08.07 From Worcester to Hollywood

mainpic.jpg

They went to high school with us, graduated from college with our brothers or sisters, performed in local theatre productions, and hung out at the same places we did. Now they’re famous on the big screen, the small screen, the internet, the stage, the political world, and the international music scene. So sure, these celebrities have major careers and are household names, but their roots can still be traced right back here to our very own neighborhoods.

Before he decided to OK Go, Andy Ross called Worcester home
By Bobby HankinsonANDY ROSS3use WEB.jpg

From “The Breakfast Club” to “Mean Girls,” pop culture has taught us to judge (as harshly as possible) those around us. Whether it’s high school or the professional world, it’s hard to look around and not pick out the “jocks,” “geeks,” and “punks” as if we walked around a permanent cafeteria. Maybe that’s why stories of so-called nerds becoming mega indie-rock superstars continue to fascinate us. Take Worcester’s own Andy Ross.
Describing his youth as “awkward,” he recalls, “Throughout school, I was one of those nerdy kids that liked math and computers. On Friday nights, while many of my classmates were at keg parties on Newton Hill, I was probably trying to hack into a dial-up bulletin board or playing guitar along to [Led Zeppelin’s] ‘Houses of the Holy.’ If I ever went over to a popular kid’s house, it was probably to fix their computer.”

But that was then. Now he’s the guitarist for OK Go, touring Australia, New Zealand, and Japan this month, and he already has a performance at the MTV VMAs to his credit. The videos for “A Million Ways” and “Here It Goes Again” ~ both featuring choreographed dance numbers in a backyard and on treadmills respectively ~ earned the band major attention. His hometown beginnings however, were much more humble.

As a kid, Ross sought refuge in his parent’s detached two-story garage ~ affectionately referred to as “The Barn.” He and his friends turned it into a practice space and hang-out and even put on some shows there, feeling too intimated to play “real” places like the Espresso Bar.

He continued his confessed computer-nerdom at the Mass Academy of Math and Science at WPI and got a job in computer programming out of college. “Everything seemed to be going on the right track, until I realized the obvious: work sucks,” Ross says.

So he decided to do a flip-flop and focus on music (he had previously played in some bands ~ including one in high school which he said had “…undoubtedly the stupidest/awesomest band name of all-time, Conjugal Visit”) and keep programming on the side. Shortly thereafter, he relocated to LA in the fall of ‘04 and got involved with OK Go shortly thereafter.

The band had just finished recording its second full-length album, “Oh No,” and was seeking a new guitarist. Ross auditioned with about 35 others and made the final cut. The band invited him and one other finalist to perform for a few friends.

“It turns out a ‘few’ meant about thirty and ‘friends’ meant people from Capitol Records and other bands,” he said. “Needless to say, it was pretty terrifying and unlike any other performance since everyone’s sole responsibility was judging me.”

He survived the selection process and these days the band is looking to work on their new album in the fall. Ross’s family and many friends are still based in Worcester and he said seeing old friends feels just like being back at “The Barn.” But we think he’ll have no problem finding something to do on Friday nights these days.

Photo courtesy of www.popmatters.com

Sam He Am
Sam Seder of Air America is a political animal
By Robert Newton

Sam Seder2use WEB.jpg Sam Seder may have come a long way from his happy days at Doherty High, class of ’84, but the actor, writer, director and political commentator is not so far removed from his hometown that it took him more than a second to agree to talk with me. We connected instantly, as if the one interview we had nine years ago made me one of the kids (like wry guy comic pal H. Jon Benjamin) he grew up with on Terrace Drive off of Shrewsbury Street.

When last we met, he and Sarah Silverman were promoting Sam’s directorial debut, the mockumentary Who’s The Caboose? It was a hilarious little movie, and I asked him when and if he might put out another comedy feature.

“Actually, in June of 2001, I shot a film about a fictionalized son of Joe Lieberman,” Seder explains. “[In it}, he was pissed about the outcome of the election, and aligned with a group of radical Orthodox Jewish postal workers.”

The film, called The Bad Situationist, featured a number of prominent, free thinking comics like Janeane Garofalo, David Cross (interestingly, one of H. Jon’s frequent comedic writing and performing partners) and Robert Schimmel, and featured a scene in which the main character aims a bazooka at a New York high-rise. Then came 9/11.

“We lost our finishing funds, but since then, I’ve gone back to it periodically,” he says. “I just finished it, and hope to see it released within the next six months. The notion may have been funny in one way when I wrote it, but now it has a difference resonance.”

Whether or not enough time has passed for audiences to find humor in the film has yet to be seen, but Seder has plenty of other things keeping him busy.

“My daughter cracks me up,” he notes, beaming. “She’ll be two in two months. Apart from her, I’ve come around on the American “Office,” and I still like early Albert Brooks, Nichols & May records and a lot of old SNL shorts are still hilarious.”

He mentions that a lot of the comedy he looks at online is political, homework for his job hosting liberal radio network Air America’s Seder On Sundays every Sunday from 4pm-7pm.

A message that Seder’s political audience has picked up on is “As bad as you think it’s gotten, it’s worse,” which prompted a book called F.U.B.A.R.: America’s Right-Wing Nightmare, published in 2006 (Seder also co-authored, with Janeane Garofalo, the forward to Bill Scher’s 2006 Wait! Don’t Move to Canada: A Stay-and-Fight Strategy to Win Back America).

“The editor actually came to me,” Seder mentions. “It was all the stuff I had been talking about on the show. You hit a different audience with a book, because it allows you to work ideas over a little bit more than when you’re live on the radio. The biggest thing that came up while writing it is when I would share these stories with people who self-identify as liberals and they’d say, ‘You’re kidding!’ I wanted liberals to read the book and say, ‘Holy shit ~ I can’t believe how bad it’s gotten!’”

Check out samsedershow.com/

Select TV/Fimography

America Undercover TV actor (2005)
Man About Town actor (2005)
I’m with Busey director (2003)
Saddle Rash TV voiceover (2002)
Beat Cops actor writer producer (2001)
Endsville actor (2000)
Happy Accidents actor (2000)
Sex and the City TV actor (2000)
Home Movies TV voiceover (1999)
Next Stop Wonderland actor (1998)
Spin City TV actor (1997)
Who’s the Caboose? actor director writer producer (1997)
The Big Fall actor (1996)
All-American Girl TV actor (1994)

Photo courtesy of www.airamericaminnesota.com

Denis Leary, Hometown HeroDenis Learyuse WEB 2.jpg
By Jennie Fitzgerald

Denis Leary really needs no introduction. He’s Worcester’s most famous local boy (and hell raising street hockey champ) done good…REALLY good. After graduating from St. Peter Marian High School and Emerson College, Leary honed his in-your-face, take-no-prisoners style doing stand-up. Then came MTV appearances and several commercials that showcased his rapid-fire wit…and it was obvious that Leary’s red meat-endorsing, politically incorrect (and thus incredibly refreshing), chain-smoking, Cindy Crawford-lovin’ persona was about to grab the world by the balls.

He released two discs of stand-up comedy, No Cure for Cancer (which immediately put him on Rolling Stone Magazine’s radar) in 1993 and Lock N’ Load in 1997. No Cure for Cancer created quite the buzz (and solidified his onstage ~and on screen ~ persona) with its theme song, A**hole. Half-sang Lear, “I’m just a regular Joe with a regular job. I’m your average white suburbanite slob;” and it’s exactly that no frills, Everyman approach that has won Leary so many of his fans, as did his rant on drugs: “I would never do crack. I would never do a drug named after a part of my own ass. OK folks? Kind of a personal guideline in my life. Somebody says, ‘You want some crack?’ I say, ‘I was born with one, pal! I really don’t need another one!’”

The unstoppable force that is Leary had arrived.

He’s been in over 40 films ranging from the serious to the sarcastic, the animated to the antagonistic. He was the voice of saber-toothed tiger Diego in Ice Age and Ice Age 2 (remember, he’s the dad of two kids!), co-produced the movie Blow, and stole scenes from Stallone in Demolition Man as a do-the-wrong-thing-for-the-right-reason resistance leader. Often cast in the role of rough guy with moral dilemmas and a heart of…if not gold, then at least bronze, Leary maintains his sarcastic charm and allegiance to the working man and in FX’s Rescue Me (which he both produces and stars in), playing abrasive, flawed, emotionally volatile NYC firefighter Tommy Gavin.

It is the life-saving portion of his firefighter character that hits closest to home…literally…for Leary. The December 3, 1999 cold storage warehouse fire in Worcester that is now synonymous with both tragedy and bravery claimed, in addition to four others, Leary’s cousin, Firefighter Jerry Lucey, and childhood friend Lt. Thomas Spencer. Since then, in paying tribute to the bravery of these men and other like them, The Leary Firefighters Foundation has raised over $1.3 million for Worcester fire department alone, and has been instrumental in raising funds for firehouses across the nation as well. Rescue Me is a weekly tribute to these men, too, and one emotional tour-de-force moment in the July 11th episode is practically an exact recounting of that Dec. 3 tragedy and the men involved. Leary’s Gavin, in defending his former chief Jerry Reilly’s (note the first name, same as that of Leary’s deceased cousin) career and honor and right to have recently committed suicide, bursts forth with “You don’t remember what it was like when the Bronx was burning…that friggin’ cold storage warehouse fire…he went back in to save those guys…even the two a**holes who started the fire.”

What Leary has done for his many fans in terms of entertainment is significant, but what he has done for his hometown is immeasurable ~ So for all his success based on characters whose hearts (and other body parts) sometimes lead them in the wrong direction, there is no doubt that the heart of Leary the man is right here at home.

Select Filmography

Loaded Weapon 1 (1993)
The Sandlot (1993)
Who’s the Man? (1993)
Demolition Man (1993)
The Ref (1994)
Natural Born Killers (director’s cut) (1994)
Operation Dumbo Drop (1995)
Favorite Deadly Sins (1995)
Two If by Sea (1996)
Underworld (1996)
Subway Stories (1997)
Suicide Kings (1997)
The Real Blonde (1997)
The Matchmaker (1997)
Wag the Dog (1997)
Small Soldiers (1998)
A Bug’s Life (1998)
True Crime (1999)
The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
Ice Age (2002)
The Secret Lives of Dentists (2002)
When Stand Up Stood Out (documentary) (2003)
The Curse of the Bambino (documentary) (2003) and its follow-up, Reverse of the Curse of the Bambino (documentary) (2004)
Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006)
The Sexual Advancer (2006)

Photo courtesy of killjoysradar.com

H. Jon Benjaminjonbenjamin01use WEB.jpg
Yes, Ben Katz Does Have a Job
By Sean Corbett

Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim does the world a huge favor ~ it shines a spotlight on world-class, I-recognize-that-face comedians like David Cross, Sam Seder, Michael Showalter, Zach Galifianakis, John Glaser, and H. Jon Benjamin. This group of comics has worked together on stage and on screen (big and small) in various configurations and continues to create barrier breaking, envelope pushing, statement making, downright hilarious comedy, and H. Jon, the unassuming, 5ft. 6in Worcester Academy graduate, may just be the hilariest…est…of them all.

Benjamin’s stand-up comedy career has brought him through New York City, with a really odd kid-type puppet and music stage show called Midnight Pajama Jam, a DVD of which is currently in production. Also in New York, Benjamin worked with Todd Barry and David Cross (remember the creepy wheelchair-bound teacher’s assistant in Scary Movie 2? Yup, that’s David.) in an oddball comedy stage show called Tinkle.

His television work includes a regular double role on the endlessly brilliant show Home Movies, which ran for four seasons before it joined the ranks of Arrested Development in wrongful comedic cancellation. He was the voice of Coach Jon McGuirk and sidekick Jason Panopolis in Movies, but perhaps his most…interesting…character voice work can be found in the movie Wet Hot American Summer, where he voiced a can of hallucinatory vegetables addicted to autofellatio. He can be seen in the new Not Another Teen Movie as the football trainer, he played F-Bomb the pimp in Denis Leary’s Rescue Me: Season 2, the co-worker who assumes Miranda is a lesbian and fixes her up with a woman during a company baseball game in the Sex and the City episode “Bay of Married Pigs,” and a government agent in Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters. He also voices characters in episodes of Saddle Rash, Space Ghost, Hey Monie!, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and several other cartoons. But which character really made H. Jon a star? That’s right, it was a Squigglevisioned H. Jon playing Dr. Katz’s ambition-challenged son Ben in the spectacularly written Dr. Katz Professional Therapist.

On-line, Benjamin can be found on MTV.com’s Human Giant. On-air, he introduces the liberal/progressive Sam Seder Show on Air America Radio for his hometown friend Seder. Future projects include a cartoon show, this time with David Cross, called Freak Show and another Adult Swim show called Assy McGee. And even though he’s amassed an incredible body of work, Jon is happy to be known as the guy who’s “… turned down more work than any other actor.”

Select TV/Filmography, including voice work

The Toe Tactic
Puberty: The Movie
“Human Giant”
The Ten
“Assy McGee”
“Freak Show”
“The Venture Bros.”
“Cheap Seats: Without Ron Parker”
“Family Guy”
“O’Grady”
“Rescue Me”
“Pilot Season”
New York Minute
“Home Movies”
“Aqua Teen Hunger Force”
Saddle Rash
Martin & Orloff
Not Another Teen Movie
Wet Hot American Summer
Happy Accidents
“The Dick & Paula Celebrity Special”
“Sex and the City”
Next Stop Wonderland
“The Jenny McCarthy Show”
Who’s the Caboose?
“Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist”
“Science Court”

Writer:

“Assy McGee”
“Freak Show”
“Wonder Showzen”
The Nick & Jessica Variety Hour
Saddle Rash
“The Dick & Paula Celebrity Special”
“Home Movies”

Producer:

“Assy McGee”
“Freak Show”

Photo courtesy of benkharakh.com

Vertical Horizon’s Matt Scannell
By Sean Corbett

You loved the late 90s songs “Everything You Want” and “You’re a God.” They were poppy, memorable, and had great videos. But what you may not have known is that Vertical Horizon’s lead singer Matt Scannell grew up right down the street from Assumption College, on Aylesbury Rd. “We used to walk over to Assumption and watch basketball games,” he remembers. “I love it back there in Worcester.”Matt Scannelluse WEB.jpg

After his time at Bancroft School in Worcester, Scannell started Vertical Horizon with friend and fellow Georgetown graduate Keith Kane. The duo put out a few albums in the early nineties, and rehearsed at home for their first few tours. “None of us were making any money, so we would go back and stay at my family’s home and rehearse in the basement. That house was so important in the development of the band.”

VH enjoyed their rise to fame and mammoth radio play in 1999 and 2000, but since “Go” in 2003 have left their faithful fans eagerly awaiting their next release. “It’s such a gift that you have a fanbase that will stick with you through the off times,” Scannell said, “like when you’re taking too long to make a record, for example.”

And as a gift back to their loyal fans, Vertical Horizon (who left RCA a while back, as did many 90s bands) is currently recording their first record in four years. They don’t know the name yet, and Scannell’s not sure when it’ll be released, but offers, “I think it’ll be out in the fall.” And it will be great. Industry heavyweight and percussion virtuoso Neil Peart, from the epic band Rush, has leant his talent and friendship, and it’ll be amazing to hear what a rock force like that will bring to the sound of VH.

“I’d say Rush is my all time favorite band,” said Scannell. “Peart is just one of the greats, one of the iconic performers of all time.” They wrote three songs together, and Peart apparently wouldn’t let anyone else do the drums on those tracks. Don’t expect Peart to be touring with the band, though. “He’s not gonna go out with Vertical Horizon and be cuttin’ his teeth with us,” joked Scannell. (Note, though, that VH sounded pretty darn good even without Peart’s help on their recent gig at Mohegan Sun, getting back into the swing of playing live.)

“I think this next record is probably the first record where I’ve been able to really give an idea of who I am musically,” he said. “For a long time I resisted calling myself a musician, because I didn’t think I deserved that title. And now at this point, I’m able to embrace it.”

A full tour will be announced when the album is released, and details will be posted on the band’s website, www.verticalhorizon.com. “We’re doing an acoustic set at Friendly’s in Tatnuck Sq.,” joked Scannell. “And then we might go over to Elsa’s Bushell ‘n Peck afterwards.” One can only hope!

Alicia3use WEB.jpg

Alicia Witt
Worcester’s Child Prodigy is all Grown Up

By Shelly Schweizer

Perhaps no other thespian born and bred in Worcester has enjoyed as much professional success as the gorgeous and gifted Alicia Witt. Since her television debut at age four on “That’s Incredible,” Witt has wowed audiences and industry insiders with a potent cocktail of serious smarts, ethereal beauty and unlimited talent.

Since the very start of her career, Witt has worked with some of Hollywood’s top talent. Acclaimed directors like David Lynch, Mike Figgis, John Waters, and Cameron Crowe have attached her to some of their most ambitious projects. Witt has appeared alongside a constellation of Hollywood stars ~ most recently, Al Pacino, Sandra Bullock, Hugh Grant and Queen Latifah.

A child prodigy, the home schooled Witt received her high school diploma at 14. After honing her skills as a musician (always with a theatrical flair) at the Performing Arts School in Worcester (where Jean Louisa Kelly of “Yes, Dear” fame took dance classes from H. Jon Benjamin’s mother!), she moved to the LA area to pursue her career.

A gifted classical pianist, Witt has learned to play other instruments for roles on stage and in film, including the clarinet for “Mr. Holland’s Opus” and the cello for her most recent role in the play “Dissonance.” Witt supported herself between acting jobs by tickling the ivories in the cocktail lounge at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

Witt made her film debut in 1984’s cult classic Dune and developed an important relationship with director David Lynch, who mentored her and created roles for her in his cult TV hit “Twin Peaks” and his HBO series “Hotel Room.” Her big break came in 1994, when her performance as a disturbed teenager in the independent film Fun earned her a nomination as Best Actress at the Independent Spirit Awards and a Special Jury Recognition Award at the Sundance Film Festival. Madonna admired Witt’s performance and insisted that Witt be cast opposite her as a lesbian witch in Alison Ander’s quartet Four Rooms.

It was her portrayal of the feisty Zoey Woodbine in the hit TV series “Cybill” that thrust Witt into the limelight. Witt was a standout on the show, humorously portraying Zoey, Cybill’s rebellious daughter, as a teenaged tangle of sass and sullenness. Witt’s turn on “Cybill” cemented her status as a working actress. She’s worked steadily since then in a variety of roles in nearly every genre.

Most recently, Witt appeared in major and supporting roles in big budget features like Vanilla Sky, Two Weeks Notice and Last Holiday, and in independent films including The Upside of Anger. Her latest film, 88 Minutes, a thriller in which she co-stars with Al Pacino, is scheduled for release in the U.S. next year.

Witt recently returned to her theatre roots, taking roles that utilize her musical abilities. She appeared in “Piano/Forte,” a play custom written to feature her talents as a pianist, at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2006. This summer, Witt starred in the world premier of “Dissonance” at the prestigious Williamstown Theatre Festival. She’s also written, produced and directed two short films.

The rumor mill is rife with reports that Witt turned down the role of MJ in the lucrative Spiderman franchise. Those close to her say that she is too serious to be interested in such fluff, while some in Hollywood dismiss her for turning down some serious bucks. Whatever the truth, Witt is a creative force to be reckoned with on many fronts.

Select Film & TV Credits:

2007 88 Minutes
2006 Last Holiday
2005 Upside of Anger
2002 Two Weeks Notice
2001 Vanilla Sky
2000 Cecil B. Demented
2000 “Ally McBeal”
2000 “The Sopranos”
1998 Bongwater
1998 Urban Legend
1996 Citizen Ruth
1995 Four Rooms
1995-98 “Cybill”
1995 Mr. Holland’s Opus
1991 Liebestraum
1990 “Twin Peaks”
1984 Dune (film debut)
1979 “That’s Incredible” (television debut)

Photo courtesy of Steve Granitz/WireImage.com

Holy Cross Grad Dave Holmes turned an MTV loss into a careerDave Holmes4use WEB.jpg
By Bobby Hankinson

No one likes to lose a contest, but it’s especially embarrassing when it’s on national television. Lucky for Dave Holmes, the runner-up in MTV’s first Wanna Be A VJ contest in 1998, sometimes fate fixes it all in the end. Even though he wasn’t selected as a VJ through the contest, Holmes did end up with a gig at MTV. He was first set to host a short-lived program titled “I Spy Video” before he took on the popular “Say What? Karaoke.” He also appeared on the channel’s “120 Minutes” as well as a VJ introducing “Spanking New” videos and other hot tunes.

But before hitting the small screen, Holmes, 36, studied right here in Worcester. He attended the College of the Holy Cross, where he worked for the campus radio station ~ surely a prelude to his later work and reputation as a pop-culture sage with an encyclopedic knowledge of music

Post-MTV, Holmes tried his hand at acting. You can catch him as a reporter in the first “Fantastic Four” film as well as Leslie Frost on a few episodes of “Reno 911!” But it’s hosting that Holmes, with his good-natured style, does best: he did a brief stint as the MC for “Fire Me … Please” on CBS as well as some spots for VH1’s “Best Week Ever” and specials on E!. He also co-hosts Court TV’s “Saturday Night Solution” shows and FX’s DVD on TV. Most recently, on July 7, he co-hosted the Live Earth concert coverage on July 7 for Bravo.

It doesn’t get much bigger than that, hosting a history-making concert that spans seven continents. So with a pretty impressive Hollywood resume ~ especially for someone who started as an unknown in an MTV contest ~ Holmes proves that sometimes losing can bring a bigger prize than winning.

Check out some of Dave’s improv work at www.thefridayforty.com and www.myspace.com/1590496.

Photo by Keli Squires-Taylor

Actor Joe Smith’s Commercial Successjoesmith WEB.jpg
By Christine R. Walsh

Joe Smith, one of the finest and funniest men ever to sprout forth from Worcester and transplant himself into the soil of Los Angeles, had just wrapped up a commercial for Hertz Rent-A-Car when he sat down for an interview with Pulse.

This energetic actor/writer/ voice-over talent has been featured in a number of commercials, from Domino’s Pizza to Hertz to Dell Computers to Ford Motors. But apart from being the familiar face behind some of our favorite products, Smith is also the creator, writer and producer of IPR, Irrational Public Radio.

IPR is a hilarious parody of public radio, available in podcast form for all on its website, www.IrrationalPublicRadio.com. Filled with rapier-sharp wit, the show is guaranteed to keep the listeners chuckling and smirking. Smith writes all of the material himself, but thanks his lucky stars for terrific friends who help out.

“It’s great. I have all of these friends who are so very talented. And they’re willing to work for peanuts,” Smith said.

Smith, 35, listens to a lot of public radio and concentrates on the format of the shows when he is working on his own material, he said. He’ll be inspired from a radio show with a call-in section, for example, and then be certain to add callers to the next podcast of IPR. Then, once material has been written and voices have been recorded, Smith sets to work in his own home studio to edit and produce the show.

“IPR gets about 3000 unique visitors to the site each month,” reported Smith. “I get fan emails from all around the world. And at some point, around the holiday season, I’m going to put together an IPR CD and the majority of it will be all new material and it will be available for purchase.”

The actor gets homesick every so often, despite the glitz and glam of Hollywood. He makes it home about twice a year and loves seeing his parents and brother, comedian Dan Smith.

“I love going home and sitting at the same damn space at the dining room table that I did when I was ten,” he said. “My bedroom’s mostly the same way it was when I was young, too.”

Smith loves his life in LA, too, and manages to keep a positive outlook on the typically harsh world of acting and voice-over work.

“You have to have perseverance, like anything else,” said Smith. “Go into acting because you enjoy it. Don’t go into it because you need adoration or acceptance. Find that somewhere else. An actor still needs to exist when there isn’t an audience. That’s called being a person.”

For more info on Joe Smith, visit www.JoeSmith.com or www.IrrationalPublicRadio.com.

Padma LakshmiPadma WEB.jpg
Top Chef’s Top Lady
By Leeanne Griffin

Her exotic beauty rocketed her to stardom in the modeling world. Talented chefs tremble before her, praying she won’t utter the five words that could crush their dreams. She speaks five languages fluently and has portrayed royalty in several TV miniseries. She’s traveled the globe, sampling the finest of cuisines and writing award-winning cookbooks. And until recently, she was married to one of the world’s most controversial authors.

Where did this glamorous woman spend several of her formative years? Right here in Worcester.

Born in India in 1970, Padma Lakshmi, the current host of Bravo’s Top Chef, attended Clark University, graduating (with honors) in 1992 with a degree in theatre arts. During her senior year, she traveled to Spain, where legend has it that she was discovered by a modeling agent while sitting in a café. Her modeling career took off and she starred in high-fashion runway shows and print editorials for names like Ungaro, Roberto Cavalli, and Ralph Lauren. She became the first internationally successful Indian supermodel.

Modeling led to acting, and Lakshmi put her Clark theatre education to work, appearing in foreign films out of Italy. Later, she would star in ABC’s miniseries The Ten Commandments as Moses’ mother and as the beautiful Indian courtesan Madhuvanthi in the BBC series Sharpe’s Challenge

She then began to explore another passion ~ the culinary world. In 1999, Lakshmi’s first cookbook, Easy Exotic, a collection of low-fat recipes from around the world, won Best First Book at the World Cookbook Awards in Versailles. Her second cookbook, Tangy, Tart, Hot and Sweet, hits the shelves in October.

After appearances on the Food Network, Lakshmi took over for Katie Lee Joel (yes, Billy Joel’s wife) on Bravo’s Top Chef in the show’s second season. She and her fellow judges Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons and Ted Allen decide the fates of the 15 chefs hoping for a big culinary break by competing against each other in intense challenges. At the end of each episode, Padma delivers the death knell to that week’s losing chef: “Pack your knives and go.”

On a more personal level, Padma announced in early July that she would divorce her husband of three years, recently-knighted British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie. But with all she has going on, there’s no doubt she’ll find love again…

Photo: “Top Chef” (2006) – Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, Gail Simmons, courtesy uk.imdb.com

Bad Boy, Former Presidential Candidate, ComicDougStanhope2useWEB.jpg
Worcester’s Doug Stanhope is no longer “Just Kidding”
By Len Sousa

Doug Stanhope has never been your typical stand-up comedian. As passionate about his country as he is about his comedy, the former The Man Show co-host (with Joe Rogan) had the nerve to do what only seemed like film fodder for a Robin Williams flop. Pre-dating the movie Man Of The Year, in which a comedian runs for President and wins, Stanhope announced he would make a genuine run for the highest office in the land ~ until bureaucracy made it all come crashing down.

“Campaign finance law was the final straw,” Stanhope admits when asked what put the kibosh on his bid for the White House. “It worked out where I wouldn’t be able to talk about my platform or campaign on stage without the money I made being considered ‘contributions.’ But it also became more and more unfun and unfunny. The amount of linear thinking was taking all the subversive moxie out of it and that was the only thing that was worthwhile in the entire venture.”

Stanhope claims his initial impetus to run was inspired by his inability to reach audiences with a serious message ~ feeling he was always wearing what he calls an “I’m Just Kidding” hat. “It seemed like it might be a way to bring certain subjects out in a different light,” he says. “Or maybe I just suffer through bouts of megalomania.”

A Libertarian candidate, Stanhope wanted to expose “…the sea of myopic adult babies…” to the national babysitter that is the federal government and ran on the platform that less government is often better for civil liberties. “It’s sickening to watch all the joy and adrenaline being drained out of our society and replaced with a glut of disinformation, legislation, and empty distraction.”

Unsurprisingly, Stanhope speaks with an openly dejected air about his inability to continue his Presidential run as a platform to speak about social issues. Even his comedy seems to have been affected to a certain degree. “Honestly, my only objective anymore [with comedy] is to impress or amuse myself,” he confesses. “Not that I dismiss the audience, but if I don’t believe in what I’m doing, it’s not fun for me, the audience will know it.”

Adding, “Usually what I find funny is sometimes offensive to Joe Lunchbucket. F**k him. But the point is never to find an outrageous thing to say just to irk people. They’ll be irked just fine hearing the truth.”

Hopes for overturning the Oval Office dashed, Stanhope plans to take the summer off and try to quit smoking (again). “I’ve got a Showtime special premiering August 3 called No Refunds, and I’ll be back on the road heavily for the fall. Long term? We’ll take it as it comes so long as the days are fun.”

Check out more of Doug’s “Cruel and Unusual Comedy” at www.myspace.com/dougstanhope and dougstanhope.com. Read more of Len’s interview at www.thepulsemag.com, and don’t miss Doug on October 20 at Ralph’s Diner in Worcester!

Dewey-eyed Erik Per Sullivan
By Robert Newton

Erik Per Sullivan WEB.jpgPULSEPEDIA ENTRY

Name: Erik Per Sullivan

Age: 16

Hometown: Worcester

Claim to Fame: Played forsaken child Dewey on the Emmy-winning Fox hit “Malcolm In The Middle” (2000-06)

Film Appearances: The Adventures of Joe Dirt, Wendigo, The Cider House Rules, Armageddon

Awards: Recipient of the 2007 James Joyce Award by University College’s Literary and Historical Society in Dublin, Ireland (for his “Malcolm” role). He joins the ranks of Bob Geldof (ex-Boomtown Rats and founder of Live Aid), Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume and voice actor Nancy “Bart Simpson” Cartwright. Erik is also a National Honor Society scholar.

Local Haunt: Dad Fred Sullivan’s most excellent Mexican eatery, The Alamo in Milford.

Pets: A frog named Bubbles, fish named Justin and Sushi, and a dog named Schnuppi (a German word meaning “Schnuppi”)

Recent Works: Lent his voice to the American version of the French CGI epic Arthur and the Invisibles, and is currently appearing in the award-winning indie film, Mo, about a teen with a connective tissue disorder called Marfan syndrome. The film is currently touring film festivals.

Languages Spoken: English, Japanese (learning) and his Swedish (fluent, as his mother is from Sweden).

Best reason not to call him ‘Dewey’ (apart from the fact that ‘Dewey’ is not his name): He is a 1st degree black belt in the Korean martial art of tae kwon do.

HERE ARE EVEN MORE CELEBS FROM WORCESTER!

Chris Gorak, a Worcester native who has fond memories of his parents taking him downtown to Worcester’s Showcase Cinemas on Main Street to see movies like Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark, has worked as Art Director, Production Designer, and more on many of Hollywood’s biggest films: The Man Who Wasn’t There, Fight Club, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Tombstone, Blade: Trinity, Lords of Dogtown, Minority Report The Crow: City of Angels, Tank Girl, and The Hudsucker Proxy.

Alisan Porter ~ Remember that adorable redheaded cherub in John Hughes’s 1991 Curly Sue? That’s none other than the granddaughter of Worcester dance institution Charlotte Klein, and boy has she grown up!  Born right here in Worcester, Alisan became a junior vocalist champion on Star Search at age 5, making her the youngest singer ever to appear on and win the show. She then moved out to L.A. and by the time she was 9 had landed roles in big studio films like Parenthood, I love You to Death, and Stella. Alisan’s big break came when she was cast as Curly Sue, a role for which she won the Youth in Film Award for her performance.   Taking a break from the big screen, Alisan pursued theatre and, at age 18, was cast as Urleen in the Broadway musical production of “Footloose.”  Having conquered both screen and stage, Alisan moved back to LA to focus on her main ambition, music. After selling out major L.A. venues The Whiskey, The Roxy, and The Viper Room with her band The Raz, Alisan set out on her own.  She is now poised to hit it big on the national music scene!  Check out how far cute little Curly Sue has come at www.AlisanMusic.com and www.myspace.com/thealisanporterproject.
 

Jean Louisa Kelly ~ Jean is originally from West Boylston and early on studied dance at the Performing Arts School of Worcester (the same school where Alicia Witt took piano lessons) with Shirley Benjamin, the mother Jon Benjamin, another one of our cover story celebs.  More connections?  Jean and Alicia both guest starred in separate episodes of Ally McBeal, and Jean starred in It Girl, a musical written and directed by BT McNicholl, known to Worcester audiences for having directed “Cabaret” and another production of “It Girl” right here at Foothills Theatre.  And our very own Editor (who went to high school with Jean’s older sister Libby) remembers Jeannie from dance class, saying that “She was an amazing bundle of energy.  And even at a very young age she could pirouette like no-one else ~ we were doing single, maybe double turns, and Jeannie was pulling of quadruples.” 

So what are the highlights of Jean’s career? Well, in the late 80s and early 90s she starred in Uncle Buck, The Fantastiks, and Mr. Holland’s Opus, appeared on Broadway (at the young age of 15!) in Into the Woods with legendary acctress Bernadette Peters, played sexy nurse Diane on Mad About You, landed a now-iconic Neutrogena Face Soap commercial, and then ultimately landed the role of perky Kim Warner on CBS’s now-in-syndication comedy “Yes Dear.”

AND FROM RIGHT NEXT DOOR…
Evans Essence
Sudbury’s Son Shines
By Elizabeth MeyerCHRIS EVANSWEB.jpg

Chris Evans sure is a busy boy. This June’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, in which he reprises his role as fiery superhero Johnny Storm (aka “The Human Torch”), was a hit, and now he’s lighting up screens in Danny Boyle’s sci-fi drama Sunshine, about a mission to re-ignite our dying sun. Next month, he will star opposite Scarlett Johansson in the buzzworthy award contender The Nanny Diaries.

Next year, the 26-year-old Evans has no less than three movies coming out. There’s Terra, a sci-fi CGI epic to which he lends his voice, the Keanu Reeves cop drama The Night Watchman and the Tennessee Williams adaptation The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond.

Born in 1981, Evans grew up in Framingham and Sudbury, where involvement in school plays marked the start of his interest in acting. Where his story diverges from that of many others is not only how good-looking he turned out to be, but how he coupled those striking looks with attitude, charisma and some real skill for acting. On screen, he has proven it through comedy (in Not Another Teen Movie, with fellow Worcester-born actor/comic H. Jon Benjamin), action (Cellular) and straight drama (the overlooked dark treat London).

The 1999 graduate of Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, named one of People Magazine’s Hottest Bachelors in 2006 after his break-up with longtime girlfriend Jessica Biel, is spiritually deep, too. He has been known to visit the high mountains of India to meditate and do yoga. It is a facet of him that does not get covered in the tabloid press, just as his method of preparing for a role is often disregarded. Take Sunshine, for example. To ready himself for the role of a deep-space scientist, he spent time with an American astronaut who holds the record for the longest time in space, learning both the space lingo and getting some perspective on the psychological implications of spending so much time in such isolation. He moved into dorms with his co-stars. He flew in a zero gravity plane.

Talent, dedication to his craft, and good looks…no wonder Evan has already had way more than just 15 minutes of fame ~ and shows no sign of slowing down.

SELECT FILMOGRAPHY

Opposite Sex (TV) (2000)
Not Another Teen Movie (2001)
Eastwick (TV) (2002)
The Paper Boy (2003)
The Perfect Score (2004)
Cellular (2004)
The Orphan King (2005)
Fierce People (2005)
Fantastic Four (2005) (with Lowell native and star of FX’s “The Shield” Michael Chicklis)
London (2005)
TMNT (2007)
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) (reuniting with Lowell’s Michael Chiklis)
Sunshine (2007)
The Nanny Diaries (2007)
Night Watch (2008)
Terra (2008) … TBA (voice)
The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond (2008)

 

Photo courtesy of www.mp3.com

From Overcast in Worcester to the Shadows of FameShadowsFall2WEB.jpg
By Bobby Hankinson

Basements in Central MA. and the main stage at Ozzfest may seem worlds apart, but they’re both a perfect fit for Brian Fair and his band Shadows Fall.

Fair, born in Framingham and raised in Milford, recalls having a typical suburban life before the group skyrocketed to metal stardom. “Milford was a cool town, just a normal small town in Central MA., you know, a lot of keg parties on the weekends and drinking in the woods.”

He started hanging around Worcester at punk rock shows at venues like the Espresso Bar and Worcester Artist Group. He formed Overcast with Mike D’Antonio (now of Killswitch Engage) and soon found himself more ingrained in the local metal scene. When the band broke up in 1998, he hooked up with Shadows Fall ~- another group he had connected with through local shows. “It was easy going into it knowing that you all had similar background and goals and approach.”

But back then the scene was still relatively small and bands took gigs wherever they could get them. “You’d play anywhere you could — VFW Halls, I remember playing a bakery in Northampton, we played a soup kitchen in New Hampshire, we’d play anywhere. It was real DIY style, you had to book your own shows, put out your own record and find the bands to play with,” he said. “You knew you were not only making music, but you were creating a whole scene.”

The band wouldn’t be rocking out in bakeries for long. In 2003 they performed on the second stage at Ozzfest and returned to the tour to play on the main stage in 2005. “The second stage has all that raw energy with kids just in a parking lot going nuts and the main stage you get the full arena rock vibe — you feel like KISS or something up there.”

With Shadows Fall’s latest album, “Threads of Life,” released earlier this year, the band shows no signs of slowing down. The album was a big step for the band, as it was their first to be recorded outside of MA. “We kind of always recorded near home which is great because it’s convenient but sometimes you could lose some focus because you get sucked back into your everyday life,” Fair said. “So this time we went to LA and sequestered ourselves in the Valley and just totally immersed ourselves in the album.”

It’s also the band’s first album for Atlantic Records, and the “upgrade” has been great. “We have some resources we never would have had,” Fair says. “Musically, they let us do whatever we wanted.”

Despite the band’s success though, Fair still knows his roots. “Kids just get all excited to meet you and you’re like, ‘Nah, we’re just a bunch of beer-drinking Mass-holes.’”

This just in! Shadows Fall has been added to the Locobazooka 2007 line-up! Check out www.locobazooka.com for ticket information and more details!

Photo: Shadows Fall with Brian Fair, Center

Boys Like Girls’ guitarist Paul DiGiovanniBOYS LIKE GIRLS WEB1.jpg
From Leominster to the Warped Tour
By Bobby Hankinson

Most professional musicians struggled for years playing any small gig they can get. They persevere through the rough times for that one shot at success. But sometimes it’s just not that complicated.

Paul DiGiovanni is just 19 years old, but he’s already playing guitar for one of the hottest up and coming bands in the country, Boys Like Girls. He joined the band at the ripe old age of 17 and life hasn’t been the same since. “It was just like a whole new world for me,” he said.

DiGiovanni is currently playing the Warped Tour with big names like Yellowcard, Big D and the Kids Table, and legendary punk rockers Bad Religion. But just because success came fast, that doesn’t mean it necessarily came easy.

When DiGiovanni was about 9 years old he moved to a new neighborhood. “I was kind of a regular kid all of my life,” he said. Then he was introduced to guitar and it wasn’t long before he was playing along to rock songs. “I caught on really quick,” he said.

As he entered his teens, he stopped playing sports and concentrated more on music. When he was about 14 he got very interested in the blues and played at blues bars in Sterling and Hartford, CT. At about 17 he caught up with the current indie music scene and even joined some bands in Fitchburg. Then he got the call from the drummer of Boys Like Girls, looking for a guitarist. There was only one problem: DiGiovanni was still in high school.

“I was like, ‘How am I going to do this?’” Luckily, with his teachers’ and guidance counselors’ help, DiGiovanni was able to finish his remaining courses with papers he wrote on the road and in the studio.

The band recorded their debut, self-titled album with Matt Squire (who worked with Panic! at the Disco) in Maryland, making the best album possible. They enjoyed working with Squire and now DiGiovanni says the band considers him an honorary fifth member.

Now BLG is enjoying their success and their time on the road. “Our first tour no one knew us,” DiGiovanni said. “Then you just see like a year later we’re selling out shows with 300 to 400 people.”

Even though he’s the youngest in the band, he said the guys don’t treat him any differently. He also added, “In the past ten years, I’ve matured tenfold.”

With all the experience he already has under his belt, that comes as no surprise.

This Just In! Boys Like Girls will be headlining our PulseFest 2007 at the DCU Center on Sept. 29!!!!

go4-Marcia-Cross-027 WEB.jpgMarcia Cross, who in 2005 was nominated for her first Emmy for her work as Bree Hodge in the wildly successful Desperate Housewives, was born in Marlborough, MA, graduated from Marlborough High School, and graced the stage of the nearby Westborough Players. Many of us remember Marcia as beautiful but insane Dr. Kimberly Shaw from 1992 – 1997 on guilty pleasure Melrose Place, but her body of TV work includes roles on The Edge of Night, One Life to Live, and Knots Landing, as well as appearances on Seinfeld, Cheers, Spin City, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, King of Queens, CSI, Profiler, Everwood and Touched by an Angel. In addition, she too guest-starred on an episode of Ally McBeal, as did both Jean Kelly and Alicia Witt. . Although she is best known as an actor, Marcia, who holds a Master’s degree in Psychology, is also a very involved in supporting the gay community and in promoting awareness about skin cancer detection and prevention. She is now the mother of twins and continues to enjoy incredible success on Wisteria Lane.

Did you know…?

Meredith Viera of NBC’s Today Show began her career as a news announcer for WORC-Radio in Worcester in 1975!

Tony Randall’s first job was as an announcer on WTAG in Worcester!

Tommy Hamilton of Aerosmith is married to a Worcester native!

The plastic flamingo was born in Leominster.

For many years there was a rumor that comic Christopher Titus was from Worcester. When contacted, though, his publicist explained, “He is not actually from Worcester. He is originally from Northern California. We are unsure as to how the misinformation regarding his birthplace started.” But get this, he did appear in an episode of “Yes, Dear” with Jean Louisa Kelly in 2003! His new special, “The 5th Annual End of the World Tour,” premiered on Comedy Central on March 18th, and is now available on a 2-Disc set released by Comedy Central Records. And remember the cult classic Killer Klowns From Outer Space? Chris was in that, too!

R&B singer Amerie is from Fitchburg.

Also check out our PulseFlicks section in this issue for an interview with actor Jacob Head and our Sports Section for a story on WWE wrestler Kenny Dykstra ~ both these Worcester natives are making big names for themselves in the entertainment world!