AMY LAWHORN, ANYTHING BUT GONE
By Jennifer Buonantony
It's not often that you meet an actress who's as vulnerable as she is beautiful, as compassionate as she is bold, or as endearing as she is talented. Amy Lawhorn's first major film role in the upcoming blockbuster Gone, playing opposite Amanda Seyfried, may not make this ingenue an "overnight success" but combined with a string of upcoming projects, eleven years in the making, it will ensure her career is here to stay.
Lawhorn wasn't always set on being an actor. She was born in Pittsburg and then moved to Dallas, Texas at age five when she was adopted by her Aunt and Uncle. She grew in an environment that didn't involve creative arts. "I wasn't a dancer or artist or actor. I think I did the first grade play and was in the All City Choir in fifth but for the most part I was geared to think about business, science, and math." It was no surprise then that Lawhorn went on to attend the University of Texas at Dallas to become a pediatrician.
"But I didn't graduate. I started to live on my own and it was difficult to balance work, school, and life as an adult for the first time. It was overwhelming and I ended up dropping out and working as a nanny. On a fluke, I went to an open call for John Robert Powers, it's like a Barbizon or similar modeling-acting gimmick. It was the first time I had to do an audition. I remember reading a Coca-Cola commercial spot and something clicked inside me. Soon after the family I nannied for suggested I attend an acting school if I was serious about my newfound passion. I auditioned and was accepted to a 15-month program at the KD Studio for Acting (Actors Conservatory of the Southwest)."
Lawhorn quickly excelled at her new craft, scoring a commercial agent and booking a series of regional and national spots, dubbing her the "Commercial Queen" in the casting circles of Texas.
"Looking back at my training now, I realize that I ran away from a lot of stuff. I had opportunities that scared me, that I wasn't ready for within myself. I wouldn't go to class if the scene was difficult or emotional unlike now where I tackle any script. I didn't take it for all it was worth but what I got out of it- my parents would hate me saying this- is that when you go to school you learn book stuff math, science, history and maybe some abstract programs. But going to an acting school or a theater program opens you up. You are studying the human condition and how we react and interact with each other. If I went back now because I'm older and more experienced, I know I'd get more out of it. In a a program like that it's five days a week including dance, movement, psychology. You learn about people and how we relate and your space in the world through acting."
The transition to LA did not come easy. "I came to LA through a workshop at a local studio that offered to set up meetings for us in Hollywood for a price. In the end, we didn't meet half the people we'd been promised and the meetings went badly. An agent told me I couldn't read commercial copy even though I'd booked fourteen spots and that I needed to lose weight. But one meeting made it worthwhile; I met Donnajeanne Goheen who became my manager and manages my career to this day. Long story short, I ended up giving notice to my job, putting my life in storage, and driving cross country with my two cats to live in her guest house because she believed in me. I'll never forget that as soon as I got into LA, my car broke down right where all the freeways meet downtown. It seemed like a bad sign that turned into a rocky first summer. It was not easy to adjust and life out here was hard but the idea of giving up and moving home was never an option."
Lawhorn booked two commercials back to back midway through her second year but it took almost three years before she booked her first TV role. "The first casting director I took a class with in LA, Elizabath Barnes, really looked out for me. She told me she thought I needed to be working and brought me in until I booked The United States of Tara. I literally cried and bought her a flower bouquet and gift basket. Along the way, she has continued to bring me in for projects throughout my career. When you book your first thing it's the culmination of all the hard work and sweat and tears that comes together. It's emotional. But then I didn't book for what seemed like forever (about another year) until I shot a co-star for Bones opposite David Boreanaz, followed by a spot on Parenthood opposite Lauren Graham and Mike O'Malley. It's a trying time to get through the process, even put on avail, but not book."
Gone, from producer Andre Lamal and director Heitor Dhalia, is sure to be the film break Lawhorn has been looking forward to. In the film, Seyfried's character (Jill) searches for her kidnipped sister. Jill believes a man who once kidnapped and tried to murder her in her youth is responsible for her sister's disappearance. When Jill finds no solace from the police she takes the investigation upon herself. One of her leads brings her to a locksmith where she confronts Lawhorn's character (Tanya).
"The casting director, Deb Aquila, actually attended a class at the Paul Currie Acting Workshop, where I study with the Australian Director. She happened to see me perform one of the biggest emotional scenes that I have ever done, in class or elsewhere. She called me in for the role but I was forced to miss the first audition because of work. She made time to invite me back and then I actually flubbed my lines in the audition and thought I'd blown it for sure, but to my surprise I booked it. Later on set, one of the producers and the director told me they had been pleased to get my audition tape because they had seen so many people for the role but something about my performance was just spot on. For me, it was especially nice to book on my talent and attitude not for my looks since my role features me in boyish, brash light."
Gone is due to hit theaters this February and Lawhorn has already begun filming on other projects including a feature from The Jagger Brothers (Dean and Ben), two English filmmakers. "I am not allowed to talk about the project yet but I play the lead male's (Dean Jagger) girlfriend and the story focuses on the relationships and betrayals of bandmates." She also just finished filming It's Just ThanksGiving Dinner about an affluent African American family that hasn't' been together in four years and their first family dinner explodes with personal conflicts. Lawhorn plays Dawn, a neurotic woman who seemingly has the perfect life until she reveals just the opposite, along with the rest of her dysfunctional godfamily, who look to her to hold them all together.
You can also see Lawhorn on stage as Rita, the road reporter, in Madame President running through October 2nd at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood.
"This is a difficult business, so many peele are here and keep coming here. There is so much you are competing against- yourself and what you think you should be- it's so important to find things you are interested in and surround yourself with positive creative energy. Develop your own projects and create your own work. I'm working on shorts and sitcom scripts and that's where it is at, creating your own opportunities. You must be proactive in your career. Don't wait for someone else to give you the opportunity- agent or manager. I've been doing this for eight years and it's just starting to pay off."
When Lawhorn was not on set she spent the last four and half years working at a rehab center that helps teens fight addiction and alcoholism. "My birth parents were addicts and unable to raise me so it's something that hits close to home. I worked there because my other purpose is to help people. It's part of my drive to want to succeed in acting because attaining celebrity can be used for that good. I want to be able to affect that sort of change and have that influence. I recently parted ways with the center because I am starting my own business endeavor but giving back remains in my goals. Career success will certainly make it easier."
Sitting across from Lawhorn, you certainly get the sense that her intentions are sincere. While Lawhorn's warm smile, freckles, and humor are certainly inviting, the actress can admittedly be equally distant and cool, a contradiction that makes her performances range from intimidatingly intense to lovably vulnerable. One thing she brings to every role and easily this interview, is the feeling that she is wise beyond her years.
"Nothing in life that's worth it is easy. If you are passionate, go for it, but make sure the goal isn't' for the wrong reason," her final words to me.
Lawhorn is currently repped by Galit Finklestein and Nancy Luciano of LB Talent Agency and Donnajeanne Goheen of Peformers Management. To learn more about her you can also visit her website.