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Amy Brenneman dishes Private Practice

Private Practice star Amy Brenneman dishes about life on the little Grey’s Anatomy spin-off that is triumphing.

Tim and Amy have a baby on Private PracticeBrenneman joins Kate Walsh, Taye Diggs and Tim Daly on a Private Practice show that is enjoying some increasing success with its time-slot move to after Grey’s Anatomy.

Brenneman was thrilled to join Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rimes’ spin-off as the medical intrigue headed south to Southern California.

The actress herself is no stranger to producing television as Brenneman was the creator, writer and executive producer of Judging Amy.

She starred in Judging Amy with Tyne Daly, who portrayed her mother. Now, she stars with Tim Daly on Private Practice and admits that their romantic storyline is a bit like “kissing my brother.”

Private interview

SheKnows: There are a slew of TV veterans on Private Practice, even with all that collective experience. Was there any hesitation about knowing the success rates of spin-offs?Amy Brenneman: You mean being worried it would fail?SheKnows: Yes, in the sense that there’s an added expectation to be a spin-off.Amy Brenneman: My thing, it’s funny, I’ve only produced Judging Amy — although I love producing so much. What I saw was that if you’re a mere mortal — aka not Chandra Rimes — and you want to get a show on the air, it’s a pretty laborious process where you have to pitch it to everybody and their brother at the network. They you make a pilot and there’s all sorts of notes on it. The whole thing is grizzly. However, what happens is, like anything that you pitch, every time you pitch it, you get closer to more of the core of what the show is. You learn about it. Because Shonda didn’t have to do that and we were sort of plunked down. Not to say she didn’t have a vision for the show, but we didn’t get a chance to do a pilot. There was no experimenting and exploring. I think that first year was our rehearsal. Yeah, there were times we thought, ‘don’t have us anchor Wednesday nights.’ I think what they did this year was really brilliant. Put us on the coattails of Grey’s Anatomy and give us time.

A Private party

SheKnows: And now you have really hit a groove…Amy Brenneman: I would put on my producer hat, I totally got it. I think Shonda saw the many qualities Kate Walsh has as a performer and she has this fabulous sense of humor and this wonderful comedienne which they couldn’t really use on Grey’s Anatomy. At first there were a lot of funny lines for Kate, but we thought, ‘wait a minute. That’s not Addison.’ She was finding out how much she could push this familiar character — finding out the tone of our show, all that takes time.SheKnows: Did I read correctly you are an Ivy Leaguer?Amy Brenneman chats up Private PracticeAmy Brenneman: I am an Ivy Leaguer.SheKnows: Now, other than that fantastic education, I know the Harvard theater program is legendary. How did you find that experience?Amy Brenneman: The program started after. When we were there, there was no theater department graduate program. Why that was really great, was that students ran the roost. But, the American Repertory Theatre was there, so my experience was there was sort of no formal instruction but tons of acting. We were always putting an old Shakespeare play in a Cadillac. Doing whatever we wanted to do being really influenced by Robert Wilson and these really cool theater artists that came through. It was pretty great. Out of that we formed a theater company called Cornerstone Theatre that is still alive.SheKnows: Oh, wow.Amy Brenneman: Twenty-three years later.SheKnows: Is that still in Cambridge?Amy Brenneman: It’s actually in LA now. We designed it to do community and site specific theater. We would usually go to places that were pretty geographically isolated. We would live there for up to four or five months and produce plays with the community members. We were a company of about eleven, but could do a Romeo and Juliet in Mississippi with 50 people. It was just a blast.

Amy Brenneman brings Heat

SheKnows: One of your first films is also one of my favorite, Heat. What was it like working on a Michael Mann film that starred Al Pacino and Robert De Niro?Amy Brenneman: I had a wonderful experience. Michael is very Mafia in a way. Which is once you’re in, you’re totally in. Once he cast you, you are the person. He was very protective and supportive. All the things that you read are true. He’s crazy obsessive. I went through five different, not even wardrobe fittings. It was five different incarnations of the character. At one point she was in black leather (laughs), hippie macrame, I had never colored my hair before because I didn’t highlight my hair at that point. Michael says I think you should have lots and lots of curly hair. I think you need highlights. That’s fine. He basically came along to the salon (laughs). It was major.

Robert De Niro and Amy Brenneman in Heat

SheKnows: Wow.

Amy Brenneman: Yeah, it’s so funny, you do some projects and you work so hard and it takes up your whole life and it doesn’t really amount to much. Heat was the opposite in that pre-production was very involved and they shot it for five months, but I worked for a couple of days. I would come and go. I directed a play during that time. I got engaged. I kept thinking ‘I’m not going to be very memorable in this,’ but the way Michael loves his characters so much — you remember everybody.Amy and Tyne Daly in Judging AmySheKnows: I’m a product of Hartford, Connecticut and always wondered why you chose Hartford as the locale for Judging Amy?Amy Brenneman: I grew up in Glastonbury!SheKnows: Get out of town!Amy Brenneman: Yes! My mom worked at the court in Hartford. It was just exactly that.SheKnows: That makes such sense.Amy Brenneman: Where’d you go to high school?SheKnows: Hall High.Amy Brenneman: Sure, yeah! Go Hall!SheKnows: Now I know why I have such an affinity for that show.Amy Brenneman: (Laughs)SheKnows: It had to be dream casting to get Tyne Daly.Amy Brenneman: That was awesome. That was the best. We had a very short lived, what was true about that thing, an actress is going to come in and say this and that, she’s used to being a lead on a show. But, I knew we needed to have somebody there that could kick my butt (laughs). It was immediately clear that she could kick my ass.SheKnows: I spoke to her for her guest spot as McDreamy’s mom…Amy Brenneman: Yeah…

Private Practice’s finale and beyond

SheKnows: Now her brother’s with you on Private Practice, you must have a great relationship with the Daly family.Amy Brenneman: Tim’s awesome. Because of who Tyne is, it just got absorbed in the Daly clan. I knew Tyne’s daughters well. There are four siblings (and) I know their mom. It was very familiar to see Tim. I think Shonda is really smart at picking up what’s going on between cast members and exploring that as you know (laughs). She said she liked my scenes with Tim, that we were so familiar with each other. Well, we really are. Then she said, ‘I like Violet and Pete.’ That’s me and Tim. She said she was going to hook them up. I said, ‘Oh, my God. That’s like kissing my brother (laughs)!” Shonda said, ‘exactly!’

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