Amy Aquino has definitely played a judge, doctor or police captain in a show you’ve loved. The Broadway veteran has made a career of playing strong women in positions of authority on stage and screen, and she’ll be returning to South Coast Repertory next month, for the second time in two years, to star in Wendy Wasserstein’s The Sisters Rosensweig.
When I saw Amy last year in SCR’s The Siegel, it hit me that she was both Melanie Griffith’s secretary in the last minutes of Working Girl and the hairdresser who transforms Cher before the opera in Moonstruck, two of my favorite movies of all time. I hoped that having her in my backyard would provide an opportunity to talk to her about these iconic roles, her current role as Bosch’s boss on Bosch, and her history with Wendy Wasserstein. Good news: it did.
Leona Laurie: Can we talk about Moonstruck and Working Girl first?
Amy Aquino: I am there with all my big-haired glory in both of them.
LL: Maybe that’s why I never placed you before, because your hair is huge in those movies.
AA: Yeah. You get to a certain age and the great big curly mop becomes less and less becoming and less sellable as the serious, sober judge.
Actually, I never made a conscious decision to just start straightening my hair, but I was doing a play at the Mark Taper, and I was wigged for it so I had to straighten it to put it under the wig, and I didn’t bother taking it out and making it curly every day because it would’ve just driven me crazy. I was walking around with it straight every day and so many people said, “My God. What did you do? Did you get worked on? You look great.” I just sort of fell into it and went, “Mm, okay. This is my next phase.” Then, my phase after this will probably be my white curly hair. That will be that much easier.
LL: A judge with white hair will look very distinguished.
AA: Yes. I’m a big fan of Helen Mirren. I’m interested to see how many of the actresses of this younger generation, who are starting to go there, end up embracing it. That’ll be interesting.
LL: There will be a degree of irony in it for you since you are the one who gets the gray out of Cher’s hair in Moonstruck.
AA: Indeed. Indeed.
LL: It will be coming full circle, in a way.
AA: Exactly. I went to a Paley Museum event that was honoring Norman Lear, several years ago, and they showed something where Bea Arthur was talking about having gotten pregnant by accident and the big deal was whether or not she was going to do it because she was so old and, of course, she couldn’t have been more than early 40’s, and she had this salt-and-pepper hair. I thought, “Wow. It was only that recently that not everybody was coloring their hair.”
We’re just so used to it, especially in America, women constantly coloring their hair, and it’s a relatively recent phenomenon.
LL: That may be, and maybe you inadvertently contributed to it, because when I walk out of my salon, I always think of Cher being made over by you.
AA: Don’t say that. Oh my God. Forgive me, women of America!
LL: In both of those early roles for you, you have a small-but-significant part at a critical moment. You set Cher up for her new lease on life, and in Working Girl, you reveal to Melanie Griffith that she is not a secretary anymore.
AA: That was a significant scene in a lot of different ways. It was very early in my career. I was just out of Yale Drama School, where I’d been doing all theatre. This was one of the first movies that I did. We were shooting that scene in an actual working office. Part of it was occupied; we were in a part of it that wasn’t occupied. When we went to shoot it, for the first take, I was in the office, feet up on the desk, talking on the phone and the crew was out in the hallway. They were shooting through the door. We did the first take, and (director) Mike Nichols comes in and says: “Amy, that was great. That was just terrific. Now, we have a microphone. It’s hanging right over your head, so you don’t have to worry about your voice carrying out to the hallway.”
It was the sweetest way to put it, because I was a theatre-trained actress, and I was like: “Wow. They’re way out there, and I’ve got my back to them. I better make sure they can hear what I’m saying.”
I will always love him for that moment for so many reasons.
I had auditioned in his office, and it was just him and the casting director and I’m like, “Okay. I’m supposed to be on the phone.” So I said to him, “Is it okay if I put my feet up on your desk?”
“Can I use your phone?”
So, I’m sitting at Mike Nichols’s desk with my feet up, talking on his phone, and I try to remember that — that fearlessness that I had at that time. I didn’t do it to impress him. I did it because the scene is I’ve got my feet up on the desk, and I’m on the phone, so that’s what I’ve got to do. He not only accepted that, but he appreciated that. It made me comfortable in the space, and it made me do better work.
The final thing that I always say about that scene is, “Man. If you’re going to have one scene in a movie, let it be the scene at the very end, where the heroine gets her dream.” Okay? That’s the way to do it, man. It ended up being powerful and ended up being something that people remembered, and I appreciate that. I’m happy to have been able to make a contribution to a movie that was kind of forward thinking and involved such wonderful people and such wonderful talent.
LL: You really are a theatre actress at heart, even though you’ve been acting on screen since these roles. Let’s talk about the play you’re opening at South Coast Repertory in May. It isn’t your first Wendy Wasserstein play. You were in The Heidi Chronicles, which she won a Tony and a Pulitzer for.
AA: My friend Matthew Arkin, with whom I worked last year at South Coast (in The Siegel), and with whom I had just the best time ever playing a husband and wife, let me know that: ” I’m going back to South Coast. I’m going to be doing Sisters Rosensweig.”
I said: “Really? They’re doing Sisters Rosensweig and they haven’t called me? What’s up with that?”
I was just about to leave the country for three weeks, and I got the call from them. Now I get to work with Matthew again, who as I said, I’ve never had a better intimate relationship on stage with someone.
It was after I accepted it that I found out that two other people I know and love, Bill Brochtrup and Betsy Brandt, are going to be in the play as well, and that made me incredibly excited.
LL: SCR says that The Sisters Rosensweig discusses American Nationalism, anti-Semitism, Russia and sisters who are trying to have it all. I have heard that elements of it are funny, but would you call it a comedy?
AA: It is a comedy, but it’s not just a comedy. I guess you could call it a dramedy. Nothing gets tied up all neatly. Nobody rides off into the sunset together, but it ends with hope and with the women being changed in a positive way. There is no knight in shining armor, but they’ve been cracked open. They’re starting to see some light and clarity that they didn’t have, and they’re liking the warmth of that light. You feel like they’re going to start moving toward that light instead of just keeping themselves closed off and denying it. It’s positive that way. It’s also insanely funny, because Wendy Wasserstein is insanely funny. It’s very real about relationships.
LL: And while you’re in rehearsals for this, Bosch season four has just dropped on Amazon Prime.
AA: How lucky am I?
LL: I can’t believe it’s season four already.
AA: I feel the same. I kind of can’t believe it either. We did the pilot almost a year before we started shooting the series, so it’s been in my life for a long time, and I feel very blessed.
LL: Is there a difference anymore between doing network TV or cable TV and doing something for one of the streaming services?
AA: Well, it’s more like cable in that you can do whatever you want. You can say whatever you want. You can wear clothes or not. Other than that, in terms of the shooting, it’s exactly the same. There’s no discernible difference in terms of the making of it.
I’m not in the writers’ room, but I don’t hear of them complaining about getting a lot of notes from Amazon that they don’t agree with. Part of this may be that Michael Connelly, who wrote the books, is executive producer, and he is constantly there. He’s in the writers’ room, and he’s on the set. He’s a very, very active part of the production, and Amazon, rightly, has tremendous respect for him.
LL: One of the things I love about the show is the locations. Whenever Titus Welliver goes home, you can see that they are not trying to pass Montreal or any other place off as Los Angeles.
AA: No. No. No. Los Angeles is definitely one of the stars of the show, and it’s something that makes it so interesting. We’re not all palm trees and movie stars. We are the other stuff– the little nooks and crannies and taco trucks and odd houses kind of built into a hill. It’s the part that a resident here, if you’ve been living here long enough, would either definitely know or might have heard of and not seen, and the show brings you there.
It truly is a character in the show, because so much of what happens in the show kind of only happens here. I love it. This season is going to be especially interesting because it’s using some of our most iconic locations; the Bradbury Building and Angels Flight. Then, it also takes you to places that, as a Los Angelino for 25 years, I didn’t even know existed.
The show that I did before (Bosch), which was Being Human, (was shot) in Montreal. This show’s a mile and a half from my house.
LL: Amy, thank you so much for talking with me. If people crave more of you after bingeing Bosch, and seeing The Sisters Rosensweig, what can they look forward to?
AA: I did a small part in a movie called Beautiful Boy with Steve Carell and Maura Tierney, based on a book by that name. I think it’s going to be a really gorgeous movie. I would definitely look for that. Of course, I worked with Maura on ER, and she’s just extraordinary.
The Sisters Rosensweig opens at South Coast Repertory theatre in Costa Mesa on May 11, 2018. Tickets are available now at SCR.org. Moonstruck and Working Girl are both available to buy or rent from Amazon Prime Video, and Beautiful Boy will be out this fall. Get a teensy taste of Amy at SCR in this short video of excerpts from last season’s The Siegel: