EXCESS HOLLYWOOD: PLAYING THE NUMBERS

If there is one constant in Hollywood it is that true talent will not always be recognized. In fact, the rise to the top is more akin to winning the lottery than anything else. The right numbers at the right time come up and you’re an instant millionaire. Nothing else but luck explains someone like Hilary Duff and her ability to stay in the limelight. For those who care enough to look, however, there are actors with skill out there just waiting to be found. They may not always be in the best role. They may not even be working. But they are out there waiting for their numbers to appear. Beth Ulrich, who

I’ve written about previously in several columns, is one of those people.

Ulrich, who was originally born in Ohio, spent most of her formative years in Colorado. It was there that she built the foundation for her future. She took an acting class when she was seventeen and found that she had talent. “I was bit by the bug, as they say,” Ulrich explains. “Up until that point, I thought I was gonna play drums for a living. I had started that when I was fourteen and had been in a couple of bands.” Acting kept her attention, though, and at nineteen she got her first movie role.

Ulrich played one of the leads in “Wild Women of the West.” “It was an Old West comedy filmed in Cañon City, Colorado,” Ulrich recalls. “It never went anywhere; the film was a little less than desirable, but sure fun to make.”

A year later Ulrich began saving money for a move to Hollywood. At twenty-one she packed the car and made a solo journey to Babylon. It sounds almost stereotypical … and is, because this is the story of countless other young actors chasing down their dreams. Unlike most of those actors, though, Ulrich actually found acting work.

“After a few commercials and plays, I got some small parts in low budget films like ‘Fugitive Rage’ and ‘Invisible Mom’,” Ulrich reveals. These roles were nothing, however, compared to what she would next land.

Ulrich auditioned with close to three hundred other actors for the female lead in a film originally called “Life/Drawing.” (Its new title is “Apartment 12.”) She got the role of Lori and ended up starring opposite of Mark Ruffalo. “When we did the movie,” Ulrich states, “he (Ruffalo) wasn’t much of a ‘name’ yet.”

The film got positive write-ups in publications like “Variety,” and I gave it a glowing review on this site. It was my first exposure to Ulrich, and I knew right away that I was looking at someone who had actual talent instead of someone who was just “industry standard.” I wondered when the rest of Hollywood would finally catch on, though. With Ruffalo making a name for himself, I thought for sure Ulrich would follow, but the numbers on that ticket weren’t right.

Ulrich notes that the film went to many festivals, including ones in London and New York, but there was a problem: Nobody was picking it up for distribution. That recently changed, however. “It will debut on

Starz in December,” Ulrich happily informs me. “I hope people will enjoy it,” she adds. If they do, it will be because of Ulrich and her performance.

What struck me about Ulrich’s role in that movie was how easily she pulled off the girl-next-door type role. It seemed so natural that I thought there was the off chance she really wasn’t acting and that my judgment of her performance was off. I thought she could be one of those people who can only play herself, and anything outside that comfort zone would be disaster. I was wrong.

“We’re really nothing alike,” Ulrich says when I ask her about traits she shares with Lori. “She’s out of the Air Force. I would never join the armed forces. She’s kind of cheesy and goody goody and doesn’t know about art. I’m a painter.” Then Ulrich adds something that that only she could say. “She’s the ‘girl-next-door.’ I’m more like the girl from the trailer park down the street that your mother warned you about.” Sandra Bullock would never utter a line like that and mean it. Her publicist would never let her, and it’s things like that which make Ulrich seem honest and refreshing.

While the process of finding distribution for “Apartment 12” may have been tedious and far more difficult than it should have been, Ulrich hasn’t let it get her down. She’s been out auditioning for more roles and is about to start filming a movie called “Naked Women in a Haunted House,” which will spoof T & A and horror movies, reality television and a whole lot more. Her character is Angel Hunter, and the film itself has a unique location. “We’re filming in a haunted mansion in Los Angeles,” Ulrich says. “It’s a very cool house.”

When asked about the film’s story, Ulrich doesn’t reveal much. She does say that there are several female actors and then adds, “All of us girls are going into this house because of a contest to win three million dollars.” The rest of the movie’s plot will have to remain under wraps until it debuts (though one can tell by the title that it will probably involve nudity and a ghost or two), but one thing that won’t be kept secret is the director’s admiration of Ulrich.

Wayne Bauer, who is also the writer and producer of the film, says that Ulrich “walked into the part of Angel Hunter” as if he had “written it for her.” Her talent was something he noticed on day one.

“When she auditioned,” Bauer explains, “her energy level was off the charts, and she used every ounce of it to create her character. Looking at her, she has an innocence perfect for the trusting, naive character I needed for Angel. When you get to know her, it’s obvious she is capable of infinitely more.”

Besides being “thrilled” to have her on the cast, Bauer describes Ulrich as an actress that actually serves as inspiration to other writers and directors. He even went so far as to write additional parts for the character. “As talented as she is,” he says, “I know she will bring even more dimension to her character when she works with the other actors.”

Ulrich may be on the verge of becoming a “name” with “Apartment 12” and the upcoming “Naked Women in a Haunted House,” but she’s still realistic about the entire Hollywood experience. She realizes her story, while far from being the stuff of fairy tales, is still better than what has happened to many of her peers. To those considering taking the acting plunge, Ulrich, who estimates she’s been to over eight hundred auditions, says, “I wouldn’t recommend it. Unless you live and die for it, do something else.” She’s had to work jobs she’s hated and has driven all over Los Angeles (a nightmare if ever there was one) for auditions that ultimately proved to be fruitless — all in hopes of landing that one role that will change her life. It’s not exactly a pleasant way to make a living, and just walking around Los Angeles will give you a good idea of what happens to those who have their dreams broken by the beast that is Hollywood.

When I remind Ulrich that her talent should be obvious to the more astute observer, she answers, “Just because you have talent doesn’t mean people won’t sleep on it.” The sad thing is, she’s right. Box office numbers and who can bring them mean more than actual ability. So how does this actor stay centered and sane in a world that seems to appreciate almost anything but talent?

“I’ve just finished working on an album’s worth of songs that I want to record and am looking for a willing indie label. I am a singer, and I do spoken word. I’ve been performing in showcases in and around Hollywood and getting great responses.” (For those who think Ulrich may be a Lindsay Lohan type, she’s quick to point out that her music, like most of the music she likes, is punk. Full-on, in your face punk, with a little variety thrown in for kicks. Hey, anyone who cites the Misfits as a favorite can only do good punk-wise.) She is also continuing to paint and — yes — audition.

Ulrich has bought a bunch of lottery tickets, and one day one of them is going to hit big. How do I know? Because in a world where “Kangaroo Jack” was a number one movie, talent has got to count for something. All it takes is the right combination, and the world suddenly knows your name. It could be “Apartment 12,” “Naked Women in a Haunted House,” her music, or some other movie that hasn’t even been written yet. I don’t know which it will be, but I do know it will happen. She’s got the right numbers. They just haven’t been drawn yet.

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Posted on October 20, 2005 in Features by
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