Q&A: Brooke Lyons
This fall, Brooke Lyons will be seen TV series "The Starter Wife" and the horror movie Dark Reel.
Tell me about this USA Network TV series you're in, "The Starter Wife," with Debra Messing.
It's based on a novel by Gigi Levangie Grazer, who is Brian Grazer's ex-wife. She wrote a book about being a "starter wife," more or less, and a big divorce from the big Hollywood producer, and what happens after that. The series follows Debra Messing's life after the divorce, and so on and so forth.
You play her agent in the season debut?
Her literary agent, yeah. This season she's going to be doing some writing, with the possibility of developing a script.
So, hopefully, there will be the possibility of a recurring role for you.
Yeah, it was a lot of fun to do. I love her, so it was a real treat to work with her.
You've been compared to her in looks, right?
I have! It's such a funny thing. People tell me that all the time, not just in terms of looks, but the comedic parts I gravitate towards. And I look up to her so much, so it was incredible to have the opportunity to work with her.
You grew up in Connecticut. What town are you from?
That's a good question. I kind of grew up all over southern Connecticut, in Fairfield and New Haven counties. We moved a lot, because my parents liked to buy and renovate old houses. So I lived in Fairfield, Southport, Westport, Orange, Woodbridge, you name it.
I'm from Woodbridge, too.
Oh, are you! I went to Hopkins all through high school; that was my stomping grounds.
You also went to Yale University, and majored in literature . . .
English literature, yeah.
. . . but prior to that, you wrote a book. Tell me about that.
The book I wrote is called Scoliosis: Ascending the Curve. In a nutshell, I was diagnosed with scoliosis in high school, and wore a back brace. I ultimately had surgery to correct it. In the process of all that I got very involved with the Scoliosis Association, and was doing a lot of work with them-even running a 1-800 number for teenagers. I realized that we all had the same questions, but there was no sourcebook to consult for information. So I said, "Hey, I'm going to write a book, and deal with it all in one place." It was published the summer before I entered college.
Growing up, you were heavily involved in dance.
I was a dancer for a long time. From age 2, I was really hardcore. I wanted to be a ballet dancer. I got really invested in it in middle school and high school, and I would commute from Connecticut to New York, to the Joffrey Ballet School of the Dance every day after school. I went to New England Ballet School in Connecticut, and danced in their company. In the summer, I studied with the Boston Ballet. I've also gone to France to study. I was totally, madly in love with dance.
Did you do any dramatic work during your years at Yale?
That's actually where I started acting. After I had back surgery, I couldn't dance for a year. So there I was, I missed performing, and I had never tried theater of any kind and had never really even thought about it. But Yale had such a such a thriving theater community, and there were so many people who were putting on amazing shows, I just found that very interesting. And I think it was one of these situations where my naïveté served me well, because had I known how qualified a lot of these people were, I might have been intimidated. But knowing nothing about theater whatsoever, I think I had the chutzpah to just jump in. So I did a lot of theater extracurricularly.
Did you work at the drama school, or with Yale Repertory Theatre at all?
Not those; but I worked with the Yale Dramatic Association and did some undergraduate shows. I did a nice variety of stuff: The Maids by Jean Genet, Heartbreak House by George Bernard Shaw, Rumors by Neil Simon. So I explored a lot of very different characters. It was great experience, and an opportunity to work with people who taught me so much, just because they came to the table with so much prior knowledge of the craft.
You've also trained with The Groundlings in L.A., right?
I did, about a year ago. That was something really different. They're an improvisational troupe, and they offer classes there, and I had never done much improv before, so it was a completely different animal for me. But as a comedic actress I thought, "Why not get all the skills in my toolbox that I can?"
What's the most useful skill you gained from that experience?
It's a funny thing. You develop skills not only for performing, but as a person. In improvisational comedy you have to listen, you have to drop every preconceived idea that you have, so you don't have a blueprint or a plan of any kind going in. You literally just have to be thinking on your feet, and listening and reacting to your partner. Which is scary, but ultimately so freeing and such fun. I found that it helps me be really present when I'm talking to people, not only in acting but in life.
Let's talk about some of your recent work. You were in MTV's The American Mall, a movie musical. Had you had any previous experience like this?
I hadn't had any formal background-I sang in school choirs but had never done a musical before.
Did you feel comfortable singing?
I did; it was so much fun. I used to play a lot of instruments when I was a little kid, and I've always been around a lot of musical people-my brother sang, as did a lot of my friends. It was interesting though, they didn't put us through the usual movie audition process, where you go into a room, do your bit and leave without knowing anything and they call you later to tell you you got the part. It was more like Broadway, where you have several different callbacks. They did four months of casting in New York and L.A. On the final callbacks we were in there all day, dancing in the morning, singing in the afternoon and acting in the evening. That was very freeing in a way, particularly starting with dancing and singing, because those activities get you into your right brain, feeling creative and "up," so by the time you're called upon to act, you're ready.
It must have felt good to dance again.
Yeah, that was an incredible way to get back into shape. After I had spine surgery I gradually got back into dancing recreationally, but with The American Mall we were truly in training, dancing and rehearsing every day. It really got me back into the discipline; I take dance classes much more regularly now and my Mall cast mates and I will often go together. It's been a gift, gotten me back into the swing of dancing professionally.
This year, you were also in the Martin Lawrence movie Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins.
I played a character named Amy, the girlfriend of Mike Epps' character Reggie. In it, Martin is an L.A. guy who goes home to the Deep South, and a culture clash ensues. He has a huge embarrassing family, and he has to introduce them to his new girlfriend. And Reggie is his cousin, who's really into money; he wants to be a rap star. He's dating me because my dad is a record producer. So I'm kind of his sidekick, and he doesn't treat me too well, but I'm madly in love with him anyway.
Hmm, so it's the dumped-on-chick role?
(Laughs) A little bit. I guess you could look at her that way; I chose to look at her as someone who knows she's getting exactly what she wants from him, and chooses to be carefree and have a good time anyway.
You're going to be seen in a couple of darker, more serious roles soon. One is Dark Reel . . .
That's going to be out, I believe, in October. It's a horror film, drawing on a murder mystery from 1940s or '50s Hollywood that this modern-day character is obsessed with. It's very bloody, very scary at moments but also clever and comedic. It pokes fun at the genre.
. . . and the other is called The Inner Circle.
Yeah, that's an independent film in which I played a nun.
What kind of preparation did you do for that? Most of us have no sense of what it's like to be a nun.
I did a lot of research and spoke a lot with Camille Poisson, who was the writer-director. She's an amazing woman: She grew up in New England and, I believe, went to Catholic school here. But she's also a shaman, I think, and has traveled the world and been to all these cathedrals and speaks French. The movie concerns the same themes as The DaVinci Code. She's just very well-versed in the history of religion.
Does that film have a release date yet? Is it making the festival rounds?
I'm not really sure what's going to happen with that; it's always a little less clear with independent films versus studio-made films.
I wanted to ask you about the YouTube video series you've created, "Puppets and Pretty Girls."
Oh my god! (laughs) I can't believe you saw those! New media is such a presence; everything is on YouTube, everything is on Funny or Die. A lot of actors-all of my friends and I-do online videos, and that's one of the ones I've done with my partner and friend Bethany. We just thought, "We're two girls from New England, and we're not the typical Hollywood girls." So we thought we'd make a cartoonish series based on that, being a fish out of water. We have these sock puppets that we sometimes use as our alter-egos; we're these very prim and proper girls and the sock puppets express our inner thoughts.
They're your "ids," as I recall.
So you plan to do more of these?
Hopefully, yeah. I don't want to say that this is the direction in which the movie business is going, but it's very empowering to learn how to make your own stuff. And I think it's important, particularly as a woman in the business, as a young person in the business, to educate yourself, to write and direct and learn how to use a camera. It's a wonderful creative outlet.
What other projects do you have in the works right now?
Things are potentially happening, but nothing I can talk about just yet. All of us who did The American Mall are hoping to do a sequel. It's from the creators of High School Musical, which has had wild success, so we're hoping for the same.
So it could turn into an ongoing series as High School Musical has been on the Disney Channel.
We hope so; it's a possibility. You never know, but people love it so far, and we've gotten awesome reviews. The DVDs have been selling like hotcakes. We're really excited to get it out there, and to have people see it, because it's something we're all very proud of.
What would you ideally like to do in future? Do you hope to focus on comedy?
I would love to do a little bit of everything. I like both ends of the spectrum.
For more information on Brooke Lyons, visit brookelyons.com.Q&A: Brooke Lyons