Santa Fe ac­tress breaks good

Pasatiempo - - Exhibitionism -

I re­luc­tantly stepped onto the stage and waited while a hot spot­light burned through what re­mained of my self-con­fi­dence. I could feel lunchtime’s trop­i­cal-punch­fla­vored Capri Sun lurch­ing up­ward in my belly, beg­ging to be re­leased. In a mo­ment of panic, I won­dered: Had I ac­ci­den­tally swal­lowed the straw?

“What are you go­ing to sing for us to­day?” asked the di­rec­tor, whose head was in­dis­tin­guish­able from those of the other au­di­tion­ing stu­dents sur­round­ing him in the dark­ened the­ater. From the stage, as I squinted hard to hold back tears of near-un­bear­able ner­vous­ness, the stu­dents and teach­ers looked like de­formed shadow pup­pets bob­bing in a sea of shat­tered ob­sid­ian glass. I wanted to dive into it, to end the mo­ment. “Happy Birth­day,” my voice flut­tered. “Thanks, Rob, but it’s not my birth­day. So, what are you go­ing to sing for your au­di­tion?” “I just told you. ‘Happy Birth­day.’ ” “Um … oooohhkaaayyy …”

Ah, the joys of high school the­ater. Some are born for it, some study hard to achieve great­ness while do­ing it, and oth­ers — like me — are des­tined for the tech­ni­cal crew. Over the years, I have ac­cepted the fact that my glow­ing con­tri­bu­tions to Santa Fe Prepara­tory School’s drama depart­ment dur­ing the mid-1980s boiled down to my lack of color blind­ness when chang­ing lighting gels and my abil­ity to nail the chore­og­ra­phy while sim­ply mouthing the words to repet­i­tive cho­rus lines. But truly, I sang like a dol­phin be­ing blud­geoned to death by a satanic choir of boys go­ing through pu­berty.

Among the young ac­tors and ac­tresses I “per­formed” with dur­ing those years, one per­son stood out. As a younger fel­low, one who had just mi­grated from a life­style where Bi­ble study was as sure as brisket brunch on Sun­day, I thought it lu­di­crous that a fe­male ac­tress could ever be cast in the role of Je­sus in an adap­ta­tion of Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Te­be­lak’s Godspell. And then I saw Anna Gunn nail the role at Santa Fe Prep.

Gunn, a New Mex­ico na­tive, had it— that winning com­bi­na­tion of tal­ent and tenac­ity that so many ac­tors strive for but never quite achieve. A laud­able stage ca­reer that truly be­gan at North­west­ern Uni­ver­sity even­tu­ally found Gunn at the Round­about The­atre Com­pany, where she made her Broad­way de­but in Jean Anouilh’s The Re­hearsal in Novem­ber 1997. (That same year, Gunn costarred in an in­die flick shot in North­ern New Mex­ico — ap­pro­pri­ately ti­tled Santa Fe).

With a 28-episode stint on the Fox net­work’s early-’90s sit­com Down the Shore al­ready un­der her belt (trivia time: she costarred on Shore with Pamela Ad­lon, who is also the voice of Bobby Hill on the an­i­mated se­ries King of the Hill), Gunn’s ca­reer tra­jec­tory was still any­one’s guess. But af­ter a few one-offs and re­cur­ring roles on tele­vi­sion crime, med­i­cal, and le­gal dra­mas ( The Prac­tice, NYPD Blue, Six Feet Un­der, and ER, to name a few) and voice work for the Legacy of Kain video games, Gunn’s film and tele­vi­sion ca­reer be­gan to take shape. Her sup­port­ing roles in the films No­body’s Baby, Without Ev­i­dence, and En­emy of the State so­lid­i­fied her po­si­tion in the eyes of na­tional crit­ics and movie buffs as an ac­tress who wasn’t afraid to tackle dark, chal­leng­ing char­ac­ters.

Most peo­ple prob­a­bly know Gunn from her strong ap­pear­ances in the dark West­ern drama Dead­wood (as Martha Bul­lock) and the re­gion­ally pro­duced meth­melo­drama show Break­ing Bad (as Skyler White, Gunn is cur­rently cop­ing with a hec­tic third-sea­son pro­duc­tion sched­ule at Al­bu­querque Stu­dios) — ca­ble se­ries that have high­lighted Gunn’s abil­ity to meet and ex­ceed the high, of­ten­times bizarre, am­bi­tions of the shows’ in­cred­i­ble writ­ers. I am not a reg­u­lar viewer of Break­ing Bad, but when I have the lux­ury of catch­ing an episode, I’m al­ways struck by Gunn’s con­tin­ued to­tal em­brace of her role amid a for­mi­da­ble en­sem­ble cast.

And when the cred­its roll at the end of the episode, I’m also re­minded why some peo­ple end up in front of the cam­era — and oth­ers end up in front of a lap­top. At 7 p.m. on Satur­day, Dec. 5, Gunn co­hosts the Santa Fe Film Fes­ti­val’s Mi­la­gro Awards with John Car­roll Lynch (Marge Gun­der­son’s hubby, Norm, in Fargo) at the Na­tional Dance In­sti­tute of New Mex­ico Dance Barns, 1140 Alto St. The event, which hon­ors Tommy Lee Jones, Wes Studi, Mark Ry­dell, and Ellen Kuras, is open to the pub­lic for $10. Gunn also ap­pears with Lynch, Studi, Dab­ney Cole­man, and di­rec­tor Mark Ry­dell at a free panel dis­cus­sion at 1 p.m. Satur­day, Dec. 5, at Ho­tel Santa Fe (1501 Paseo de Per­alta). For de­tails visit santafe­film­fes­ti­val.com/Events.

Anna Gunn in Break­ing Bad

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