It's been two years since she starred on the successful Judging Amy. Now Amy Brenneman is back on prime time, playing the Oceanside Wellness Center's resident psychiatrist, Dr. Violet Turner, on Private Practice.
In this terrific interview, TV Guide caught up with Amy Brenneman, a five-time Emmy Award nominee, to talk about raising kids, returning to TV after time off, and who inspired her to play an obsessive ex-girlfriend.
TV Guide: Why did you decide to return to TV after mostly making movies for the past two years?
Amy Brenneman: Shonda Rhimes. I'm ADD enough and I have these little kids so it's rare that I get sucked into a show. I did it with Grey's Anatomy, especially with Izzie and Denny. I got completely swept up in it and all the chances the [writers and actors] were taking. At that point, I really didn't have any interest in returning to television. But I remember thinking, "That looks like a blast!"
TV Guide: Did you know Shonda before she approached you for this show?
Amy Brenneman: I had not met Shonda, but we share people in common. My husband [director Brad Silberling] did a movie with Ellen Pompeo called Moonlight Mile. Shonda really loved that movie. That's where she first saw Ellen and got excited to work with her. Her producing partner Betsy Beers and Brad developed something, too, so the world gets smaller and smaller. So no, I had not met her. But when I sat down with her and Betsy, I really did feel like they were old friends.
Amy Brenneman: It is. I had Charlotte at the end of the second year of Judging Amy. So for a full four years I was working with that job and I had her and it was great. But I remember thinking, "I really love being the star of a TV show. But, if I'm lucky enough to have another baby, I would really love not to have to work so hard." As much as I was sad to see things go, it was great timing because they canceled my show and two weeks later I gave birth. When I looked towards doing something more steadily, it was really important not to have it all on my shoulders so I could have a little bit more flexibility in my life.
TV Guide: Does Shonda understand, since she has kids, too?
Amy Brenneman: She does get the whole thing. I've been the lead on an hour TV show and it was great. Judging Amy was beyond my wildest expectations. But I know what the job is and it doesn't completely go with being a mom of small children. It was interesting because I'm happy playing a supporting part, but I'm not comfortable playing the wife to the male lead. That's a bit of a drag and feels like an odd step backwards. I love to work and I'm game to do anything if it's a shorter-term commitment. But I know this is really like getting married to something. What's amazing about what Shonda does is that she writes true ensembles. [Everyone's] serving the plot. She really develops the characters and puts things together in a beautiful, mosaic way. I found that very unique.
TV Guide: Do you relate to Violet Turner?
Amy Brenneman: I do and I don't. This particular thing that we play with in the first episode where she's basically obsessed — she's kind of in a post-traumatic moment — she was basically jilted about a month before. And she cannot get over it. She's in an obsessed state and that gets more and more played out in the episodes to come. I've had a different life, but what I really love is Violet's ability to be very clear-eyed, like, "Look, I know exactly what I'm doing and I can analyze myself better than you." Therein is the humanity and the insanity of it.
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