There are many
Hollywood legends about how an actor was discovered. Ever since
Lana Turner was found sitting at Schwab’s Drug Store on Sunset
Boulevard in Hollywood, there has been a fascination with actors who
have been found through quirky means – sitting at the mall, walking
in school, driving cabs and waiting tables.
However it is not
just every day that an actress gets a shot at a major TV role
because she was a math tutor.
Yet that is
exactly what happened to Nicole Steinwedell.
As with most
struggling actors new to the LA scene, Steinwedell had to take a few
jobs just to make ends meet. She had a gig as a bartender, also
delivered food and worked as a private tutor.
students, Steinwedell helped with a couple of the children of
actress Lindsay Crouse. She quickly became good friends with her
oldest daughter Zosia.
helping her and because somebody named Rick Blue signed my checks, I
never knew that her name was Zosia Mamet,” Steinwedell recalls.
Blue – a TV
editor and director who worked on Scrubs – turned out to be
Zosia’s stepfather. Her father was acclaimed Pulitzer Prize winning
playwright-turned-filmmaker David Mamet.
basically get her through junior math and go into senior year math
and she ends up moving out of her mom’s house and moving in with her
dad,” Steinwedell says. “She starts talking about not going to
college. She wants to be an actress. I’m like: whoa, whoa! If you
are going to do that, we need to have major amounts of The Coffee
Bean and we can sit down and really think this out. I’m going to
tell you how to do this. She goes, ‘Well, you know who my father
is, don’t you?’ No… She goes, ‘David Mamet.’ I’m sorry, who? We
study him in school. Then it was like, gee, you don’t need my
advice honey. Go get ‘em.”
Zosia stayed close and were soon acting together.
“What was cool
for me – and for her, I think – is that we had already become
friends,” Steinwedell says. “It was kind of like she was my younger
sister before I knew who she was. So that helped us stay cool as
things rolled on. What ended up happening is she moved in with her
father and he came to a showcase that she and I both did together
with a bunch of other kids from Atlantic [Theater Company]. I came
out afterwards and he said, ‘Oh, you’re a really good actress.’ I
was like (gasps) thank you. He said, ‘I’d put you on my
show, but we’re on hold’ because the writer’s strike was going on at
His show was the
respected military drama The Unit – Mamet’s first foray into
a television series. Starring Dennis Haysbert, Scott Foley and
Robert Patrick, the series about a super-secret military unit was
already in its third season on the air.
Mamet could have
completely forgotten his innocuous statement, but Steinwedell was
not going to let such an opportune meeting slip away. Months later,
with the writer’s strike finished and The Unit back in
production, Steinwedell decided on making a bold move.
“I just kept it
in my mind. When they came back and I saw the breakdown for
Bridget’s character, I sent him a letter,” Steinwedell explains.
“I’d only met him twice, but I sent him a letter. ‘Dear David: My
parents are both Marines. My mom outranks my dad. This part is in
my blood. Give me a shot.’ And he did! He read my letter. I got
an audition with a casting agent through my agent. When I went to
the call back he was there. He introduced me to Shawn Ryan [The
Unit executive producer] by saying, ‘You know Nicole’s family
was in the military. Why don’t you tell us about that?’ He really
read my letter. That was something that I didn’t expect which was
offered a role on the series. She was brought in to play Bridget
“Red Cap” Sullivan, a tough-as-nails soldier whose beauty was an
afterthought to her talent as a military operative.
history gave her a unique perspective on the role – but it also gave
her a huge responsibility to play the character right. It was an
odd dichotomy, making the role more comfortable for her at the same
times as it was more challenging.
“I think it is
both,” Steinwedell says. “First of all, my grandfather was a
Colonel in the Army and loved the show before I was even on it. I
wanted to do it justice so he wouldn’t call me out on my
inadequacies or my inaccuracies. Meaning how I hold my weapon, the
way that I address authority, everything. So it was important on
that level to be authentic for all the people in arms that I know
and that I’ve met over the years.
“Then on the
other side, there is something that already is in my blood – like I
said in the letter – about this character,” she continues.
“Especially for me and my mom, because she was a woman in power and
you had to deal with being feminine and powerful. And she outranked
my father. How you deal with that without letting it really
emasculate a man? All of those things are undertones of the show,
also. What kind of girl was going to be okay that she came into the
ranks? That she brought something valuable. She didn’t threaten.
grandfather was a fan – but what do the rest of her family and
military friends think of her show and character?
“It seems that
the military is some of our biggest fan base, which is really
great,” Steinwedell says enthusiastically. “I mean, my parents of
course are biased. They just love me. But everybody really seems
to feel that of the shows that are out there, this one is the most
authentic. Of course, it’s about a branch of the military that
isn’t about the uniform and the rank and file – it’s about the guys
that are so awesome that they can grow their beards out. The guys
that are so awesome they don’t wear uniforms anymore.” She laughs.
“It’s kind of tricky that way. But, yeah, they are huge fans of the
In the meantime,
Steinwedell’s character was reaching well beyond her circle of
friends and family. Bridget was originally planned as part of a
limited arc for the show. However, a limited role quickly became
recurring, then Steinwedell soon after became a series regular.
Steinwedell was pleasantly shocked with each bump that her character
“So excited, so
flattered,” she recalls. “She was originally written as a three of
the first six episodes arc. Could have been three, could have been
six. That was already just awesome. Then they contracted me and it
was amazing, because for the first time I got to quit my bartending
job and be a real actress every day.” Steinwedell laughs. “I could
really invest in this and really let myself know that it was true
and that had somebody trusted me with a really big responsibility.
And that I could handle it. It was awesome.”
the role became more and more integral to the story, Steinwedell had
to stretch her acting muscles in quite a few extremely dramatic
story arcs as a woman in a man’s world. Perhaps none were more
difficult to handle than an episode in which Bridget was sexually
assaulted by a fellow member of the Unit.
“I thought they
did a really good job of dealing with [her fitting in with the men]
the whole season,” Steinwedell said. “Not ignoring it. Then, this
was incredibly intense, because it came from within that very
trusted group of people – the unit. It was soooo hard. It
was a great challenge for me to do it and to do it in a way that…”
she sighs and collects her thoughts, “… never discounted women that
had been raped. That happened to them. That never showed them to
be victims, like they were asking for it. But also to not be
somebody who tried to pretend like it doesn’t matter and she is a
soldier – she can take it. So I thought it was a really fine line
to take care of.”
It was very
difficult to handle as an actress. Then, there was another shoe to
drop, when later in the season that distressing occurrence turned
out in a plot twist to not have happened as the audience – and the
actors – had originally believed.
“I was devastated
when I read it was all a hoax. I was devastated just as much as my
parents were when they saw the episode. They were like, ‘What! She
went through all of that for nothing?’”
Still, even with
that disappointing plot turn, Steinwedell was thrilled to have her
first series and looking forward to a fifth season. However, The
Unit was an expensive series to film and the ratings were on the
bubble, and in something of a surprise CBS cancelled the series
after four seasons. The producers looked into moving the series to
a different network or cable, but nothing came together. So, for
now, it seems that The Unit is grounded.
with the release of the DVD, the wound of losing the series is
renewed for Steinwedell.
“The surge that
we are doing right now to celebrate the release of the box set DVD
and Blu-Ray for the fourth season – it’s so interesting, I’m talking
about it more and I’m reliving all the glory of it. I had sort of
let it go,” she chuckles. “So it’s really tough. But, listen, I’m
so grateful for that season. It definitely has given me some great
opportunities. I got some wonderful…” she sighs, “… oh, gosh, just
practice at doing what I love. I worked with incredibly
professional people. I’m so lucky. And I saved my money, so I’m
of working with incredible people, Steinwedell had a small role in
the movie He’s Just Not That Into You with Jennifer Aniston,
Ben Affleck, Jennifer Connelly, Bradley Cooper, Scarlet Johansson
and Drew Barrymore. Steinwedell’s character didn’t really
get to interact with most of the famous cast [she played a woman in
a bar getting hit on by two men as Justin Long and Ginnifer Goodwin
discussed what was happening], but still it was an experience she
excellent. Ken Kwapis [director of the film] – at the time I was a
bartending and he came into my bar,” Steinwedell laughs. “He sat
down and we started talking. He had gone to Northwestern and so had
I. I was like, well you’re an all right cat and he was like, ‘Hey,
come be in my movie.’”
She laughs again
at the memory. “I’m like, okay! Literally, he was like,
‘Here’s the scene. They’re not talking to you, but they are talking
about you.’ I’m like, you know what? That’s the way I like it. It
was actually a really funny, fun feature, because it’s all like
pantomime and sort of goofy. It was great fun, a nice little thing
to do. To work with him, he’s lovely. I was very lucky to be able
to do that.”
has a small part in Tom Ford’s movie A Single Man, which has
been playing the festival circuit and is expecting a wide release
“In a similar
way, Tom Ford just wanted to include me in his film, so I’m in a
flashback in the 1940s. I got to get done up like Veronica Lake and
do this whole number with Matthew Goode and Colin Firth. Awesome.”
someone who knows all about the uncertain life of an actress,
Steinwedell is already looking ahead to find her next project – and
isn’t afraid to do a little networking.
“I do not have
anything, so if you know anybody let them know I’m available,” she
says, good-naturedly. “I feel like Christmastime waiting for
presents. Yes, unfortunately, sir, I am a’lookin’.”
“I am auditioning
as much as I can.”
She is open to
anything as an actress, but she would particularly like to do
“I want to make
films. I want to be in those kind of films like Tom Ford did in
A Single Man that tells the story about people and families and
things that happen on a very human level. I think that theater is
awesome because you can feel the response. Even you and I on the
phone right now, when I say something that is goofy, you laugh. Or
when you say something that makes me blush, I blush,” she laughs.
“You may not be able to see it, but…. And that’s wonderful.
doesn’t happen in TV or film, so I miss it. I haven’t done theater
in a while. Maybe I’m overdue. But, I think I prefer this. I
prefer Hollywood. I prefer the amount of people that we get to
reach. I prefer something that lets everybody replay something and
look at it for different value – like when I go back and watch a
movie like Say Anything, that I haven’t seen in ten years and
it means something completely different to me. Unfortunately
– or fortunately – with theater we can’t do that.”
And what would be
the ideal role that Steinwedell would love to play?
“It’s not like
Hamlet or anything, though Hamlet is pretty awesome. I
want to play women who are warriors,” she says, “warriors either
leading countries or just trying to provide for their families as a
single mom. I think it’s awesome. And I’d always like to be like
Bridget. She wasn’t non-sexualized just because she was powerful.
So I’m quite grateful to work on roles like that.”
Most of all,
Steinwedell hopes that in her career she can play roles which are
“enlightening to people.” She would like to
someday be able
to look back and know that “I was part of projects that told great
stories and maybe shed light on new situations and that maybe spoke
up for people that couldn’t speak up for themselves. I think the
power of theater and film is to inspire and make people think. I
hope. If [her career] is doing that, I would be so grateful and
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