Alexandra Breckenridge is currently a regular on the CBS series, "The Ex List."
What Connecticut town did you grow up in?
I was born in Bridgeport, but most of the time I lived in Connecticut, I lived in Darien. We moved to California when I was 10 or 11.
I understand you're going to be in a new sitcom on CBS this fall, "The Ex List." Tell us about it.
It's really cute. It's about a 30something woman who happens upon a psychic who tells her that if she doesn't marry one of her exes within the next year, she'll never get married. So she goes on a search to find out who her soulmate is/was. It's funny.
Interesting concept. What role do you play?
I'm one of her friends. She has a couple of guy friends who live in the apartment next door; I'm the girlfriend of one of them, Augie.
This isn't your first comedic role, is it?
No. I've done a number of guest roles over the years on different TV shows, and I did a movie in 2005, She's the Man. I think I have a better time doing comedy than I do drama. I just find it more fun, and I like comedies better in general.
But isn't comedy harder?
I think it depends. Some people are innately better at it than others. I prefer comedy; it feels more natural to me. With drama, sometimes you have to reach into a dark place and pull out your emotions. Comedy isn't like that; it's more about timing. I think if you have a good sense of humor, you're more likely to be funny.
You're also in an upcoming movie, The Bridge to Nowhere.
I don't know what's happening with that. It's a movie that Blair Underwood directed. That was really dark; I played a drug-addicted hooker. I wanted to do it because it was something so completely different from the type of work I had been doing. Even Dirt, that was a more dramatic show, but there was humor running throughout. This movie is dark dark.
So it was one of those acting experiences that requires you to get into a deep emotional place.
And that's hard to do, especially if you have no personal frame of reference for being a prostitute or on drugs.
How did you prepare for the role?
In Pittsburgh, we went downtown and met some people who were on crack. I studied some videos of drug addicts as well. We also met a madam, a woman who ran a prostitution ring in several different parts of the city, who told us how that works. It was sort of crazy (laughs). You don't meet these people everyday, and all of a sudden you're sitting with an actual prostitute.
It's amazing the kind of education acting can give you, eh?
Yeah, it is. It's wonderful, there's always something new to absorb that you wouldn't come across in any other line of work. That's something I really love.
Tell me how you got into acting.
I started doing theater when we moved to California. We lived in L.A. for a year, and then we moved north to Mill Valley in Marin County, where I did theater for three years, just doing community productions and things like that. And I loved it; I really had fun. So my mom put me in some intensive acting classes. The guy who ran the acting class is a manager-Bruce Ducott-he thought I was good, so he brought me back to L.A. to meet with an agency and do a monologue for them. They liked me, so I got an agent and started working.
Have you gotten a college degree along the way?
No. I wanted to be an actress so badly, and when I was in high school, I missed most of my classes due to auditions. I felt I wasn't learning anything in school that I was going to use in the career of my choice. I've been working pretty consistently, so I never really felt the need to go to college.
You've been professional for how long now?
Since I was 15. That's when I started auditioning and moved back to L.A. to work, and got my first job.
Of the roles you've done so far, which have been most important in terms of your development as an actress?
I don't know. I think all the different roles that I've had and all the different characters that I've played have been the best acting school I could go to. They've all helped me get better and become more creative.
Bridge was directed by Blair Underwood, who's been very successful-he starred in "L.A. Law" and has been in the current TV shows "Dirty Sexy Money" and "In Treatment." What did he bring to the direction of Bridge that was helpful to you? What did you learn from him?
Because he's also an actor, he's very supportive of whatever your personal process is. Everyone's different, but actors understand it better than a director who's never been an actor. So he helped guide us in the right direction in the right way. Anytime I've ever worked with a writer-director, or an actor-director, it's been great because their style of direction is on the same page.
I happened to meet Martin Scorsese a few years back, and talked to him about the rare occasions he's acted on screen. He told me he was a complete wreck in front of the camera. But he also said he found it a great education, because it gave him an understanding of why his actors get so nervous.
It's true. You have to turn everybody off-everybody you see behind the camera and everyone you see around who's not living and breathing with you in the scene. You have to pretend they don't exist. But sometimes your consciousness of them gets in there-"All these people are watching me"-then you think, "Omigosh, am I doing a good job? Do they think I'm good or do they think I suck?"
And of course, the film audience never realizes you work in front of a crew.
Well, when you see the final product, it looks like it was effortless and just flowed. It looks like it took two seconds to film, but . . . eeaugh. There's a huge crew and sometimes, when you shoot in public places, pedestrians who are yelling at you. That's the worst for me, when I'm in a public place being watched by people I don't know.
You have an uncle who's also an actor, Michael Weatherly, who plays Tony DiNozzo in CBS's "NCIS" . . .
He's been doing that show for a long time.
Has he been a mentor for you?
In certain ways, definitely. He can commiserate with me about whatever difficulties I'm going through, and he tends to have a lot of really good advice. It's wonderful to have a family member who's so close, who's also my godfather. Because nobody else understands; most of my family lives in Connecticut and they have completely different jobs and absolutely no idea what I'm doing out here.
What do your parents do?
My dad works at Foxwoods Casino; I think he's director of operations for the engineering department there. When I was younger and just about to start acting, he and my stepmother were both very adamant that I finish school. Because I think most people that coming to L.A. to be an actor is a long shot. But I was like, "No, this is what I want to do."
What kind of advice has your uncle offered?
We've talked about so many things at different times that I can't possibly pinpoint one example.
Do aspiring actors come to you for advice? What do you tell them?
The hard thing for me in terms of that is I got really lucky-I got put in the right class with the right teacher, who was already a manager and could help me get in with an agency. And I had this wonderful coach, Christine McClure, who's an Australian actress. Casting directors want actors with experience, but how do you get that if someone doesn't give you a chance? I guess the best thing you can do is just send your headshot to an agency, and then go in and read. And you need to keep working at your craft, keep practicing and practicing and getting better.
What aspirations do you have for yourself?
I go back and forth. There was a period of time when I really liked doing drama, and wanted to do more dramatic parts. Obviously, that's changed. I've always wanted to do more films than television, but for some reason I constantly get TV roles; I'm not sure why. But in the long run, I'd like a little bit of everything. I'd like to do a romantic comedy, hopefully something not too cliché. Those movies all seem to be written by the same person, you know what I mean? You always know how they're going to turn out.
If you were cast in a romantic comedy, who would be your ideal partner?
Good question. I haven't thought about it; I guess because you never know who you're going to work with. I just hope the other person is good and easygoing.
I guess it's something that nonactors daydream about more; what it would be like to make a movie with, say, George Clooney.
I'd be terrified to work with big-name, amazing actors who I look up to. I worry that they'd think I wasn't very good. I did a pilot with Josh Brolin and that was fine; he was fantastic. But he wasn't as famous as he is now. I read this fantastic interview with him in which he was talking about the same thing, about being nervous during the audition process-he explained it so well that I was like, "Wow! That's awesome! That's how I feel about it!" Most of my nerves have gone away over time, but I still have those days where everything is off and I get into a funk and have to pull myself out of it. Luckily, they've become very rare.
(This article was originally published on a different platform. Some formatting changes may have occurred.)
This article appeared in the October 2008 issue of Connecticut Magazine
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