Playing doctor pays off for Crystal Lake's Tom Amandes

 
 
Updated 10/12/2011 10:42 AM
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  • Crystal Lake and Richmond native Tom Amandes starred as Martin Posner in the 2008-2009 TV series "Eli Stone." The actor has branched out into directing TV series episodes.

    Crystal Lake and Richmond native Tom Amandes starred as Martin Posner in the 2008-2009 TV series "Eli Stone." The actor has branched out into directing TV series episodes.

  • Crystal Lake and Richmond native Tom Amandes directs a scene from the new CW TV series "Hart of Dixie."  Seated in the chair is actress Claudia Lee.

    Crystal Lake and Richmond native Tom Amandes directs a scene from the new CW TV series "Hart of Dixie." Seated in the chair is actress Claudia Lee.

  • Tom Amandes as Abraham Lincoln in Saving Lincoln - a film by Salvador LitvakAs Tom has mentioned to you, Saving Lincoln is the story of Abraham Lincoln as told through the eyes and memories of his friend and bodyguard Marshall Ward Hill Lamon. The film uses modern visual effects technics to bring our actors and audiences into actual photographs of the 1860's bringing history to life in a way we've never been able to experience before.

    Tom Amandes as Abraham Lincoln in Saving Lincoln - a film by Salvador LitvakAs Tom has mentioned to you, Saving Lincoln is the story of Abraham Lincoln as told through the eyes and memories of his friend and bodyguard Marshall Ward Hill Lamon. The film uses modern visual effects technics to bring our actors and audiences into actual photographs of the 1860's bringing history to life in a way we've never been able to experience before.

Tom Amandes makes acting look so organically fluid that when he steps in front of a camera, viewers don't think he's doing anything.

"You're right," Amandes agrees. "I"m not!"

The self-deprecating actor, who grew up in Richmond and Crystal Lake, is breezing down a Los Angeles highway as he talks to us on a cellphone. He's on his way to edit an upcoming episode of the CW TV series "Hart of Dixie" that he has just directed.

"Some of the people from 'Everwood' are working on 'Hart of Dixie,' so they brought me in to direct an episode this past month," Amandes explains. "I saw the rough cut yesterday and I was pretty pleased."

If you missed it, "Everwood" was the 2002-2006 TV show that gave the 52-year-old actor his most memorable character, Dr. Abbott, the establishment foil to Treat Williams' new doctor in town.

Or perhaps his most memorable role was as Chicago's crime-fighting icon Eliot Ness in 44 episodes of "The Untouchables" back in the '90s. (That's how he met his wife, actress Nancy Everhard, who played Mrs. Ness.)

Amandes' blessing and curse is that he loses himself into his characters so much, we remember them more than the actor who created them.

That might especially be true of Amandes' next big role in a movie that nobody's seen yet. He plays President Abraham Lincoln in the 2012 film "Saving Lincoln," based on the true story of the president's bodyguard, U.S. Marshal Ward Hill Lamon.

"It was one of those amazing opportunities for any actor to have, especially an actor from Illinois," Amandes says.

So, how does a son of Illinois prepare to play the 16th U.S. president?

"I went back to Illinois," Amandes says. "I went back to Springfield."

And?

"The transcendent moment for me was when I walked around Lincoln's neighborhood at twilight. The first night I was down there, I left my family and went out to walk. That whole area is open to the public all night. I had Lincoln's neighborhood to myself on a beautiful summer night with just the gas lights glowing.

"As I walked down the sidewalks, which are actually boardwalks over dirt streets -- they really nicely recreated 1860 -- there was that moment when I had a sense of Ha! This was what it was like for him to walk home from the office. I absolutely had that moment of chills.

"Then I thought, 'I can do this.'"

Amandes can do many things as an actor. Check out his bio at tomamandes.com for proof. If you do, you'll notice that Amandes has racked up a lot of doctor roles, including on the TV series "Parenthood." (He treated autistic son Max.)

"Yeah," he says. "A lot of doctors. I guess I must fit the mold. I certainly feel comfortable by now slipping on the white coat. But then again, I've played my fair share of lawyers, DAs and even cops. Not to mention the occasional astronaut, horse trainer and even president."

His serious interest in acting more or less began at Crystal Lake Community High School (now Crystal Lake Central High School).

"I was fortunate enough to be there at the right time," he says. "My first year I think we did seven plays. By the time I was a senior, we were down to one or two plays due to cuts, overcrowding and split shifts. I caught a good time to be in Crystal Lake."

After high school, Amandes headed straight for the Goodman School of Drama (as it evolved into the Theatre School at DePaul University) before moving to California.

Amandes was born in Richmond in McHenry County, the sixth of 11 children. When Amandes was 9, the family moved to Crystal Lake.

"I enjoyed doing the plays in grade school," he says. "At some point, I realized that this is something I'm pretty darned good at. I've been fortunate to cobble together some kind of career out of the whole thing."

For the time being, Amandes works behind the camera, having directed episodes of such TV shows as "Everwood" and "Brothers and Sisters" and now "Hart of Dixie."

"I'm thrilled to have this shot at directing," he says, still whizzing down that L.A. highway. "Hopefully, I'll be able to pick up more of that. 'Hart of Dixie' has been really fun to work on. I hope they do well enough that I'm asked back."

If that doesn't pan out, Amandes can always fall back on his career in medicine.

"I've had the chance to play an awful lot of different roles over the years," Amandes says. "And if folks want me to be a doctor? I'll open up and say Ahhhh!"

-- Dann Gire

• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for suburban people in showbiz. If you know of someone, send a note to dgire@dailyherald.com and jsotonoff@dailyherald.com.

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