LA based actor and graduate, Alice Amter, talks to the University of Wolverhampton about starring in hit TV show, The Big Bang Theory and what life is like on the Hollywood scene.
Interviewing a Hollywood actress is certainly a first for us! Congratulations on your success so far, you must be very proud…
Yes I am; thank you. It’s been a tough journey at times, but to go from a council flat in the suburbs of Birmingham to the hills of LA is a blessing.
Your big career break came in 1998 when you appeared in the hit US TV show ER. How did you feel getting such a huge opportunity so early on in your career?
I was cast in George Clooney’s final two episodes of ER and luckily I got to work with him. I was a big fan of the show and although I was new on the scene I was certain I could do the role. Casting in TV is about fit, and I fit that role. It was a great starting point and proved to me that I could make this work.
Since then you’ve gone on to star in films like The Good Girl and A Man Apart, and you’re now in another award-winning US show, The Big Bang Theory, as Raj’s mother ‘Mrs Koothrappali.’ What’s that like?
I love being part of the show. I play a recurring character so I’m not there as much as the regular cast members, but when I do work it’s very exciting. The cast and crew are small compared to other shows, so there’s a real family bond, and they’re all so talented.
What do you love most about being on the show?
It has to be a) working with such an insanely talented group of people both in front and behind the camera; and b) the response from the live studio audience when we shoot; they are so full of praise and enthusiasm and you feel really loved.
What’s the most challenging aspect?
To be as good as everyone else. The show runs like a well-oiled machine and everyone is a professional with a good, positive attitude.
You’re known as The Chameleon because of your ability to portray a variety of roles. How did you get the name?
I gave the name to myself, but people have always said I’m like a chameleon because I’m constantly adapting myself to suit my environment.
That must come in handy being an actor…
Being able to adapt is definitely suited to film work because you’re a different character every time. But with TV you’ll be one character on a show that could run for up to 10 years and so you’re not so much of a chameleon then! Saying that, people I encounter rarely make the connection between me and ‘Mrs Koothrappali’ and when I tell them, they’re shocked to see how different we are.
You graduated in Modern Languages and International Relations and initially went into teaching English abroad. What made you decide to pursue acting full-time?
I always had a childhood dream of being on stage, but back then, because I was academically sound and from a disadvantaged background I did what everyone thought I should do – get a stable job that would bring in regular income. But I realised that even when I had that I wasn’t really happy and I still wanted to pursue my dream. I had no idea it would be the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.
In what way difficult?
Teaching was a stable job but with acting it takes a while to start making a living. You might get a role here or there but you have to juggle part-time jobs such as waitressing or bartending - I did a little bit of teaching English. You can’t control when auditions come up and it can be very stressful. It isn’t something you should do unless you are really passionate about it.
Do you prefer working in film or television?
I love big budget films like A Man Apart and for a while I was getting much more film work than TV. The problem with film though is that the majority are low budget, which means they take a long time to get out of post production and even then may never be cleared for theatrical release. TV on the other hand is much more immediate. You shoot the show and you know it is going to end up on air – usually within four to six weeks.
Currently The Big BangTheory is in syndication on four networks in America so I am on TV every week. You can work really hard on a film and it may never reach a single screen because getting a distribution deal can be really tough. Ideally I would like to do both, but being able to work in just one medium these days is a blessing in itself because it is such a tough marketplace.
You’ve worked alongside some very famous people – George Clooney, Jennifer Aniston and Vin Diesel to name a few. Have you ever been star-struck?
Generally speaking no. Living in LA you get used to seeing famous people and I’ve never been one to be intimidated. To me, Jim, Johnny and Kaley are just fellow co-workers. Saying that, I do remember filming The Cleaner with Benjamin Bratt and wishing I wasn’t dressed like an old lady!
What are your aspirations for the future?
I want to build an Empire; I want to create brand Alice – a brand of my own that symbolises a lifestyle, incorporating things like perfume, music, clothing, books – the lot! I like challenges and this just seems like a huge challenge. The way I see it, others have done it so why not me?!
What advice would you give one of today’s graduates?
Think really hard about what you want to do. What I thought I wanted didn’t end up being what I’m actually doing. Your career may not be in the degree you study but you can always find ways of making it work for you. Don’t limit yourself; think really big.