Lynn Cohen’s Mag-nificient Career Is Catching Fire

November 24, 2013

th-2The Hunger Games sequel, Catching Fire opened with $161.1 million at the box office, setting a record for a November opening. Now that’s exposure by any actor’s standards. But it’s all the more remarkable for one particular cast member who only got involved in film and television acting after her son left home for college.

In the film, Lynn Cohen plays an 80-year-old game contestant named Mags who has lost her voice–but whose facial expressions more than make up for the deficit. Enjoying her time on set, Lynn said of her handsome 27-year-old English co-star Sam Claflin, who plays Mag’s close allie from District 4, “I fell in love with him. One of the very first scenes that we did I was sitting next to him—and to touch his sweet face.”

Cohen was born in 1944 in Kansas City, Missouri. For about 20 years she was a prominent player on the Kansas City theater scene before she moved to New York to further her acting career, and to study acting at Michael Howard Studios in New York City.

“The story in our house is that our son went off to college and we left home.” It was at that time her husband, Ron, Missouri bureau chief for Women’s Wear Daily, was called to take over the publication’s New York bureau. “I was at the Humana Festival, doing Marsha Norman’s first play. [Ironically, it was titled Getting Out.] Ronny called and said, ‘They just offered me New York. Think we should go?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ So we packed our bags. That was [over 30] years ago.” As Cohen had clocked a couple decades worth of rep and regional theater work,  she approached the new Thespian terrain with a good dash of confidence. She says, “I walked into a world where I was auditioning against people who had been here 25 years. I had done almost every regional theatre all over the country. That’s where you learn to act. You learn to act by acting. You only get so much from acting class. You have to put your act on stage.”

Cohen’s first significant film role was Woody Allen’s 1993 comedy, Manhattan Murder Mystery. But she is best known for playing Miranda’s thorn-in-the-side Ukrainian housekeeper and nanny named Magda on Sex and the City. The experience of being on TV increased her exposure in a way that all her theater hours never did. “I had literally no lines, but I had lots of camera time so I didn’t need lines…” she once joked. Cohen’s other noteworthy performances include a recurring role as Judge Elizabeth Mizener on Law & Order, as well as playing the role of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in Steven Speilberg’s Munich in 2005.

Lynn credits her granddaughter and a friend for encouraging her to audition for the role of Catching Fire’s Mags. “Mags is a female to the very end, and strong and funny and crafty,” she noted in a statement from the studio. “How can you resist that? How can you resist playing such a strong woman in a film about strong women?”

But playing a strong female character is not just an act. After all, you can expect to see more of Lynn Cohen in theaters next year. Currently, she has plans to be in eight–yes, eight–other films following Catching Fire.

Lynn Cohen serves as a reminder to all actors at heart that it’s never too late to reach for your dreams. Maybe parenthood interrupted the plan to follow your craft, or an alternative career emerged that was too good to pass up, or some other bend in the road interfered with you pursuing acting. But you never know when your time is going to come. Keep in mind, what worked for Cohen was to stay active in regional theater productions, and she welcomed new challenges as they came her way. Maybe your acting career will grow better with age as well!

Feast on The Hunger

March 25, 2012

“Chance is always powerful. Let your hook be always cast; in the pool where you least expect it, there will be a fish.” – Ovid

I told you so! To what am I referring? Last November, I told you there would be another Twilight phenomenon coming around, so keep preparing as an actor. At that time, it seemed impossible to imagine another movie reaching such frenzied heights from fans and the media. But, The Hunger Games not only set a movie presales record (advanced ticket sales eclipsed the previous record set by The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 by selling 12 tickets per second) but now the box office numbers are in, which officially place The Hunger Games’ opening-weekend profits above The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 1. 

These epochs and epics of the Movie Industry don’t come along often, but they do come along–and seem to come along with increasing frequency these days. And as sure as there is The Hunger Games, there will be yet another franchise blockbuster that fascinates the masses and fills the pockets of movie studios with bricks of gold and silver…sooner than you think. The only question now is: Are you going to be a part of the next big thing? I asked this question in the earlier blog, and the answer’s still the same: Yes, you are! The people who star in these titanic films are not aliens, fairies, magicians, or super heroes. They are real people who had a dream and stayed after it. That is all. Don’t complicate your career. Get your headshots, get your reel, go on auditions, take classes, get in plays, learn classic monologues–go, go, go! And if you don’t star in the next Hunger Games, you career will regardless improve greatly. It’s simple: if you practice playing tennis two hours a day, you will get better, period. Take it a step at a time. The trick is to put yourself in a position to succeed, and then keep doing it. The cumulative laws of numbers will begin to work on your behalf. Jennifer Lawrence never took an acting lesson, but you better believe she went after her career with a vengeance. So resolute was her commitment and determination, I think it’s fair to say she would have starred in some mega something else had it not been The Hunger Games.

Wes Bentley, another star of the Hunger juggernaut, grew up in Jonesboro Arkansas–not necessarily a showbiz hotspot–and struggled to pay the rent working at Blockbuster and TGI Friday’s. Does this sound like someone destined for greatness? No! At that time, he was just another struggling actor; but he worked hard and put himself in a position to win. Can you not do the same thing? Are you any less deserving? Likewise, the answer is No! Go out and make your fortune, and don’t forget to have fun doing it!

Jennifer Lawrence Is Not Just a Lucky Star

March 14, 2012

“I look at Kristen Stewart now and I think, ‘I’d never want to be that famous.’ I can’t imagine how I’d feel if all of a sudden my life was pandemonium.” – Jennifer Lawrence

She’s 21 years old, was named one of People magazine’s Most Beautiful People in the World in 2011, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in 2010 for her stunning performance in Winter’s Bone, and is about to blast the doors of fame off their hinges with her portrayal of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games…even though she’s never taken an acting class.

Who could be luckier than Jennifer Lawrence?

Well, while luck may have been involved, Lawrence’s road to success has been paved more so on ambition and determination. At the age of 14, she had such a conviction that her path in life was to be an actress, she convinced her parents to allow her spend a summer in the New York City in hopes of finding a talent agent. Her parents clearly were supportive of their daughter’s dream, and allowed her to leave her Kentucky home base. Once in New York, instead of finding a talent agent, a talent agent found her, that is, during a modeling shoot. The agent invited her to do a cold read to which Lawrence received high praise despite her only training being from church plays. She did end up staying in New York City that summer, and appeared in commercials for MTV’s My Super Sweet 16.  From that point on, Lawrence committed to her school work load, and graduated high school two years early to begin her career as an actress.

How many high school students do you know with this kind of determination? To label Lawrence as lucky would be to minimize all that she really brought to her career advancements. Her ambition has been unwavering right from the start. So what if that talent agent never discovered her that day? Do you think that would have stopped her? Of course not. According to Jennifer, becoming an actress “didn’t feel like a choice at the time, and it still doesn’t.”

According to a recent New York Times opinion piece, The Go-Nowhere Generation, a side effect from the slow economy has been for young Americans to become “risk-averse and sedentary.” This stuck-at-home mentality at a minimum prevents teens from getting their driver’s licenses, and at worst hurts the economy as young adults take fewer risks with their investments and job opportunities. Kids who grow up during tough economic times also tend to believe that luck plays a bigger role in one’s success, which breeds complacency. “Young people raised during recessions end up less entrepreneurial and less willing to leave home because they believe that luck counts more than effort,” said Paola Giuliano, an economist at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management.

The fact that Lawrence took risks and went to where she felt the work was, shows entrepreneurial grit. She once stated, “I like when things are hard; I’m very competitive. If something seems difficult or impossible, it interests me.” Let’s hope she maintains that positive spirit with her new mega-star fame—and all the pandemonium that unfolds!