Stacey Oristano’s motto in life is one word- “Letitgo.” The Friday Night Lights star combines a simple and “Eckhart Tolle-like” approach to life but most importantly, she builds a strong argument to release one’s self from any and all negativity. Classically theatre trained in London and constantly learning from those around her, Oristano takes away nothing but positive energy from every experience on and off stage, but especially on the set of the NBC drama as Mindy Collette. In its third season, the newly engaged Mindy makes plans for her wedding to hot-tempered Billy Riggins. Fans will have to wait and see what happens with the nuptials, but the woman behind Mindy speaks candidly about her life on stage, the easiest audition ever, and keeping football in the family.
Racket Gail: You said you give yourself fully to any project that you work on. How do you do that when you take on a role?
Stacey Oristano: I have a lot of history and background work that I do before I even go to my first day of work as far as researching the character, where she has lived, where she’s from, what her life has been and how it would make her react to the other people around her, so that hopefully when I either get to the first day of rehearsal or the first day on set, I’m pretty much ready to be put into a situation. Once I’m there, it sort of is my life for that time as far as the present goes.
RG: For your character on Friday Night Lights what kind of research did you do to help prepare for the role?
SO: Mindy was a little different. I didn’t know much about her except that she was Tyra’s sister and she worked as a dancer. I only got brought on for one episode and I had like ten lines or something. So I sort of made up a character. I knew she was sort of hard, and a little tough and sarcastic. So I just took that and made into what I thought Mindy would be.
RG: Did you see yourself at all with her personality when you were doing the role or did you separate yourself from the character that you play on TV?
SO: I guess some parts of me can definitely tend to be a little dry and sarcastic- maybe not the best thing- but she’s definitely tougher than I am. She’s a bit of a bad ass. I’m not really quite that tough, I don’t think.
RG: When you were growing up, when your father was on the stage as an actor, how did that influence your life? What did you take away from that experience?
SO: I think I sort of fell in love with the whole community as far as artists, in the way they looked at their life and love for their friends. It was such a family and a community that I had been a part of since I was about four years old. I’ve never really known anything different. It’s kind of our gypsy, bohemian artist life and I love everything about it.
RG: Did he give you any advice when you said that you wanted to become an actress?
SO: [Laughs.] My dad’s advice was always if I go to college and use theatre as my major, I need to minor in waiting tables.
RG: Oh, okay [laughs].
SO: And he was so right [laughs].
RG: When you do get a chance to be on stage, what kind of feeling do you get, if you could describe it to me, when you’re in front of a live audience? Apart from being on a TV show, when you really can’t, you know, interact with a crowd.
SO: I love the immediate response in knowing that what I’m doing right at that moment is affecting people, whether I make them angry, if I make them laugh, if they’re crying. I know that it’s happening right then and it’s immediate, there’s something. I know it’s gonna be so cliché but there’s something really magical about live theatre that I’ve always been in love with. It’s about the immediacy and that the audience is experiencing it at the same time that you are.
RG: What is your earliest memory of being on stage?
SO: I think when I was eight years old and I did Guys and Dolls with my dad and I just played this little girl who walked on in crowd scenes and whatever. But I remember making a little character for myself and she was walking and holding her dad’s hand and looking at the big, tall skyscrapers in New York City. I guess that was the first time that I knew that I really was going to give myself over to whatever project I was doing. But I mean, it’s like I get to play make-believe and play house every day, so I’m still kind of that little eight-year-old now [laughs].
RG: You said that you had a background in singing, so describe your passion for that and how would you describe it [your voice] to people that haven’t heard it before?
SO: It’s a pretty big Broadway, belty Disney- some people call it “Disney voice.”
SO: I would die the happiest girl in the world if I ever played a Disney princess, if I could do the voice of a Disney princess.
SO: I think that would be HEAVEN.
RG: Do you have a favorite Disney movie?
SO: Little Mermaid is probably still my favorite. I think it was actually the first VHS that I owned too, that and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. They’re like my two first movies that were mine.
RG: What did you take away from your experience studying in London?
SO: Definitely that… [pauses] Oh God, it’s a job and it’s work and you have to, you know, devote your hours just as you would like a 9-5 office job. You have to take those hours into yourself and whatever work you’re doing at the time.
RG: Did your training at all help you with your character on the show and how you tackle that role?
SO: Yeah, definitely because I learned a lot about… [pauses] I think the greatest thing that an actor can do is listen and really listen to what else is going on in the scene and what the other people are saying because then it affects how you respond. I think it’s really important especially on our set where you’re given a little bit of freedom.
SO: The scene’s not the same every time that we do it. So if somebody throws something at me that is different from last time, how would I react at that time to what’s going on?
RG: Do you like the pressure of having to improv a little when you’re on set?
SO: It’s heaven.
SO: I feel like if I get to do another TV show where it’s a bit more strict, I’m gonna feel weird at first, like when you have to walk in and hit a mark and say the exact lines verbatim…that’s going to be a little scary now [laughs].
RG: Yeah exactly. I’m just gonna go back, I just love it because I studied abroad in London, so I kind of know what the scene is in the West End.
SO: Where did you go?
RG: I studied in Harrow, which is in North London but I wasn’t involved in theatre. I was able to take a cultural journalism class and I went to a show with Billie Piper, but her understudy was actually performing that night.
SO: Oh really?
RG: Yeah, it was called Treats. I don’t know if it’s still running, but it was in the West End. It was pretty amazing to be there.
SO: I like London so much.
RG: Yeah, how long were you there for?
SO: Three years.
RG: What was your favorite play when you worked in the West End?
SO: I saw the play Art probably four or five times when I was there. There were a bunch of ex-students at my college who were in it.
SO: We saw, gosh, we saw everything. I saw Rent over there- which was a little different watching British actors play these American New Yorkers- and Blood Brothers and Mousetrap and like the stuff that been over there forever. But when I graduated, I was doing Steel Magnolias in the West End.
RG: Is there a competitive edge- the actors over there compared to here? If you can, kind of tell me the difference.
SO: Over here, you don’t have a movie star and a TV star and a theatre actor. Every actor over there does everything and I think that’s kind of great- they’re just actors, you know, and that’s what they do.
RG: So they don’t crossover or anything like that? [Laughs]
SO: Over here, you sort of, like you have movie stars, then you know, you have Broadway people and sometimes they crossover but they get into a niche, I guess.
RG: How do you think being able to sing and act has helped your career, I mean, landing jobs and stuff?
SO: I don’t know. This whole TV show obviously was something that I wanted to try but I was really focused on the theatre for the first part of my career after I graduated college. Now that this opportunity has opened itself up, it’s like a whole different adventure but I don’t know, I still want to work and do everything. I want to do any work that I can.
RG: Talking about your singing again, your symphony days. Tell me a little about that experience.
SO: I do a lot of concerts, it’s mostly Broadway shows that we do, but it’s book-in-hand and we just sing the music with a symphony behind us. I’ve done Chess and I’ve done Hair and gosh, what else? Music Man. It’s mostly for people who love the actual music, instead of doing the show.
RG: How did you handle the transition from being on stage to being recorded for a television show?
SO: It’s a little different and I think I hopefully honed it down now that we are in the third season. But there were times when I was on set when the director’s like, “Stacey, it’s a little too big, a little too big. Make it smaller, make it smaller, and make it smaller.” It took me a while to really trust how subtle and little you can actually be on TV. I’m definitely still learning.
RG: You did voice-over work too, so could you name me some of the projects that you’ve done that people might have heard of before?
SO: I do children’s books on tape and then I do a bunch of anime like Dragonball Z and there’s a new one, Sasami: Magical Girls Club.
RG: How did you get involved into that?
SO: I’ve always sort of played around with voices and once my agent got wind of that, he started sending me out on a bunch of voice-over work and I sort of kept booking jobs, working and doing a bunch of commercials like Pepsi and beers commercials and then the books on tape. Going in, they would ask to bring a character for the anime and you just get to play around and figure out, like you see what the person looks like, so you try to figure out what they would sound like.
RG: Did they ever try to, like they do in Shrek, make it look like you a little bit?
SO: What I do for the anime, what happens is when they bring the cartoon over from Japan we dub it over in English. So it’s hard because we have to try to match what the writers have written in English with the mouths when they’re moving in Japanese.
RG: Sometimes when they do the dubbing, it’s always off and stuff. Do you ever get complaints from other people saying that it’s not true to life, what you see on the TV, when you’re actually saying it?
SO: I do about five or six takes for each line but the producers can pick which one they think matches the best and I think you sort of know with anime because it doesn’t actually look like a mouth talking.
SO: So you sort of expect it to be what it is.
RG: I have to ask you about [Chapelle’s Show,], I mean, it’s probably the most random thing I saw in your bio because you’ve done stage, you’ve done Friday Night Lights and then all of a sudden- Chapelle’s Show.
SO: [Laughs] Yeah. I walked into a casting director’s office because I had a meeting with him and this is so awful, but the first minute that I walked in, he pointed at me and he said, “Hooker.”
RG: Oh my god [laughs].
SO: I look back at him and said, “Casting director.”
SO: Apparently, he had just gotten a call that they needed some tall blonde prostitute/hooker to play Dave Chapelle’s girlfriend and so he put me in on the show- the easiest audition I ever had.
RG: [Laughs] Really? Obviously, being type-cast and then you are all of a sudden a stripper on Friday Night Lights. What kind of feeling did that give you, knowing that people see you as one role; did you kind of want to branch out and change your look a little bit?
SO: I would love to break out and I would love to wear a little bit more clothing maybe.
RG: Do you think actresses have a hard time keeping that image or is it changing a little bit with TV shows there days? I mean, Ugly Betty of course is one of them that stands out in my mind, for actresses in the business now, or has it kind of stayed the same?
SO: I hope it’s changing. I hope there’s a more realistic view of people in general, but especially of women, as a whole. I hope that we are turning over to a more realistic portrayal of people, in general. I hope I’m not just being wishful thinking but I hope that’s the way we’re heading in the future. It seems like they are because the shows are becoming more realistic in the way that they’re shot, like Friday Night Lights and The Office and things like that.
RG: Do you think that documentary-style is kind of changing the way that we see films? I mean, they use it so much more in films, but for TV shows too?
SO: I think so. I think it’s sort of becoming maybe the new kind of genre, the new way to shoot. Maybe it’s a fad for now, I don’t know, but I think it’s so interesting because it does make it so real. I hope it makes the audience feel like maybe they’re part of it too, so you know you’re not watching something that looks so “studioized.” It’s so perfect and everything’s beautiful.
RG: It’s kind of like a new reality show in a way, but they use it a lot more in dramas but for comedy as well. Have you always been interested in comedy?
SO: Yeah. Sort of where I hone to go to is comedy. Well ever since I graduated college that’s what I’ve been doing but I was trained in classical theatre and Shakespeare. So I just want to work and I want to try to do anything and everything and always stretch and take risks myself to see what happens in the future.
RG: So for your character, how do you think Mindy has grown throughout the season?
SO: Oh my gosh. You finally get to see her interact with other characters that you haven’t before, like I’m working with Taylor Kitsch and Minka Kelly and obviously Dana [Wheeler-Nicholson] and Adrianne [Palicki] who play my mom and sister. It’s fun to see the dynamic that happens when you put certain characters together, certain families together and how I guess, especially in my experience, there’s a comedy that comes from those two different people coming together. It’s been really fun to get to work with the new people this season.
RG: How has it been working with the other actors? What do you learn from them when you’re on set with them?
SO: There’s been times when I just find myself sitting and watching some of these people like Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton and Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, who plays my mom. I will just sit back and watch because what they do is so…amazing and perfect and I think the best learning experiences is actually [from] watch[ing] it and to do it.
SO: You could take a class and read a book but when you see it really happen, I think that’s the best lesson ever and I definitely learn from those people.
RG: So for the show, it takes place in a fictional town in Texas, but you were born and raised in Texas, right?
SO: I was.
RG: So did you relate at all to the character’s upbringing, I mean, the whole ambiance of what the show is trying to do for the town?
SO: Yeah, I definitely understand the mentality of high school football in Texas. It’s a big deal down here and I come from an actually big city but it’s still a big deal in the big city too. You go and you support your football team that Friday. It probably seems funny to people who aren’t from here but that’s the way that it works here, it’s a big deal.
RG: Your dad is a sportscaster right?
SO: Um hmm.
RG: What was his reaction when you told him that you were going to do a TV version of Friday Night Lights?
SO: I think he always talks about how we’re keeping football in the family.
RG: Yeah [laughs].
SO: No matter what, we do. We have football in my family. We can’t get away from it.
RG: Do you watch on a regular basis? Did you watch the Super Bowl?
SO: Oh yeah. I’m a huge football fan. I’m a Cowboys fan, of course.
RG: Who were you rooting for last night [at the Super Bowl]?
SO: The Steelers, absolutely. I had white knuckles right up ‘til the end, that was a really great game. Yeah, [I was] definitely rooting for the Steelers.
RG: Going back to the show, what do fans have to look forward to this season? I mean, you’re planning for the wedding and all but are there any other tidbits that you can give away for the show?
SO: I’m so happy about this season because you get to see some of the characters in a different light. The stuff that Taylor Kitsch, who plays Tim Riggins, is doing, you get to see kind of the sweeter, softer side to him. And then Zach Gilford, who plays Matt Saracen- the stuff that they’ve given him this season- we get introduced to his mom finally and there’s a pull that happens between him trying to you know, decide if that’s a part of his life he wants to explore. The stuff that they’re doing is so beautiful; you really get a deeper look inside the characters this season. It’s really kind of moving.
RG: How would you describe Mindy’s relationship with Billy?
SO: Oh my god.
SO: It is tumultuous love. I think they genuinely do love each other.
RG: You said that Princess Bride was a movie that you loved watching over and over again. Why do you love it so much?
SO: I remember my mom and my step dad and my brother and I, we read that book together when I was young, maybe six or seven. I fell in love with the book and then I heard they were making a movie. My family and I always had this discussion about who was going to play Princess Buttercup and then the movie came out and it was just as magical as I wanted it to be. I look back at it now and I actually look at the brilliance of Robin Wright and Carey Elwes and the people who were in it.
RG: Would you call yourself a hopeless romantic?
SO: I think I am. It’s not that I pretend that I’m not but apparently I am.
RG: Aw. So for your involvement with charity, how did you get into helping the community and why in particular did you choose the Matthew Shepard Foundation?
SO: The Matthew Shepard Foundation- there’s a singer named Randi Driscoll who I found in New York and she wrote a song for the Matthew Shepard Foundation and a bunch of my friends had done a play called “The Laramie Project” which was written about the town Laramie and how it affected the people of Matthew Shepard when the accident actually happened- how it affected the town and just his story and the things that his mother is doing now to reach out to communities, I think it’s really beautiful. I go into high schools and schools and they teach tolerance and it’s not just tolerance towards gay people, it’s tolerance towards races and religions and people in general. It’s about humanity and I think that they’re really important lessons that they especially try to instill into people when they’re young [and] that’s to really get it. I think it’s a really important message and the things that they’re doing are truly beautiful.
RG: Do you have any other future charity work that you have this year or you are planning on doing in the future?
SO: Yeah, I still do a lot of work with the local women’s shelters here in Dallas too. I’ve done that since high school.
RG: You said that your motto is “Let it Go.” What do you mean by that?
SO: “Letitgo,” it’s one word.
RG: “Letitgo”- just one word. How come you made it one word?
SO: Because, um, there just were so many times when I especially do this, but I watch friends who… [pauses] something happens and you kind of just hold on to it for too long and it becomes like a chip on your shoulder, so finally I just decided- you know kids? Letitgo!
SO: [Funny voice] Letitgo.
RG: Oh, that’s awesome. So then would you say, just don’t do anything or just don’t get involved?
SO: You know what? Accept it when it happens and then make amends and let it go. Don’t hold on to negativity.
RG: What would you tell all your fans, not just of the show, but for you what to expect in the future, anything that you would share with them?
SO: Oh my gosh!
SO: I wish I knew. I have no idea what’s coming up in the future and I’m terribly excited and a little scared by it at the same time. So I guess I’m gonna find out at the same time they do.
RG: [Laughs.] So any creative ventures? Anything besides the show or has it just kind of taken over your life, really?
SO: I think for the next month or two, it probably has but I’m just going to continue to explore any venue and option and fly by the seat of my pants.