LOS ANGELES - Actress Roberta E. Bassin first came to the attention of Hollywood in 1987's "Barfly," a film about life surrounding the inhabitants of a seedy bar. The critically acclaimed film starred Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway whose performances would help propel the film into a cult hit with moviegoers.
Bassin's portrayal of the barfly Lilly was also noted by critics who also helped propel her career to greater roles in film and television in suceeding years, including 1995's Emmy Award-winning mini series "Indictment: The McMartin Trial," as well as roles in "Alien Raiders," and Clint Eastwood-directed docudrama "J. Edgar" starring Leonardo DiCaprio in 2011.
Today, Bassin is busier than ever, as she is set to star in Showtime's "Ray Donovan," the upcoming film, "Petal Pushers," as well as tonight's season opening episode of TNT's hit procedural drama "Major Crimes," airing at 9 p.m. Easter/Pacific.
Here's our interview with her:
Question: Where are you from originally and were you encouraged by your parents to be a performer or pursue acting?
Answer: I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. I always loved to perform. "Watch me Mommy, Watch me," I would be saying as I was dancing or jumping in front of her and she did attentively. As a child I did backyard and school shows: singing, dancing and playing the violin in school orchestras. My family was not in the "Biz", but they encouraged any talent and interest I demonstrated. Although we did not have much monetarily, they put my education in all areas, before their own wishes giving me ballet lessons, violin lessons, concerts, taking me to auditions for talent shows and going to see television shows all which I remember with great fondness and appreciation.
Q: What or who inspired you to become an actress?
A: I always wanted to be an entertainer, to be on stage. I don't know if it chose me or I chose it. There are actors whose talent I greatly admired since my youth such as Ben Vereen and Shirley McLaine. They were "triple threats," having the ultimate talent as actors, singers and dancers- the consummate performers!
Q: Where did you study acting and what was it like?
A: My initial basis for acting was Uta Hagen’s scene study technique, which I studied for many years along with classes on the “Business of Acting.” The study of acting is a lifelong process. I went on to learn the Sanford-Meisner Technique, audition technique with Michael Shurtleft, scene study at The Beverly Hills Playhouse, cold reading classes with Candy Kaniecki, and improvisation including study at the Groundlings. I later continued scene study with Barbara Gannen and audition and cold reading technique with Amy Lyndon. My goal was to be the best actor I could be. To that end, I went to London to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. It was my first time across the Pond and traveling alone. That was a fabulous education. On my return I continued my Shakespearian classes at Theatricum Botanicum.
I also became a member of the Lonnie Chapman Repertory Company for many years, where I developed my one-woman play, "Amelia Earhart: In Her Own Words" which I have been touring for fourteen years. I was honored to contribute some of my life long experiences as a professional actor in the relatively new book, "THE ASPIRING ACTORS HANDBOOK: What Seasoned Actors Wished They Had Known."
Q: What was your first acting role in Hollywood and what was it like?
A: My very first experience was a film, "End of the Rainbow" directed by Lazio Papas. It was an all night shoot in downtown L.A. It was a large production with dancers and music. Looking back I can feel the sensations of being very observant, taking it all in and enjoying the whole process and atmosphere. My first television experience was on the soap Santa Barbara. Sixteen hours on the set at NBC Burbank. I remember then as now giving 100%, doing my best, being professional, listening and following direction. I did my job feeling a wonderful part of the whole production. It is a collaboration.
Q: You received much acclaim for the 1987 cult classic "Barfly," starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway. What was your reaction to that attention so early in your career?
A: I appreciated the wonderful reviews and the excited hopes of my friends and colleagues for my career. I was surprised to find I wasn't ready for intimate attention from fans and the public at large.
Q: What was your biggest memory of doing "Barfly"?
A: There are so many wonderful memories. I got to work with and talk with so many talented people. The writer Charles Bukowski and his wife Linda who were visiting the set, came up to me saying, "they had never been on a film set before and would I show them around the." Little did they know it was new for me too. I tried my best to make it look like it was "old hat." One Friday night especially stands out. The crème dela crème of Hollywood came to the bar in Culver City where we were filming. I was introduced to David Lynch and Isabella Rossellini and our wonderful director Barbet Schroeder brought me over to meet Rodger Ebert, saying " Guess which role she plays?" referring to me because my role as the alcoholic bag lady, Lily, was diametrically opposite to my actual appearance and persona. On set I had a lovely relationship with Faye as we both had young children. She really took me under her wing. Everyone was great. Mickey was so shy off screen, but would do anything to make his character work on screen.
I recently saw Frank Stallone in performance and we briefly reminisced about "Barfly."
Q: You went on to work on the Emmy-winning "Indictment: The McMartin Trial", based upon the infamous molestation trial. Who did you portray and how did you prepare to play an actual person?
A: I played Judy (Jesus) Johnson who started the case accusing the McMartins of molesting her son. I tapped into my own feelings as a mother and how I want to protect my children from harm. I know I would do anything to keep them safe. I also learned much as possible about Judy Johnson's history. Once I had done my homework and was filming, I stayed in the moment of the scene and let the truth of my character take me on a ride. I learned that doing the role of Lily in "Barfly."
Q: In 2011 you also worked with Clint Eastwood who directed "J. Edgar" starring Leonardo DiCaprio. How did you adapt to working with Eastwood and DiCaprio?
A: It was wonderful. Clint literally is the definition of "cool." He was so warmly welcoming, fun and open to an actor’s creativity. A truly actors director. He has a great sense of humor. Everyone said, "It was the best set they ever worked on.” I will say I was very shy. Too shy to ask to take a photo with Clint and DeCaprio. Leonardo was so kind, respectful and humble. It was a delight to see them work together. I hope I can work with them again.
Q: You've continued to work steadily on television as well. What are some of the shows you've done and what is the secret to booking so many shows?
A: Television credits include: "The Pretender," "ER," "Gideon's Crossing," "American Dreams," "Crossing Jordan," "Grey's Anatomy," "Criminal Minds" and many others. Preparation meets Opportunity is always the key to any goal. Never give up. Enjoy the process. Always be working on your craft in classes, showcases, theatre companies, student films, by yourself or self formed acting groups. Stay abreast of the current trends and changes in the Biz and the new world of technology, which has influenced in all aspects of life, the acting world included. In acting, the performance must ring true, be focused, listen with attention on the other person, know your environment and have fun.
Q: What are you doing these days and what films or series will you be appearing on?
A: Watch for the films "The Petal Pushers" and "Shovel Buddies" along with episodics for TNT and Showtime coming out summer 2015. I am performing my one-woman show "Amelia Earhart: In Her Own Words" and am completing a book about the famous aviator which will be ready for publication in the not too distant future. I am also in the preproduction phase of a feature film to which I am attached.