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Getting In On The Act
Anne Marie O’Connor and Ray Rogers | Photo: Kai Z. Feng/Trunk Archives and Melissa Valladares | April 1, 2014
They come here for the money, they come for the fame—but what they fall for is the thrill of being part of the most unforgettable, incredible metropolis on the planet. Here, four thespian powerhouses of the stage and screen tell why, when they talk about falling in love with New York City, they never have to put on an act.
Good Wife, New Life
The Good Wife fans were shocked last month when Will Gardner was gunned down by an unhinged client. Gardner, the on again, off again partner—in law and in bed—of the titular Good Wife (Julianna Margulies), was played by Josh Charles, the NYC resident who is one of the show’s most popular characters. But his dramatic exit was spurred by Charles’ own desire to work on other projects. “Playing Will Gardner was an honor and a pleasure. Thanks for all of your support & kind words!” he tweeted.
In addition to directing two upcoming episodes of TGW, Charles, 42, can still be seen on screens big and small. He’s appearing on several episodes of Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer, which premiered on April 1. “That was a total blast for me because I love her and the show.” He also has several films coming up, including Brother’s Keeper, with Nick Kroll, and Bird People. He’s particularly proud of another new role—as the spokesperson for Pinwheels for Prevention, a project that raises awareness of child abuse. On April 8, Charles will co-host the second annual Big Pinwheel Garden in Times Square. The pinwheel is a national symbol for child-abuse prevention, and the Pinwheel Garden will feature volunteers holding thousands of pinwheels to create a stunning visual that’s designed to inspire people to support the group’s mission.
Even though he’s no longer playing Gardner on screen, Charles now has his own “good wife” at home: Sophie Flack, a former New York City Ballet dancer, whom he married last September. “[My wife and I] see movies, plays and hang with our dog Zeus,” says Charles, who has called NYC home since 2004. They also love going to their favorite Village restaurants, including Barbuto, The Little Owl, Babbo and Bar Pitti.
Also a sports fanatic, the Baltimore native says, “I am pretty diehard for my hometown teams”—the Orioles and Ravens. Still, his allegiances are starting to shift. “New York is the greatest city in the world.”
When it was announced that Thomas Lennon had been cast as Felix Unger in CBS’s reboot of The Odd Couple, the actor got hundreds of emails from friends. “They were like, You are perfect!” he says. Lennon, who’s starring in the pilot opposite real-life buddy Matthew Perry, admits it’s typecasting. “I am beyond anal,” he says. “I literally douse my body with Purell at least six times a day.”
Though he’s best known as Lt. Dangle on Reno 911!, Lennon, 43, also played Sean Hayes’ boss on the short-lived Sean Saves the World. He’s a prolific screenwriter as well, having co-written Reno 911! as well as Balls of Fury and all three Night at the Museum scripts. In his “spare” time, he’s producing @midnight on Comedy Central and writing the script for a remake of The Naked Gun. “As I get older and creepier, I keep getting more work,” he says.
Lennon, who grew up in suburban Oak Park, Ill., first moved to NYC when he was 18 and a freshman at NYU. Despite being mugged almost immediately (mitigating factors: It was 3am and he was wearing a yellow bow tie), he remained a big fan of the city. “I never even considered leaving,” he says. Alas, work beckoned, and he moved, grudgingly, to L.A. in 1998. “I look at L.A. like an oil rig,” he says. “No one goes there to see great plays. You go there to work.”
After six seasons playing Reno 911!’s hot pants-clad cop, Lennon now refuses to ever wear shorts. But unlike most comedy writers, who make frat boys look like Beau Brummell, Lennon wears a suit and tie most days.
Lennon and his wife, actress Jenny Robertson, still return to NYC as often as possible. “I always try to go to Corner Bistro”—a favorite haunt back in the day—“and Palma, which has this pretty secret courtyard.” He’d love to move back here—as soon as he has $20 million in the bank. Thankfully, he says, he’s getting closer.
“All it took was me getting into my mid-40s to be an overnight success.”
Tough As Nails
Demian Bichir is an expert at laying down the law—no matter what side of it he’s on. He’s portrayed a drug lord on Weeds, a police investigator on FX’s The Bridge, due back for season two this summer, and this month, he’ll play a Russian mobster in Dom Hemingway, opposite Jude Law.
A high-profile actor in his native Mexico, Bichir is used to taking on complex characters. “I don’t think Fidel Castro [whom he portrayed in Steven Soderbergh’s Che] is on either side of the law,” he says, “nor is Carlos Galindo in A Better Life.”
Bichir finally got the U.S. recognition he deserves in 2012, when his role in A Better Life, as an illegal immigrant struggling to fulfill the American dream for himself and his teenage son, netted him an Oscar nomination for best actor.
It’s been a steady climb for Bichir, who credits a yearlong stint in Manhattan in 1985 for giving him an invaluable early education. He came to learn English and take a break from Mexico’s National Theater Company. “I became a better actor by living in the city. That’s a university right there—a master’s degree in acting and life.”
One unexpected skill he picked up came courtesy of a stint as a server at Rosa Mexicana. “Little did I know I’d learn to make guacamole in New York—not in Mexico,” he says with a laugh.
Today, Bichir splits his time between Mexico City, L.A. and Spain, and last year he filmed his directorial debut, Refugio (which he also scripted) that stars Eva Longoria as a horse acrobat in a circus. Bichir couldn’t believe his good fortune in casting her—and the feeling’s mutual. “He’s an amazing director,” Longoria says. “He knows what he wants, and how to get it.”
Considering his formidable presence on screen, that comes as no surprise.
With a name like Alessandro Nivola, you’d think the 41-year-old actor would be a shoo-in for roles as Italian guys from Brooklyn. But it’s only been in the last couple of years that the actor’s finally gotten the chance: First he played Anthony Amado (Bradley Cooper’s boss at the FBI) in American Hustle; now he’s just wrapped shooting the upcoming A Most Violent Year, in which he plays Peter Forente, an ambitious businessman who’s tempted to revert to wise-guy tactics to edge out a competitor.
“When I first got to New York in the mid-’90s, I’d get sent on all these castings for blue-collar guys,” Nivola says. But the response was always... fugetaboutit. “I had fair skin and dirty-blond hair, so people thought I was English,” explains the Boston-born actor.
Instead, his big break came as Helen Mirren’s love interest in Ivan Turgenev’s A Month in the Country, which ran on Broadway in 1995. He’d planned on sticking with a stage career, “But for a lot of the people I knew on Broadway then—Jude Law, Billy Crudup, Rufus Sewell—the next stop was Hollywood,” he says. “So I followed them.”
For the next six years, Nivola focused on film work, shuttling back and forth between L.A.—where he starred opposite John Travolta in Face/Off—and London, where he met his wife, actress Emily Mortimer, while shooting Kenneth Branagh’s Love’s Labour’s Lost.
In 2006, the couple moved to Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, where they now live with their son, Sam, 10, and daughter, May, 4. “We didn’t know much about Brooklyn before we moved here,” he says. “But then we saw a house we loved. Now this area has become so exciting.”
Being back in New York has also reignited his love of theater. He starred in The Winslow Boy on Broadway last year, and is appearing in The Elephant Man with Bradley Cooper this fall.
His most recent role was as producer on the HBO comedy series, Doll & Em, which Mortimer wrote and stars in. Their relationship survived the experience, he’s happy to report.
“Actors have to measure the length of their marriage in dog years,” he jokes. “So we’ve been together for 175 years.”