A child will sometimes say they will become a doctor, lawyer or famous athlete when he or she becomes an adult. Sometimes that happens and other times the child will find a new dream. But for Primetime Emmy Award nominated actress Becky Ann Baker her childhood dream of acting became a reality following graduation from college and then moving to New York City.
Born on Fort Knox to a career military officer, Baker moved around a lot as a child, but she said she always knew she would either sing, dance or become an actress. She’s had an opportunity to do all three.
“I always studied ballet at different military bases where we were stationed,” explained Baker. “I always sang in the choir so I had a lot of different opportunities to do things like that. When my dad was stationed at the Pentagon …I started doing high school musicals.”
When Baker graduated from West Springfield High School in Springfield, Virginia, she decided to attend Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Although she grew up on the East Coast, Baker decided to forgo attending school there and return to her home state because her parents were from Bellevue and Fort Thomas, Kentucky.
“The opportunity was there and my sister had gone to Western Kentucky,” she said about returning home. “I had been down to visit, and I really liked the school
and the theater department. By then I knew (what) I wanted to major in and (theater and) worked out really well.”
Sometimes actors and actresses tell stories about their humble beginnings when they were employed as waiters, waitresses or bartenders. But Baker said she was fortunate to take a different route because she could sing and dance.
“I got a lot of jobs from dancing and singing open calls,” she said. “I had my first Broadway show pretty fast; it was the original cast of ‘The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.’ Even before that I had done something that turned up on Broadway called ‘Sugar Babies.’
“I think because I was trained in singing and dancing I actually had an easier time. I had learned how to bartend at a summer stock out of college, and I didn’t have to do that very often five or six weeks when I came to (New York) and I started getting work. I was really lucky at the time. I had been trained well at Western Kentucky (which) still has a great theater and dance department. It was the combination of being lucky and being well-trained by the school I came from. I got into my first Broadway show and it ran for the better part of four years and I stayed with it a lot. (I) changed roles a lot and kind of worked my way up that way.”
After working on Broadway in musicals Baker decided she wanted to branch off and work on straight plays. While preparing for work in plays Baker said she continued to take classes while she was on Broadway as a way of preparing for other roles.
“I would take acting and singing lessons,” Baker said. “You don’t ever stop training. You keep working on it (so) that (can) lead to your next job. You don’t ever feel like you are finished.”
Working on and off-Broadway has provided Baker an opportunity to be a part of some award-winning casts. She was in “Titanic” on Broadway and that won Best Musical, and “Assassins,” another Broadway role, won Best Revival.
“I got to do a lot of dramatic roles on Broadway and off-Broadway as well,” she said. “(I was in) ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ with a bunch of stars like Frances McDormand. My dramatic stuff ended up being really fun and interesting. I really enjoyed it. I’ve done a lot of off-Broadway. Sometimes that’s when you get to do the more experimental work, things that are really interesting. That’s been fun.”
Although Baker enjoyed working in musicals, she said the stress level is extremely high when performing a live show. She pointed out that performing eight shows per week is also very physically demanding. While working in television and film roles she said actors are given breaks, chances to sit down and multiple opportunities to get a scene right. But that doesn’t happen on the stage. She added that working on the stage means getting to the theater early to warm up.
“It’s almost like training to be an athlete,” explained Baker about working on a live stage. “You have to stay in incredible shape and be able to keep your voice in shape. Film and TV are different in an interesting way, but the toughest to do is definitely stage work. When you do a play you always end up losing weight because you are so physically invested in it.”
While being cast in television commercials, Baker said she was normally cast as the red-headed mom with the red-headed baby.
After working in commercials the next phase in Baker’s career was television and film roles.
Although it appeared Baker was fortunate to work on a consistent basis, she said it was a slow process that took place over a number of years. She pointed out that maintaining a good work ethic can possibly lead to future opportunities. For example, Baker worked on the TV show “Freaks and Geeks” around 1999-2000 with producer Judd Apatow. Even though the show only lasted one season, that role led to her working with Apatow on the HBO series “Girls,” which is currently nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award.
“Your reputation and your ability to come in and get the job done kind of follows you around for the rest of your career,” said Baker. “It helps create opportunities you might not otherwise have. When I got ‘Girls’ they just offered it to me because Judd and I worked together.”
She added that although actors are incredibly hard workers, there are some who might let success go to their head and they decide to show up late. But Baker has made sure she doesn’t fall into those type of habits. She attributes her military upbringing to making sure she shows up on time and ready to work. Although Baker knew she would never join the military like many of her family members had done, her takeaway was being as she said “super organized.”
Baker has also had a chance to work with well-known actors like Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones in a movie called “Hope Springs.” She said working with the duo are the moments that actors live for because she admires Streep and Jones. Baker admits to being a fan of Streep because she said she believes Streep is a genius because her ability to act in different genres. She added that one of the shocking moments she had as an actress is when Streep approached her and said she had seen Baker’s body of works.
“To me that is just the most flattering, amazing thing in the world,” she said about Streep’s compliment. “She’s so approachable and easy to work with. There is a reason why she’s such a great actress. It’s just a real inspiration.”
For the past 42 years Baker has enjoyed working in a profession that she dreamed about as a child. She said she’s been very fortunate and hasn’t shown any signs of letting up. She will begin rehearsal in December for an off-Broadway production and will be in the first of episode of season four’s “NCIS: New Orleans.” Baker said she plays a lively character.
“It was nice for me because I play so many moms,” she said. “It was nice to jump out of the mom role into something with a lot more authority. I carried a gun and that was fun.”
Baker pointed out that her ability toland roles hasn’t diminished as she’s gotten older. She said she’s had a chance to have some of the better jobs as she’s aged.
“I always say just stay in shape and keep working until you don’t want to work anymore,” Baker said. “There are certainly days where you are exhausted from whatever job you are on and it’s a long day. But in reality I think getting to do what you love is one of the greatest gifts ever. I feel incredibly blessed every time I get to go to work. It’s like I feel i’m the luckiest girl in the world to get to do some of the things I get to do.
“You get to enter so many different people’s lives and not just one. You get to pretend to be so many great people.”