S. Gooch Talks to
Photo Credit: Ernie Green
A New Kind of
That Girl: Lavinia Dowdell
I can't think of enough
adjectives to describe Lavinia Dowdell; effervescent,
free-spirited, and industrious immediately come
to mind, but she is so much more than that. With
her unique beauty, bubbly personality, and skilled
craftsmanship, this sepia-toned That Girl
is making her mark on both coasts. Never one to
rest on laurels or past successes, Lavinia is always
creating new opportunities and projecting toward
the future. Unlike Marlo Thomas of the 1960s sitcom
That Girl, who was always getting involved
in zany situations that prevented her from performing
her best on stage or screen, Lavinia is always prepared
for each new challenge. I expect that this new and
improved That Girl will soon be the ‘It
Girl’ everyone is buzzing about. And to think
I knew her when!
William Gooch: Where did
you grow up and what was childhood like?
I am an only child and growing up I had a great
family life. I grew up in Prince Georges County
on the Maryland Washington, DC border, but I went
to parochial school in DC for twelve years. I grew
up around very progressive people that expected
me to do well, so I had lots of nurturing and support.
I had the typical middle-class childhood.
William Gooch: Where did
you attend college?
I attended the University of Maryland, College Park.
It is a big campus, 40,000 undergraduates; however,
I never felt lost there. I really enjoyed college
life because the campus was so diverse. I majored
in English with a minor in Government Politics.
When I graduated from the University of Maryland
I did graduate work at the University of Miami.
I attended only for one semester realizing that
graduate school was not for me. A girlfriend of
mine in Miami told me about a Miami Dolphins cheerleader
audition. I had studied ballet since I was a young
child and figured I could at least pick up the combinations.
Out of 600 girls at the audition, I was one of the
ones chosen to be a Miami Dolphin cheerleader. After
two years as a cheerleader I realized it was time
to move on. Two to three years is usually the maximum
amount of time spent as a professional cheerleader.
Plus, our choreographer, June Taylor, whom I adored,
moved on to other projects.
William Gooch: How did you
become involved in theatre?
After the Miami Dolphin cheerleaders I came back
home to Washington, DC, and I didn’t know
what I wanted to do. I found a job and decided to
take an acting class at Prince Georges Community
College for fun. I knew immediately that acting
was my calling. From that one course, I started
auditioning for commercials and community theatre
in the DC area. Because of two great management
teams, Taylor Royal and Linda Townsend Management,
I became SAG eligible within eight months. I saturated
the market in the DC area very quickly and set my
goal on coming to New York City. I have to add that
my parents were so supportive with my career decision
because they were seeing me on billboards all over
the DC metro area.
William Gooch: So how did
you first come to NYC?
I first started out commuting on Amtrak to New York
City taking acting classes while I was doing community
theatre, commercials, and print work in DC. What
I’ve found that is so important about taking
acting classes, other than working on your technique,
is that you get to meet other acting professionals
that tell you where the jobs are. From the connections
I made in my acting classes, I was sending out my
headshots and resume. I was getting same-day calls
to audition in New York City and was not able to
go to auditions because of my commute from DC. Casting
agents didn’t know I didn’t live in
New York City because I had a 212 answering service.
So moving to New York City was a natural and necessary
William Gooch: What was
it like at first auditioning in New York City?
After auditioning regularly in New York City, I
noticed that I was seeing the same girls at auditions.
We all had the same look; you know hairstyle, height,
complexion, etc. I have heard the same story from
girls of other ethnicities. I don’t know why
that is, but when I first started I experienced
that a lot, but not as much now. I noticed more
typecasting at staged reading auditions than auditions
for commercials. Contrary to popular belief, I have
experienced very little jealousy or cattiness from
other women; in my experience most folks have been
William Gooch: I read in
your bio that you studied the Stanislavski technique,
could you talk about that?
After being in New York City for a while, I felt
I needed more training. At auditions I was going
up against graduates from Yale School of Drama,
the Actor’s Studio and other elite theatre
programs, and I felt like I was out of my league;
so I knew I needed to step up my game. I heard that
the Russian Arts Theatre was to be at Columbia University
for a summer session. I auditioned and was accepted
into the program. It was a very intensive ten-week
immersion into the Stanislavski technique. I studied
the works of Meyerhold, Moliere, and Chekov, as
well as improvisation techniques, biomechanics,
and of course Stanislavski technique. I was the
only African American in the program. In that program
ethnicity was not a concern; it was all about your
talent. I even ended up getting the female lead
in Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard and
Moliere’s George Dandin.
William Gooch: How did studying
the Stanislavski technique help your acting?
Stanislavski technique gave me a foundation that
I didn’t have before. I am now able to explore
a character from the inside out and the outside
in. Because of this solid training, I have more
confidence and project more confidence at auditions.
William Gooch: Do you continue
Yes, I do. Your true class is what you learn on
stage or on a set, but your foundation comes from
William Gooch: What theatre
have you done in New York City?
I have done a lot of staged readings. After I got
my Equity card I got a part in an original Off-Broadway
production called The Hat Left Behind.
The play was about people in a nursing home and
consisted of a tiny cast of four people. My character
was a young lady who volunteered at the nursing
home. I had to be on point in the production because
the stage was so small and the audience was practically
in your lap. Also, Off-Broadway audiences are so
savvy; they go to the theatre a lot and know when
you are authentic or performing for effect.
William Gooch: Has race
been an impediment for you when it comes to casting?
It has not been impediment; it’s been a consideration.
Race is an ingredient to the larger vision of the
director or casting agent. And like anything else,
you have to make it work for you.
William Gooch: Are you cast
as a certain type?
I usually get cast as the best friend, the well-heeled
professional woman, or earthy types. I stay away
from sexy roles.
William Gooch: Why do you
shy away from sexy characters?
Well, it not the way I want to go in my career.
I know that it’s a moneymaker and as an actress
you have to be open to all experiences and opportunities,
but I don’t actively seek out those types
William Gooch: What has your experience in LA been
My LA experience has been great. I am now officially
bicoastal. When I am in LA I do the rounds, and
I have gotten such good response from casting agents.
My objective in LA right now is not to necessarily
get cast, but to get my name out there and meet
producers, directors, and casting agents. I have
gotten most of my LA film work from people who know
my work or by word of mouth.
William Gooch: You are in
the independent film, P.J. What was that
In the movie, P.J., a man witnesses a horrific
accident that leaves him almost catatonic. He is
admitted to the hospital where the staff tries to
get his sensory skills back. At the same time, this
particular patient causes members of the staff to
examine their own lives and personal demons. P.J.
stars John Heard (The Sopranos), Vincent
Pastori (The Sopranos), Hallie Kate Eisenberg
(Beautiful), Patricia Rae (Maria Full
of Grace) and Glynnis O’Connor (Law
& Order). I play a nurse on the late shift
and my part took about two weeks to film. The cast
was great and so encouraging. It was also wonderful
to be working with actors who have had stage and
screen success and have had longevity in the industry.
I learned so much from watching them work.
William Gooch: When does
P.J. come out?
I believe it comes out on DVD domestically sometime
in February 2009.
William Gooch: What keeps
What keeps me motivated is celebrating the small
victories. I try to remain in a state of gratitude
for all the blessings in my life. When you first
start out as actor you are so anxious for that one
big break, but over time you realize that it’s
really a journey. Each opportunity is a chance to
learn something new about yourself and develop your
William Gooch: What are
you working on now and what do you have lined up?
Well I am going to be in LA in January shooting
another film and I am waiting to hear about casting
for two more films.
William Gooch: As always,
it was great seeing you again and much success on
your upcoming projects.
Thanks, this was a delight.
Lavinia Dowdell is an actress living and working
in New York City and Los Angeles. This is the first
installation in a six-part series on Ms. Dowdell’s
life as a working actress. For information about
Lavinia Dowdell, go to: http://www.laviniadowdell.com