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Friday, 5 July 2013

Interview With Actor TARA SUMMERS

I think TARA SUMMERS is an extremely talented actress. Perhaps best known for her role as Katie Lloyd in 'BOSTON LEGAL', she has also starred in numerous episodes of 'DAMAGES' and 'RINGER'. More recently, she appeared in the movie 'HITCHCOCK' and delivered a heartbreaking, scene-stealing performance in the pilot episode of 'MONDAY MORNINGS'. 

This isn't an interview so much as it is an in depth conversation about the harsh realities and exciting highs of being a working actor in LA. Tara is currently performing in the play 'Yes, Prime Minister' and  will shortly be appearing on your screens in the pilot 'Rake', alongside Greg Kinnear. She also makes her tea strong, and then adds in a lot more milk after. 

Where in LA can you get a really good cup of English tea, is there anywhere? 

My house. 

Your house -- Is that the only place? 

I would say, yeah. I’ve yet to find good tea here. There’s a plethora of coffee shops but yeah, no tea.

How long have you been there now? 

About eight years. 

Do you have English brands around, like PG tips or – 

Oh yeah—yeah.  And PG Decaf I found the other day which is really exciting. 

I have some of the decaf stuff just because I don’t sleep very much, so I try to do the decaf thing. 

I’m doing this play at the moment so my sleep schedule is a bit fucked, so it’s better to not have too much caffeine. 

Let’s talk about the play! This is ‘Yes, Prime Minister’, right? 


How’s it going? 

It’s going well, it’s really fun, really challenging. Doing a play versus doing TV and film is a whole other ball game. But we’ve had a virtually full house every night. And it’s a two a half hour play so it’s quite physically and mentally exhausting. Jonathan Lynn is a genius, and the writing is so good, my part is so fun – so it’s a joy.

What is the hardest part about being on stage – is it just that you’ve gotten used to being on the screen? 

Yeah, it’s that. It’s the fact that you’ve got live bodies in front of you, and you get that feedback instantly of the impression you’re making. In a sense you have far more control than when you’re in films or on TV cause you do your bit then you may end up on the cutting room floor,  and with this you know the trajectory of your part and you know it’s going to be there, so you have that freedom – but it’s so exposing.

Tara with the cast of 'Yes, Prime Minister'

How does it feel when you mess up,  or when it doesn’t work or when you don’t get a laugh—

--Well initially,  the first week, our dress rehearsal was amazing—it was an invited dress, and all these veterans came to see it and they loved it and were applauding it after certain bits,  and we thought, oh my god, we’re crushing it, we’re so good – and then the night before opening it was one of the worst performances and no-one laughed, which was so demoralising.

But then you realise, we’re actually doing the same thing every night, so it’s really to do with like, what day of the week it is,  if people are a bit pissed before they come in, y’know – so it’s just interesting to see the differences in audiences and not take it too personally. And sometimes you’re funny and sometimes you’re just not funny. 

And also you get that thing where you’ll think the audience didn’t enjoy it but then afterwards everyone is telling you how incredible you were –


Let’s talk about Boston Legal, I loved the show – 

James Spader came last night to see the play. 

Have you seen much of him since the end of the show? 

We used to a lot, but schedules and he’s been in New York while I’ve been here and stuff, so I don’t see him nearly as much as I’d like to – and he’s got a new pilot that’s just got picked up, he was my buddy on the show. 

Tell me what it’s like to work with the material of David Kelley. I know it’s  such a typical question but, tell me a bit about it—

At the time I knew he was a genius, but with hindsight you can see his genius even more. And doing another one of his shows, ‘Monday Mornings’ he’s so--- how to phrase this the right way------ I think he’s one of the best writers in the world.

His gift for dialogue and characters is extraordinary., but then what was so amazing about ‘Boston Legal’ was that every week  it was so current and so topical and so poignant and so relevant. 

He’s not a particularly social person, David, he likes to keep himself to himself, he lives up in Palo Alto. I’ve only met him a few times but I like him so much, I actually think he’s a genius, I’m a huge fan. 

Tara and her co-stars on 'Boston Legal'

Was he not heavily involved on the set? 

No, never. Bill D’Elia was.

I interviewed Bill, and I was interested in how their relationship worked, but as you say, Bill is the guy on the set and David is not so involved at that point.

No, he’s behind the scenes. He’ll send the script and then Bill sort of takes over. 

How was it being on ‘Monday Mornings’ , because it’s a different kind of show, right?

It was fascinating actually, and really fun to go back and see all the crew, as David always hires the same people., crew-wise.  There was a whole new cast – and I was thinking, who are all these people? Like, where’s John Larroquette and Candice Bergen?  This doesn’t make any sense! 

But I thought that show was very good., but it struggled on that network. Did you read the book by any chance? 

No,  I didn’t, no.

Great book.

It’s such a shame because, ‘Monday Mornings’ and his other show, ‘Harry’s Law’—


They don’t last at the moment,  do they – but it’s some of the best stuff on TV, which is really such a frustrating thing. 

It’s all about numbers and ratings, and they don’t give them much time to breath and find their feet. They’re ruthless out here, they really are, ruthless. 

One thing I was curious about, on ‘Boston Legal’, for example, there was such a huge turnaround of cast members – like at the start of a new season there would be all these new people and then, after six episodes or—sometimes even less than that you would not see people again – did you ever fear that, and think, ‘Oh God I may only be here for three episodes’ or did you feel confident you’d be around as long as you were?  

I was never confident of anything. There was always the knowledge that when David doesn’t have anything left for you to do, he fires you, which keeps you on tenterhooks. But I think I was always so excited to be there and so grateful that I would take whatever I could get. 

I remember when I first got on the show, I had a hair and make-up meeting – and they said, how do you want your hair? And I said “Oh I don’t mind, anything, just don’t make it curly,” and they went, “okay, we’re going to make it curly then,” and I went, “okay great thank you so much!” I was so excited to have a job – like so honoured to be there, and I ended up looking like whatever I looked like in the first few episodes, with that stupid curly hair. 

It was an hour and a half commute to get there every morning, but I was so excited. So I don’t think I ever thought about getting fired I was just –

So excited – 

Yeah, exactly. 

You’ve done quite a lot of short films – there’s a few on YouTube, the Ukrainian thing, and ‘Pillow Talk’, I saw that – and ‘Stephany & Me’ which I’ve only just seen – how do you get involved in those kinds of things and what makes you want to do them?

Shorts are great, because they take a small amount of time and commitment – in terms of for the actors. The Ukraine one, he makes them for twenty dollars I think,  so that was just super fun to be a part of. ‘Pillow Talk’, was for a friend from University, and ‘Stephany & Me’ is a mate from drama school.  So whenever we’re sort of bored around here we always come up with ideas for shorts – 

‘Stephany & Me’ did rather well. It won Palm Springs short film festival – and that was actually a true story, I don’t know if you watched it..?


Oh, well yeah—he was having a terrible time dating, and then he actually fell in love with a Japanese masseuse who didn’t speak any English. 

Wow. I loved the film because in your scenes, it was so natural and awkward. 

It was all improvised. 

Ah that’s why. 


So did you shoot it with a few cameras or –

Yeah, we shot it in two directions at the same time. 

It was painfully natural, I’ve had so many of them conversations – 

[laughs] Any blind date situation – it is just painfully awkward at times, because you feel the need to fill silences, well I do. 

Full short film: 'Stephany & Me' 

The actors that I know who are coming up who are perhaps not having the success they want – they have so much rejection, and I think people don’t realise that, at any level in your career there is still rejection --  I was wondering if you could share a little bit about how you still face those kind of things now in your career? I would imagine you do. 

What do you mean, still? Every day, all the time!  

I know! 

Yes, no—uh--- it doesn’t get any— I wonder if it gets any easier.  It’s such a weird career because it’s not linear. Well it is sort of linear.  But people can just shoot to stardom overnight, and it’s not always about talent. 

And the nature of having to reapply for your own job, which you’re more than qualified to do, every week or so, unless you’re in a series, is um--- I think the more I get to do short films or I get behind the scenes and do producing stuff, and I’m involved in the casting process, the more I see it’s not that personal. 

It has little to do with you not being good enough, but you not being the right shape, size, match to somebody else – so that’s made me less disheartened by the whole thing, because you realise they have a very specific thing they’re looking for and very often producers and directors have little imagination, and if you’re not what they’re looking for specifically, then you don’t even stand a chance, no matter how great you are. 

I think you have to have a thick skin. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong industry because it’s soul destroying half the time. And then when it’s great it’s so great, and the pay-off is, y’know, worth it. 

I wouldn’t advise anyone to want to be an actor really. If I had kids and they wanted to be an actor, I’d say please find anything else to do,  anything else. 

No but then you’d be one of those parents, the non-supportive – I think everyone needs that support. 

That’s true. 

So where did you get your support as an actor? I think everyone needs that someone in their lives, whether it’s parents or an aunt or someone in the industry. What has been your sort of support system?

Well my parents have always been very supportive of that, and I’ve always wanted to be an actress my whole life.  My Dad always said you can you can you can but you need to get an education first.  And I’m really happy that he drummed that in me because I went to university and studied history – it gives me more perspective I think, having a really well rounded education really is valuable anyway. 

And I sort of grew up in the movie industry because my Mum’s boyfriend, most of my life, is a director. 


I used to come to LA as a kid and my Mum was friends with lots of actors  and things, so I’ve been very exposed to the film world and nurtured in that way – her friends were super supportive of me. 

I think that helps, because half the battle is, I think, demystifying what it is. Like if someone is going to go to LA for the first time, it’s like; what is it? What do I do? 


Having that upbringing and being around it would help you a lot I imagine. 

Yeah, and having my Mum here and she’s always been here off and on. I came to visit her and I indirectly ended up getting a job and staying, but I didn’t think ‘oh I’m now going to pack it all up and move to LA’, it just kind of happened by default. 

Do you feel as creative when you’re in the UK?

Oh, do I feel as creative? 

I find it can be a drain here, but when I’m in America I feel there are a lot more people like me.  I was wondering if you have the same experience.

I feel that, I don’t know if this still applies but one of the reasons why I was excited to go and study in America for University is that I always had the sense that in England you can say to someone, “where are you from?” and depending on the answer you’ve automatically pigeonholed them, their socioeconomic status, where they grew up, what school they went to---- in America the question is not normally where are you from, it’s like, what do you want to do? Where are you going? It literally is the cliché of the land of opportunity --- it’s possible here.

I think creativity gets nurtured more here than perhaps it does there. Certainly with like the schooling I had, the drama teachers I had in America versus the ones I had in England were far more supportive. But England is hard. But I love it! It’s my favourite. 

It’s the only place to get a good cup of tea so---

Yeaaah! I mean I’m English so, my parents are English, I’m English through and through, so I’ll fight for England till the death but it’s perhaps a little easier to work over here than there.

What’s your tea-making technique? How do you do it?

I make it really strong and then with lots of milk.

I get that, so it’s well-brewed basically,  and then you add the milk that you want-- 

And then I add milk at the end.  And I normally have it with toast and Marmite. Or HobNobs. 

Is HobNobs an American thing?  Or is it an English thing?

They’re English and they’re a bit stale by time they get here.  But I just found a shop that sells Curly Wurlys as well. 

Do you want to do more movies? 



Yeah I seem to have a lot of luck in television, and the series’ take up most of the year so it provides little time to do films. There’ve been a bunch of projects that I’d have loved to have done but it conflicted with the TV stuff. It’s a question of when, hopefully. 

Would you like to do exclusively movies, or—

I’d actually like to do a lot more theatre. 

You’ve written and directed for the stage as well---

Yeah. And I really—I don’t prefer it, I just love the whole process of it. I’m happy working in---- I’m happy working, whatever medium it is. If I could be so lucky as to do more plays, more films and then have a great television series ---- the one I’m about to do with Greg Kinnear I think is gonna be—

--Oh I saw that! It looks great, what’s that about?

It’s created by Peter Duncan who created an Australian series called ‘Rake.’ I don’t know if it’s on in England – it’s in its third series and it’s really good. He’s adapted it for American television but it’s essentially the same thing, about a rake, about a degenerate, alcoholic, fucked up lawyer— a brilliant lawyer, played by Greg Kinnear. He takes on cases that no-one would dare touch – and I play his—he doesn’t have an office, he squats in other people’s offices and stuff – and I’m his paralegal who’s in America illegally who overstayed her visa to be with her boyfriend. He’s the only person who would pay me, under the table – so I’m his Nanny stroke assistant stroke… mastermind. 

Have you filmed the pilot?

We did the pilot yeah, and Sam Raimi directed it. 

How is it working with these big actors, people who when you were younger you may have looked up to, like William Shatner, being on set with someone like that – is it daunting in any way?

Yeah. It always is. When I went to audition for ‘Rake’ I got sent to the wrong place by accident, I was on the other side of the city and I had fifteen minutes to get somewhere that was half an hour away  -- I was virtually hysterical by the time I arrived, and it was for a chemistry read with Greg Kinnear. And so I had cried all my make-up off, my nose was bright red – I walked in and he was so nice, he found me outside and bought me a coffee. 

Then we went in and did the chemistry read, I thought I’d fucked up the whole thing and I was never going to get the job. I called my agent and was like, “but Greg Kinnear bought me a coffee!” – And then I got the job, it’s really exciting – Greg Kinnear bought me a coffee and now I get to act with Greg Kinnear. 

Minnie Driver saw the play the other day. I worshipped her when I was at school, ‘Circle Of Friends’ was one of my favourites -- I used to watch over and over again, and to think Minnie Driver is watching me, do you know what I mean?

Absolutely. I don’t think you ever get over that, y’know.


What steps do you take day by day, or month by month, to improve yourself as an actor?

Day by day, make it through the day! Month by month, well, when I’m not working I do classes still. I went back to doing scene study classes with an amazing teacher – and y’know, to do other stuff when you’re not working, revving the motors, oiling the parts, like, musicians have to practice. 

I think I was being a little bit arrogant resting on my oh I’ve been to drama school, I don’t need to keep up the maintenance of it – but it really does help. And just to be working with other actors keeps the juices flowing, do you know what I mean? 


Do you know what I mean?

I totally know what you mean. Do you think you are a better actor than you were five years ago? 

I would hope so.

Yeah, it’s interesting isn’t it.

I think you become more – well the more self-aware you are, the more work you do on yourself the more you know your capabilities – the more you can put that into acting.

Who would you like to work with, who’s on your dream list? 

Meryl Streep.

Meryl Streep.

Meryl Streep. Denzel Washington. Meryl Streep.

…What about Meryl Streep?

And also Meryl Streep.

An obvious question; but why?

Why? She’s the best living actor.

Have you met her?

I have yeah. I auditioned to play her daughter once. I’ve met her a few times. I basically accost her any time I see her out and about.

I think you’ll work with Meryl Streep. What’s she got coming up, what’s happening?

It’s not clear, but I shall investigate.

What about writers – are there any particular writers you’d love to work with?

Writers? I’d love to work with Aaron Sorkin

Who wouldn’t right? I just re-watched ‘The Newsroom’. I was going to watch one episode and then watched the whole thing in three days. 

Woody Allen, obviously. David Mamet, who was in the theatre the other day, that was a joy – to meet him. And then there’s a plethora of directors. But yeah in television --- I think ‘The Newsroom’ is genius. 

It’s starting up again soon isn’t it. 

Yeah I’m very excited. 

So what do you do when you’re not acting? What’s your life like, where do you go what do you do? 




I thought you said trifle. 

I eat a lot of trifle and travel – whilst eating trifle.  My parents are big travellers, big adventurers – so I get a bit of cabin fever so when I’m not working I try and bust a route out of LA and go somewhere new – and every time I come back from going away I get a job – I think you come back with a breath of fresh air y’know. 


I read a lot. 

What are you reading right now? 

‘The Bluecross Conspiracy’, which is about the drug traffickers in the 80’s in Kentucky. It’s random, but interesting. And what else do I like to do? I like to cook, and hang with my friends, y’know, normal stuff. 

Care to share?

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