As we come closer to Christmas it reminds us that it isn't always the holiday we remember, but sometimes something triggered by the season.
For Scott Bakula ("Men of a Certain Age") it was his first performance at Christmastime that gave him the idea to become an actor. "I was in the seventh grade. I did a big, huge production of a Christmas operetta called 'Amahl and the Night Visitors,' and I was Amahl. And it was just a magical kind of time. The show itself is a great show, and I was a kid working with all the adults. So that was really exciting."
Christian Borle ("Smash") snagged his first "acting" job in New York at Macy's as Swifty the Elf in Santa Land. "It was really a beautiful place to work, actually," he says.
"The people who run Santa Land are dedicated, lovely people; it was really a great, crazy experience. The one dictum when you get that job is that you have to stay through New Year's, because what they get is people who come and work through Christmas Eve and quit to go home to their family. So if you quit before New Year's Day, you are pink-listed, you can never work there again. And I got pink-listed." He was pink-listed because he'd landed a real, paying acting gig.
A series of unfortunate events at Christmas time marked a turning point for Jennifer Tilly ("Liar Liar"). Her car broke down in a rain storm and she had to spend the night with friends. "I was lying on the sofa and heard them talking about me. They were saying, 'Poor Jennifer, what's she going to do?' One of them said, 'When she goes home for Christmas she's not coming back.' That was a really low point in my life. I'd been here four years and never got a paying job in the theater. I went home and my grandmother was sick and everyone was saying, 'Jennifer should take care of grandmother because she's never going to make it as an actress.' I thought, 'No, I'm going to show everybody.' I went back to L.A. ... Then I got an agent and within a month I had a recurring role on a series. Then I got my own series and my career took off after that. I almost went home."
Chef Gordon Ramsay ("Hell's Kitchen") recalls feeding our men and women in the military as a high point. "I've been to Afghanistan, and I've been out, cooking for the Marines ... for a thousand of them, U.S. and the U.K., and the atmosphere was electric. The banter was phenomenal, and to go and change their view and give them something that they deserve in terms of a decent meal on Christmas Eve was a dream come true!"
Though he had only one line, it was a Christmas pageant at school that set Oliver Platt ("The Big C") on his way to acting. "The whole auditorium went totally nuts," he recalls. "When you're an insecure, screwed-up kid who doesn't know anybody and that happens to you, you go, 'Oh, I'll have some MORE of this. This is really fun.' On a deeper psychological level you think it nurtures you. But the fact of the matter is, it's just fun. It's really fun to be with a group of people and have them respond."
For singer Nick Lachey it was his Christmas performance at the nation's capital. "One that really sticks out to me was when I was in 98 Degrees and we had a chance to do the 'Christmas at the White House' special when President Clinton was in office and a chance to sing 'Ave Maria.' We had a great a cappella rendition of 'Ave Maria' that we had a chance to sing for the President and quite a few other dignitaries at that event, so that stands out as probably one of the most exciting."
Comedienne Rita Rudner found her future husband, British producer Martin Bergman, at Christmastime. "One day he hired me to do a show in Australia, and he'd broken up with his girlfriend, and she'd gone back to England. And I'd broken up with my boyfriend in New York. So there I was 'Christmastime in Australia' and I moved in, and I didn't move out. That was it."
Fred Weller ("In Plain Sight") was only 6 when his Christmas foretold his future. "When I was in kindergarten I was in the Christmas play. I sang 'I Ain't Getting Nothing for Christmas.' All the other kids were nervous. And I wasn't. And all the older girls in the school kept coming up to me and telling me how good I was. So I guess it just seemed like a way to get girls. I just always liked make-believe. It seemed like make-believe was better than reality, so that was a good way to make a living if you can."
HBO's delightful "Enlightened," returns for a new season on Jan. 13 with Laura Dern and Mike White both performing and writing the series. This year they've added the wonderful Dermot Mulroney to the cast. Mulroney plays a journalist whose specialty is ferreting out skullduggery in big business. For once the producers have got the journalist down right. No Woodward-and-Bernstein pyrotechnics here - this is a disheveled, dedicated writer who inhabits an L.A. loft and knows a story when he sees one.
Mulroney, who's best known for his work in independent films, has no illusions about his status or his work. "They don't look at who's in it, they look at how much money it's made," he says. "That's the bottom line. That's all. They look at magazines and who's hot. And I've always been very warm, which is comfortable, but I've never been hot, never made a list of anything, ever. You can have 3,000 sexiest men and I don't think the periscope would spot me."
Jeffrey Donovan, who plays the burned spy on USA's "Burn Notice," says there's a secret to the chemistry between him and costar Gabrielle Anwar, who plays his gun-toting accomplice, Fiona. "Spend as little time with each other off the set," he says. "When you play a role like Michael and Fiona, there is an intimacy and a kind of spark that I think is hard to maintain over seven years when you spend every working hour with them and then every social hour with them. So we do our best to never lay eyes on each other after work."
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