LOS ANGELES – Starring on a television drama is a lot like starting over in the acting business, says Broadway star Lindsay Mendez.
“It’s such a different beast,” she says of “All Rise,” her new CBS series. “You get a new script every week. They make changes every day and, for me, it felt like dipping my feet into a totally different pond.”
Luckily, one of Mendez’s costars is Ruthie Ann Miles, another Broadway veteran who also is new to the series business.
“You have to think faster,” Miles says of television work. “But there are similarities: the character development you have to do and the layers you need to bring.”
Both Tony winners for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical (Mendez won for “Carousel,” Miles won for “The King and I”), the two found “All Rise” the perfect setting for this new phase in their acting lives.
“It’s not the goal for a theater actor to make it on television, because they’re very different mediums,” Miles says. “But I love when an actor can float in and out and morph into the needs of this or that stage.”
In short, it’s a learning curve that’s best taken with a friend. That they’re together in a new series is ideal – particularly since they’ve been in shows before and shared many of the same experiences.
Both heard about the quirks of acting on camera before landing “All Rise” and were cautioned not to be too broad in scenes. “Bring it smaller, act with your eyes, not your face,” friends told Miles.
But both have discovered it is possible to be more animated, no matter what the role. Mendez plays a court reporter; Miles is a judge’s assistant.
“People want to see people who have very full thoughts, who don’t just speak with their eyes and maybe a twitch of their eyebrow,” Miles says. “This show does explore full character developments, which represent everybody who will be watching.”
Ethnicity, she says, wasn’t part of the casting breakdown, “which was really refreshing. Usually, it says, ‘Asian-American woman, early 40s who must speak with 10 years American accent.’ I’m happy to do those jobs, but it was really great to just get to be a proud American with an immigrant mother.”
Writers and producers, Miles adds, are looking outside the box when hiring. “We have turned a corner. It’s a wonderful new wave for the next generation to see on screen.”
Both actresses say it’s fun to suggest changes to scenes and get tossed in others at the last minute.
“The producers are very open to ideas,” Mendez explains. “They’ve created a rep company feeling to the show.”
“It’s really how theater is done,” Miles adds. “We’re in a room for hours, together, just rehearsing.”
The two say the “All Rise” phase has been fascinating. “We moved out here together from New York and it’s been a wild ride. We’re here to be each other’s support.”
While their husband are still in New York (with, by the way, their Tonys), “we’re here for each other,” Miles says.
Even though they’re not the top-billed stars of “All Rise,” “we’re happy to be where we are,” Mendez says. “We’re so proud of this show.”
And Broadway? It will always be part of their lives. Audra McDonald, they say, proved it’s possible to move back and forth. Producers have come to view New York theater as a gold mine of talent.
The producers of “All Rise,” Mendez says, “knew my work and were big theater fans.” On other series, extensive Broadway credits might night matter, but here, “theater is respected.”