Coloring Hollywood purple

  • By HOLLY LEBER
  • Medill News Service
  • March 08, 2007 @ 6:27 AM
You might not think that the path to stardom would begin in Evanston, Ill., but Northwestern University alumni have reached such a critical mass in the American entertainment industry that the tongue-in-cheek term “NU Mafia” has become commonplace.

From legends like Frank Galati (‘65) to more recently hot articles such as Zach Braff (‘97) and indie darlings like Zooey Deschanel (‘02), Northwestern has been producing dramatic talent for decades.

“Northwestern students are really talented…but also very intelligent, and that’s what makes them attractive in the industry, because they have that potent combination,” said Cindy Gold, Associate Professor and Head of Acting in NU's School of Communications.

Pop culture references to NU and its acting alums abound. In a 2004 episode of “Friends” spinoff “Joey,” Matt LeBlanc’s title character pretended to be a Wildcat in order to reap the networking benefits of the aforementioned mafia. The show's script was penned by NU alum John Quaintance ('92). LeBlanc’s "Friends' "costar David Schwimmer also attended Northwestern ('88) and was a founder of Chicago’s Lookingglass Theater Company. In “The Devil Wears Prada,” Andy Sachs, Anne Hathaway’s character, was editor of the Daily Northwestern.

The Devil may wear Prada, but perhaps the Tony ought to wear purple. Northwestern boasts such Tony Award-winning and nominated alumni as Stephanie D’Abruzzo and Jason Moore, both Class of 1993 and both nominated in 2004 for “Avenue Q”; Frank Galati, a winner in 1990 for "Grapes of Wrath'' and nominated for "Ragtime'' in 1998; and Brian d’Arcy James ('90), nominated in 2002 for “Sweet Smell of Success."

Plenty of familiar faces have passed through Northwestern's gates, though not necessarily emerging with a full diploma in hand: Ann-Margaret (‘63) and Warren Beatty (‘59), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (‘81) and Megan Mullally (’82), Jerry Springer (‘68) and Stephen Colbert (‘86). But many not-yet-recognizable artists also came out of Northwestern. You might know their faces, but not their names. You may not have seen them yet, but they’re out there. Here are a handful of Wildcats whose stars are on the rise.

Teddy Dunn, 2003

A Northwestern theater and political science alum, Teddy Dunn spent two years playing Duncan Kane on “Veronica Mars,” that TV show about the coolest gal detective since Nancy Drew. Dunn also spent a summer interning for Senator Ted Kennedy in Washington. Cindy Gold, who taught him for three years, believes this experience may have solidified Dunn’s artistic path. “Teddy always [said] maybe he would go into politics or law,” Gold said. “The political process kind of surprised him and made him decide more than ever he wanted to be an actor.” Dunn will be featured in two upcoming films: “The Last Resort,” a thriller, and “Jumper,” directed by Doug Liman (“Swingers”) and starring Samuel L. Jackson.

Jaime Ray Newman, 2000

While attending Northwestern, Jaime Ray Newman founded the Ignition Festival for Women in the Arts. She got her Screen Actors Guild membership from appearing in one episode of “The Drew Carey Show,” winning the role when the desired actress couldn’t be reached. The casting director for whom she was an intern sent her to take over the part. From there, Newman was cast in the movie “Catch Me If You Can,” the TV soap opera “General Hospital” and the play “Turnaround,” starring fellow NU alum David Schwimmer. Newman is also a musician who plays in a band called School Boy Crush. Recently she has appeared on “Veronica Mars,” though never in the same episodes as Dunn. Look for her in the upcoming films “Sex and Breakfast” and “Live!”

Kathryn Hahn, 1995

Kathryn Hahn is someone you have probably seen but might not know by name. She has appeared in films such as “Anchorman,” “Win a Date With Tad Hamilton” and “How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days.” Hahn attended graduate school at Yale after finishing Northwestern and spent a few summers with the Williamstown Theatre Festival. She is a star of the CBS series “Crossing Jordan,” in which she plays Lily Lebowski, and is currently appearing in the film “The Last Mimzy.” Hahn’s husband, Ethan Sandler, has also appeared on “Crossing Jordan.” The two met when they were undergraduates at Northwestern.

Nicole Sullivan, 1991

Nicole Sullivan has appeared on such TV shows as “Scrubs” and “The King of Queens.” She’s done voiceovers on the animated series “Kim Possible” and “Family Guy” and is noted for her work on the sketch comedy program “Mad TV.” She also won the first season of “Celebrity Poker.” Sullivan started young, working with the First All-Children’s Theatre in New York City, where she spent her early childhood. She studied the classic playwrights at NU but perhaps was destined for comedy. “She was always a high-spirited and animated performer,” said Dominic Missimi, director of the Music Theatre program. “I had no idea, though, that she would develop into such a first-class comedienne.

Darren Grodsky, 2001

Remember this name. Other than one small role in a short film and participation in a documentary called “Why Shakespeare,” 27-year-old Darren Grodsky hasn’t made a name for himself. Yet. Slated for release this year (date undetermined) is “Humboldt County,” which Grodsky co-wrote, co-directed and appears in as co-star. The film also features Fairuza Balk and Peter Bogdonavich.

Greg Berlanti, 1994

His face is unlikely to show up on movie screens, and his name probably will never be as familiar as some of the young stars he’s helped propel into the galaxy. But NU alum Greg Berlanti’s work has graced the screen for nearly 10 years. He was a writer and producer on the popular TV teen series “Dawson’s Creek,” and was instrumental in the story arc that brought the first romantically motivated kiss between two men on television. In 2000, he wrote and directed “The Broken Hearts Club,” a small film about gay friends in West Hollywood. The film starred a bleached blond NU alum Zach Braff. Berlanti also created the multi-layered, quirky series “Everwood,” and is currently a writer and executive producer on the ABC show “Brothers and Sisters.”

J.P. Manoux, 1991

Next time a Fruit of the Loom commercial comes on, don’t leave the room to check if you have enough clean underwear to avoid doing laundry for another day. Among the dancing fruit, check out that bunch of grapes. It's juicily played by NU theater alum J.P. Manoux, currently seen as the irritating Dr. Crenshaw on TV's "ER." (He came in shortly before fellow Northwesterner Laura Innes left). Manoux has a small part in the upcoming "Transformers" movie and is featured in “Finding Amanda,” a film scheduled to come out next year starring Matthew Broderick.

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