This past week I had the pleasure of sitting down with a veteran of the stage and screen, Don Amendolia. Aside from currently starring as “The Wizard” in the national tour of the Broadway smash Wicked, he is also highly regarded in this neighborhood as Emory Battis from Twin Peaks! Don was kind enough to sit down with me after a brilliant performance in Nashville and we chatted about his current role in Wicked as well as Twin Peaks, and what Larry David is really like. Begin the beguine…
BD: Where are you from and how did you get into acting?
DA: I’m from way south New Jersey and went to college and just got really involved with the campus players and after a couple of years I ended up leaving and going to New York to study at the American Academy.
BD: So what’s it like portraying the Wizard now?
DA: It’s the bomb. It’s great fun, it’s kind of living the dream in its way , it’s such an iconic story and this twist is so evolved I think, Gregory Maguire is amazing and Winnie Holzman who did the book for the musical has done a grand job, because the book is very very dark. It’s not as light as this show is, it’s very dark but it’s great and I have a terrific time. I’ve never done a show this long before but I’m having a wonderful time.
above: Don Amendolia as “The Wizard” in Wicked
BD: Do you remember the first time you saw The Wizard of Oz?
DA: Oh, everything about it. I remember where we lived and I was small enough to be stood on a chair and I remember everything about it. My mom and the little girl across the street-she was my playmate and we went to the little theater in our town, and I remember where we sat and I remember the cartoon before the movie and the song in the cartoon and I remember being very frightened by the witch, very frightened… but not enough to want to leave. A child that small seeing a green face is odd, you know? But I remember that day very clearly.
BD: Wicked has been all over the country, what are your favorite places to visit?
DA: Minneapolis. I used to live there and I love it. It’s a great city, but we’ve been in a lot of great cities – we spent the summer touring Western Canada which is beautiful…but no place like the United States, that’s for sure.
BD: So how did you get involved with Twin Peaks?
DA: Well, at one point I moved to Minneapolis to work as an actor and I met lots of folks there and years later in Los Angeles many of us were there and we all played mixed doubles tennis every Sunday in Griffith Park and Mark Frost was often there, his dad Warren and I were old tennis buddies for years. So it was a big Minnesota contingent of people that were involved in Twin Peaks and Mark brought us all on board. Mark’s a great guy, very smart as is his dad.
BD: You were on episodes directed by both Mark Frost and David Lynch who created the show. What was it like working with them-and how did their styles differ?
DA: Yes, and Todd Holland too… David’s a very unusual guy in his… (pause) I wouldn’t say their styles are all that different. David’s a little more out there-in a good way. They were both fun to work with. It was terrific-there was so much pressure because there was so much to turn out, and the studio where we were way out in the valley – you know you couldn’t really be on the set because it was so tight. It was a maze of rooms and locations. It wasn’t something where you dropped by if you weren’t involved. They were very much the same in terms of getting the work done. Different personalities but great to work with.
BD: You had quite a few scenes with Sherilyn Fenn, what was it like working with her?
DA: Oh she’s a doll, we actually have the same birthday, different years – but the hardest part was getting her to really choke me at one point because she was afraid she’d hurt me! (laughs)
above: Don as “Emory Battis” with Sherilyn Fenn as “Audrey” in Twin Peaks
BD: That particular scene was incredibly edgy for 1990… I mean, with some crazy bondage scene going on!
DA: Yeah, and that was David Lynch. And I remember he saw the makeup girl or something and he liked her purple hair and he said “put a costume on, and get that old vacuum cleaner”, and he just kind of created that scene on the spot.
BD: What was it like working with Michael Parks?
DA: Yeah he killed me actually! Very quiet guy, very, very serious. I thought, “How will they ever pick him up on the mic?” but he certainly knows what he’s doing and he was terrific I thought. A very private kind of guy.
above, left: Don threatened once again by Audrey, right: with Michael Parks as “Jean Renault”
BD: In hindsight, how does it feel to have been a part of such a groundbreaking show like Twin Peaks?
DA: I just feel it was way ahead of its time and its unfortunate that it wasn’t appreciated for what it was then. We knew what it was and we were very proud of it. I always felt sad that the network didn’t stand behind it a little more firmly. I thought the show was as clever as anything that’s been on tv. It was fascinating and how often do you get “fascinating” on tv? It’s still fascinating.
BD: You were part of one of one of the most renowned and referenced episodes in recent tv history, that being Seinfeld‘s “The Rye”. What was that experience like?
DA: (laughs) Yes! I’ve never seen it!
BD: You haven’t??
DA: Yeah-I remember they had asked me to bring some wardrobe from home because they didn’t want to bring me in for a wardrobe fitting. I didn’t mind bringing stuff, they said “just drive on to the lot and pull up to the fire lane, it won’t take that long”. I was there for an hour and a half but Andy Ackerman was a real gentleman to work with.
above: with Michael Richards in Seinfeld – “The Rye”
BD: Did you ever meet Larry David?
DA: Yes and I just ran into him again – I took a leave of absence from Wicked to do a show in Los Angeles with Jane Fonda that I had done on Broadway and he came to see it and afterward he came back and we all went for a walk and I said “we’ve met before, Rusty was my horse” (from “The Rye”) and he said “oh yeah, of course!”. I’d been in a couple of times for Seinfeld, so we’ve met a few times.
BD: Is he anything at all like he is on Curb Your Enthusiasm?
DA: Exactly. Exactly like the show and Martin Short was with him. The two of them together were just ridiculous!
above: Don and myself after the show
BD: So before Wicked you’ve been a part of countless stage productions. What are your personal highlights?
DA: My favorite personally was Cloud 9, that was a marker in all of our lives actually and it was just such an extraordinary play and it was how I began directing. They asked me to direct future productions of it and it was their way of maintaining the quality of the piece and I got to direct it in a few great places. It was really seminal in my career as an actor and a director.
BD: You’ve been a part of so many memorable films in your career. What stands out to you now?
DA: Oh Gosh, in film? Doing Ed Wood was great fun, working with Peter Weir on Fearless was great. He’s probably the best director ever, and I think those two were the most fun. Boogie Nights too. And Fearless was just…I was on that set for a long time and watching Peter Weir work was just amazing.
And that’s that! I would like to send a huge thanks out to Don for being so gracious with his time. If Wicked comes to your town, don’t hesitate!