“Some of this business is really just dumb luck… I think you just always have to be ready and, hopefully, well trained enough that you can draw from a good bag of tricks acting-wise.” – Becky Ann Baker
From TV shows like Freaks and Geeks and Girls, to dozens of films and theatre roles, Becky Ann Baker never disappoints. She’s wonderful in everything, which is one of the reasons why she’s always working. That, along with a “good work ethic and dumb luck,” she said recently.
She currently starring alongside her husband, Dylan Baker, in the short film, Nightfire, written and directed by Brando Benetton. The film shot on location in Verona, Italy and everyone, the whole cast and crew, “had a brilliant time out there.”
In this interview, Baker chats about Nightfire, her career and why she’s had staying power, audition tips and why she hates self-tapes.
How’s things going with you with the quarantine or lockdown and or whatever we’re calling it?
Becky Ann Baker: Yeah, my husband and I are sheltering upstate a couple hours out of New York City where we usually live. We usually live right in Hell’s Kitchen in New York. We’ve been up here since March 8th. I wake up every morning thinking are we really, really living through this?
It’s just crazy nuts.
Becky Ann Baker: Yeah, it is. It is. And in our business, I mean, certainly theater will be one of the last things to come back, so we won’t be doing any theater for at least a year. I’m not sure how we’re going to start shooting things again. I was in the middle of two arc episode on the TV show, Billions. We had done a table read. Then, of course, everything got shut down. They had to terminate everybody’s contract because they couldn’t afford to pay people to wait around to shoot because we don’t know when it’s going to happen. I guess the strategy will be that they’ll re-hire everybody when they can figure out a way to start shooting again.
I can’t figure out when they’re going to be able to start…
Becky Ann Baker: I know. I have a feeling they’ll try to do some like small gorilla crews and things. But still, how do you put on makeup? How do you do somebody’s hair? It’s going to be a while. I have a feeling it’s going to be a while.
So, let’s talk about Nightfire.
Becky Ann Baker: Yeah, Brando Benetton’s film.
I liked it a lot. I thought the pace was quick. It looked great. The locations were great. How did you get involved in this?
Becky Ann Baker: We’ve known Brando since he… He actually went to high school with our daughter. The two of them graduated from the same high school in New York City. Brando at the time was an Italian exchange student. We just fell in love with him. He was even then shooting films on a pretty much a daily basis and writing little things and running around. My husband especially got very involved with him in shooting things. We would get together all these actors for him. He would do these terrific things. It started out as just having fun with this young filmmaker wannabe. Then he went off to college.
In the meantime, for his senior project, decided to shoot this thing in Verona, hired three or four SAG actors, and flew them over there. This was his senior project that it started as. He was working with this crew full of young people that he knew and several professional actors. Verona was his hometown, so he had these great locations and access to the town that he grew up in. Then it ended up that the original short got him into USC film school, grad school.
He’s just this amazing talent. He wrote the story, and had all these ideas about how he was going to shoot it. It was a labor of love on everybody’s part. He just kept working on it and working on it and perfecting it. He especially does these fantastic trailers because he just knows how to get things really rocking and rolling. We had a great time. We had a brilliant time out there. My real life husband, Dylan Baker, plays one of the leads. He plays the crazy, bad guy or good guy, however you want to look at it.
For his senior project, that’s some ambition right there.
Becky Ann Baker: I know! Plus he told all his friends in film school because they were all undergraduates too. They were all in their senior year. He said, “Look, if you guys can find a cheap ticket, I can put you up and feed you. You’ll get to be in Italy for three weeks.” It was their Christmas break. We came in just after Christmas and were there for New Year’s. They all did it. His mother had something like 20, 22 kids living at her home while they shot this film. She’s an amazing woman, as well. We’ve known her for a long time. Yeah, so she fed and housed everybody while they made his senior project.
I think you are just absolutely fantastic in everything that you do.
Becky Ann Baker: Thank you. Thank you very much.
Why do you think you’ve stuck around while a lot of people who started when you did kind of faded away?
Becky Ann Baker: I don’t know. I mean, I always think of myself as having really a high work ethic. I kind of grew up in the military. My father was a career army officer. I think part of what gets you to hang in there is just a work ethic. Where you’re not really hopefully relying on your ego as much as you are just ready to work and looking around for a variety of projects. I think that keeps it interesting.
I also started out as a chorus girl on Broadway. I was a dancer and a singer and kind of worked my way up through the chorus. I think there was just a lot of discipline in my career as an ex-dancer. Where it sometimes that helps the staying power, as well, is just seeing it through a different window.
Also, this business, sometimes you just get stupid lucky. I mean, some of the things that I hooked up with Judd Apatow on like Freaks and Geeks and then Girls. That was just the first one around, he and Paul Feig had just seen A Simple Plan, Sam Raimi‘s movie. That really informed their decision to try to use me from having really no huge television experience, and that’s just luck. It was a film that they loved. I just happened to have a startling part in. I got blown up at close range by a shotgun with Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton. All of a sudden I found myself on this really inventive, wonderfully written television show that only had one season, but it was working with some people that have remained in my career ever since.
Some of this business is really just dumb luck, just what project comes along when. I think you just always have to be ready, and hopefully well trained enough that you can draw from a good bag of tricks acting-wise. I think that sums it up, a good work ethic and dumb luck.
When you get an audition, what’s the first couple of things you do to get prepared? Do you have the sides memorized?
Becky Ann Baker: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I always memorize everything. I hold the pages, so it looks like they remember that it’s an audition. But I’m one of those people that I can’t really work with looking at the pages. I absolutely learn the dialogue or the lines.
I also, when I look at a script at all, I think about what I can bring to it that no one else might, like we all do. It’s like, what can I inform about this script that brings it closer to me and makes it my job? That makes it my role? Sometimes that can be the fun part, really looking at something and figuring out how you fit it in you.
I’ve been lucky that I’m playing a range of things. I just did this show called… the Al Pacino show, Hunters, and got to play Jimmy Carter’s secretary of commerce. It’s nice when I’m not just the mom. It’s nice when I get to mix it up and be somebody a little bit more highfalutin.
How do you like doing self-tapes?
Becky Ann Baker: I’m not a big fan of the self-tape. I’m . That my agency has a very terrific setup. So I’ll learn it, and then do it there with this really amazing guy, Chris. Because my husband and I have found that it’s just a total deal breaker. If he’s trying to run the iPad, shoot it, and read opposite me, it’s a great formula for a good argument. We’ve just learned to go find someone else to self-tape us.
I just hate self-taping, but luckily I’m at an age and a point in my career where a lot of things are offered. Luckily, I don’t have to do it as often as I had to do in the past. But yeah, I’m not a big fan of self-taping.
You’ve done a ton of theater. After you haven’t done a show in a while, do you start to kind of, I guess, sort of get antsy?
Becky Ann Baker: Yeah, it’s a real itch. This year I was on the Tony nominating committee for Broadway. I was getting to see every single Broadway show, two tickets in these primo seats. It was just amazing. I had already seen about, I think, 17 or 18 of the season. We had about 16 more to go when everything shut down. Oh, it’s heartbreaking because we were in the middle of this terrific season. There were so many amazing plays this year, especially plays and a lot of musicals, as well, but the plays were just masterful. So my heart breaks for them.
I mean, I don’t know how we’re going to recover. We won’t recover this season. I’m not sure how they’ll put things back into place. It’s so much fun to go sit in the theater and watch everybody’s work. It was such a lesson in… I’d never seen every single show on a Broadway season in my life before. To be able to see the wide range of work that was being done, and to have so much respect and love for the actors, the directors and the scenic artists. It was really fun.
What’s been your worst audition ever?
Becky Ann Baker: My worst? Oh God, let me think about that. I’ve had plenty. Oh, I know. I know. I worked really hard on this… They were putting like a 12th Night together that was going to be a musical version and using a lot of the text. They wanted you to come in with a piece. I did He Left No Ring With Me speech and I had come up with a song that I thought would really work with it. I worked really hard on it. I came in, and I did my monologue. I sang, segued into the song, and I was met with what just seemed like stunned silence of dread, just that awful sinking feeling. So I picked up my props and thanked them, left, and was just devastated. I had worked my ass off on it.
That night I was seeing a Broadway show. It was the invited dress for a show that was coming on Broadway. I was there with a friend of mine. I’m going into this story about my audition, how sad I was, and how devastated I was because what idiots they must have been. I had done what I thought was some of my best work and worked hard on this song. All of a sudden, the person sitting directly in front of me turned and said, “We actually thought you were quite good.” I was pouring out this just agonizing story about these idiots who had auditioned me, and two of them were sitting right in front of me. So I didn’t get that job. That job went south.
I’ll never know if I would’ve gotten a call, but had they not heard my horrible words about them. That taught me a lesson about keeping my mouth shut in public.
Nightfire is available to stream now on most platforms, including Amazon Prime.