No Ordinary Actress
by Jay S. Jacobs
During this past year, Autumn Reeser has had regular roles on two TV series – playing both a socially inept science nerd and a ball-busting Hollywood agent.
Don’t talk to her about typecasting.
The attractive 30 year old has been on the Hollywood radar for the past decade now, playing a diverse and intriguing group of characters on TV series like The OC, Entourage and the new ABC comedy/drama No Ordinary Family, as well as films such as Lost Boys The Tribe and Smokin’ Aces 2. She also is a regular fixture in Los Angeles musical theater.
However it is in television that Reeser has really been making a mark – leading to two co-starring roles on current series. She has spent the last two seasons playing Lizzie Grant – the hardened female agent who becomes Ari Gold’s (played by Jeremy Piven) nemesis in HBO’s popular comedy Entourage. She has also taken on a new role in ABC’s new comedy drama No Ordinary Family – playing Katie Andrews, a lab assistant who becomes the confidant of a newly empowered super-hero.
It’s a lot of work, but it’s all part of the job of becoming a star.
“I’m sorry, I worked so late last night, my brain is not functioning very well right now,” Reeser explained good-naturedly when she recently called us to discuss her latest two roles.
Nonetheless, she was happy to give us an overview of her body of work. She was kind of born into show biz – her dad is general manager of a local television station and her family was always “very good at exposing us to the arts and to a lot of different artistic pursuits,” she recalled. “They took me to see a play and I saw kids my own age on stage. I said, ‘Wait a second, I can do that?’ So, that’s how I got into theater.”
That theatrical pursuit led her to UCLA as an actress. It was there that she got her first role – and a rather iconic role at that – playing Marcia Brady in the 2002 TV movie The Brady Bunch in the White House. (Weird trivia fact: her father Mike Brady was played by Gary Cole, with whom she would act out having a May-December affair years later on Entourage.)
“Oh my gosh. That’s hilarious,” she laughed when I pointed out that was the first time I’d seen her work. However, even though it was not really a very good movie (my assessment, not hers…), Reeser was very thankful for the opportunity.
“That was one of my first roles, really, so it was beyond exciting,” Reeser said. “That was a huge deal for me. I was in school at the time. I was studying theater in UCLA. We shot that movie in Toronto, so I had to leave school for it. It was the first time I’d ever been in Canada. It was just a huge, huge experience for me. It enabled me to finally buy a car – a used car. It was a very, very big deal for me. It was kind of like being away at summer camp. We had so many young kids on that. We were all staying at a hotel on our own for the first time.”
A few years later she really caused a splash in television – and ironically by joining another established series. This time she was hired on to play the perky student Taylor Townsend on the final three seasons of The OC. And while Reeser assures me that she loved the experience, she always felt that her timing was a little off on the series and she never quite felt the show’s true buzz.
“I don’t know if I ever really felt like I fit in, to be honest,” Reeser chuckled. “I feel like the huge pop for that show came in the first two years and I wasn’t a part of that – and never would be. Everyone was very lovely to me, but I don’t know that I ever really felt as much of a part of things. But that said, I loved working on that show, because I loved the way they wrote for my character very much. I felt like I really connected with that character a lot.”
Soon after The OC wound down, the Writers’ Guild struck and like most actors, Reeser found herself having to tread water for a while.
“There was sort of a de facto actors’ strike,” Reeser recalled. “So work was tough to come by for a little while.”
Eventually the labor problems were worked out between the lawyers and the mediators. Reeser found herself signed up for her first lead role in a series, Valentine, a romantic drama loosely based on Greek mythology which was picked up by the newly rechristened (and merged) CW network. Sadly the show was never given a chance – the CW put it on hiatus after only four episodes aired and eventually only eight episodes were filmed.
“Of course I was [disappointed by the fast hook],” Reeser said. “That was a good experience. I’m still friends with everybody that I worked with on that show. It was just a really good, like-minded group of people.”
However the Gods and Goddesses were still on the look out for Reeser and as that door closed another one opened. Reeser had been called in to audition for a role as a jewelry designer who becomes a potential love interest for E (Kevin Connolly) on Entourage. The role ended up going to actress Alexis Dziena, but the producers of Entourage were also determined to find something to bring Reeser back into the fold.
“I didn’t get that part, but they called me up and said that they still loved me and still wanted me on the show,” Reeser said. “They offered me another role. I never read for it. They offered it to me sight unseen. I thought what a great opportunity – and I love that they are trusting me to play this sort of ball-busting agent. Because I don’t think the industry had seen me do much like that to that point. Although I had been working on similar characters in acting class for a while, I don’t think I’d played any characters quite like Lizzie on a public scale.”
Lizzie gave Reeser the chance to play a young, beautiful, smart and tough as nails agent in Ari Gold’s agency. Her arc has been both complex and emotionally intense. Last season, an ill-conceived affair with an older partner (played by her former Brady dad Cole) turned him into an alcoholic wreck. This season, Lizzie had a showdown with her boss Ari Gold (Piven) when he fires Lizzie to placate his wife – causing a sexual discrimination suit and the possibility of profanity-laced tirades on Gold’s part going public.
Reeser has spent most of the two seasons having knockdown fights with Piven – and she loves it.
“Oh, they are so fun,” Reeser laughed. “Fun! Fun, fun, fun. Anything that consists of high emotions is fun to film – whether it’s joy or tragedy. In a way, it’s all still a little fun to film. That’s why you got into acting. Why I got into acting, at least – to kind of experience other people’s lives and intense emotions.”
And Piven, who has made a name for himself in the series for constantly portraying just these intense emotions, makes a wonderful foil, Reeser feels.
“He’s fabulous. He’s such a great actor. Very creative and obviously very confident.”
Obviously as an actress, Reeser has had her share of dealings with agents over the years. Now playing one, she loves that Entourage is so accurate to that world. In fact, her own agents approve.
“Yeah, they are very pleased. I’ve had a number of female agents approach me and say, ‘You play me.’” Reeser laughed at the memories. “That’s a great compliment.”
At this point, at the end of the most recent season of Entourage, Lizzie’s role was left in a somewhat ambiguous place. Right now, Reeser is not sure if she’ll get the call back for the next season – but she did have a strong preference.
“I hope so,” she said, excitedly. “I really hope so. I don’t know yet, but I would love to be approached to come back for next season.”
However, as has happened so often in Reeser’s career, a new role came up to keep her mind off of the anticipation.
That role was on No Ordinary Family, an ABC comedy-drama with Michael Chiklis, Julie Benz, Kay Panabaker and Jimmy Bennett as a normal family who suddenly finds they have superpowers after surviving a plane crash. Reeser plays Katie Andrews – the assistant for the mother, a brilliant scientist who has suddenly gained supersonic speed. Katie helps her boss come to terms with her new skills.
“Pilot season is very intense, because there are so many projects floating around and you read, I don’t know, at least a dozen scripts a week,” Reeser said. “At least. It was one of the only ones that I read that I said, ‘I would watch this show.’ That’s always a good thing. And, it was an immediate connection with this character, too.
“I think what’s so fun about Katie is she’s sort of a prodigy. She, I think, spent a lot of her youth in school and in science labs. Because of it, she’s not particularly well-adjusted, socially. That makes her very fun to play, because she’s quite vulnerable. Even though she’s extremely smart, she’s childlike in some ways. I think we’ll be seeing her due to the powers her boss has experienced and her world sort of expanding, we’ll be seeing her kind of forced into situations that are uncomfortable and exciting for her.”
One situation that may come up – in the end of the pilot episode, it is strongly suggested that the company which the two women work for may be behind the family’s new found powers. Maybe that means somewhere down the line Katie will become a superhero as well.
“I don’t know,” Reeser said, but she was obviously quite excited about the concept. And if she could have one super-power, what would Reeser like for it to be? “Flying, of course.”
That will all come out as the show goes on. But even without the ability to fly (so far), Reeser enjoys No Ordinary Family because it is so complex and is sort of juggling a lot of balls – superhero action, comedy, family drama and more.
“It is a difficult tone to find, but I think we have a lot of people involved who are very clear about the show that we’re making,” Reeser continued. “That’s what’s important, for people to have a strong vision. That is there. It’s really fun to work on. It’s really fun to balance all of those elements.”
Strangely, super-villains may not be the most dangerous threat to the family. No Ordinary Family is on right against Glee, which is one of the hippest shows on TV. However, in the modern world of DVRs, Hulu and On Demand, television scheduling is no longer quite the end-all and be-all of the television world. Still, even just on a head-to-head basis, Reeser feels her show is good counter-programming to the singing high schoolers.
“It is two different audiences,” Reeser said. “There is some cross-over audience, but I do think it is two different audiences. And, I like Glee. But, I think you get something different from both shows. I’ve had so many people come up and say to me, ‘This is the one show I’ve seen in a long time that I could watch with my kids.’ ‘That I could watch with my teenagers.’”
It is ironic that Reeser is up against the musical hit, because in recent years she has been doing regular musical theater gigs in Los Angeles – and she did the musical movie American Mall. Reeser does want to continue doing more musical work. Does that mean some day she will go head-to-head with her self and do a guest appearance on Glee?
Reeser laughed good-naturedly at this idea. “Yeah, I don’t see that one happening. But I would love to do more musical work. Particularly in film. I’d love to be involved in musical films. That would be a big goal of mine.”
She also plans to continue her career path of mixing comic roles with more dramatic ones.
“I’ve had a lot of comedy experience, sort of by accident,” Reeser said. “I didn’t begin my career thinking I was funny at all. At all. Humor and being funny was always something I aspired to. My dad is very funny. I grew up wishing I could be funny that way, but knowing that I wasn’t. I kind of learned on the job. I started in sitcoms. It’s a very immediate, visceral experience, because you are doing all the things you do in an hour show – as far as like hitting your marks and doing all the technicalities of film and television work, but you have the immediate response of the audience to tell you if you hit your joke or not – if it works or not. I learned a lot about timing, very, very quickly.”
In the meantime, as her first season of No Ordinary Family continues on, Reeser has two feature films awaiting release – The Big Bang with Antonio Banderas and Possessions with Trent Ford.
“Those are two independent films that I was involved with, and hopefully people will get a chance to see them,” Reeser said. “The path for independents is never clear. You never know what is going to happen with them. But, I like both of the films, so I hope that people get a chance to see them.
“Possessions is sort of a Charlie Kaufman-esque dark comedy about a man who begins hearing voices in his head. It’s very trippy. It’s a very trippy film. I liked the script a lot. The Big Bang is sort of a neo-noir thriller about a detective on a case. I play one of the colorful characters that he meets along the way.”
And what is next for Reeser? No limits, as far as she is concerned. A career is a living, breathing, evolving thing and she just looks forward to seeing where it can lead her.
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I’m still building it. I’ve just reached my first decade in this business and hopefully that’s only the beginning.”
All signs point to that being the case.
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Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 8, 2010.