Click on Read More for an interesting article/interview to Robin done in 1998 by Chicago Tribune.
You can also find the interview as usually in the Interviews Section.
It's All An Act
Palos Heights Native Robin Tunney Carves Out An Impressive Career
By Patrick Z. McGavin
Robin Tunney was like every young girl in America who imagined herself on stage, in front of a crowd, knowing intuitively she was meant to be seen and heard. She saw the film adaptation of "Grease" 16 times as an impressionable 6-year-old and knew instantly that was the world she longed for.
In 1981, 8-year-old Robin, her 11-year-old sister, Susan, and their mother, Cathy, set off for auditions for a touring production of "Annie," a role Robin believed she was meant to play. There was one small problem. Robin, she is the first to tell you, is not a gifted singer. Susan was blessed with a beautiful voice.
At the audition, Cathy Tunney was approached by a reporter from WBBM-TV who was filing a story on child actors vying to be the next "Annie." The girls' father, Patrick, owned an AMC car dealership on the South Side and by chance was in his office where he saw his wife being interviewed on television.
"They showed these kids going through the audition," Patrick Tunney recalls. "Then I see Cathy being interviewed. The reporter asks, `You have two daughters; will one get disappointed if the other is called?' Cathy says, `Oh, no, they're both professionals. They support each other, and they'll be fine.' "
At that moment, Robin burst through the door, unable to hide her pain and disappointment when Susan was chosen for a callback and she was not.
"I wanted to be Annie so bad," Robin recalls. "I'm holding (my mother's) leg, saying, `They picked her instead of me. I hate her, I hate her.' "
Patrick Tunney was watching a family drama -- his own -- unfold on live television. "They cut back to Walter Jacobson, and he says, `I don't know if I could subject my children to something like that,' " Patrick Tunney says.
"There is disappointment very early in life when you're in this business," he adds. "I'm sure there is disappointment to this day with auditions. You have to have the ability to go back the next day and not let it bother you. That was Robin. She could do that."
Anybody who ever met Robin Tunney learned not to question her resolve. Ten years later, after graduating from Sandburg High School in Palos Township, Tunney told her parents she was putting off college to go to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.
While expressing the concerns voiced by most parents, they knew it was useless to try to talk her out of chasing her dreams, and Robin Tunney now has arrived at the moment she thought about constantly as a young girl. The 25-year-old Palos Heights native has carved out an impressive career, successfully balancing commercial assignments in high-profile studio films such as Andrew Fleming's "The Craft" (1996) with risky, daring work in small, independent works like Bob Gosse's "Niagara, Niagara."
Tunney's performance in "Niagara, Niagara" as Marcy, an emotionally scarred young woman with Tourette's syndrome, earned her the best actress prize at the Venice Film Festival in the fall. And in October Tunney married Gosse, the man who guided and shaped her performance. The couple began dating right after shooting the film and live in New York.
"At first I thought about setting him up with my sister," Tunney says. "But the more I thought about it, I realized I wanted him for myself.
Although she left Chicago seven years ago, Tunney says the guidance, solidarity and strength of her close-knit, South Side Irish-Catholic family (her parents now live in Hometown) is an essential part of her success. When she walked up to accept her award in Venice, she dedicated it to Pat Maheras, her godmother and one of her mother's six sisters, who died from complications of breast cancer just before the film's major shooting began in 1996.
"She was this brilliant, strong woman who always made me feel important," Tunney says. "It seemed so unfair, it made me hate the world a little bit. I never lost anybody in my life; I had a healthy family.
"I'm going to treasure that moment (in Venice) for the rest of my life. It was the most important thing that ever happened to me professionally."
Written by Matthew Weiss, "Niagara, Niagara" (the title derives from Marcy's habit of repeating words) is a lovers-on-the-run movie that follows the impulsive adventures of its two protagonists, Marcy and the inept, though essentially kind, petty criminal Seth (Henry Thomas) she falls for. The film documents their perilous and fantastic journey of self-discovery.
(Although The Tribune's Michael Wilmington in his review referred to the film as a "flabbergasting postmodern nutto-noir," he praised Tunney's performance: "Tunney has the showcase part, and you can see why she impressed the Venice jury. With a wide-eyed intensity that suggests the young Debra Winger, Tunney turns Marcy into a real-life Jekyll and Hyde.")
In her best-known role, the reluctant hero of "The Craft," Tunney played a lonely and rejected high school girl who unwittingly helps unleash a teenage coven of witches and then tries to destroy them when they get out of control.
Tunney's own sense of determination and wonder formed at an early age. She was the youngest of four children from an intellectually curious and performance-driven clan. Her father was born in Ireland and immigrated to the U.S. in 1948. Her mother grew up on the city's Southwest Side. Robin's oldest brother, Patrick, is a therapist and playwright who lives with his family in Los Angeles. Brother Marty of Chicago has performed stand-up comedy in the area. Chicago resident Susan, the one with the beautiful voice, has performed with several Chicago rock acts, most recently as the lead singer of Adam Jack.
"Being Irish, that's how acting started with me," Tunney says. "I could always lie. Growing up, my parents were always very dramatic. My dad had this amazing ability with words. My mother worked in bars and restaurants, so she understood how people thought and what they wanted."
Her father explains the family's disposition toward performance: "All four of our kids could give you a half-hour on the stage at any time. There is a magnetism that draws them to the stage."
As a young girl, her mother says, Robin Tunney was bright, intuitive, funny and playful -- and obviously ambitious. At a time most of her peers were busy being adolescents, she was acting in television commercials and trying out for roles in local plays.
"She was the type of child who was very focused. She was an excellent student. I never had to tell her to do her homework. She always wanted good grades," Cathy Tunney says.
And she didn't give up easily. Just a week after the notorious "Annie" episode, Tunney auditioned for and received a part in a television commercial.
Tunney's earliest passion was basketball, a dream that ended when she severely injured her knee her freshman year in high school, requiring reconstructive surgery. Although the family lived in Palos Heights, she was attending school at the academically rigorous St. Ignatius College Prep, a Jesuit high school on the Near West Side of Chicago.
"I freaked out there my junior year," Tunney says. "Ignatius is really competitive. I was really bad in classroom situations. I'm really hard on myself. When I have to answer a question in front of a group of people, I can't. I'm such a crowd pleaser, I was terrified to be wrong. I was always used to being the smartest kid in the class, but I wasn't there, so it was really hard on me."
She transferred to Sandburg and continued to audition, refining her craft, waiting for a breakthrough moment. As a senior, she won a contest to have dinner at a downtown restaurant with the American cult director John Waters ("CryBaby").
"I'd never seen anybody so famous in my life. I'm with John Waters, I'm 17, and I've never seen one of his films. I thought, `This guy's weird.' "
A few days after meeting with Waters, Tunney was flown to New York to audition for a part in the film "Blue Skies," with Jessica Lange (in an Academy Award-winning role) and Tommy Lee Jones. The director, the famed English filmmaker Tony Richardson, was frail (he died just after completing the film).
"I couldn't speak in front of the director. All I knew were my lines. I thought I was going to see this Hollywood director with a smoking coat and a pipe. It was this frail, thin man. He looked at my resume, and asked me to (recite) a monologue from `Bus Stop.' I'd done the play two years earlier, I couldn't remember the lines. I just started crying and ran out. It was so brutal," says Tunney, who didn't get the part.
Even so, Tunney says she saw her destiny come sharply into view. When she returned home, she told her parents was she going to Los Angeles, using $4,000 she saved from working as a waitress.
"I bought this horrible Mustang for $2,000 that broke down every time I stopped," Tunney says. When she got to Los Angeles, she slept on her brother Patrick's couch. Her parents worried about her safety.
"When you have kids, the worst places they can go is California or New York," Cathy Tunney says.
But Tunney was prepared. She had an agent. She had the necessary union cards to get work. The jobs came slowly, some children's shows, an "Afterschool Special" on ABC, some commercials, a couple of television movies, and then her first big break, a part in the 1992 comedy "Encino Man," which caught the attention of the producers of an ABC miniseries, "JFK: Reckless Youth."
She liked her professional life but was suddenly alienated by what living in Los Angeles came to represent. "My life was constantly about getting a job," she says. A number of the actors on the Kennedy miniseries lived in New York, and she was attracted to the professional camaraderie and solidarity. She moved to New York in 1992.There she worked to develop her acting skills. She didn't work on any films for a year, preferring to take acting classes. To make money, she did some voiceovers and allowed the cast and crew of Larry Clark's controversial 1995 film "Kids" to shoot the climactic party scene in her apartment.
She was fearless, willing to do almost anything. For the 1996 film "Empire Records," a comedy about a group of freewheeling non-conformists who work in a record store, Tunney shaved her head, a look that still sticks with Andrew Fleming, director and co-writer of "The Craft."
"My first impression of her was very different from the person I got to know. She had just cut off her hair for `Empire Records,' she walked in wearing thrift store clothes, she just looked insane," recalls Fleming, who today describes Tunney as an actor with "the most even keel of any that I know."
"We did a very elaborate screen test (for "The Craft") -- which is rare -- in costume, on the set, with two scenes. . . . When we screened it (for studio executives), we all thought, `Hey, she's good.' I was immediately intrigued by her; she has the kind of depth we (needed). Once it was done, I couldn't imagine anyone doing it better."
To research Marcy in "Niagara, Niagara," Tunney pored over medical and scientific journals and read a series of essays by professionals afflicted with Tourette's syndrome. She watched the documentary "Twist and Shout," which follows a group of people and their efforts to live with the consequences of the disease, a hereditary, neurological disorder characterized by violent spasms, involuntary movements and tics and breakdown of verbal skills and uncontrolled bursts of obscene language.
But the part illustrated the power and thrill of taking on an identity and world so removed from an actor's own experience.
"What's great about acting is the chance to discover different facets of myself," Tunney says. "When you nail a character, you really inhabit them; a part of them is inside you forever. You grow. I'd be lying through my teeth if I didn't say I act for other people. I want people to like (my work). I think acting makes you discover parts of yourself because you're forced to. There's always going to be parts of you up there."
She says her experiences have enabled her to deal with unfair or unrealistic expectations. But the shape of her career has provided the necessary balance and perspective.
"The one thing I'm really grateful for, everything has come an inch at a time. The progression has slowly gotten better, but it's never been bang, you're made. You're acting and making a living and making the mistakes on a small scale. It's never been the next day, you're somebody different. I've had failure. I was almost fired from things, kicked in the head and felt terrible about myself and what I did. I think having any kind of failure is an important element to accepting any sort of success.
"No one film is going to make you; no one opportunity is going to break you. . . . Every film I've gotten is for a reason; every film I haven't gotten is for a reason."