaurant jobs. And I was doing some freelance writing. All those jobs, though, helped me shape my perspective and figure out what I wanted to say. A lot of times, with younger stand-ups, they try to be comics before they learn how to be people. That was me. I started in comedy before I knew who I was as a person. When anyone asks my advice I tell them “Don’t be in a rush.” Every day you learn something new about human nature.

EDGE: What, for you, was a big breakthrough moment? When did you cross a threshold in this business?

MR: The first time I did Conan, in 2014. That was pretty cool. Every young comic is always trying to get on television. That first time on Conan was a big deal. That was the late-night show I’d always wanted to do, the show I’d watched growing up. It elevated me to that next level. That type of appearance legitimizes you and you feel like Okay I did this…there’s evidence I was here, even if it’s the only thing I ever do. I did another appearance on Conan in 2016.

EDGE: And the next level from there?

MR: The half-hour Comedy Central special last October 7th. Once you’ve done that, it’s easier to headline on the road. 

EDGE: How does having your own comedy special change things?

MR: It’s funny. From a career perspective, the more you accomplish, the more you’re chasing the next thing, whatever that is. You do have that high for a couple of days. After the first Conan, I thought the set went really well. It was exciting going to the studio and preparing…it was a big deal. The second time you’re on TV it feels more like business as usual. 

EDGE: You grew up in Hamilton. What was it about the Recine family culture that produced a comic?

MR: Both my grandfathers were very funny, but I was a quiet, introspective kid. My family members were very honest with one another, never afraid to say what they were thinking. 

EDGE: Who made you smile growing up?

MR: Mel Brooks. As a kid I watched History of the World Part I and Blazing Saddles, and that was what made me think I really wanted to do comedy. I wanted to write it. I wanted to produce it. I wanted to get really good at it. I wanted to make people laugh. 

EDGE: So why standup?

MR: I feel like it was because it is something you do alone. You don’t have to depend on other people. I guess that fit my personality. 

Jon Asher

EDGE: Which stand-ups did you admire? 

MR: I watched a lot of Comedy Central specials and listened to a lot of albums. Rodney Dangerfield, Mitch Hedberg, Dave Attell, Greg Giraldo. I watched Colin Quinn’s show, Tough Crowd. Every stand-up will tell you that was such a great setting and such a great way to present comics being naturally funny, off-the-cuff.  Now you can see all the episodes on YouTube. 

EDGE: Growing up in Jersey and now having lived in Brooklyn for a number of years, has that helped to define your style?

MR: Yeah. I’ve always been kind of an East Coast guy. I’ve always been drawn to blue-collar people and the way they are funny. There’s something about Jersey’s angry, working-class culture where they can be mean to each other but in a humorous way. It’s weird, though—I’ll be working in Manhattan or Brooklyn, where the room is full of “transplants” who’ve seen a couple of episodes of Girls and feel they know what it is to live in New York, but I can tell they lack that working-class sensibility. 

EDGE: How does your act play on the road?

MR: Audiences are different wherever you go. A comic should be able to do well in every room. I’ve had good shows in Boston and Philadelphia, but also in Florida and Portland, Oregon. I did a few dive-y bar shows in Portland last year and those went really well. There’s always a way to connect with people. 

EDGE: Great comics talk about what they know…and invariably they bring some aspect of their family into their act. In your case, one of your brothers is autistic. 

MR: Yes.

EDGE: You tell some very funny stories that involve him in your act. Is that fair territory?

MR: I think it is. There are a lot of people who have special-needs people in their families. It’s actually fun to do that material and to connect with those people on that level. But you’re right, it’s not something you see a lot of comics talking about. It just happens to be very real to me. I think about it. I explore it. I examine it. Like my autistic brother does Special Olympics every year, and one year he got disqualified from a race. That’s a thing they do to Special Olympic athletes. Someone had to blow a whistle in his face and be like, Get out of here—you’re done! The reason he got disqualified is that he was in a walking race…and he ran. He was reprimanded for that. Does that make any sense? He didn’t ruin Christmas. Or squeeze a puppy too hard. He figured out how to win a race. With his mind. 

EDGE: And the rest of your family’s fair game…

MR: Yeah, so I have another brother who’s not autistic and a friend of mine met that brother recently. He knew I had an autistic brother and he said to me, “Mike, I just met your brother and he’s barely autistic.” I think that’s a funny thing to learn about yourself: You’re not autistic but people think you are. You need to stop blinking so much…and stop wearing that propeller hat everywhere!  

 

Editor’s Note: Mike Recine will be appearing at Catch a Rising Star in Princeton on March 31st and April 1st. He performs in New York City almost every night. You can find his schedule at mikerecine.com. 

 

Michelle Charlesworth

Courtesy of ABC-TV/Channel 7

ABC’s Michelle Charlesworth

Clawing your way to the top of the New York news business is not for the faint of heart. Staying at the top not only takes talent and tenacity, it requires the kind of authenticity that connects with viewers, who trust you to get every story right. And, of course, an occasional bit of luck. Michelle Charlesworth, longtime reporter and anchor for Channel 7, paid her dues on the way to joining the Eyewitness News team in the 1990s. However, it’s what she endured on the job—including a skin cancer scare and near miss on 9–11—that helped endear her to fans and define her as both a person and a professional. A Jersey Girl (since age 13) with a lifelong love of TV journalism, Michelle is as honest and skilled a storyteller as you’ll find on the air.   

EDGE: When did the journalism bug first bite you? 

MC: It started with my grandmother Jean, my dad’s mother. We would watch Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt together. It dawned on me around age 13 that I loved learning and I loved people and I loved traveling. What if I could get paid for this and never grow up? What a great racket! 

EDGE: Whom did you model yourself after?

MC: I gravitated to Judy Woodruff, who [like me] was a Duke person. She wasn’t flashy, yet she had a no-nonsense approach to finding things out that, to me, seemed very elegant. I loved to watch her do interviews on television. She had a way of breaking things down where she would stop, back up and say Please clarify this. For me, coming of age when women were achieving more power and more parity, it was great to see that work like this was possible. I also admired Diane Sawyer and Charles Kuralt—salt of the earth, everyman, a North Carolina guy—and I loved Charlie Rose, who’s the king of giving a little bit of himself so his guests give more back. 

EDGE: Why broadcast journalism over print?

MC: I was always interested in the creativity that television affords one. Now I like the challenge. I’ll be out there covering the same story as my friends who are print journalists and they’re interviewing people on the phone in their car. I have to actually go get the person on television and get the pictures—that’s a challenge. But putting a story together is like making a little movie. Which is why I love television.

EDGE: What path took you from college grad to Eyewitness News in New York?

MC: I’d gone to graduate school for economics in Freiburg, Germany—I loved econ and poly sci—but at some point I thought, I don’t know what I’m doing over here. I want to go home and get a job as a reporter. I came back and sent out 208 résumés to different TV and radio stations. Nobody called me. Nobody bit. Nobody wanted to meet with me. So my mom said, “Why don’t you just go to these stations?If you pay for gas and Red Roof Inns and Denny’s, I’ll bring some library books and go with you.” So we took our station wagon and began zig-zagging through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and all the way down to Ft. Myers. We’d stop at the stations that didn’t write me back or take my phone calls. I’d wait two minutes, two hours—however long it took to talk to somebody. I offered to work free for a month to learn if I could really make a difference and be good at this. The only news director who kind of offered me a job was at WYFF in Greenville, South Carolina. Many years later, he called me and said, “Gosh, I knew you’d do something.” I couldn’t believe he remembered me.  Anyway, when we got down to Ft. Myers I called home and my dad said, “Atlantic City called. They’ve got a radio station job and an assignment desk job at the TV station.” It was WMGM Channel 40, the smallest NBC station in America. It was run out of a garage in Linwood, next to a 7–11. It paid $6 an hour. I said, “Oh my God! I’ll take it!” 

EDGE: Small station, big responsibility? 

MC: I worked very long hours. I think I made $14,500 that year. But I was hooked. I loved doing radio. I loved ripping stories. I loved writing stories in different ways. We didn’t have the Internet then, so I would call all the fire and police departments in the surrounding towns. I would just call and call and call. I spent my life on the telephone. I worked there as a reporter and later as a fill-in anchor for a year and a half.  Next I worked down in New Bern, North Carolina for WCTI Channel 12, then WNCN Channel 17 in Raleigh for two years.

EDGE: And then you got the call.

MC: Bart Feder, the news director in New York, saw me on somebody else’s audition tape. I was fill-in anchoring and I called out a story, saying, “We don’t have enough information on this. I don’t even understand what we just showed. We’re going to get that for you. I apologize.” Then the co-anchor said, “This is ridiculous. I can’t believe we dropped the ball like this. That’s awful.” Well, he thought it was a great moment and he inexplicably put me and him on his tape. So the news director called me and said, “This is Bart Feder from WABC in New York. I’ve heard great things about you and I was just wondering what else you’ve done.” I said, “Sir, let me just stop you there. I loved doing radio, but I want to stay in TV.” After a long silence he said, “I’m the news director at the flagship station for WABC- hyphen-TV.” I said, “Can we go back to 45 seconds ago when I wasn’t a complete moron?” He was laughing so hard. He said, “On your contrition alone, you basically just got the job.”

Courtesy of ABC-TV/Channel 7

EDGE: 2017 will mark your 20th year with Channel 7. A lot of news people make it to the New York market only to disappear a few years later. What is it that enabled you to carve out such a niche?

MC: I am so grateful, first and foremost, that I work for a TV station that doesn’t make a lot of changes. They cling steadfastly to the choices they make, and recognize that our viewer does not like a lot of change. 

EDGE: Local news is like comfort food.

MC: You’re right. But a lot of local TV stations don’t believe this. Some change all the time. I’m out in the field and I’m friendly with the reporters from other stations, but often I don’t know who these people are. At Channel 7, we have so many people who’ve been there 15, 20, 25, 30 years. We have a photographer celebrating 50 years at WABC this year. Our station is great about promoting people and staying the course. They are very rooted in You’re here. You’re good. You’re going to stay. So that doesn’t mean I’m great…but I’m good or good-plus. I’m lucky to work at a place that makes a commitment and sticks with it. Loyalty is important in this place.

EDGE: In 2000 and 2001, in a very compact amount of time, you did your skin cancer story and then reported from the scene of the trade towers on the morning of 9-11. How did those experiences, coming so close together, shape your life and career?

MC: They definitely got me hitched, those two things. I realized that we don’t know how long we’re going to be here, that there’s a timeline we don’t know about. I had the great fortune—I thought it was a misfortune at the time—to have my face blow up. I had all these stitches. I looked like a monster. Here I was crying in the bathtub and my boyfriend, Steve, gets in the tub fully clothed and embraces me. You don’t get to try guys out like that, to see if they’ll be there for better or worse. He passed the test with flying colors. I got the chance to see that he was a keeper.

Courtesy of Michelle Charlesworth

At the worst possible time, he really came through for me. I knew that he was my partner forever—even though we weren’t even engaged yet, even though I didn’t want to get married, even though I didn’t want kids. And then on 9–11, here I was, the first person broadcasting live, from the West Side Highway. We were being told by firefighters that the whole West Side Highway was going to blow up because there is a gas main the size of a city bus that runs the length of it, and it hadn’t been turned off or secured. No one has ever really told this story. I thought I was going to die. After what I’d seen, with the two towers down, I thought anything could happen. I started almost giggling to myself as I was running, thinking Boy, am I stupid. I’ve been worrying about all the wrong things. I never got married. I never had kids. So I had this amazing epiphany. The worst day in the world had the best message for me. It really did. Now Steve and I are married and we have two kids, Isabelle and Jack. There you go.

EDGE: The skin cancer story began as someone else’s story assignment. 

MC: Right! I wasn’t even supposed to be on it! It was a “Lunchtime Lipo” story. One of the feature reporters couldn’t make it that day, so here was this story about how you could stop in and get your fat sucked out. I thought, Okay…this is interesting. I’ll do it. And then as we were leaving the doctor’s office, my photographer asked about a mole on his eyebrow. I said, “Hey Frank, you’re not supposed to ask that. It’s not professional.” The doctor, Bruce Katz, said, “No, don’t worry about it…but I’d like to ask you about this thing on your cheek, next to your nose.” I thought he was kidding. I told him that every time I get a facial they just pop it. And he said, “Well, they might be popping your cancer. I want to biopsy that thing on your face right now.” Forty-eight hours later I realized he was right—I had a basal cell carcinoma. 

EDGE: So had they put someone else on it, the outcome for you personally could have been very different. Isn’t it interesting how small moments can create such a profound ripple on people’s lives?

MC: Talk about a throw-away moment! Had Frank not asked about his eyebrow and had I not scolded him…had I not filled in and been on that story that day…luck, luck, luck. 

EDGE: How long was the procedure and what did they do?

MC: It took all day long. First, they did a Mohs surgery, where instead of removing the cancer they take out a little bit at a time and keep checking the margin. Take a little out, go in and check, take a little out, go back and check. I ended up with a huge hole in the middle of my face that was the size of five or six dimes in a stack, which they sewed up. That took the longest time. Dr. Michael Bruck sewed me back together and he did an amazing job. He had to cut a football shape around the opening because if you just cut a circle it “puckers.” By elongating the defect, the two sides go together a lot better. Now I don’t even think about it, thank heaven, because the scar went from my nose to the side of my mouth, probably two inches. It was done so well. Dr. Bruck put it in my laugh line. I don’t even have to put makeup on it. 

EDGE: In your case, you suspect that your cancer is related to where you spent the first 12 years of your life.

MC: I have two hometowns, Durham, North Carolina and Princeton, New Jersey. I was born in Durham and lived there until I was 12. My dad was a professor at Duke University. There was arsenic in the well water where we lived in Durham. It was a well-documented study done at Duke Medical School, and interestingly one of the students who did that study, Dr. Ira Davis, ended up doing the surgery on my face—which I found out during my surgery. Crazy. I was telling him that I thought people who damaged their skin by having sunburns were the ones who got skin cancer, which I never had. He asked me where I grew up. Durham. Where? Cornwallis Road. He’s like, You’ve gotta be kidding me…past Kerley? Yes. He said, “We did a study on arsenic in well water in agrarian neighborhoods and that’s exactly where you were.” I said, “Yeah, we drank well water every single day. And we have cancer elsewhere in my family.”

EDGE: The entire experience was covered nationally on Good Morning America. Talk about taking one for the team.

MC: That was surreal. That was crazy. But it was good, because my skin cancer didn’t look like skin cancer and I don’t have a lot of moles. It touched a lot of people who went and got things checked out that didn’t look like classic skin cancer—people who, like me, weren’t typical candidates for skin cancer, who thought you should be looking for moles that have odd shapes or that change in color. 

EDGE: You always hear about public figures who want to use their fame to do good. In your case, you were able to do so.

MC: Yes. Hopefully, my story helped change the way we think about skin cancer. I think it did. People still come up to me and say, “Show me your scar, Michelle.” 

EDGE: Really.

MC: They do…and then they show me theirs!  

TAKE THAT, SUNSHINE!

“Sunscreen is a part of my life,” says Michelle Charlesworth. “I wear it on my face and my neck 24/7, 365 days a year.” 

John D’Angelo, DO Chairman/Emergency Medicine Trinitas Regional Medical Center

Dr. John D’Angelo, Chairman of Emergency Medicine at Trinitas, recommends that anyone who has had a skin cancer scare do the same. As for everyone else, sunscreen is a must any time you are likely to be exposed to the sun for long periods of time. What’s a long period?

“The sun’s ultraviolet rays can damage unprotected skin in as little as 15 minutes,” says Dr. D’Angelo. “Wear sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection with an SPF of 15 or higher and don’t be shy about reapplying it often.”

Some folks, he adds, need to be more vigilant than others, including those with light-colored skin, red or blonde hair, multiple moles or a history of sunburns. 

“And obviously, if you have a personal or family history of skin cancer, like Michelle, you need to protect yourself at all times. And everyone should schedule routine skin exams with their physician or dermatologist.”

Editor’s Note: Michelle’s father, professor James H. Charlesworth, is still teaching at Princeton, where he is director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Project. Special thanks to Rob Rubilla for setting this interview in motion.

 

Mayim Bialik

Photo by James Banasiak for EDGE Magazine

One of the joys of acting is the chance to create a truly indelible character. Realistically speaking, few performers are afforded this opportunity during their careers; even fewer are able to actually pull it off. Mayim Bialik is two-for-two. As a teenager in the early 1990s, she played the title role on the hit NBC series Blossom. In the ensuing decade-and-a-half, she focused on her education (she has a PhD in Neuroscience from UCLA) and started a family—but kept her hand in the acting game. In 2010, Mayim played an unnamed character in the final episode of Season 3 of The Big Bang Theory. During hiatus, the show’s producers realized they had stumbled upon a “love interest” for quirky theoretical physicist Sheldon Cooper. In Season 4, Mayim’s character got a name (Amy Farrah Fowler) and a job (neuroscientist!), and brought new depth and dimension to an already sparkling ensemble cast. Gerry Strauss caught up with her over the summer as she wrapped up Season 9 of the series.

EDGE: Unlike many child actors, you had a relatively normal childhood.

MB: Yes, I had a normal elementary school kind of life. I was active in school plays. I felt comfortable in drama class when we had to do plays and stuff, but I was not a hammy kid. I wasn’t an exceptionally outgoing or theatrical kid. When I would meet other child actors they were very theatrical and always kind of “on.” That wasn’t me at all. Actually, I’m considered a late bloomer for a child actor because I started acting when I was almost in junior high school.  Even though I was in Beaches when I was 12—and that came out when I was 13—I had just started acting about a year before that. Most child actors have been acting since they were toddlers. That’s a very different kind of personality. It’s a different kind of structure, as far as how you’re raised and the expectations of you.

EDGE: Did that help you avoid some of the pitfalls other young actors often experience?

MB: I do think part of it is that I wasn’t in the industry for my formative years. I had a different kind of perspective on it. As I said, when people start acting and they’re always given expectations and given positive reinforcement for being good—and negative reinforcement for not obeying direction—I think that sets up a complicated system. For me, my parents are first-generation American, so I come from a pretty strict immigrant mentality. My parents tried to still have me do chores and homework and all the things that kids do. I wasn’t emancipated—a lot of teenagers at 15 get to be considered legal adults if they’re in the acting world—my parents didn’t do that. Also, I wasn’t really a party person, so I wasn’t around drugs and alcohol. I think I was also really lucky that on the Blossom set I was 14 to 19 years old, and I never saw anyone drinking or doing drugs. They had a very clean set, and I think that’s really important.

EDGE: At what point did you start thinking about acting as a career path?

CBS/Warner Bros. Television

MB: I didn’t think of having a career. I knew that I liked acting in school plays, and I thought, “Oh, I should be an actress—kids do commercials and stuff like that.”  I had no idea that I would have my own television show by the time I was 14. None of that was part of any grand plan at all. There are so many talented people in this industry, the chances of succeeding are so rare. I didn’t see any of that. It really just happened very quickly. Once I got Beaches, I felt like everything kind of free-fell, and all of a sudden I went from just being this kid who liked acting to a person with her own TV show.

EDGE: In that year before Beaches, you made your screen debut in the horror movie Pumpkinhead.

MB: Yeah, I had five lines. When you start acting, you try out for any audition. It was a very small part, because you don’t get big parts when you first start. I didn’t have the typical path to success that most child actors do in commercials and things because, in 1986, when I started, there was a notion that people on television needed to look what they called “All-American.” I didn’t look All-American. I’ve always had prominent features and I’ve always looked ethnic, so I ended up doing a lot of character roles on shows like Webster and Facts of Life. That’s why there are things like Pumpkinhead on my résumé, because as a young character actress you do quirky things instead of generic commercials.

EDGE: In Beaches you played Bette Midler as a girl. Did you realize what a big deal that was?

MB: Not really. My parents had always said I look like Bette Midler and Barbara Streisand, so I knew who Bette was. I didn’t really think I looked like her. I thought I looked like myself with a red wig (laughs). I had seen some of her movies, but I didn’t really grasp the full notion that I’d be on a big screen, or that people would be considering the film for awards and things like that. I think I’ve only maybe seen it all the way through once, at the premiere (laughs). It’s just not my kind of movie.

EDGE: Did you have to deal with the celebrity crush young TV stars do today?

MB: It felt very intense because I was a teenager and those are the hardest years of your life—so to live them publicly is very hard. But no, it wasn’t fame like people think of fame now. Our show was not a Top 10 show. Our show was not even a Top 20 show. We didn’t get that much attention, not like people do now. We also did that show at a time when there was no Internet, so the notion of celebrity as something fascinating, that just literally didn’t exist. Of course, we got recognized everywhere we went. If you go places where young people are, they’re going to recognize you. But no, it wasn’t the same as being on The Big Bang Theory. There was no notion of anyone caring what our personal lives were like. It just wasn’t like that then.

EDGE: After the series, you moved on—to school, to marriage, to motherhood and other endeavors away from the limelight. Did you lose your passion for acting?

MB: I made a conscious decision to leave acting because I wanted to pursue a degree in neuroscience. I had other interests, as everyone tends to, and I think women in particular should be encouraged to try lots of different things—especially with the under-representation of women in science. It just felt like an amazing opportunity. I took 12 years off, and I also had two children, so that became my main job in life. I’m very happy to return to acting and to be acting again, but my heart is still as a mom. That’s how I think of myself primarily, as a mom with two kids. They’re now seven and nine and a half, and I still do a lot of work in advocacy for STEM [Science Technology Engineering & Math] and things like that. I wasn’t planning on being a regular on a TV show again. But I’m very grateful that I’m employed now as an actor.

EDGE: The character that brought you back in the public eye was Amy Farrah Fowler, who would become a very unique counterpart to Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory. How did you get that role?

MB: I was called to audition for this part along with hundreds of other actresses in Hollywood who were trying to get work. I didn’t get any special offers. I went and auditioned with a bunch of other women. The initial part was in the finale of Season 3 and it was maybe six lines. The character didn’t have a name, she didn’t have a career or a job—we didn’t really know anything about her—so I was just brought on to do these few lines. They didn’t even know if this character would continue.

EDGE: In Season 4, Amy starts as a female version of Sheldon. Over time, we’ve learned that she has a very emotional, even somewhat bawdy side to her. Have you had any reservations about some of the outrageous things that have come out of Amy’s mouth?

MB: Not really. As an actor, you have to sort of do whatever’s on the page. There are things I’m not great at as an actor, and those are things that our director, Mark Cendrowski, gets to work out with us. Acting drunk was not easy for me, but we made it through that. A lot of the things that Jim [Parsons] and I have where Amy and Sheldon are more intimate, I don’t want to say that those are difficult or out of my comfort zone, but those are new things for us as actors together. There are always new things to learn, and I guess that’s the fun thing about having a great job like this one. Our writers are constantly challenging us, and I’m fortunate to be working with amazing actors who are ready to take on that challenge.

EDGE: Do you have any input in the fleshing-out of the Amy–Sheldon relationship?

Photo by James Banasiak for EDGE Magazine

MB: None. As actors, our job is to take a script and make it right, make it funny in how it performs. Every single thing that you see that you love is an expression of our writers. There’s a little bit of all of our characters in each of our writers, and that’s what you’re seeing. They’re really, really talented people, and they seem to me a lot more like a group of intellectuals or academics rather than a group of comedy writers. They’re just a really smart, interesting group of people and they’ve produced all of these characters.

EDGE: Big Bang has impacted popular culture in some interesting ways. It has shown science and scientists in a very positive and relatable light. It has also validated “nerd culture” for lack of a better term. What else do you feel the show has accomplished?

MB: Well, I think our show demonstrates that there’s someone for everyone. We have these characters who—a lot of people would acknowledge—are the kind of people that get teased and left out of things. We are showing a group of characters that all have jobs and they have romantic relationships and they have social lives, and no one’s trying to medicate them or change them. Of course, they’re not always happy with the way the others act, but it’s not a show about changing people who are different. It’s about living with people who are different. And I think that’s really special. I also think the Amy and Sheldon relationship might be the longest running non-sexual intimate relationship we’ve seen on television. I think that’s really sweet. It shows a lot of patience and it shows a lot of love. Obviously, last season’s finale shows that Amy’s a little bit fed up and needing to take some time to think. But for the most part, it’s a very interesting relationship we’ve shown.

EDGE: Your audience knows you so well from sitcoms, which makes me wonder: Do you think of yourself as a comedic performer who acts, or as an actor who happens to do comedy?

MB: Gosh, that’s a hard question. I guess I would prefer the more general term “actor.” But obviously, I’m known for being a comedian. But when I think of “comedian,” I think of people like [Big Bang co-star] Melissa Rauch, who’s an amazing comedian. She’s a stand-up, and when she goes on a talk show she can tell stories and anecdotes and things like that. I don’t think of myself as a comedian like that, but I guess I’m an actor known for comedy. How’s that?

EDGE: A lot of doors are open to you now. What type of work would you like to do going forward?

MB: There are a lot of things I haven’t done. I haven’t really done movies as an adult. I haven’t really done drama as an adult. As I said, I also do a lot of advocacy for science and women in science, so that’s something I might explore. So yeah, there’s a lot left to do.

Editor’s Note: Gerry Strauss has interviewed a number of television stars for EDGE in the past two years, including Lisa Kudrow and New Jerseyans Wendy Williams, Laura Prepon and Jason Biggs.

Marcus Samuelsson

Celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson

Why are you head over heels about cooking?

I love the creativity of cooking and eating. Cooking is very rewarding. What I love about it is that you can cook a meal and can share it, you can share where you’ve been on a journey, you can share where you’re going, you can share what you’re excited about. It can be spiritual; you can really bring your mood into the food. But it is also something that still is both a craft and an art. I practice cooking almost every day. It’s a combination of work ethic, craftsmanship, and artistry.

When did you realize you had the knack for it?

When I was a teenager. I started to make meals for my family and everyone loved my food, even the pickiest of eaters. My grandmother helped me find that passion and my parents gave me my work ethic. Working in France showed me what it would take, and then coming to this incredible environment here in New York City pushed me even more, working with the chefs from Harlem EatUp and other local chefs, like Jonathan Waxman, Daniel Boulud and Melba Wilson. They’re the ones inspiring and pushing me every day.

Is there a difference between cooking for Americans and Europeans?

I do believe that there is. In America, you have a multicultural culinary base with a variety of different consumers, which makes it more interesting. In America, the biggest difference is we have diversity. The bigger the diversity the more you have to take into consideration. Maybe there won’t be as much pork on the menu, maybe you have to think about more vegetarian dishes. You have to think about people’s choices in order to feed a more diverse nation.

What is your favorite ingredient at the moment?

I am intrigued by seafood, even the most simple, like soft shell crab. I also like rhubarb.

Are you head over heels for a particular cookbook?

White Heat is my favorite, by chef Marco Pierre White. He showed me a different path in France. And I love Leah Chase’s And Still I Cook. She is one of my mentors.

Julia Child said careful cooking is love. Do you agree?

I completely agree. It is a way of caring. I think it applies to everything we do. Everything that I know and every place that I have been has always revolved around cooking. Whether I am breaking bread with my family in Harlem or in Ethiopia, to me it is one in the same, and I love it.

How would you tailor a menu for the ultimate date night?

The menu would have intimate, shareable food. I’d begin with oysters. I think there must be champagne, definitely some bubbles. I love something that talks about a journey a couple has shared together, like the Caribbean—for instance, grilled lobster with rice. They’d finish with strawberries and buttermilk sorbet, to bring back some childhood memories.

Editor’s Note: Marcus Samuelsson is a favorite contestant and judge on cooking competition shows, and owns Red Rooster in Harlem. He holds the distinction of being the youngest chef ever to receive a 3-Star review from the New York Times. As executive chef at Aquavit, he was named the top chef in New York City by the James Beard Foundation. Editor At Large Tracey Smith actually spent more than 5 Minutes with Marcus. Log onto edgemagonline.com to learn more about Red Rooster and his life as a celebrity chef.

Louis Gossett Jr.

Photo by David Walden

Lou Gossett may not be executing roundhouse kicks anymore, but his power within the motion picture industry has hardly diminished. During the most recent Academy Awards, the camera found him again and again. Gossett, you may recall, was the first African American actor to take home a Best Supporting Oscar (for An Officer and a Gentleman). He also happens to be an influential member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as well as a hallowed figure in the greater Hollywood community, which recently endured some high-profile criticism for its lack of diversity. As Editor at Large Tracey Smith discovered, Louis Gossett, Jr. is all about diversity. In fact, it has a lot to do with his unique ability to portray forceful, independent characters who command a story or a scene…and then slowly, grudgingly reveal their vulnerabilities.    

EDGE: Are you drawn to forceful roles because they are written this way, or is it a dimension you like to bring to your characters?

LG: I’m not sure. Some of them now are, of course, designed that way for me. I could always play a variety of strong characters. I’d shave my head and play anything I wanted! But I also played Anwar Sadat, which was astounding, and I did Enemy Mine, which was a cult film. So the choices of parts were actually quite diverse.   

Photo by David Walden

EDGE: Where do you think that comes from? 

LG: It came out of Coney Island—it came out of my childhood [laughs]. I was taught as a child how to live successfully with others, especially those that differ. 

EDGE: What was your Brooklyn neighborhood like? 

LG: It was a diverse camaraderie coming out of the mud of the Great Depression. I was not born in a “black” neighborhood. I was born into a “society” that was happening after the resurrection of mankind following the Depression. There was a lot of stuff occurring, including a fear that the Communists were taking over—which they were not. But as a result, the intellectual cream of the crop was being run out of higher education. Dr. William Jansen, the New York City Schools Chancellor, moved them all out to the “boondocks” of Brooklyn, where they started an incredible renaissance of learning and art. I had the benefit of a Latin teacher in third grade! My classmates were the children of doctors, dentists, lawyers and schoolteachers. I had my heroes: I saw Jackie Robinson become a Dodger, Ralph Bunche at the United Nations, Walter White and the NAACP. Other kids had theirs—Superman, Hopalong Cassidy. But during my childhood we had no thought of separation because of race. If I didn’t eat dinner at home, I might go to my next-door neighbor’s, where gefilte fish was on the table. Or down the block for corned beef and cabbage. And long before there were cell phones, there were old ladies in the windows making sure the neighborhood was straight.

EDGE: So that experience prepared you to become an actor, to slip inside a character? Is that how you won your first role, in Take a Giant Step?

LG: Yes. I was 17 and had never seen a Broadway play. One day, my English teacher, who read the trades, said, “Hey, Louie. I know you’ve never acted before, but I like the way you read the stuff in class. They’re looking for a kid about your age to play a lead in a Broadway show. Tell your mother to bring you down.”

EDGE: You were very active on the stage during the 1950s and 1960s. But movie and television roles must have been harder to come by. What were some of the challenges you faced in Hollywood and, also, how did you involve yourself in the civil rights effort as you became more well known?

LG: There was something wrong to me about marching for peace, so I did it by personal example—through the roles that I chose, and triumphs in the theater and movies. I hoped it would impress upon people that there was no such thing as “impossible” for the young. In terms of challenges, yes I was challenged a great deal. I was told by the casting people—either verbally or subtly—“I don’t care how many awards you win, you’re still black, you still have to prove yourself.” The limitations I came up against forced me to be as good as I could possibly be.

EDGE: What was your professional life like at that time?

LG: I got a guitar and played folk music for a while in between jobs, and I survived through television. Television was very good to me. I lived well in Malibu, down the street from Michael Landon. Sometimes a guest role was a one- and-done because of the difficulty due to discrimination. But I was able to make some alliances. My first TV movie was Companions in Nightmare, in 1968. Melvyn Douglas played a psychiatrist with a murderer in his group therapy. The cast included Gig Young, who won the Emmy, Ann Baxter, William Redfield, Leslie Nielsen, Patrick O’Neil, and me. These were great actors who came from New York, from Broadway. And they were wonderful to me. I wouldn’t be sitting here if it weren’t for them. 

ABC Television

EDGE: In 1977, you won an Emmy for your role in Roots. What happened to your professional life after that?

LG: It exploded! I didn’t know that everybody would stop what they were doing to watch the series. That was a pleasant surprise. I was working a great deal already, though. Around that time, I did an episode of Little House on the Prairie, I did The Rockford Files with Jimmy Garner, and an ABC Movie of the Week. And a wonderful renaissance was happening in television in the 1970s with all that came out of Norman Lear’s consciousness, like All In the Family, The Jeffersons, and Good Times, as well as later shows, like Benson. 

EDGE: How did you prepare for an intense, emotional role like Fiddler in Roots?

LG: I did very little preparation.

EDGE: Why?

LG: Because it was in my roots. Fiddler was like my grandparents. Roots was actually very emotional on all of our parts. My best friend at the time was Vic Morrow, who played the guy in charge of the slaves. There was a scene where he ordered a beating to make LeVar Burton’s character say that his name isn’t Kunta Kinte anymore, its Toby.  Vic came up to me in advance and apologized. “Lou, I have to do this scene fully.” He did it so fully that I was transformed into saying, “Kunta Kinte—that’s what your name is. That’s what you’ll always be. There’s going to be another day, you hear me?” And we are in another day. Alex Haley told that story quite frequently.

EDGE: You’re perhaps best known for your Oscar-winning role in An Officer and a Gentleman. What are the “hard-to-find” Lou Gossett performances that are not as well known?

LG: A number of television movies. There’s Goodbye Miss Fourth of July, Lawman without a Gun, Carolina Skeletons, and two pilots that I did, To Dance with Olivia, and The Color of Love: Jacey’s Story.

EDGE: You mentioned Enemy Mine earlier, in which you played an alien. That was an interesting choice for a number of reasons. Did the fact you would be physically unrecognizable make the role more appealing or less appealing?  

Kings Road Entertainment/SLM Production Group

LG: Everybody turned that role down! You couldn’t see the actor’s face or the eyes. It was a challenge, an artistic challenge, to be able to make a performance credible without the natural use of your eyes, face or body—on top of the five or six hours of make-up. Plus, we had to create a species from scratch, with a philosophy and a language that doesn’t exist, and then get into the hearts and minds of an audience. It was a tough artistic stretch, but a great, great story.

EDGE: Have you always enjoyed testing yourself?

LG: Oh yeah! You’ve got to raise the artistic bar! 

EDGE: What do you like about it?

LG: That you never lose your concentration. That’s what’s incredible—you’ve got to keep on trying, you’ve got to dig it out, and deal with all the stuff that gets in your way. The instrument for the actor is himself, his body, his thinking, his emotions, his physical stuff, spiritual stuff. He’s got to be prepared to develop any character without any personal crutches.

EDGE: Our readers were big Boardwalk Empire fans. You had a memorable part in Season 4 as Oscar Boneau, a mentor, if you will, to Michael K. Williams’s character, Chalky White. 

LG: It was a great opportunity to play that character because Oscar was Grandpa. A grandfather is in a position of mentorship, what I call selfless service. All the sun comes out when you do that, regardless of whatever you’ve gone through in your life. After that episode aired, people came out of the woodwork, especially young actors. They liked it a lot. It was never nominated or anything like that. But I don’t go for the nominations. I go for what gets the message across.

EDGE: Speaking of nominations and awards, did you get a lot of questions about the Academy Awards this year?

LG: Yeah. But let’s back it up against the bigger picture. Once you’re in the Academy you’re not a black person in the Academy. You’re a member. Black movies, Jewish movies, gay movies, white movies, it does not matter; we are one bunch of people there. The best thing about our organization is that, when they know they’ve made a mistake, they overcompensate and never make it again. 

EDGE: In the midst of the current discussion, does your golden statue mean more to you, less to you…?

LG: It’s a reminder—a reminder that you can go as far as you can imagine yourself going, if you prepare yourself properly. For kids, that message is simple: If you shoot for a ten and you get a five, you have five more than you started out with.

EDGE: What else have you learned on this remarkable journey?  

LG: Longevity has been a good teacher. I believe that if there is fear, there is no faith, especially when times are hard. I wrote a short poem on this subject:

Things will happen as they will. 

The world will never be stronger than faith

Although some of our wildest doubt may sometimes bother our dreams.

Love when it comes, it never comes too late.

I want to be a humble, teachable, moldable part of society and to get myself in a receptive position—spiritually, emotionally, physically—because God wants me to know myself and to conduct myself accordingly, one day at a time. To young people, I say be responsible for yourself and then you will become ambassadors of peace, and miracles can happen.

EDGE: Paul Robeson once said, “As an artist I come to sing, but as a citizen I will always speak for peace, and no one can silence me in this.” What do those words mean to you? 

LG: Back in the old days, if you had been a minority and said this, you would’ve been branded a rebe

l. Today, you’re a responsible citizen. The sooner we get to that one people, one nation, one world, one consciousness, the better we’re going to be. We’re not there yet…but thank God we’re going in the right direction. 

A Raisin In the Sun/Belasco Theatre

THE GOSSETT FILE

Louis Cameron Gossett, Jr.

Born: May 27, 1936 (Brooklyn, NY)

First Broadway Play: Take a Giant Step (1953)

First TV Appearance: The Big Story (1958)

First Hollywood Film: A Raisin In the Sun (1961) Outstanding Lead Actor Emmy: Roots (1977)

Best Supporting Oscar: An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)

Best Supporting Golden Globe: An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)

Best Supporting Golden Globe: The Josephine Baker Story (1991)

Primetime Emmy Nominations: 7

David Walden

Can You Hum a Few Bars?

During the 1960s, Lou co-wrote the popular war protest song “Handsome Johnny” with Richie Havens.

Did You Know?

Lou’s nephew, Robert Gossett, co-stars with Kyra Sedgwick and J.K. Simmons on the TNT series The Closer.

Eracism

Gossett is the founder, president and chairman of the Eracism Foundation. Its mission is to contribute to the creation of a society where racism does not exist. He defines Eracism as the removal from existence of the belief that one race, one culture, one people is superior to another. For more information or to get involved, log onto eracismfoundation.org.

Lisa Kudrow

Photo by John Johnson/HBO

There are certain roles that even the most accomplished actresses won’t touch. Making an infuriating, exasperating character believable—and, more importantly, likeable—is right at the top of that list. It is the definition of working without a net. For Lisa Kudrow, portraying these women has become almost second nature. From her brilliant run as loopy Phoebe on Friends to her quasi-authority figures in the cable series Web Therapy and The Comeback, she has elevated the portrayal of the terminally clueless to an art form. As EDGE’s Gerry Strauss discovered, comedy for Lisa is serious business…but also fun and games.

EDGE: Do you recall what first inspired you to go into show business?

LK: I liked performing, even in nursery school. I liked coming home and doing the entire album of Alice in Wonderland that they played for us during that time—standing on the fireplace, just reciting the entire thing. How anyone sat through it is beyond me. I am the third child, by many years, and the kind of child that wanted attention. Positive attention. Maybe that’s why.

NBC/Warner Bros. Television

EDGE: How did your parents pass along the work ethic you’re known for?

LK: My father always said, “I don’t care what any of you do as long as you do the best you can at it. If you’re a garbage collector, I’d expect you to be the best garbage collector.” I applied that to schoolwork and tried to do the best that I could, and I always tried to just work as hard as I could.

EDGE: Were you a competitive kid?

LK: Yes. I had a certain level of competitiveness. I wanted to score better than other people.

EDGE: There was a long period where you didn’t perform.

LK: I put it away for high school and college. I put it in a drawer and locked it. But that love of performing was always in there.

EDGE: When you got back into acting there were some near misses and rejections—Saturday Night Live, Frasier. Did you set a deadline for yourself in terms of getting out?

LK: I don’t remember a deadline, but do I remember when the initial blows happened having a very brief consideration that maybe this isn’t meant to be. But I just couldn’t allow that to happen. That meant I had to figure out how to keep going. I would just replay every recording I had in my head of someone saying No, I think you’re really good, so that I could just be full of that. It’s like taking vitamins. I had to supplement with the encouraging things people I trusted were saying.

EDGE: You turned a minor character in Mad About You—Ursula the waitress— into a keeper. Was that the career plan?

LK: I don’t think I was that clever. In fact, the way that role came about was a last-minute call in the morning. “Can you go to Mad about You? They’re offering you this role. The character doesn’t even have a name. It’s called ‘waitress’… and you have to be there in an hour.” I didn’t even know what the lines were. It was two lines. These were agents saying, “I think you should pass.” I thought, I can’t pass. I need to work. That’s the best show on TV and you don’t say no. I got in my car and I drove down there. I remember I was a little nervous because I had no idea what I’d be doing and I just thought, No matter what, just listen and respond, and be funny. When I saw the lines, I just thought, No problem. She’s an idiot. Okay. She’s an idiot…got it.

EDGE: How did Ursula become a regular character?

LK: At the end of the week, Danny Jacobson pulled me over and said, “I think you’re funny, and I would like to write this character more, and have her in this show more, if that is okay with you. Just five more episodes.” I was about to start figuring out what kind of day job I would have. Because of Ursula, I didn’t have to look for work.

EDGE: How did you develop the character of Phoebe in Friends?

LK: The great thing I remember about Phoebe was that the audition piece was this monologue in the pilot that gives her whole back-story. My take on that really was to give a lot of definition to this person, that she’s cheerful about—or just refusing to see—the horrible, traumatic things that happened in her life. Her mom killed herself and then her stepfather went to jail, and she lived in a car, and she thought that was okay. That’s who she was going to be. Just this person who didn’t acknowledge reality the same way everybody else did.

EDGE: Was there any aspect of just playing Phoebe for all those years that frustrated or bored you?

LK: No, I was not bored, and I didn’t feel like, Oh my God, I’ve got to do something else and I’ve got to get out of here. Just period, I did not. I loved going there every day. I loved laughing hysterically with these five other people that cracked me up every day. And I mean it. It’s true. There were some seasons we’d come back and I’d think, I don’t know what I am doing. LeBlanc one time took me aside, so smartly, and said, “Look, there’s no more work to do because you know who this person is. You keep trying to do work, and there’s no work to do. You’ve got it down. Just relax.” He was right. I was that good student thinking, I put this much work into my homework before so I need to do the same now. This was the cushiest job, with family. We’d been through fires, the six of us together.

EDGE: You also were free to do films in between seasons.

LK: That was the other fantastic thing about Marta, David, and Kevin. They allowed the schedules to work so that we could do a film even when we were doing the show.

EDGE: In The Comeback, the Valerie Cherish character is a former sitcom star using a reality show to launch herself back into the spotlight—a story about a woman who allowed a sense of paranoia and fear about her career define who she was. Did you experience anything like that after Friends?

LK: Maybe there’s something wrong with me but I was not worried or nervous about what was coming next. I’d shot an independent film when we were done with Friends and I thought, I’d be thrilled to just do those forever because I don’t need money now, thanks to Friends. I can do whatever I want. But then this great idea happened for The Comeback, and it was sort of, Well, we’ve got to do it now. We went into HBO to tell them what the idea was and they said, “Yes, so just do it. Write a script.” We wrote a script fast, in three weeks or something. Crazy. Then, we shot the pilot and they said, “Let’s do 12 or 13 of these.” But I completely agree with what you were saying—everyone has some of those fears and insecurities in them. The thing with Valerie was that she was desperately trying to look like she was holding it all together and in control of it all, that her hands were firmly on the reins of her own career. And they weren’t.

EDGE: Now as the series reboots, it’s nine years later—

LK: And she’s a little more desperate and has a little less pride. But the DNA is still the same. Valerie is doing a pilot presentation with some USC film students for Andy Cohen, and she’s looking over clips of what she’s been up to since The Comeback got cancelled. She believes that she was a pioneer of reality television. She’s still acting as if she’s the instructor for the audience, teaching everyone about the life of an actor and what the entertainment business is like.

EDGE: How do you, as real-life role as a mom and wife, view the invasion of privacy that Valerie and her family deal with on a reality show like The Comeback?

LK: I have respect for the privacy of my family. If I speak about them, I have their consent. Valerie is so desperate for the spotlight, she always compromises the privacy of her loved ones. To her, that spotlight is synonymous with “the greater good.”

EDGE: You tend to portray some distinctly flawed characters. Is that more fun than playing someone who is normal?

LK: Yes, much more fun. To me, that’s what funny—people who have no idea how they’re coming off. Valerie thinks she’s pulling it off with her composure, her dignity, her phony-baloney way of talking, and she thinks people are eating it up as if it’s 1978. That cracks me up.

EDGE: The same could be said for Web Therapy’s Fiona Wallice.

LK: She’s so insensitive…but really, she’s not even aware that what she’s saying would be disturbing to anybody. That kind of insensitivity makes me laugh. Those things…I just love it when people have no idea how they come off. There’s just a disconnect.

EDGE: What are the biggest sources of pride in your career?

LK: Okay. I’d say The Comeback, only because I got to actually create that one and write it and produce it, as well as be in it. I am proud of that. It was like nothing anyone had ever seen before, and I think it was good work. I am proud of Web Therapy because, again, it’s like nothing that anyone had ever seen before, and we weren’t sure if just two people talking and improvising would sustain anything—and whether the people we have doing it would be willing to sit and improvise. Who Do You Think You Are?—even though I didn’t create it—that’s the kind of thing that wasn’t really on American television. I am glad we talked NBC into doing it. Then, there has to be Friends. I have to say Friends.

EDGE: Contractually?

LK: (laughs) That’s so funny! No. No. I am proud of Friends because that was the first time that characters on a show were all young adults, and I remember the network was really nervous at the time. They’re like, “Who’s the grown-up? There is no grown-up in this show. You guys have got to put a grown-up in there.” Now, looking back, that’s really funny. Because, after Friends, everything changed.

WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?

In 2010, executive producer Lisa Kudrow brought the British genealogy documentary series Who Do You Think You Are? to American television. The program, which paired celebrities with genealogists to uncover stories from their family history, ran for three seasons on NBC and now airs on TLC. Kudrow herself starred in one episode, traveling to Belarus and Poland. Others who appeared include Spike Lee, Gwyneth Paltrow, Martin Sheen, Edie Falco, Zooey Deschanel and Jim Parsons.

I saw the show in the UK when I was there in 2007, and thought it was the best show I’d ever seen. I didn’t understand why it wasn’t on in the U.S. There are these fantastic details from history that have a personal effect on families and alter the line of a family, so it’s very emotional. I thought everything about it was fascinating, and it was so well done.

When I got back here, I found out that Alex Graham created the show and then it turned out he did some of my favorite PBS programs, including Manor House and Colonial House. They were so well done. I thought this was not a fluke—he knows what he’s doing. We called him up to see if he wanted to do it here and he said Yes.

At first I wasn’t even considering participating. My father had done a lot of research and made a huge family tree. I wasn’t thinking we would have a story, coming from an Eastern European Jewish background. I was more interested in other people and their stories. But Alex said, “You should do it.” I realized that, of course, I should do it because I am asking other people to do it. I need to know what I am