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Tom Amandes makes acting look so organically fluid that when he steps in front of a camera, viewers don't think he's doing anything.

“You're right,” Amandes agrees. “I”m not!” 
  


You can see the episode of the new TV series “Hart of Dixie” directed by Crystal Lake and Richmond native Tom Amandes when it's broadcast at 8 p.m. Nov. 7 on WGN Channel 9.

The self-deprecating actor, who grew up in Richmond and Crystal Lake, is breezing down a Los Angeles highway as he talks to us on a cellphone. He's on his way to edit an upcoming episode of the CW TV series “Hart of Dixie” that he has just directed.

Crystal Lake and Richmond native Tom Amandes directs a scene from the new CW TV series “Hart of Dixie.”


“Some of the people from ‘Everwood' are working on ‘Hart of Dixie,' so they brought me in to direct an episode this past month,” Amandes explains. “I saw the rough cut yesterday and I was pretty pleased.”

If you missed it, “Everwood” was the 2002-2006 TV show that gave the 52-year-old actor his most memorable character, Dr. Abbott, the establishment foil to Treat Williams' new doctor in town.

Or perhaps his most memorable role was as Chicago's crime-fighting icon Eliot Ness in 44 episodes of “The Untouchables” back in the '90s. (That's how he met his wife, actress Nancy Everhard, who played Mrs. Ness.)

Amandes' blessing and curse is that he loses himself into his characters so much, we remember them more than the actor who created them.

That might especially be true of Amandes' next big role in a movie that nobody's seen yet. He plays President Abraham Lincoln in the 2012 film “Saving Lincoln,” based on the true story of the president's bodyguard, U.S. Marshal Ward Hill Lamon.

“It was one of those amazing opportunities for any actor to have, especially an actor from Illinois,” Amandes says.

So, how does a son of Illinois prepare to play the 16th U.S. president?

“I went back to Illinois,” Amandes says. “I went back to Springfield.”


Tom Amandes as Abraham Lincoln in Saving Lincoln - a film by Salvador Litvak. Saving Lincoln is the story of Abraham Lincoln as told through the eyes and memories of his friend and bodyguard Marshall Ward Hill Lamon. The film uses modern visual effects technics to bring our actors and audiences into actual photographs of the 1860's bringing history to life in a way we've never been able to experience before.

And?

“The transcendent moment for me was when I walked around Lincoln's neighborhood at twilight. The first night I was down there, I left my family and went out to walk. That whole area is open to the public all night. I had Lincoln's neighborhood to myself on a beautiful summer night with just the gas lights glowing.

“As I walked down the sidewalks, which are actually boardwalks over dirt streets — they really nicely recreated 1860 — there was that moment when I had a sense of Ha! This was what it was like for him to walk home from the office. I absolutely had that moment of chills.

“Then I thought, 'I can do this.'”

Amandes can do many things as an actor. Check out his bio at tomamandes.com for proof. If you do, you'll notice that Amandes has racked up a lot of doctor roles, including on the TV series “Parenthood.” (He treated autistic son Max.)

“Yeah,” he says. “A lot of doctors. I guess I must fit the mold. I certainly feel comfortable by now slipping on the white coat. But then again, I've played my fair share of lawyers, DAs and even cops. Not to mention the occasional astronaut, horse trainer and even president.”

His serious interest in acting more or less began at Crystal Lake Community High School (now Crystal Lake Central High School).

“I was fortunate enough to be there at the right time,” he says. “My first year I think we did seven plays. By the time I was a senior, we were down to one or two plays due to cuts, overcrowding and split shifts. I caught a good time to be in Crystal Lake.”

After high school, Amandes headed straight for the Goodman School of Drama (as it evolved into the Theatre School at DePaul University) before moving to California.

Amandes was born in Richmond in McHenry County, the sixth of 11 children. When Amandes was 9, the family moved to Crystal Lake.

“I enjoyed doing the plays in grade school,” he says. “At some point, I realized that this is something I'm pretty darned good at. I've been fortunate to cobble together some kind of career out of the whole thing.”

Crystal Lake and Richmond native Tom Amandes starred as Martin Posner in the 2008-2009 TV series “Eli Stone.” The actor has branched out into directing TV series episodes.


For the time being, Amandes works behind the camera, having directed episodes of such TV shows as “Everwood” and “Brothers and Sisters” and now “Hart of Dixie.”

“I'm thrilled to have this shot at directing,” he says, still whizzing down that L.A. highway. “Hopefully, I'll be able to pick up more of that. ‘Hart of Dixie' has been really fun to work on. I hope they do well enough that I'm asked back.”

If that doesn't pan out, Amandes can always fall back on his career in medicine.

“I've had the chance to play an awful lot of different roles over the years,” Amandes says. “And if folks want me to be a doctor? I'll open up and say Ahhhh!”

-- Dann Gire

 
 



THE NEW YORKER

ON TELEVISION

WESTERN EXPOSURE

The WB expands its family practice.

by Nancy Franklin

JANUARY 20, 2003


There are these moments when a show unexpectedly succeeds in capturing our loyalty, or at least in heightening our attention. I had been watching the WB's Monday-night family drama "Everwood" off and on since it began last September when such a moment came, a few weeks ago. Two fathers—rival doctors in a small town, whose teen-age children are friends—had driven together to collect the two kids, who had gone AWOL from school one day and found themselves out late, with no way to get home. En route, each father spoke of how he would deal with his child. And then each did the opposite of what he said he'd do—the hard-nosed dad, who said that kids can smell fear in their parents and will take advantage of it, let his daughter know that he was just glad she was all right, and the dad intent on communicating with his son was left mute when his son angrily brushed by him, saying, "I'll be in the car." The men said one thing and did another, and you believed both. It wasn't a huge moment, but it was a complicated, memorable one that made you tip your hat to the show's writers.

One of the better shows that premièred last fall, "Everwood" was created by Greg Berlanti, who for several years was the head writer and executive producer of the WB teen drama "Dawson's Creek." Treat Williams plays its central character, Andrew Brown, a world-renowned New York City neurosurgeon, who performs miracles.  

The other pleasant casting surprise of "Everwood" is Tom Amandes, who plays Dr. Harold Abbott, Amy's father. Dr. Abbott has an unfortunate personality—his way of welcoming Dr. Brown to Everwood is to tell him that he's in his parking space. He goes out of his way to make sure that he'll be disliked, and then he worries about being disliked. He wrestles with his prickliness and rigidity; and when he manages to override his own worst instincts—the sarcasm, the stubbornness (both of which are pretty amusing, actually)—he has a real sparkle. He has a nice, crackly voice, too; I'll bet he does a good Jimmy Stewart imitation.

Someone told me, the other day, that he had watched an episode of "Everwood" but was embarrassed to admit it. The WB should take that as good news: when you feel embarrassed by a show, you almost always come back for more.

 
"Mr. Amandes, how did HBO,  Tom Hanks, and the other workers on "From The Earth To The Moon" simulate weightlessness?"

Tom Amandes: "...For the series, we accomplished weightlessness in a number of ways. Sometimes it was by a particular way you stood that would simulate weightlessness. When you see the lunar EVAs, that was done with very large helium balloons that were attached to the backpacks (actually the harnesses) that the stuntmen wore. And that would essentially create the 1/6 gravity appearance of the Moon. That's basically how we did it. There were some special effects added in later, but very few. "

1998 Transcripts of People Online with Tom Amandes as Astronaut Harrison "Jack" Schmitt"
From the Earth to the Moon


TELEVISION REVIEW
Coffins and Wedding Cake: 
Four Sitcoms Tie the Knot
By JOHN J. O'CONNOR
The NEW YORK TIMES
October 10, 1995

In real estate, it's location, location, location. Increasingly in television, it's packaging, packaging, packaging. That encompasses stunts like having the star of one sitcom show up in another, much to the delight of the laugh track. Or then you get tonight's stretch on NBC in a two-hour sitcom linkup that has been advertised as "Three Funerals and a Wedding." They could also be called "Three Goofy Farewells and a Gay Caper."
The funerals come first, beginning on "Wings" at 8 when Joe (Tim Daly) and his brother Brian (Steven Weber) are hired by a wealthy Nantucket matron to fly to Miami and bring back the body of her deceased father. When the two charming incompetents return with the wrong body, Joe ends up in the coffin impersonating the corpse. Nothing is impossible in sitcom land.
Then at 9 on "News Radio," the dizzy gang at WNYX find themselves attending several funeral services for a rat, literally, a rodent who, thanks to environmental mania, was the office pet. Dave (Dave Foley), the skeptical station manager, wonders, "Does anyone here remember something called the Black Plague?" But his fretting is dismissed as a symptom of a cold heart. Bill (Phil Hartman) witheringly suggests that Dave go and recharge his robot power pack.
On "Frasier" at 9, Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and his brother, Niles (David Hyde Pierce), are put in the delicate position of overseeing the ash-scattering and memorial service of their Aunt Louise, whom they unreservedly loathed. Meanwhile, their father, Martin (John Mahoney), reveals that he once composed songs specifically for Frank Sinatra. Needless to say, Frasier manages to spike the funeral service with a hilariously ambivalent eulogy and a rousing choral version of dad's "She's Such a Groovy Lady."
The gears shift screechingly in "The Pursuit of Happiness" at 9:30 as prime time veers into a gay comedy routine that would have been unthinkable for a network only five years ago. Alex (Brad Garrett), the enormous but attractive law partner of Steve (Tom Amandes), has lost his boyfriend to a 22-year-old male model. The problem: Alex has no date for a wedding reception that everyone is attending, including his former companion. When one possibility fails to materialize, Steve's wife, Mac (Melinda McGraw), insists he go as Alex's date while she has her loony brother Larry (Larry Miller) impersonate Steve.
The ensuing confusion of identities builds steadily into an engaging farce, especially when the grateful bridegroom, a client of the law firm, bestows on Alex and his date the honor of the first dance. Steve is acutely embarrassed but still notices that "Alex, you're really a wonderful dancer." As usual, the episode ends with Steve visiting his spunky grandmother (Maxine Stuart) in a retirement home. She spots a newspaper photo of Steve dancing with Alex. Not to worry. "When you're old, you don't care what anybody thinks," she tells him. "It's a rush." So, in a sense, is "The Pursuit of Happiness."
The Untouchables' Return
By Lon Grahnke, Chicago SunTimes, January 11, 1993

Series Is Rough, Rich Vision of Capone-Era Chicago

Never before have the characters of gang-buster Eliot Ness and Chicago mob boss Al Capone been developed as fully on film as they are in the first two episodes of "The Untouchables," a bristling crime drama shot in Chicago. The Paramount syndicated series, premiering at 7 tonight on WGN-Channel 9, is rougher, deeper and richer than Robert Stack's 1959-63 "Untouchables" on ABC, Brian De Palma's 1987 movie and any other Capone film dating back to the original 1932 "Scarface." Written and produced by filmmaker Christopher Crowe, the weekly show explores the psychological sides of Ness and Big Al. 

In the spirit of Francis Coppola's "The Godfather; Part 2," tonight's two-hour debut sets the stage for the historic confrontation between two formidable and complicated adversaries. Crowe flashes back to Brooklyn in 1910, when Capone was an ll-year-old shoeshine boy. Befriended by Mafia leader Johnny Torrio, young "Snorky" learns a new meaning of family as he works his way up in Torrio's vice rackets. 

Then Crowe cuts to 1915 on Chicago's South Side; where a 12-year-old Ness is growing up as a bright student and star athlete in a wholesome environment. Full of idealism and political ambition, he progresses to law school at the University of Chicago. If this sounds too tame and polite, don't worry. The new "Untouchables" is loaded with shocking violence and enough ethnic slurs to offend viewers of Italian, Irish, Jewish or Polish descent.

William Forsythe creates a complex portrait of Capone, who reached the height of his power here at age 31. Forsythe reveals an introspective side of the bootlegger, extortionist and cold-blooded killer. He loves music. He reads Homer to henchman Frank Nitti. He sees himself as an honest and honorable man, defying unjust law and serving the people. 

I hate violence," Capone tells friendly reporters, who treat him like a harmless and colorful court jester. "It's bad for business," adds the self described entrepreneur, comparing himself to Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller and other powerful capitalists. Outperforming such heavyweight Capone actors as Robert DeNiro, Jason Robards and Rod Steiger, the fiery, Forsythe is the most exciting element of the new series.

Chicago stage actor Tom Amandes also outshines his predecessors (including Stack and Kevin Costner) as Ness, whose moral gravity exacts a high price. "We don't live in America anymore. We live in a sovereign country called Chicago, Illinois," the disillusioned crusader tells his future wife. "I guess I just grew up thinking it wasn't going to be the way it is. I suppose I'll adjust.

 He can't. Capone won't let him. So as a rookie Treasury agent in 1930, he assembles a team of crime fighters and vows to use "any means necessary" to destroy the corrupt empire. "I won't sleep until we've gotten our city back," he says. Amandes tempers the hero's integrity and courage with a strain of self-doubt, making Ness darker and more vulnerable. 

John Rhys-Davies from "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", struggles with the thankless task of trying to replace Sean Connery as Malone, the, older cop who advises Ness. Nancy Everhard from "Reasonable Doubts" acts sweet and smart, as Eliot's supportive wife. Byrne Piven (as Torrio), Joe Guzaldo, David Perkovich, Rick Snyder and other local actors seize their moments. And the city itself looks great in scenes from the Loop to the West Side to Hyde Park. 

Channel 9 will repeat the premiere at 3 p.m. Saturday. Then "The Untouchables" will move to its regular slot from 8 to 9 p.m. Sundays, with a weekly rerun at 4 p.m. Saturdays. Paired with "Deep Space Nine" on the weekends, Chicago's very own crime show gives Channel 9 another winner.