Santa Fe actress breaks good
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