Skip to primary navigation Skip to main content

Actor of the Month

Joanna Lipari

Interviewed by: MARCI LIROFF, CSA

1) Has there been a Casting Director that has encouraged and/or supported you in your career?

There are so many Casting Directors that have encouraged and supported me that it’s impossible to name them all. One-stand out is Meg Liberman who cast me in Days And Nights of Molly Dodd in 1988 and has consistently supported me and encouraged me to this day.  I am very grateful to her.  

Another big help is Marci Liroff, a straight talker with a kind heart who I depend on to coach me for auditions.  As we work through a scene, I get such inspiration and it has paid off. 

There are so many others, …Grace Wu, Dodie McLean, Mike Fenton, Hoyt Bowers, Nancy Nayor, John Levey, Junie Lowry Johnson, Becky Wu…so many. 

But there is one Casting Director I would like to pay tribute to:  the wonderful Irene Cagen Forrest who passed away in 2010.  Irene was a fantastic actor, but it was her caring and enthusiasm and support as a Casting Director that I would like to highlight here.  Irene had a true passion for acting and actors.  Unlike many performers, Irene didn’t have a jealous bone in her body.  She always rooted for you, no matter what. I met Irene as a young actor in New York. She understood my struggles as a female character actor, and she was always supportive, always the one with a smile, a word of encouragement, and a positive attitude.  Yes, Irene Cagen Forrest was special…and at every audition, before I sign my name to the casting sheet, I send up a little prayer for Irene to help me, and she always does.  Thank you, Irene.

2) What work are you most proud of?

In television and film, I am most proud of my recurring character work on Persons Unknown (NBC) in which I played twins: Helen, the domineering head of a secret government organization operating outside the limits of law, and Angela, her insane twin sister confined to a strait-jacket in a third world asylum.  I did 6 episodes of the show, and it was so much fun to grow these characters. It was a great opportunity for me.  (You can check it out on Amazon Prime…or my demo reel on YouTube…yeah, yeah, an actor never stops promoting.)

I am also very proud of my comedic work. Sometimes in small roles like in Honeymoon in Vegas, where it was about a look.  I love that; feeling the timing just right to make the moment funny.  

Oddly enough, one piece of comedy work that I am most proud of is an audition I did for a project a couple of years back. It was for a CBS pilot, 9JKL written by Dana Klein and Mark Feurerstein, with whom I got to read.  The six pages of dialogue flew by in the audition.  Everyone was very complimentary, but it was Dana Klein’s comment that blew me away.  She wanted me to know that I delivered every line exactly as she heard it in her head when she wrote it.  Oh my!  The jackpot for an actor. I am very proud of that piece of comedy work, even though I lost the role to the ever-worthy Linda Lavin.

I am also proud of my work on stage, especially in new plays. I love theatre. It’s where I started and where I always feel at home. 

Two recent plays stand out for me. I played “Grandma Franca” in the original play, Luka’s Room at Rogue Machine Theatre. That character was complex, suffering from Alzheimer’s, yet funny; nasty, yet also sweet. I am very proud of my work in that play.

And my one woman show, Activities of Daily Living.  I debuted the show in January 2020…bad timing, Covid hit just a few months later. But now, in August 2022, I am performing daily for the entire month at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe at the prestigious Gilded Balloon Teviot venue.

3) What or who inspired you to pursue acting as a career?

Mary Martin as Peter Pan.  It’s March 7th, 1955. I am not yet 6 years old. My family ate dinner early to be ready for the first ever live NBC broadcast of the musical, Peter Pan. We sat together in our living room as my dad opened the tv cabinet to reveal our black and white television.  The picture was black and white and grainy, but it didn’t matter.  I was mesmerized.  And when we were told to chant, “I do believe in fairies” to bring Tinkerbell back, I did it with gusto, tears streaming down my face. 

I wanted to sing like Mary Martin. Fly around the stage like Mary Martin. 

And wanting to be a part of it...part of the magical world of theatre and make believe.  I was hooked, then, now, and forever more – a world of make believe, where imagination is as powerful as a buzz saw.

4) What was your first IMDBPro credit and how did you feel when you saw it? 

I got my first credits before there was an IMDB…but to see my very first TV credit on The Rockford Files was quite cool.  In fact, IMDB had credits for me that I had forgotten about… it was fun to see those credits and remember those jobs.

5) How has IMDBPro helped you market yourself to filmmakers?

It’s easy to send a link to my IMDBPro page rather than constantly sending out resumes. And I am happy that IMDBPro now has a way for me to add my theatre credits as well. It presents me in such a complete way.

6) Any funny casting room stories?

I have two.

My first story happened on my first trip to Los Angeles in 1978 to do the aforementioned Laserblast, I had read an article about Hoyt Bowers, a well-known casting director at Paramount. I decided to send him a picture and resume to introduce myself.

Now, at the time, in New York, actors would send an 8x10 picture and resume in a manila envelope with a piece of cardboard, so the picture didn’t get wrinkled or ripped.

I got everything ready, but there was a problem:  I could not find any thin cardboard to enclose in the envelope.  I had, however, been snacking on a Sara Lee cheesecake.  I looked at the 8” round cover.  Thin cardboard.  Perfect.  I washed the Sara Lee cover off, let it dry and then slipped it into the manila envelope to protect my precious picture from damage.

Three days later, I got a call from Hoyt Bowers’ office.  He wanted to meet me.  I was ecstatic.  He even gave me a “drive on” that allowed me to park in an executive spot.  The assistant showed me into his office.  He was at his lovely wooden desk but stood up and shook my hand when I came in.  He motioned for me to sit. 

“Well, now, Joanna, did you bring one?”  I had no idea what he was talking about.  “Another picture and resume”, I offered.  “No, no. A cheesecake.  How did you know that Sara Lee cheesecake is one of my most favorite things!”  He burst out laughing.  I explained why I did it.  How I liked the cheesecake too…and we laughed.  When the meeting ended, he told me that I could call him anytime.  Over the years, I would call him – or pop into his office when I was on the lot – or meet him for lunch.  He was one of the best.

My second story occurred a few years later when I made the permanent move from New York to Los Angeles. Although I knew how to drive, I didn’t know how to drive a stick shift. I was broke and a friend knew of a cheap VW bug for sale for a few hundred bucks. I bought it and another actor friend of mine, took me that evening to a parking lot for my first stick shift lesson.  It was difficult but my pal said he’d help me the next day.  But the next morning, I got a phone call from my agent that I had a mid-morning audition at Warner Bros.  I wasn’t even sure where that was!  (No GPS or cell phones in those days.) 
I got in my VW bug, and I stalled out on the freeway entrance.  I kept trying to work the stick shift, cars are honking, I’m stalling and freaking out because now I’m going to be late.  Finally, I get the car going and staying in the right lane, driving only in second gear, I manage to get to that horseshoe driveway at Warner Bros.  I pull in.  The car stalls.  The guard says, “You can’t park here.”  I’m crying now.  Freaked out, stressed, and I look at him and toss him the car keys and said, “Just take the car. I have an audition and I can’t drive the thing.”  He was stunned.  I went to my audition.  I go to the office only to find out from the assistant, that I was late, and the session had ended.  “Oh no, it didn’t.”  And crying and sweating and freaked out, I burst through the door and into the inner sanctum of this Casting Director, whose name unfortunately I cannot recall, and blurted out the whole story.  She stared at me.  I’m crying and hiccupping from crying and saying I want to go home where I can call a taxi or take a bus or take a subway and that I don’t even know why I’m in Los Angeles, or why I want to be an actor…..

I must have taken a pause.  Because she calmly said, “Yes, getting used to LA can be tough.  Want to audition now?” I looked at her.  She smiled.  I smiled.  I nodded my head and wiped the snot from my nose.  I got my sides out.  I dabbed at my tears with my sleeve, and we read the scene.  She thanked me and I left.  Back at the WB horseshoe, the guard was waiting for me.  He gave me a hug and offered to drive me and my car home to Hollywood.  Another guard followed us.  He told me that he was sure I’d be a success because of all my passion and persistence and emotion! 

7) Tell us a fun fact about you outside of acting:

I don’t know if this is a fun fact, but I am a licensed clinical psychologist.  I did my training at Pepperdine University and my post-doctoral fellowship at UCLA.  

During the years of training, I had a couple of fascinating internships.  I am absolutely addicted to understanding human behavior – and I love murder mysteries, so I did one internship working for the police, creating profiles on unsolved murder cases.  (This is long before the shows that focused on that stuff.)  

The detectives would set me up in a conference room and bring in cardboard boxes.  Each box was an unsolved murder.  I would look through the evidence and piece together a profile that was then entered into the VICAP system – the FBI system for tracking violent offenders.  The work was a perfect fit for me both as a psychologist and an actor.  I would look at the evidence – crime scene photos, witness statements, autopsy reports – and I would put myself in the ‘mind’ of the killer, like it was a character I was playing.  It was incredible to use my acting skills to help solve a heinous crime.

To help with my ‘profiling’, I also interviewed killers, some of them famous, like Charlie Manson, Juan Corona and Sirhan Sirhan at Corcoran Prison.  I used these interviews to assist prison psychologists to understand what the common thread existed in killers but also what made them different from a psychological point of view. Learning about these killers and using my acting abilities to help health professionals understand what to look for was very interesting and rewarding.

Oh, and one other ‘fun fact’ – I knit – a lot!  The more acting work I have, the more knitting on the set turns into afghans, shawls, and sweaters.

View on IMDbPro More Actors of the Month