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A Modern Acting Career

Lisa Mulcahy • Feature • April 2, 2014

Deirdre Lovejoy

Deirdre Lovejoy

A conversation with Dierdre Lovejoy about building a career on stage, TV, and film

An acting career in today’s entertainment landscape means being able to practice your craft across many mediums—stage, film, television and even streaming media. Actors maintain a viable career by treading the boards in a play one day and stepping in front of the camera (be it for computer screen, TV screen, or big screen) the next. The reality for any actor today is that to be a working actor means to work in all mediums. Of course, the mediums are not the same and actors need to work to hone their skills to be able to adapt to the job at hand and still bring a truthful life to the role they are playing. 

An actor who has built just such a career is Deirdre Lovejoy. She has been acting since a young age, which isn’t surprising considering that her grandmother was an opera singer and her mother, Marcia Fulmer, is an actress and theatre reporter. Encouraged by her family, Lovejoy did her undergraduate work at the University of Evansville and then went to graduate school at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Her professional career began at The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater in New York’s Central Park. Her Broadway roles include Six Degrees of Separation, Getting & Spending, The Gathering and last year she returned to Broadway in Nora Ephron’s Lucky Guy with Tom Hanks. Her impressive stage resume also includes extensive Off-Broadway and regional theatre work. 

But Lovejoy is perhaps best known for her portrayal of Assistant State’s Attorney Rhonda Pearlman in the acclaimed HBO series The Wire. This spring she will be appearing on HBO’s Girls and has joined season two of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black. Lovejoy has also had roles in films such as Step Up, Random Hearts, and The Talented Mr. Ripley. Though she enjoys her work in front of the camera, Lovejoy’s heart is still on the stage and she will be appearing in Berkley Rep’s production of Tony Kushner’s The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, directed by Tony Taccone. Kushner will be working on the piece as the play makes its West Coast premiere.  

How does an actor adapt to different mediums and still give a truthful performance? Lovejoy notes, “I don’t think there is one specific answer, because everyone finds their own way through when they are adapting their particular skill set to a particular situation. Even within stage work it is a different thing being in a 99-seat house than a 1,200- or 3,000-seat house. I do think, especially for young actors, the basics hold true; getting a good solid foundation of training serves you very, very well for all the different areas that actors have opportunities in. In my own case I trained at the University of Evansville and further in graduate school at NYU. That was very much a conservatory program with an emphasis on both classical and contemporary material with body work, voice work and stage work. Training at these institutions may not be an option for everyone, but there are still ways to get the training. Find a good teacher or core group of teachers, create your own program to get the same package, it is very individual but you need to develop a strong foundation.”

Going from stage to screen as an actor is about adapting your acting style but not forgoing your training cautions Lovejoy. “Translating the skill set you acquire training as a stage actor to working in front of a camera for television or film can seem like a catch-22; it’s the same skill set but put under a microscope. It is a very specific experience working in front of a camera, but actors that have acquired a very solid foundation and know what their process is still need to work from that. As an actor you have to not get in front of a camera and sacrifice pursuing objectives. You still need to tell the truth and you still want to reveal something about the human condition. It is still the same process but it has to be delivered in a way that is in manageable pieces because it is being consumed by something that is two feet away from your face.”

For Lovejoy, experience, gaining confidence in front of the camera, getting comfortable with the differences of the mediums comes with working. “In terms of how I adapted my skill set to different areas, a lot of it was by trial and error.  It is very hard to learn that in any other way than except to have the experience of being in front of a camera for an extended period of time. Because ultimately the goal is to be able to forget about the camera. You don’t want to let the lens in your face to put you in a state where you are not able to focus on your craft. For me I did a lot of day work on different television shows that were shooting around NY when I was starting. I didn’t get really comfortable in front of a camera until I did a miniseries in the early ‘90s when I was able to be in front of a camera all day, every day for months. That was a pivotal period for me because I got to learn how to relax with a camera in front of you.”

Of course today many younger actors are fairly relaxed at the idea of being in front of a camera. “Today everyone has a video camera in their phone,” explains Lovejoy. “The transition in some ways has become easier because people are much more at ease when a camera comes out. Being photographed and filmed is something we all take more for granted and it doesn’t necessarily trigger that same actor tension.” The need to adjust the performance to the camera still remains, though, and of course you have to first get the job.

Get the Work

Auditioning is a fact of life for all actors, regardless of the medium. “The audition is the commerce of how we get our jobs, but it is also a completely different skill set, and again there are differences between auditioning for television and auditioning for theatre,” states Lovejoy. “It is a very specific beast, the audition. You can go to grad school for years and unfortunately at most of them you spend a lot of time doing very in-depth actor training but not a lot of audition training.” When asked about her approach to auditioning and advice she might offer, Lovejoy comments, “There is a really great book that I love to recommend to people, by Joanna Merlin, called Auditioning. As to how I handle auditioning, my goal at any audition is to really leave it all on the floor, do my best work where I am that given day. My goal is always to be present, not let nerves take me away from being in the present. I want to focus on the character and the material as successfully as I can so that I can walk out and forget about the audition. As a young actor the nerves and your lack of experience, those things are stacked against you, but the more you audition, the more experienced you get, the more you can stay focused.”

She further cautions young actors to remember that the audition is not a final performances and you shouldn’t send any signals leading the casting team to think otherwise. “My goal is always to go in with as much memorized as I can, just so I am not stuck to the page, but that doesn’t mean I am going to have a final performance. I haven’t had rehearsals. I always still carry the pages, I will still glance down at the pages. I would never go into an audition without the pages because then they think this is a performance, this is all I am going to get. Everyone behind that table is always on your side, they want you to do the best you can, they want you for the role but you also have to make sure they are reminded that this isn’t the finished performance.”

Deirdre Lovejoy with Tom Hanks in Lucky Guy on Broadway.

Deirdre Lovejoy with Tom Hanks in Lucky Guy on Broadway.

‚ÄčOne of Lovejoy’s more unique audition experiences was for her recent Broadway show, Lucky Guy. “I was leaving town to do a new James Still play at Indiana Rep, The House That Jack Built, so when I got the call to audition for Lucky Guy I couldn’t do it. Then they called the next week and said can you put yourself on tape. I laughed to myself and thought, ‘Oh sure, I am going to get cast for this Nora Ephron Broadway play with Tom Hanks, directed by George Wolfe, off an audition tape I make on my iPad.’ It just didn’t seem at all possible. But I made the tape anyway and you could have knocked me over with a feather when I got it.” 

In fact, she considers herself a very lucky girl indeed for the opportunity, saying “Lucky Guy, from start to finish, was this charmed experience. We all felt a great responsibility to Nora’s memory and to George’s presence. We all dove in and put ourselves in his care and we fell in love with the piece. It was a joy to do eight performances a week of that play. The whole experience was joyful, satisfying, and rewarding on so many levels. We all knew it was once in a lifetime.” 


Writing Helps 

Another project Lovejoy recalls warmly was being on The Wire, a pop culture TV milestone from series creator David Simon. “I don’t think any of us knew it would become what it has become,” describes Lovejoy. “They teach classes around the show today. I had a great time working on that show. The writing was so good."

For any actor, whether performing on stage or for a camera, good writing is something to be savored, Lovejoy notes. “There is no substitute for good writing, there really isn’t. You get to experience enough bad writing throughout your career as an actor that you really appreciate good storytelling, good dialogue writing."  Lovejoy particularly enjoys working on new plays and being part of that development process. “Being part of the whole process, taking a work from the page to the stage is so rewarding. I have loved my television work, but it is not the same creatively as developing a work, having the rehearsal time to discover things and then doing eight performances a week in front of an audience."

In regards to her own career, that continues to bring opportunities on stage and on screen, Lovejoy simply says, “I have been very blessed with the work that has come to me.” 

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