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FROM THE HEART: Monica Lacy Talks Life, Longevity and Amazon’s ‘The Kicks’

Monica Lacy – Photo by Lesley Bryce

Audiences have seen Monica Lacy grow up on screen and blossom into the dynamic actress we see today. Along the way, she created a diverse body of work, playing everything from brainiacs to bombshells with a dash of off-beat humor and warmth hinting at a bevy of surprises just beneath her adorable girl-next-door exterior. Her hard work and dedication to her craft, coupled with her ever-growing skillset, allowed her to move seamlessly between genres, while continuing to turn the heads of critics and fans.

Monica’s journey as an actor began early in life when an agent took interest in her and her identical sisters, Leanna and Joy. Taken by their charm and innocence, Disney snapped the identical triplets up to star in “Parent Trap III” and “Parent Trap: Hawaiian Honeymoon.” Together, they shot roles on “Growing Pains” and “Beverly Hills 90210,” among others, and Monica put her motor-mouth to good use when the girls were interviewed on “The Johnny Carson Show.” Even early on in her career, Monica gravitated towards comedy. She studied acting with Larry Moss and Howard Fine and improv with The Groundlings. She performed stand-up about her unusual childhood behind the Orange Curtain and starred in nearly 200 television commercials.

While her sisters chose paths away from the spotlight, Monica knew she was just getting started and found roles in several iconic television shows. She asked Bud to help her stay celibate on “Married with Children,” dated Kramer on the classic “yadda yadda” episode of “Seinfeld” and had her heart broken by Bailey on “Party of Five.” On film, she’s been busted out of jail by Reese Witherspoon in “Freeway,” fought to get out of a small town in the Sundance Award-winning “Possums” and haunted Vincent D’Onofrio in “The Cell.” She’s starred in five hour-long pilots for CBS, MTV and NBC, including Clyde Phillips’ “Time Well Spent” and the series lead in “Sorority” alongside January Jones and Christina Hendricks. Monica’s other recent TV appearances include guest-starring roles as an MIT computer scientist on CBS’s “Hawaii Five-O” and a suffering wife on ABC’s “Agents of SHIELD.”

In one of her most impactful projects to date, Amazon Prime’s new family series “The Kicks,” Monica Lacy plays a busy mother working to keep her family’s spirits up after a major family move and help her daughter adjust to playing on a new soccer team. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up Monica Lacy to discuss her longevity as a working actor, the challenges she faced along the way and putting her stamp on her latest role in the highly anticipated new series! She offers a look at some of the great organizations she works with when she is not knocking it out of the park in front of the camera!

How did you get involved with the creative arts early on and what led to you pursuing it as a career?

I kind of fell into it. Growing up, I didn’t know anyone in the business and it never even crossed my mind. We had a friend in high school who did commercials. I am an identical triplet, so he told his agent about the three of us and we went and met him. From there, we went out and booked a commercial. Almost right away, Disney met us and put us under contract to develop a show that would be “Parent Trap 3” and “Parent Trap: Hawaiian Vacation.” We had an easy entry into the business and even then I thought it was kind of a lark and something I was doing just for fun. I started really enjoying and I thought, “OK, I will just do this while I am in college at UCLA.” Then it just became my career and I decided, “Wow! I really like this!” [laughs]

Who were some of the people behind the scenes who served as mentors to you as a young actor?

I would say the first person who did that was Hayley Mills. I had seen the original “Parent Trap,” “Pollyanna” and all of her movies. When I met her and got to be in the show with her, it was amazing! She was very sweet and took us under her wing and kind of told us what to expect. She was very kind. Her and Barry Bostwick, who played our dad, really took a parental role with us and helped to guide us. There were also some acting coaches who helped us along the way. One of the first acting teachers we had was Margie Haber. She was very supportive and taught us a lot. Another big influence was Larry Moss who was my acting guru when I was older. He taught me so much about the craft of acting and I wouldn’t be the same without him!

You started very young in the entertainment industry. How has that impacted how you approach what you do today?

That is a good question! I would definitely categorize what we had as a soft landing into the business, so I felt really positive about it. Now, I work much harder to get an audience and work much harder on my auditions. Back then, I kind of took it for granted that I would always get appointments. Now, I realize that even getting an audition is a huge score! Having had to have the easy success in the beginning but then having to work for it the second time has been an eye opener. After having a little bit of a break and almost starting from scratch getting back into the business, I really appreciate it and I don’t take any opportunity for granted. Any audition or appointment I get, I completely prepare for. I remember the days when I would literally fly through an audition. I would just run by and I definitely didn’t put into it then what I put into it today. I realize how many people are working just to get me in the room. Agents or managers have to call and get the appointment. Then someone has to watch my tape. So, I realize they are all these other people working and it is not just about me doing my job for the audition, if you know what I mean! I put way more effort into it!

Monica Lacy - Photo by Lesley Bryce
Monica Lacy – Photo by Lesley Bryce

You started acting alongside your sisters and were almost a package deal early on. What were the pros and cons of that along the way? I imagine it gets a little competitive at some point!

It definitely did! At first, it was lots of fun. Obviously, it was always great to share success and work with my sisters! It was so great! We could turn around and say, “Isn’t this hilarious.” And you always had two other people enjoy the same success on the same show. It was so great and we got to travel to Hawaii together and be on “The Tonight Show” together. It was so much fun to have other people to share the experience with. Then it came to the point where we started getting our own careers going. Joy went off to mostly focus on college and Leanna and I stayed in the business much longer. It was tough because we had one agent and she would give us every other audition because we have the same look and resume at that point in time. For example, “Saved By The Bell,” she handed to Leanna. “Baywatch” she handed to me. At one point, I said, “I would kinda like a shot at all the appointments.” So, I went and got another agent. It was time to really separate. It has been years and years now where it has just been me pursuing acting. Leanna went onto other things and is more behind the camera now. It really was competitive early on. I remember one time we were up for a movie and it came down to three people: me, Leanna and somebody else. Leanna got the part and I remember thinking, “Wait a minute. We basically have the same look and the same capabilities … ” It was more painful than if a stranger had booked the role! It was painful and it was hard but I think it is my competitiveness that kept me going.

Another cool aspect of your skill set as an actor is your background in improvisation with The Groundlings. What did that experience bring out in your work?

The very first acting class we ever took was with Diana Hill Harden at the Young Actor’s Space. The very first exercise on the very first day was an improv. I still believe, all these years later, that improv is the basis of all acting. I always come back around to it and will keep fresh by taking an improv class because, for me, it’s the germ of acting because it’s responding out of your truth without planning or thinking. I’d say it makes you more grounded and keeps the focus on being inventive, creative and being able to respond impulsively. Sometimes, when you take a deep scene study class, it becomes about all the prep work of learning what it was like to live in the ‘40s, how you would walk and gets you prepared in your body. With improv, it’s just instinctual. You start talking before you can even think about it! I think that is the basis of what acting is — reacting to what somebody tells you. Like I said, I always go back to my improv because it is almost like training for The Olympics. It’s like keeping your instrument fresh and agile! I always go back to it and I also met lots of great people through the classes. It was very inspiring at The Groundlings. There is even a Sunday company that performs before the main company and those people are geniuses! Watching them work is very inspiring. Knowing that some of them don’t even make the main company and how competitive it is is something I really respect!

What is the secret to success for sustaining a long career in this very competitive industry?

I guess it comes down to not being result oriented because you can’t judge a successful career based on your bookings or you will go crazy! Sometimes a person who books a job is many times not the person who is most qualified or the best. For example, sometimes people get booked based on the relationship they have with the producers. The number one thing for me is that I enjoy the craft even if I am not getting paid. I enjoy the satisfaction of going in the room and putting my stamp on a character. I think that is my favorite part of it. If my favorite part was fame or getting every part I go out for, it would be a difficult existence because you hear no a hundred times before you hear a yes! [laughs] If you can’t take no for an answer, you can’t be in this business. Everybody hears it at every level of the game. I just really enjoy the creative process and I almost have a compulsion to put my stamp on something and share it with people. I think that is what keeps me in this career! Being successful is being able to mold, adapt and keep things both fresh and relevant while embracing different things. Studying is also very important and I still go to classes! If I spent the hours I spent in classes elsewhere, I would have a PhD and a business degree! Continuing to push yourself is another key to success, along with being willing to work all of the time. I work in friends jobs for free. I am always trying to be active, even if I am not in a paid gig.

You’re part of an exciting new project called “The Kicks.” How did you get involved and what can you tell us about putting your stamp on that character?

Monica Lacy stars in 'The Kicks'
Monica Lacy stars in ‘The Kicks’

I was first asked to put myself on tape. The direction it was originally written with in script, I kind of ignored. Initially, it said the mom was kind of a hippie, yoga teacher who was very hippie-dippy. I just didn’t connect to that but I did get the idea from it that she was more idealistic to a fault and super into trying to get an A at mothering. I threw out the direction I was given and focused on what I saw in it because that was what was inspiring me to do the role. I put it on tape and sent it. Luckily, I think they liked the direction I took it. When we came into do the audition, they do something called a chemistry read. You come in and they bring in different boys for the son and girls for the daughter. They already knew they had Sixx [Orange], who plays my daughter, and they had another person auditioning for both the mother and father. We all went in and read. As soon as the four of us that booked it went in the room, we knew it! We could just feel it! It just felt so natural and was the kind of relationship that inspired me to be creative. For example, I kind of wanted to tease the husband character and found myself popping into a parental role with the kids. One thing that made it very easy for me to do that was that my kids in real life are the same ages as the kids on the series. I am very in-tune with that tween and early teenage world because I live it with my kids every single day! [laughs] It was very easy for me to step into that world. I really know now that there is such a thing as chemistry and it really works!

You make it sound so easy! What was the biggest challenge for you on this project?

The biggest challenge was that working with mostly kids, they can only be on set for eight hours and I can be on set for 12. A lot of times, we would shoot a whole scene but not my coverage. It would be the master and then the kids coverage and then they would save mine or other adults coverage for the end of the day. They would release the kids and then go back to the kitchen or living room and do my closeup. That was hard because I didn’t get the benefit of all the other actors standing there looking at me but that is part of the job! I had already worked on it, so I would just imagine they were standing there. That was hard because at that point, you only have one or two takes because it is the end of the day and everybody is tired. You have to get it right and that was kind of tricky!

Monica Lacy and her TV family from 'The Kicks.'
Monica Lacy and her TV family from ‘The Kicks.’

You have been a part of many great projects over the years. Looking back, which project had the biggest impact on you?

Another good question! I would say “The Kicks” has had a big impact on me because it is really the first time I have played the mother. That was kind fun to explore and impactful. Another thing that has had a big impact on me is doing pilots. I have done five of them and anytime you do one it is challenging because you don’t know the tone of the show because it hasn’t been done before. Those are always more challenging because you are finding the tone and characters together. Being on “Seinfeld” and “Married With Children,” those two sitcom experiences were amazing for me because I got to work with comic geniuses and I got to discover I really enjoy working in front of a live audience. That really brings up my game! You have to be very improvisational up there and there is something about the audience that brings out the best. It is also exciting because you don’t get a second take because it is live! Those two shows had a huge impact on me because I discovered that I really like comedy. I do both comedy and drama but if I had to pick one I would pick comedy every day! I just find it more challenging and very satisfying. You know, when you get a laugh there is nothing better in the world than that!

You have a lot of work ahead of you in your career. Is there a role you are anxious to tackle?

You know, one thing I have never booked is the part of a truly crazy, mentally ill person. I have never done anything like that in the past. I think it would be a huge challenge and is something based on a lot of research and not so close to myself, where a mom character is a little easier. I would love to play that type of a role in a one-hour show that would get a chance to grow and change. That would be a really transformative role, similar to something like Bryan Cranston in “Breaking Bad” or a show like “Shameless,” where you get to develop a character over the course of the show from start to finish. That would be so great! You would be able to go so deep into it and do a lot of work. I think it would be very exciting. Any show where you get to develop a character over the course of years, is something I would love to do. In the realm of comedy, my dream career would be Julia Louis-Dreyfus! She has been the lead of three different shows, all very different and all comedic. She is able to mine the comedy completely out of each one! She is my comic idol and really, really inspires me. She has had amazing longevity!

Monica Lacy - Photo by Lesley Bryce
Monica Lacy – Photo by Lesley Bryce

I know a lot of your creatives can look to you as an inspiration. What is the best lesson we can take from your journey so far?

I think that if you stick it out, there is a place for everybody in this business. I could have given up along the way but I didn’t. A lot of people ask me, “Do you think I have what it takes?” I tell them, “Yes! There is room for everybody and everybody’s voice can be heard, as long as you are willing to stay with it.” It may not be immediate but it will come if you continue to push forward. As I said, I really enjoy the creative process and that is what keeps you going. If you don’t enjoy going in and killing it on an audition, even when you don’t book it, you need to get out!

I know you lend your name to several great causes. What can we help shine a light on?

Right now, I am trying to help end breast cancer. My mom is living with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. That is my number one goal, so there is a group that I work for called Phase One Foundation. They are doing really, really dynamic things! My sisters and I have been a part of it for about eight years or so. Every year, they do a big fundraiser and they grant from a million dollars on up to a different team of researchers that are bringing promising drugs directly to market. There are a lot of promising answers out there but there is not enough money to fund bringing a particular drug to the people. It is a really cool, very immediate way to see change and helping out people who are really on the front lines of helping to cure cancer. I am also a speaker for AutoNation. They have announced all of their fundraising money will go toward curing breast cancer! They even went so far to change their corporate colors to pink for the cause! I think that is a very modern thing to do! It’s awesome! Since we do the Drive Pink campaign each year, I feel like I can be a bigger agent of change for my mom personally. I get to do the commercials, be in the print ads, get the word out and effect change in that regard. I also work with PhotoPiece, which is a charity that goes to underserved kids in Los Angeles area high schools and teaches them the art of photography. Everything is provided to the kids for free. It ranges from instruction from some really cool professionals who are working in the business, all the way down to the end where a couple of pieces are selected for a gallery showing of their work. We invite local patrons and they come out to buy the work. What is so cool about it is that you are teaching these kids who may have a negative label and watch them as they have a positive label like photographer or artist. Some of the kids we originally started working with are now teaching the class! It is really exciting because I feel art is the way home for many people who may not have a lot of other ways to express themselves. I really believe it gives people a positive outlet while providing us a way of seeing the life and struggle of kids in our community that we might not see otherwise. This is a great way to break down that barrier and see how the world looks from their point of view!

Those are all amazing causes. Thank you for bringing them to our attention and thank you very much for your time today, Monica! I can’t wait to see where you are headed next!

Thank you so much, Jason! I really appreciate your time!

Catch Morgan Lacy on Amazon’s Original Series ‘The Kicks’ and be sure to check out the trailer below! Keep up with her continuing adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Visit her official website at www.monicalacy.com.