When people talk to actor Lin Tucci (RIJC ’71) about the trajectory of her career, they often jump to her years at the Boston Conservatory of Music, where she received the formal training that would prepare her for a life lived on stage and screen. But to hear Tucci tell it, her time at the community college was the springboard to her star turn as Sister Robert Anne in “Nunsense” on Broadway and now as no-nonsense inmate Anita DeMarco on the hit Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black.”
“If it wasn’t for CCRI, I don’t know what would have happened. It was the foundation for everything else,” she recalled one day in a phone interview from her apartment in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City, where she has lived since she moved to the city. “I honed my entire craft there – the skills I needed to properly audition for the Conservatory and get accepted.”
Like many who are bitten by the acting bug at a young age, Tucci had the raw talent, but she had a lot to learn, too. Performance is in her DNA, she said; her father, a classically trained opera singer, died when she was 3, leaving her mother to raise three children on her own, (“She was a protective Italian-American mother. After being married to an artist, she was scared to death at the thought that this would be my life – but I felt the calling.”)
Tucci always knew she wanted to continue his legacy, a desire confirmed when she was a student at Mount Pleasant High School. “I was bitten by the bug there,” she said, her passion for acting further fueled by her drama teacher Bernard Masterson. “I didn’t realize how profound he was until after I graduated, but he was so different. He gave me one of the leading roles in ‘The Fantastiks.’ The part of Hucklebee was originally a male role; he changed it to Beahuckle,” she added.
But when Tucci graduated from high school, something told her she wasn’t yet ready to go straight into a conservatory program. No matter how focused her ambitions were, she needed to gain the maturity and life experience to match. “So I went to RIJC,” she said. “I thought, I’ll take two years and see what speaks to me. I grew up in Federal Hill; I could walk to campus.”
At the college, Tucci was quick to ensconce herself in the theater community, landing
the starring role of Dolly Levi in the college’s production of “Hello Dolly.” “That
really sealed the deal. It was theater 24/7. I walked it, talked it, drank it, breathed
it,” she said, crediting Professor Michael A. Romano with cementing not just her talent,
but her tenacity. “He taught me to respect the craft,” she said. “He taught not only
technique, but the discipline.”
Tucci recalled one rehearsal when she came “sashaying” in late, not paying attention to the time but rather to her “beautiful red ball gown,” the costume for her character. “He wasn’t having it. After that, I never came late to rehearsal again. In the real world, that lesson was so important. If you don’t sign in on time to rehearsal in the theater, you’re in trouble. And my work ethic has served me really well, in film and television, especially. Michael yanked my chain a little bit and I got the message.”
Nowadays, Tucci is lauded for her ability to round out an ensemble. A far cry from sashaying in late to rehearsal as the star of an undergraduate performance, she has rubbed elbows with some of the biggest names in the musical theater, film and television business, transitioning from cabaret performances in New York to a part as a tough-as-nails nun in the touring productions of Broadway’s “Nunsense” to a memorable role as den mother to a pack of strippers in “Showgirls.” But what gets her noticed lately is the way she fits seamlessly into the riveting narrative strands of “Orange,” a critical darling and a smash hit with viewing audiences.
Although Tucci’s role has yet to receive the back story that others on the show have – two seasons in we have yet to understand what has landed her character, the brassy DeMarco, in prison – she’s one of the first faces that we see.
With a gruff yet kind touch, Tucci’s character shows around Piper Chapman, the protagonist
of “Orange” played by Taylor Schilling, familiarizing her with her strange and stressful
new environs. “It’s kind of like Dante leading her through the inferno,” she said.
For Tucci, the exposure has been life changing, providing an energizing shot in the arm that any performer would covet. In addition to working alongside acclaimed actors, many of whom are also classically trained, she has had the pleasure of being directed by Academy Award-winner Jodie Foster. “It was a supreme honor. She was a dream to work with,” Tucci said. “Being cast in ‘Orange’ by creator Jenji Kohan makes me feel like I’m riding a rainbow.”
Now well into filming the third season, the bloom hasn’t come off the rose for Tucci, as she sees each day on set and off as an opportunity to plumb the creative depths that have sustained her since her first taste of the acting bug.
“There are certain things about my character that are familiar to my background,” she said of DeMarco, a fellow Italian-American who comports herself with sass and class. “But what makes it inspiring to me is being able to bring something on set that sparks another dimension in me. What I like most about acting is the discovery. Finding out what makes my character different. If there’s anything I enjoy most about the process, it’s rehearsal. That’s where the discovery happens,” she said.
It’s clear that statement is the essence of Tucci’s work, her career and her philosophy as an artist. The old adage says that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear – in this case, right in the student’s own backyard.
“CCRI can help you decide if what you’re passionate about should be your lifetime commitment,” she said. “I remember having one of those New York moments right when I moved to the city. There was a car coming down the street with a megaphone on top. The person speaking through the megaphone said, loud and clear: ‘If you think you’ve got what it
takes, it’s gonna take everything you’ve got.”
For more information and updates from Tucci, visit her website and Facebook page.