New York, NY, USA
When I was fifteen years old, at a reception following a recital I gave in Spokane, an audience member asked a distant relative with whom I was staying if we were friends. I’ve always remembered her response: “We’re not friends, we’re family.” It was apropos in that only the night before, after I arrived at their house following a full day of travel and a concert the previous night, they had invited their friends over for a private concert without asking me first, which they also recorded. Not only was I exhausted, I had school homework!
Many years later, I am blessed to have a wonderful niece and nephew, who are not only family but also loving and supportive friends, and they are each very gifted and hardworking actors. My niece Becki Newton has appeared in a number of television series, perhaps most notably as Amanda Tanen in Ugly Betty (2006-2010) and as Quinn Garvey in How I Met Your Mother (2012-2013). She has also starred in the New York City Center Encores! production of Girl Crazy – opposite her husband Chris Diamantopoulos – and in several films. Becki, who has a B.A. in European History from the University of Pennsylvania, lives in the Los Angeles area and graciously took time out of her busy schedule for our Conversation.
STEPHANIE CHASE: Among my favorite memories are of your featured performances in several excellent theatrical productions by your high school in Guilford, CT. When did you first develop your interest in acting, and who were your earliest mentors?
BECKI NEWTON: I remember you came to every single show! Thank you for that by the way, it always meant so much to look out and see you in the audience. I think my interest in music is what led me into acting. First, it was violin, since I was lucky enough to have a grandma [Fannie Chase] who was a violin teacher. I remember her teaching me to read music by writing a staff on a big piece of brown paper and laying it on the floor. Then she would name a note and give me a quarter and I would have to put the quarter in the correct place on the staff. If I got it right I could keep the quarter.
STEPHANIE CHASE: Well, she began to teach me to read music when I was four, and I don’t recall any bribery!
BECKI NEWTON: Oh, sorry! Naturally, this led to an interest in all music, especially singing. Eventually – after joining every possible choir – I discovered musical theater, and from there something just clicked in me. I knew I wanted to be an actress. My
STEPHANIE CHASE: You and Matt are incredibly close and supportive of each other, even though you are in similar fields, and I am so happy that he has both coaching and producing independent films as his special niches. Did you ever formally study acting, or have you relied on your instincts and your directors?
BECKI NEWTON: I never studied formally, but have had the privilege of working alongside some incredibly talented women. I booked the job on Ugly Betty at a time when I had only been doing commercials, and then spent four years on set alongside Vanessa Williams and Judith Light, two of my all-time idols. I watched their every move and tried to absorb everything I could. I learned so much by spending all those hours on set.
STEPHANIE CHASE: Speaking of commercials, your Olive Garden stint remains legendary!
BECKI NEWTON: I filmed that Olive Garden job two weeks before booking the Ugly Betty job. It was my last commercial. It aired during the commercial breaks throughout season one and everyone on set called me "Breadsticks." They even wrote an episode wherein my character Amanda was in a commercial for a restaurant chain called “Medieval Times.” At the time I was horrified because I wanted my peers on set to think I was a "serious" actress. But, looking back, I’m so proud that I made such a leap – in such a short while – and it was all part of my story.
STEPHANIE CHASE: I have to say, it took me a moment to recognize you the first time I saw you as Amanda. You remain close to your Ugly Betty colleagues and I’ll never forget coming to your birthday party, which was basically an informal outdoor picnic at your family house in Connecticut, and seeing Judith and Vanessa, and
America Ferrera and Ana Ortiz
there as well. They made a special effort – and probably a lengthy trip – to be
there for you, which was extremely impressive and delightful. I also recall
visiting you on your amazing set and being given a red velvet cupcake by
Vanessa, who had brought them in for a crewmember’s birthday! They are all
remarkably gracious women.
I know that, earlier in your career, you have entered a room for an audition only to be dismissed immediately because you did not fulfill their expectations of height or other, pretty arbitrary, considerations. For someone who is insecure this could be a fatal blow – how have you dealt with rejections like these?
BECKI NEWTON: Since I began my career in commercials, I believe I was able to develop a really thick skin right away. On the days where I would be dismissed before I even got a chance to audition, it was strangely comforting because I knew it had nothing to do with my talent. I certainly can't change my height or foot size, so I never took that personally. I knew the more rooms I walked into the more chances I could have. There were definitely times I completely bombed auditions, and my lack of skill and/or preparation was very apparent, but I would then try to learn something from the experience and do better the next time.
STEPHANIE CHASE: To treat a rejection or failure with such a positive attitude is great advice for us all. You have appeared on quite a few television shows, including some that were rather short-lived and then others with long runs like How I Met Your Mother. Personally, I loved the quirkiness of Ugly Betty, along with the acting ensemble, great costumes and music. Do you have a favorite, and why?
BECKI NEWTON: My favorite acting experience without a doubt was Ugly Betty. Something about the tone of the comedy clicked so clearly with me. I read the script and could just hear Amanda's voice in my head. There was no question in my mind about her. And the show is truly my favorite television show of all time, which I would still say even if I weren't on it. I don't think I've seen anything since that I've loved so much. I'm not sure I ever will again, and that's ok, because it was such a complete experience for me.
STEPHANIE CHASE: I recall that when I visited your set, you were shooting an episode in which Amanda and Betty were apartment roommates. The detail of the set dressing was astounding, down to small items on the refrigerator and tables that were totally in context even though they would never be “read” during the broadcast. You have a special affinity for comedy, and I appreciate the nuances that you brought to Amanda – you managed to make her empathetic, which was no small challenge.
BECKI NEWTON: Thank you for the compliment. Finding the nuance in Amanda was so much fun. I love how extreme she was in the way she presented herself to the outside world. I just knew when I stepped into her too-high heels that she was
for some deep inner turmoil. The extremes of her interior/exterior were fun to
play. It's actually been trickier for me to find the heartbeat of characters that
are more down the middle. I'm still finding my way in that regard, most lead
characters are more grounded and a little less kooky. I generally prefer the
|Becki Newton (selfie)|
STEPHANIE CHASE: While you were growing up, you even considered yourself to be somewhat nerdy, which is hardly the case! As a young child, you lived in a diminutive log cabin in the woods before your parents built a larger house on their property. While you were in high school, you spent some time in Japan, and then in college you spent a semester in Seville, Spain and became fluent in Spanish. Did these experiences open up your worldview and provide important life lessons?
BECKI NEWTON: I really did have an adventurous life way before the whole acting thing began, and for that I'm so grateful. I've always considered acting one of many interests that I have, and the fact that it turned into a career is truly incredible to me. I've never defined myself solely as an actress, and I think having so many experiences outside of the acting world helps me stay sane in such an unpredictable profession. Doing other things helps me return to sets with a new feeling of inspiration and newness I never want to lose. It's what makes it so much fun.
STEPHANIE CHASE: You are one of the most levelheaded persons I know, which is saying a lot for someone whose career is based in the commercial television industry. We live in an era of people having their heads buried in their iPhones, while real life goes by without their full attention – which makes the story of how you met your husband, Chris Diamantopoulos, all the more compelling. Please tell it one more time!
BECKI NEWTON: Chris and I met on the subway platform about 13 years ago. We were both about to catch a train and we walked by each other and looked up at the
same time. I
couldn't help but smile at him, there was just something about him. About 30
seconds after I passed him, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and he claimed to be
lost. The rest is history!
|Becki and Chris|
STEPHANIE CHASE: Chris is a terrific actor who can play just about anything – on television, stage and film – and I find it entertaining that someone so handsome actually played Moe Howard, very convincingly, in the movie remake of The Three Stooges. Plus, he is the voice of Mickey Mouse in its new short episodes – in several languages!
I sometimes admonish my college students to get away from the constant attention to their iPhones and use your first, accidental meeting with Chris as an example of a possible benefit.
What are your current projects?
BECKI NEWTON: I've moved into the development side of television lately, mostly because I wanted to learn about comedy from a different angle. I find it brings me back to how it felt to play Amanda, in that there was so much collaboration of ideas on Ugly Betty. I'm intrigued and excited to see how a character is created from the very beginning, before it even exists on the page, and I'm excited for this next chapter.
STEPHANIE CHASE: What is your best piece of advice for someone who is considering attempting an acting career?
BECKI NEWTON: As far as advice I would give to anyone interested in this career, particularly in comedy, find a way to enjoy yourself. If you are having fun, other people will have fun watching. Work hard, prepare, stay focused, and then LET GO! Who knows what will happen!
STEPHANIE CHASE: Thank you, Becki, for sharing your thoughts with me and Stay Thirsty. We look forward to seeing and hearing more from you, and wish you great happiness and fulfillment in every part of your life.