BY CARY GINELL
For an actor, Renée Marino has lived a charmed life. This Friday, the “Jersey Girl” will be appearing in Cabrillo Music Theatre’s production of Damn Yankees, in the part of Lola, the Devil’s vixen whose job is to charm baseball phenom Joe Hardy into cheating on his wife. Renée is a director’s dream. Responsible, experienced, versatile, and with a can-do attitude that she has had since she was a little girl. Her acting has taken her all over the country in a variety of roles, highlighted by her appearance as Mary Delgado in the motion picture version of Jersey Boys, working with director Clint Eastwood. In Part 1 of our interview, Renée talked about her upbringing and the way she learned to motivate herself to survive as an actress on Broadway and in films.
VCOS: Where are you from originally?
RENÉE: Linden, New Jersey. I grew up, right away, having a love for dance. My parents were both great dancers, so it was always in my blood. I started dance classes at the age of 5, and then when I was about 8 or 9, one of my best friends was doing community theater, so I said, “I wanna do it ’cause Betsy’s doing it!” My first show was George M! and I was hooked. After that, I got the leading role in Annie the following summer. As a freshman in high school, I was cast as Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes and I played leading roles all through high school.
VCOS: How about college?
RENÉE: I went to Wagner College on Staten Island, New York, where I majored in musical theater. Then, on the day after my college graduation, I was on a plane to Biloxi, Mississippi to perform in my first professional gig, which was as the lead singer in a casino show. I felt so cool because I was on billboards on the interstate. I had the best time. When I came home, I was a substitute teacher at my old high school. Then, in 2005, I booked my first national tour, which was in Cats. And it was the 25th anniversary tour, so I toured all over North America for a year as a swing, so I covered six different cats. To this day, I still think it’s the hardest show I’ve ever done. So after that, I thought I could do anything.
VCOS: Did you have a goal back then?
RENÉE: Yes. My goal was to get my Equity card. So I turned down a bunch of non-Equity jobs and landed a part in the world premiere of Disney’s High School Musical. Our stage manager was John Calder, who’s my stage manager here on Damn Yankees, so it’s great to be working with him again. When I got my Equity card, I really felt like a professional, which wasn’t true, but this was my goal and I reached it.
VCOS: Have you ever had a full-time, non theatrical job?
RENÉE: Other than working as a substitute teacher from my junior year of college for about five years, this has been my career. It was a perfect day job because a) I love to teach, and b) I had so much free time. I’d go in the library, look up auditions, print my resume, so it was perfect. I suggest that to any actors out there. Where I lived in New Jersey, it was a thirty-minute train ride, so I would take the train in with my big bag of dance shoes and music and do a full day of four auditions. And my mom would say, “I don’t know how you do this.” Because most of the time, the answer was no.
VCOS: How did you deal with that?
RENÉE: I teach a lot of master classes, which I love, and I think the best piece of advice I can give is to stay true to yourself. Don’t worry about the things you can’t control. Maybe you’re 5′ 2″ and they need someone 5′ 9″. Too bad. You’re not gonna grow. If you look ethnic and they’re looking for someone Caucasian, you can’t change that. I feel a lot of people in this business get wrapped up in that: I have to gain thirty pounds. I have to lose thirty pounds. I have to dye my hair. For me, it was always about worrying about the things I could control, such as going in that room, being prepared, wearing the right outfit, and putting my best foot forward.
VCOS: And to recognize that it’s not personal.
RENÉE: Right. And also, I have an amazing family that instilled really strong values in me, especially my father, who told me, “Remember to always stay true to who you are.” And that always stayed with me. So many times I’d go into an audition and there would be me and ten girls who were all six feet tall. But at the end of the day, if I didn’t get kept, I wouldn’t get upset because I was 5′ 2″. What am I going to do?
VCOS: Are there starring roles for short girls?
RENÉE: Absolutely. You stay true to who you are. This is your passion. This is what you love. Work, take classes, hone your craft, and that’s it. Now you might say that’s a cliché, but it really is true. What happens in auditions is that they want you to be the one. That makes your job easy. I know that if I walk in that room and I’m freaking great, and maybe I’m not exactly what they’re looking for, but I’m just so authentic in what I am, sometimes they’ll think, that’s not what the role calls for, but we just like her so much, maybe we’ll change the role.
VCOS: Did that happen to you?
RENÉE: That’s probably how I became a swing in Cats. And let me tell you. Being a swing is one of the hardest jobs in the business, because you don’t have to know just one role, you have to know several, and you have to be able to go on at the drop of a dime. at any point in the show.
VCOS: And they get paid more, too, don’t they?
RENÉE: Absolutely. I understudied in High School Musical. I’m very versatile, so a lot of times I’ve been put in that spot. But after that, I put my foot down and said, “That’s it. I’m not going to be typecast as a swing/understudy.” So I left the tour…and booked Jersey Boys a month later!
RENÉE: They told me they wanted me to eventually get the role of Mary Delgado, but until that opened up, they wanted me to be the universal swing, which meant I covered three companies of Jersey Boys and covered three females in each cast. They would fly me to Vegas, then I’d go meet the tour in Denver, and then I’d go to Chicago with that company. I was all over the place. I had a set of index cards for each cast and before I’d go on, I’d brush up on my notes. That’s a lot of work.
In our next installment, Renée talks about working for Clint Eastwood in the film version of Jersey Boys. Damn Yankees begins this Friday at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza’s Fred Kavli Theatre. For dates and showtimes, see the VC On Stage Calendar.