Interview With Actress Maria Patti

By Ruth on December 1, 2016 in Interview, movie, television
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A few months ago, I stumbled upon an actress who greatly intrigued me–Maria Patti. While she is a virtual unknown in some circles, her career has been long and established within the theater community, independent film, and regional circles that follow Arizona talent. As Maria’s career is on the brink of virtual stardom due to blockbuster films that are soon to hit the indie film circuit, it was a veritable delight to get to chat with her about how she began in this profession, her notable works and experiences, and her outlook on acting and entertainment as a whole.
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RH: So let’s start at the beginning. How did you become an actress?

MP: I think by the time I was one, I was already talking in sentences and trying to make people laugh. So I knew from a very young age that even if I couldn’t speak, I was a performer. I can remember being put on top of a table to sing a song. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. By the time I was around four or so, I was already on stage at school. I did a lot of plays as I was growing up. I was very comedic, and people were laughing. I knew I was funny. It’s kind of like what Jerry Lewis would say, “You’re born with the funny bones.” You’re born with that DNA. You can teach people how to do comedy or drama, but in my case, it was and is my destiny.

I did get a little sidetracked. My science got in there, and I did some nursing. But I noticed that even when I was nursing and when I was a good teacher, it was still a performance. I was still standing in front of a group of nurses-to-be, and I was very well-received. No matter what, I don’t think I ever got away with not performing. Everyone knew I was a performer.

I got married, and I had two boys. In 1992, we got transferred from New York to Arizona with his company. And I thought, “Wow, what am I really going to do with my life?”  So believe it or not, I went to school at Scottsdale Community College, and there was a film program. From that, I met a brilliant screenwriter who took me under his wing, and I learned how to write and produce screenplays. I have written two full screenplays. I have written a play that was produced and sold. I learned the craft really fast, but then I got the acting bug.

And that’s when I just started going, going, going. I began taking acting classes–not only one night, but three nights if they let me–and learned the brilliant craft of acting. And the technique of method acting that I learned there in particular, I use it to this date. I’m been acting out here for over twenty years. I’m a three-time Arizonia nominee in theater and winner of a theater show called Over the River and Through the Woods. I won for best actress. So you hit the ground running and you do a lot and you just start getting better and better at it. I realized my screenwriting skills had really helped my acting. My acting skills helped the writing. I really think good actors and writers should do both. I was told that is true because I would go to all these workshops. So that was really helpful to me, too.

Best Actress Award for "Over the River and Through the Woods.

Best Actress Award for Over the River and Through the Woods

Maria, I love what you’re saying about all the training you’re taking for your career. Sometimes I talk with actors, and they didn’t have any training. They jumped right in, and although they made it, they soon realize they need to take some training. And I love it when actors really stress that you should keep training and keep learning. 

You know, every really big actor, like a Dustin Hoffman, etc. will say, “Well, what are you doing with your summers? Are you doing theater? Oh, you’re not doing theater? Should you read up about something? Should you read a book? Should you find monologues?” You know, it is a craft. And if you’re not on your game, honestly I’ve seen people fall by the wayside who have this huge ego. I’m not sure where it gets you.

With Tammy Faye Baker on ABC TV as The Savvy Chic Shopper

With Tammy Faye Baker on ABC TV as The Savvy Chic Shopper

I also did television and came up with this idea called The Savvy Chic Shopper for ABC television. It was out here. It was kind of like a Joan Rivers thing where I would get a pair of these eyeglasses from super expensive stores and ask, “Do you want to buy these for $450?” We didn’t have notes or teleprompter. I was trained in improv. I would hold up a sign and advertise the glasses and how much they cost. And all these people would go, “She’s so funny. Who is that? Where can I get those?” And I’m not even joking. They sold fifty to seventy-five pairs of glasses at this one store I was promoting. People were just coming in, “I want them! I want them!” TV is very powerful. Would I love to do a television series of some type? A comedy or drama? Yes. I think that would be a dream come true for me.

Just recently I was on something on a local channel, and I was dancing ballroom. I was on the elliptical, and people in the gym were looking at the TV and coming up to me and saying, “Was that you?” And that’s the power of TV. You can sit in your living room in your pajamas in front of your sixty-inch screen and eat a snack and watch it.

So, Maria, please tell us about your involvement with this upcoming film Grief.

I have done a ton of independent film, and one of them is Grief. Hopefully it will come out this year. Kevin R. Phipps was looking for the character Nancy for a very long time, and he couldn’t find that person. So he held out and prayed that he would find her soon. He just didn’t know where. One of my friends, who is also friends with Kevin, found out about it, and she said to him, “Oh my gosh, you need to see Maria Patti!” And he was like, “Who’s that?” So my friend emailed me and told me about this dear friend of hers and said I had to come meet with him and audition.

So I went to audition for Kevin and Jane {Fendelman}–she was the lead in that movie. She’s such a fabulous actress. And I got the role. And he was going, “We found our Nancy!” I asked, “Good, so when are we gonna shoot this?” He said, “You got a week.” I went, “A week?!” But I did it. And because of the training I had, I was able to get myself there emotionally, even though it was insane, and I was able to do it.

As I was reading, in my mind, I thought my character Nancy was a sociopath. And I happen to have this great book called The Sociopath Next Door. I believe that Denzel Washington happened to do a role (I didn’t even know this) and used the same book. It’s a fascinating book. In the back, it tells you how charming they are. They always want to win. So as I’m reading in between the lines and doing all my backstory about this woman, I know I’m on a relentless pursuit to give this other woman grief. In this movie, I know my character will win and take everybody else down with her no matter what. And it really worked for me. It was shocking that I got through all that reading and the script and did it all, but I guess that goes back to my training.

Kevin is a magnificent director and writer. He understands actors, and he will give you freedom.  Not the freedom of going off book and making up dialogue in the scene, but giving you the freedom to express yourself, and that is a rare thing. Some directors I have worked with are like, “No, you didn’t say that word right.” And they’ll cut you off. He is just a genius, and I’m not just saying that. I call him that all the time. He is a treasure to work with. He’s one of those special and extraordinary people. He’s just fantastic. When you get through something like that, I just feel that it heightens your senses. It’s really worth it.

How long did it take for Kevin to film Grief?

I only had a week to prepare, but I don’t remember how long it took to film. I was there only two, maybe three days. When you’re not in the scene, people are shooting other scenes. This was a while back now. About three years ago. I have gotten to see some of the movie, but I have not gotten to see all the fabulous scenes, and if you look at Kevin’s pictures, they just blow me away. “Wow, when was that taken? Who was that character?” He picked everyone to perfection for what was needed and whatever role they were in.

From  "The Corner Room"

From The Corner Room

Any other works coming up?

Yes, I am in another film coming up called The Corner Room. I had to study Polish Yiddish. I do a lot of dialect in this film. And believe it or not, there were some people who were still alive from the Holocaust. I was able to see and hear how they were talking this particular language. Gita Farid is the director and writer of this one, and I have just done another movie of hers that has gone off to film festivals called The Ilyushin.  I was a Russian pharmacist.  I would say for me, I’m a real character actor. I don’t look the same for any movie. I don’t act the same for any movie. And I hear in LA that’s quite a plus for you to change yourself for each role and talk different ways and never look the same.

We don’t get enough comedy here. I really have a knack for comedy, I think. I appeared at a comedy club called Rascal’s Comedy Club in Phoenix. They let me do Thursday nights and let me put the students and myself up on stage for shows. Just hilarious. I taught sketch comedy, so people could understand how to do it.

In my spare time, whatever that is, I’m a Pilates instructor when I’m not auditioning.

So would you consider yourself a regional actress?

I guess I would say regional. I haven’t had the really big markets yet. But I am working on my IMDB Pro which has videos and clips of myself doing these different characters. My career has just continued to evolve. I don’t think there are any accidents. I think the way my career has been going is probably supposed to be that way. I take workshops to hear what casting agents and managers have to say. And they give you great tips on how to better market yourself.

I did have a pilot launch out here, but it didn’t go anywhere. It was called Comedy Cucina.  In Italian, it means you’re having a dinner and eating dinner. So I was interviewing stand-up comics while they were eating. I think I was way, way before my time. I see them doing stuff like that now with Snoop Dog and others. I don’t think they understood it back when I was doing it. Interviewing people and talking about recipes kind of sounds like The Chew that we see now. So I came up with these brilliant ideas, but they weren’t sure if they were going to be viable. It’s just the nature of the business. It’s about money, and can you make money?

I can remember this new writer in the business coming to me and telling me about how she was going to LA to write for this new show The Ellen Show. I had heard of Ellen DeGeneres. She thought maybe I could come, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready to take the chance to be a writer. I had young kids at the time. But this lady taught me to write sitcoms, and I ended up writing one. I am one of those people who you can teach me to do something, and I end up doing it.

I also do some commercials here as well. They don’t come too often, but every now and then, and when they do, I take advantae of the opportunity.

A Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire

I’ve done lots of theater, of course. I did Menopause The Comedy–that was hysterical. I was Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. Probably the hardest thing I have ever done. I had thousands of lines. That show was covered very well in the press with two hundred fifty slides of the cast and some tremendous write-ups. It was just phenomenal. That was at the North Valley Playhouse, which doesn’t exist any more. We packed the house every night. In fact, there were people right up to my feet. They put chairs right up there. You’ve got to be good at that. You can lose your concentration. I didn’t, but they are right there. You can hear them breathing.

When I won for Over the River, that was the first time I had done a show on four sides.  The theater had seats on all four sides, so you had to play to all the sides of the theater. It’s fascinating and fantastic. They should have let that go on longer. In fact, that little theater is no longer here either. I have to say it’s the money aspect that is necessary to keep these theaters alive.

I do want to do theater again. I have to fit it in because it takes a lot of time out of your life. I am with the [Sic] Sense Comedy Troupe. I am happy to get to do some performing with them. It is adult-themed. It’s hilarious, and it’s a chance for me to show my comedy because I don’t come across too many comedy scripts. It seems like I come across more zombie-themed stuff than comedies.

I played a lawyer for a pilot called Trial 2020, but it didn’t go too far. That would have been rocking. What would it be like in 2020? It was a great theme, and I’ll be putting some footage up of that pretty soon on my IMDB.

That’s a shame that didn’t go with all the futuristic stuff they have now–almost every other show is futuristic. 

Isn’t that the truth? I really thought it was a fascinating prospect. So we are hoping that something gets resurrected in that again. It was something I really want to do as a challenge.

I have also gotten to meet some wonderful actors in my time. Some of these big stars were some of the nicest people ever. Donald O’Connor–down-to-earth, no ego, the loveliest man.

You do get to meet with people who actually want to help you in the business. I try to stay positive with those people who try to help me. Negative energy is negative energy. It just doesn’t work. You have to stay positive in this business and find people to uplift you. Am I right?

Yes, you are exactly right That’s my whole focus. 

You know, in all the things I used to teach–stand-up and acting and sketch–I always tried to put a positive spin, especially to teach comedy. If you’re not naturally funny, sometimes it’s really hard to get a storyteller out of somebody. But you always try to look positive and learn and say it in a positive way so they understand. And at the end of graduation, they did come around. I had a great screenwriting teacher, and he said, “Maria, not everybody can write comedy, but you can.” He always had a positive way of dealing with you, and he gave you a chance to fix it so you could make it shine. It is positive people who I want to work with and learn from and give back.

When someone is new in the industry, I go up to them. I remember I used to be the new person. When people say they’ve been doing this for twenty years, I feel like I’m that twenty-year overnight success. You’re finally seeing a ton of stuff I’ve done, but I’ve been working at it since I moved here. And that’s how it happens lots of time. You get all that experience, and then you get that one break. Just that one break an actress gets, and they go, “Where’ve you been?” And you go, “Well, I’ve been studying since I was four.” {laughs} That’s what it takes, and everybody says the same thing. You just have to be at that right place to be recognized. And hopefully that person has your back. It is a business though. And these shows that are on TV need to make money.

You move to LA for your first season. But then maybe your second season is gone. I always compare it to Married…With Children. It went for thirteen or fourteen years. How is that even possible? And Modern Family is going on ten years. That’s every actor’s dream. Do a show that gets renewed every year. That’s what I wish for in every way. And I think every good actor would want that. But a lot of people now stay behind the scenes. They don’t want to be in front of the camera.

I think as actors get older and more established, I think they crave the stability that comes with a series. At least, that’s what I have heard. Although I have also heard that some actors don’t want to get stuck in a role or get typecast. {pause} As we wrap up, what actors have most inspired you in your career?

For drama, I channel Bette Davis. That face she used to have, but it would get you in the end. You would never get away with anything with her  And Madeline Kahn for comedy. I think those are my two mixes of personalities. And of course, Meryl Streep is a wonderful character actor. I love her in anything.

 

The Desk Set

The Desk Set

I am always enthralled to “discover” an actress like Maria, who is warm, engaging, gifted, and pragmatic in her approach to her craft and career. Furthermore, she is undaunted in spite of any obstacles that have come her way. While many are still unaware of her undeniable ability, she believes that her career is still on the steady ascent, and I whole-heartedly agree. Even though she has been laboring at every aspect of her career for over twenty years, she senses that the best is yet to come. I am overwhelmed by her energy and devotion to her career, and I believe that her most dazzling moments are soon to come her way. As she seeks to continue to improve and hone her skill set, I am altogether supportive of this woman who only wants to send the radiance of positivity to all throughout the world. I concur with her outlook on comedy as it seems that genuine humor is something that is lacking in the world of entertainment today, and I can only hope that Maria is one of the professionals who brings back the opportunity for us to diminish some of our dark and foreboding obsessions and return to a time when things were lighter and life was not so somber. Be sure that you watch out for this talented lady, and don’t forget to check her out at the links below!

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth

43-year-old single mother of an active 14-year-old girl
Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA
Entertainment Writer
Available For Interviews and Reviews
Substitute Teacher

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