Actor • Manistee, MI
Publisher and editor Jennie Marie Naffie recently had the chance to talk to Toni Trucks. “She is as genuine as she is talented and beautiful” says Jennie.
Tell us a little about yourself.
First and foremost, I am a proud Manistee native. I was born in Grand Rapids but was raised “Up North” as they say. My parents both still live and work in the Manistee area as well. I built a wonderful foundation as a performer in Manistee. At age seven, I did my first play at the Ramsdell Theatre, a historic treasure in our town. I took dance, drama, and singing. I also watched many movies at The Vogue Theatre (another local treasure). My work in high school theatre finally led me to Interlochen Arts camp which then led me to spend my senior year at the Academy. My Interlochen training helped me to be one of 10 girls selected into the University of Michigan’s Musical Theatre program. While at Michigan I took time to study acting in London and spent my off months working summer stock at the Music Theatre of Wichita. Upon college graduation, I moved to New York to pound the pavement as a performer. Since then I have traveled as far as Bulgaria for my job but for the most part, I now split my time between Los Angeles and New York doing film, television and stage work.
Did you always want to be an actor? What childhood experiences led you toward acting as a career?
I absolutely ALWAYS wanted to perform! I love having an audience. I love singing and creating characters. I think I drove my relatives crazy because every family gathering turned into a live stage show. To this day my cousin Amy and I do a Christmas presentation. When I was seven, my dad took me to see my first play at the Ramsdell Theatre. We sat in the balcony which is his favorite place to sit. We saw The Most Happy Fella starring your dad– the unforgettable Dominic Naffie. I remember being so impressed with his comfort on stage, such an easy and inviting performer. During one of the scenes, a local girl a little older than me walked across stage carrying a cake. For some reason, I had no idea that kids could do plays. I wanted to be up there so badly. I asked my dad right away if I could be in a play. At intermission he found out that auditions for Sweet Charity were the next day. My dad took me, I got the part and the rest is history. I think kids naturally grow out of their desire for “play and pretend”… I never did.
How did growing up in Manistee influence your pursuit of acting?
I was surrounded by incomparable teachers and a joyful community of people that always told me “YES” and cheered me on! I am so lucky to have been exposed to the creativity and energy of my teachers. They impact me still today. When you are young you think anything is possible. Manistee continues to shout that truth in my ear no matter how far away I am. For that I will be forever grateful.
How do music, the visual arts, and literature influence your work as an actor? Was it important that you were introduced to the arts in school?
As an actor we are asked to tell other people’s stories every day. So you have to sit in their seat and be able to truthfully convey what the world looks like from their point of view, whether you agree or not. This takes a totally open mind. Give yourself permission to be wowed and inspired regularly. My brother often introduces me to new music and it is such a gift. My life was influenced so greatly by my teachers. Being exposed to the arts every day in school was the key. We celebrated both the math wiz and the painters all under one roof. This is the way the world should be and must be taught.
When and how did you get your first break?
In the entertainment industry you get a lot of “First Breaks”. It can be up and down in a blink of an eye. I have many “first break” stories. My first television break came during my time in New York. While performing the lead in Two Gentlemen of Verona, I sent a tape to Los Angeles for a new TV show on Showtime. It was my first television audition. I didn’t hear anything for two weeks. Then I got a call. I was flown to LA on my one day off for a screen test. Two auditions later, I had the job and was moving to Los Angeles. It was a BIG change. I went from a dressing room in the basement to my own trailer on the Paramount Lot in Hollywood. Looking back, it was a very exciting time. It all happened so fast. I did feel a bit like Cinderella.
You have a background in musical theater. Do you see yourself someday performing on Broadway in a musical?
YES! All I ever wanted was to work on Broadway. It was my first love. All of my training was for the musical theatre world. My career took an exciting turn the other way but I do still hope to one day do Broadway.
What has been your favorite role so far and why?
I have gone from secretary to vampire, to doctor and back again. This is the fun of my job. I think if I had to choose, it would be “Anita” from West Side Story. It is such a rich beautiful play. Anita is just dripping with fire and passion. You also see her through a wide range of emotions over the course of the play. It is very fulfilling as an actor. After a performance, you are exhausted in the best way possible.
You seem to be busier than ever. How do you stay centered?
It’s the everyday things that help me stay centered, happy and healthy. For example, going to the gym and grocery store bring me joy. People joke that I am always at the post office. I do love the post office. I also talk to my parents on the phone a lot. They help me to keep everything in perspective.
What advice do you have for young people who want to pursue the dramatic arts?
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers he talks about what is believed to be the “magic number for true expertise: 10,000 hours” That is 10,000 hours of practice to achieve a level of mastery in anything” My advice: GO TO SCHOOL!!! Please train your body and mind. Sharpen all of the tools in your tool box so that you will be ready for anything a director asks. In today’s world we celebrate the 15 minutes of fame game. We are used to getting the fast food talent. I call it “McTalent” I started training when I was seven years old. I am still learning today and still counting my 10,000 hours. Tick Tock people!
When do we get to see you again on screen or television?
SOON! First up, I will co-star in the Fox Searchlight film Ruby Sparks out July 25th. This dramedy comes from the directors of Little Miss Sunshine and has an all-star cast including Paul Dano, Annette Bening, Antonio Benderas and Zoe Kazan. Nov 16th I will appear in the final installment of the Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 as Mary, one of the American Nomadic Vampires. And finally, look for Made in Jersey, the new CBS legal drama premiering in early September. We will air every Friday night at 9 p.m.
Follow Toni on Twitter @tonitrucks