Talking with Chico’s most famous homegirl
Amanda Detmer is currently back in Minneapolis, playing Constanze, Mozart’s wife, in Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus at her old theater, the estimable Guthrie. Over the phone, her voice sounds a bit coarse, like the rustling of dry leaves, probably from projecting it to live audiences. Throughout the interview, she conveys a giddiness that makes her sound like a fun-loving college girl. Perhaps this is a good thing, since college age is precisely the group where Hollywood likes to place her, thanks to her youthful looks. That’s fine by her, at least for now. She’s content to enjoy the ride from light, teen-oriented comedies, though she does plan for more dramatic roles in the future.
So tell us about the big new movie. Were you nervous to be paired with such a Hollywood heavyweight?
The Majestic is pretty dark. For Jim Carrey it’s not his usual yuck-it-up kind of comedy. He plays a straight guy. The director, Frank Darabont, did The Shawshank Redemption [and The Green Mile]. So I was nervous, for sure, but luckily my director made me feel comfortable. When I met Jim, I was nervous, but he’s a really nice man. I think he knows people get nervous around him, so he was nice. I had a good time with him. I do remember the very first shot I did with him—they said, “Action,” and I kind of turned around and looked at him and thought, “Oh my god, I’m working with Jim Carrey.” I just looked at him and was like, “Holy sh#!” [Laughs.]. I actually had to stop.
Did you have any scenes with [the late] Martin Landau?
No, but I did get to meet him. He’s a great actor and a really cool guy. I met him when we were shooting at what used to be Graumann’s Chinese Theatre. I was done up to look like Marilyn Monroe in a way—and he just had so many great stories. He knew her. And he had so much history. I was kind of more awestruck by Martin Landau than Jim Carrey.
Jumping back a bit, your brother was the one who got you into acting. How do you two get along now that you’ve made a name for yourself and he’s still working his way up? Do you joke about it?
Well, yeah, if he had his choice he probably wouldn’t have had me do it at the time [laughs]. It was his thing, you know. I guess unconsciously I always had to do what my brother did—at least that’s what my parents say.
Growing up in Chico together and having the same friends and doing the same thing, it was hard to get along all the time. We joke about it now. He tells me he hated me when I first started doing plays. But now it’s great—I see him all the time. My brother is really an amazingly talented guy.
Where did your acting progress the most?
NYU really helped me embrace the idea that I was going to try to make a career out of it. Until I went to grad school, I was in a little bit of denial. I wanted to have a solid backing no matter what—I had always wanted to teach English and hadn’t done any theater until college. Then I realized that I could teach acting some day.
How were you able to land roles so quickly?
To tell you the truth, roles that I’ve gotten are only now beginning to help me get other roles. It takes a while for those things to build up. I was lucky, for sure; I had agents in New York and L.A., which helped getting into auditions. They worked very hard, and I feel like I worked really hard, too. I didn’t have any time to waste, because it’s expensive going to school and living in New York. I was pretty determined to get a job, but I think I had a little luck on my side.
What was it like the very first time you saw yourself on the big screen?
It was a little hard. It would be like somebody videotaping you and you having to sit there and watch yourself. It’s awkward because you start to see things. Everything’s magnified, and who wants to look at themselves for any amount of time except for the mirror in the morning? I don’t mind it so much, but I can only watch a movie I’m in once. The movies I’ve been in I’ve only seen at the premieres. I’ve never watched Final Destination again. … By the time you see it on the screen you’ve done voiceovers, and it’s kind of enough, you know?
Everyone hears the stereotypical cutthroat stories about L.A. How much self-promotion do you actually have to do?
I think it’s different with everyone. In my experience I feel like it’s been better to do my work, just do the best I can do. Usually people have come to me to help me further my career. Publicity is a big thing, obviously, in L.A. I can argue with some of my actor friends who think I should do more—but I don’t like the idea of being over-exposed—because that comes with the territory. If you’re doing movies you’re going to get publicity free. I can go out there and be more aggressive, pay people to get me magazines and interviews, but I don’t really like it.
They asked me to come on the Craig Kilborn show. I was nervous as all hell. Something about going on and worrying whether you’re funny or witty—you know, some people come on and act so prepared. I had never done it and didn’t know what to expect. But it was really fun. Once I got out there, it was like, whatever. He’s just a big dweeb [laughs].
[Co-guest] Boy George, now he was awesome. I was so excited to meet him. He was real nice when we out there together, but I never got to be like, “I love you, Boy George!” ‘cause as soon as we got backstage he took off with his peeps.
Do you have a definable image as an actress that’s being cultivated?
We work together, the three of us—my agent, my manager and I—and I feel well taken care of by them. They support my own images of myself, which are sometimes the same as and sometimes contrary to what people see me as. Up to this point, it was obvious I would get work by looking younger and being more in the teenage area.
After I started to work more we could present an image people might not see me as—push it out a bit to meatier roles, a little tougher characters, maybe. I would like to do something dramatic. This whole comedy thing is completely new to me. I never thought I was funny, and all of the sudden I come to Hollywood and that’s all I do now is be funny. I would like to do something more in my actual age range … [In Hollywood] I’m like this ageless 20-something. We try to keep the age thing sort of amorphous. It’s funny how people’s minds work—some might even turn me down for a role if they found out I wasn’t the age they thought.
How did you feel about the Stuff piece?
Well, it was not an easy thing for me to do. I wasn’t thrilled about it, but, again, they asked me. And being offered the cover of a magazine that a lot of people see, I knew there was no way around it. I also knew that in reality none of the pictures you see are the way that people look [laughs]. … You just swallow your pride and put on the bathing suit.
Do you think it’s tougher for aging women to stay in the game in Hollywood?
Oh, absolutely. And in truth you see it in L.A. and everywhere. I live in West Hollywood and try to remember that this is basically a microcosm. … I think it’s quite a struggle to not just go into some office and say, “Suck this out” or “Get rid of that"—because it’s only money. I’m going to do my best to avoid the temptation.
Besides your family, what are your fondest memories of Chico?
When we were younger, the most fun we had was riding our bikes around until the sun went down. You could be out and go everywhere; the swimming holes were my favorite. I still love Upper Park. Growing up in Chico, it was so cool to have the same friends my whole life.
You once described yourself in an interview as a hippie chick. Are you more business oriented now?
When I first got to L.A. I was like, I have to wear these clothes, look this way, get myself together. That lasted about two months, and now I’m back to being the same girl I was in Chico. That’s who I am. I’m maybe too laid back sometimes. I let other people handle the business side of it—there’s just so much unnecessary stuff, I want to say bullshit, but … I just work really hard. Then I go home and walk the dog.
What is the coolest thing that you’ve ever used your celebrity status to do?
[Laughs.] Oh, I wish there was something. I tried one time—we wanted to go into some dance place, some ridiculous club—[laughs hysterically]—and I tried, but they were like, “Who are you?” It didn’t work at all. My friend Tiffany was visiting from Chico, and we went out to the Ivy, I think. There’s always 500 people outside trying to get in. We got in, but not because of that.
And yes, we go see Lakers games, but I don’t sit courtside yet. My boyfriend shares season tickets with a bunch of other people. I just sort of watch the famous people.
Going out at night in L.A. is so business-oriented. You can go out all the time if you want, but it gets old really fast. We’re pretty domestic.
How is your current theater work going?
I’ve been wanting to come back to Minneapolis ever since my first job here. I hadn’t done a play since then, which was three years ago, and I think it’s important to get back and remember why I do what I do. Being on stage is hard. It’s the hardest work I’ve done in three years [laughs], being here and rehearsing every day. I forgot how hard it was. It’s a whole different world; it’s good to be back doing it again.
Are you starting to get recognized more on the streets now as the roles start to pile up? Do people act differently in Chico?
Not really. Mostly young girls recognize me from the Boys and Girls movie. Little 16-year-old girls going [imitates in a childish voice]: “Were you in that movieeee, that movie with Freddyyyy, Freddy Prinze Jr.?” I’ve gotten some of that, but not really much else.
I go home to Chico all the time—I just don’t go downtown anymore, or as much as I used to … but no one I know in Chico would ever let me get away with acting weird or anything. Sometimes there will be some new Chico State kids in the acting department who will kind of look at me funny.
When I go home, we laugh our asses off about it. I tell my funny stories, and we have a kick and laugh about the absurdity of it. I still have all the same friends I’ve ever had, and I know exactly where to find them. Right down at Duffy’s.