When Amanda Peet was just three years old she made her on-stage debut, by rushing the stage from the audience during a play. “I was a big show off,” she says. Even so, the native New Yorker had a hard time convincing her family she was destined for a career in Hollywood.
With no performers in her family tree the 36 year-old actress says she was considered “a little bit of a freak show” by the rest of her family.
Parents Charles, a lawyer and Penny, a social worker looked down their noses at her show biz aspirations. “It was something too intangible,” she says, “too tied up with charisma and presence.”
Her mother was concerned about Amanda’s career choices from the get go—”Don’t you know what happens to people who rely on their looks?” she asked the 14-year-old when she decided to pursue modeling—but both parents softened when she was taken on by legendary acting coach Uta Hagen, the Tony award winning actress who also trained Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. “Finally, the stamp of approval!” Peet said.
Even then, Amanda says, it took the elder Peets “a long time” to accept that she “wasn’t just going to be a drug addict person cavorting around in parties in a very short dress or something.”
Even as early success came her way—like co-starring as a ditzy but kind hearted hit-woman opposite superstar Bruce Willis in The Whole Nine Yards and its sequel The Whole Ten Yards—the rents were still not impressed.
“My mom is like, ‘Who’s Bruce Willis?’” she says of her two time co-star. “I remember when I got Seinfeld and she literally didn’t know who Seinfeld was. It was kind of like, ‘Guys! I’m getting famous!’”
Chances are family dinners are now a little more relaxed. Amanda’s days of doing Skittles commercials—her first TV gig—or guest shots on episodic television and direct-to-the-bargain-bin indies, or small roles in big movies—like playing Jennifer Aniston’s sister in She’s the One— are over.
“You’re always hearing stories about people who do an indie that goes to Sundance and you become famous overnight,” she says, “but somehow, I managed to do 12 indies that never made it to the video store, to the Quad or even to the Buffalo Film Festival.”
Somebody was paying attention, though, and she began mixing larger studio pictures in amongst the independent films that were her mainstay. Being voted one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World by People in 2000 further raised her mainstream profile. Since then she has been featured in everything from the great, but doomed TV series, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and the micro budgeted Please Give to 2012, the $200 million end-of-the-world epic which airs on TMN and Movie Central this month.
The big budget movie was a challenge for her. Director Roland “Master of Disaster” Emmerich, a filmmaker best known for making epic special effects movies, told USA Today that 2012 would be his last disaster movie, “so I packed everything in,” which made for an occasionally uncomfortable shooting experience.
Amanda called the shoot “grueling in an athletic way.” Her character Kate, ex-wife of hero John Cusack, spends much of the movie on the run from encroaching natural disasters.
She sprints away from a massive earthquake, does aerial tricks in a Cessna and spent far too long submerged in a water tank “with costumes over our wet suits,” she says. “Remind me never to do a water movie ever.”
Worse than that was the uncomfortable feeling of acting in the key of chroma, which she describes as one of the two worst things about her job (the other being auditioning).
“It’s really hard to do blue screen and part of it is combating the feeling of being a jackass,” she says. “You respond to nothing in front of a lot of people. If you’re alone in a room, it’s less embarrassing but here you have a bunch of people you don’t know who are watching you so it’s embarrassing and you have to get over it really quickly.”
These days Peet balances acting with her new role, as mother. “The truth is I’m quite lucky because I can be a real diva and demand that [daughters Frances and Molly June] come to the trailer and hang out so I really can’t complain.”
Peet will next be seen in December’s Gulliver’s Travels, a reworking of Jonathan Swift’s classic story. She plays the magazine editor (and potential love interest) who assigns Lemuel Gulliver (her Saving Silverman co-star Jack Black) to write a travel piece on the Bermuda Triangle where he uncovers a race of miniature people.
Best of all? It’s based on a classic, one that even her mother probably has heard of.