By Michael Aaron Gallagher of StayFamous.Net
When Hollywood actress Lee Garlington meets people around town, they often tell her that she looks familiar.
“I have spent the last 30 years having conversations with people who think I go to their gym, our daughters are in the same school, or we have friends in common,” Garlington recently told StayFamous.Net. “The only place people seem to recognize me as an actor is at Costco.”
Whether Costco shoppers are simply more astute or it is merely a coincidence, one thing is certain – people have seen Lee Garlington a lot more than they may realize. The actress, who recently received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series for her role as Darlene in Broken, has worked on more than 300 television, movie and theatrical projects throughout her career, and what a career it has been.
From roles in iconic television comedies like The Golden Girls, in which she played Betty White’s daughter, to Friends (she was Joey Tribbiani’s father’s mistress), Will & Grace, and Two and a Half Men, her television credits alone are astonishing. She even had a near miss at superstardom, being cast as the lead female character in the pilot episode of Seinfeld, a part that was later written out and replaced by Elaine (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus). But unlike many actors who started racking up screen time when they were young, Lee’s journey as a veteran character actor in Hollywood didn’t happen the way you might expect.
“I didn’t begin the acting journey until I was 27, having reached the top of my career as a sound and radio engineer, working on the NPR (National Public Radio) mother ship in Washington, DC.” Garlington said. “Quitting that career and taking a chance on this dream I’d had since I was about 3, moving to Hollywood with no friends or experience under my belt was a huge life decision for me. I’m so glad I had the courage to go for it.”
Still, the choice to leave a stable career for the uncertain grind of the Hollywood acting scene wasn’t always easy for her. “My parents thought it was crazy,” she said.
Ultimately, Lee credits a little luck and a lot of perseverance for her success. “When I look around an audition room at the level of talent and fortitude, the intelligence and beauty of all the women I compete against for a part, I am stunned that I have ever gotten one job, let alone 300!”
Though she may be humble about her accomplishments, Lee’s talent, experience and on-screen versatility have certainly brought her lasting success in an industry known for its transitory nature. In fact, Oscar nominated director Phil Alden Robinson (Field of Dreams, The Sum of All Fears) once called her his “good luck charm,” deciding to cast Lee in all of his films. Working on those films, she recalls was “some shade of magical.”
“Phil Alden Robinson is the most wonderful man in show biz,” Garlington said. “His ‘loyalty’ to me has made the entire journey worthwhile. Just to be an actor in his iconic and seminal films, the amazingly talented people I got to work with because of him – Morgan Freeman, Robert Redford, Ben Affleck, to name just a few – have been many of the highlights of my career.”
Whether you recognize her for appearances in television shows like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, NYPD Blue, The Killing, NCIS, Nip/Tuck and The West Wing or from movies like Psycho II and III (as Myrna the Mean Waitress), Field of Dreams, The Sum of All Fears, American Pie 2, The Hot Chick, One Hour Photo, and House by the Lake, Lee Garlington has proven she can play a variety of roles in just about any project.
Before she decides to take on a new role and accept the part in a TV show or movie, there are a few questions she asks herself first: “Do I like the message of the project? Is the character interesting? Do I want to support the people involved? Is it an offer that I can’t refuse? Will I be challenged? Will I learn something new?”
At the end of the day, Lee says, “It’s not really about the money or dreams of fame anymore. It’s more about – will I enjoy spending my time, energy and talent on this endeavor?”
Inspired by the work of actresses Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, Cate Blanchett and Viola Davis, Lee Garlington also finds herself creatively enriched by films like Shawshank Redemption, Finding Forrester, Pieces of April, Searching for Bobby Fisher, People Like Us, and Crazy Stupid Love.
“I love acting with all my heart,” Garlington said. “However, show biz is a part of my life; my life is not part of show biz. We actors tend to take everything so personally, especially rejection, which is a constant for all but the chosen few. If there’s one thing I could pass on to actors starting out, it would be – show biz is completely impersonal, except when it’s not…”
If she had the power to change something about Hollywood, Garlington would like to see a movie and television industry that has, “Less stereotypes, less ageism, more work for women and people of color and more female executives and writers.” Through her own work with the Los Angeles SAG-AFTRA Conservatory and her public speaking engagements, Lee is contributing to the dialogue necessary to one day bring about those changes in the industry.
Outside of the spotlight, Lee is on a never-ending quest to finish the 3 novels, 28 plays and 113 screenplays on her computer. As she continues to build a legacy that few Hollywood actors can compete with, it seems that at least (for now) she is safe from the flashbulbs of the paparazzi and only the Costco shoppers will be begging her for selfies.
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“Lee Garlington’s Extraordinary Hollywood Career”
Copyright 2018 by Michael Aaron Gallagher
Photography courtesy of The Creative Group PR and Lee Garlington
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