Known for playing Medical Examiner "Melinda Warner" on the NBC drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and "mean Alberta Green" in the Fox hit series 24 Season One, as well as attorney "Jessica Griffin" on the CBS daytime drama As the World Turns, Tamara Tunie is known by millions of people from her work in television, film, theatre, and more recently cabaret!
I have personally enjoyed watching Tamara on Law & Order: SVU, HBO's Sex and the City, and her Broadway producing shows including Magic/Bird, the Tony nominated play August Wilson's Radio Golf as well as NYMF's production of Frog Kiss: The Musical.
It was a real honor to speak with Tamara about all her entertainment endeavors as well as her Pittsburgh beginnings, and upcoming cabaret show at Feinstein's/54 Below (254 West 54th Street, between Broadway & 8th Avenue) on November 11 & 15 entitled MASH UP!, her favorite numbers from LEGENDS from the BURGH and her debut cabaret performance YES, I SING! Click here for tickets!
1. From television, film, and Broadway, you are known to millions in every genre of entertainment. When did you first discover you wanted to be a performer? When did you decide it was time to go from acting to director/producer? I have always enjoyed performing since I was a kid. I even remember the first 8 bars of my tap recital from when I was 5 year old! But it was really when it was time to choose a college and a trajectory, that I decided that entertaining was really my first love. It makes people happy and what can be wrong with that??
Producing and directing seemed to be a natural evolution once I got to a certain point in my career, and I could use my skills that I learned in front of the camera in a new way, to help forward someone else’s work, or even a story of my own.
2. You are returning to Feinstein's/54 Below this November with an all new show MASH UP, that will include your favorite moments from your two previous shows LEGENDS from the BURGH and debut cabaret performance YES, I SING!, that not even hurricane Sandy could prevent from being a huge success. How did you decide which songs from your previous shows you wanted to merge together for this upcoming show? This is going to be like "TUNIE’S GREATEST HITS”! The wonderful thing about performing live is, you know right away what the audience is responding to. I know which songs the people REALLY LOVED, and that’s what I am going to do. I MAY have a little voting thing with the audience as well!
3. What do you get from performing cabaret that you do not get from acting? MUSIC! LOL! and people can find out how funny I am too!
4. Why did you want to return to Feinstein's/54 Below? What do you like most about performing there? It’s a beautiful room and the team there is great! They really want you to have a great experience and are so supportive. Also, it just takes me back to the days of "supper clubs" when I was a kid and saw the "Greats!" This is something I dreamed of doing, and Feinstein's/54 Below provides the perfect setting.
5. You have had an incredible career. What goes through your mind now as you think back to growing up in Pittsburgh with aspirations of being an actress? What do you credit to your success? Hard work. Having that blue collar sensibility that is work hard, play hard, love your family, have integrity, be loyal, be honest, help people. Not necessarily in that order.
6. I have met and worked with so many people in the entertainment industry who hail from Pittsburgh. Why do you think Pittsburgh fosters so many people who want to be in the arts? Was it something in the water? (hahaha). Yes, there is something in the water!
7. You have worked with Al Pacino on two different films, including City Hall, as Pacino's press secretary. If you were your own press secretary and writing a press release about yourself, what is something you would write about yourself that people don't know? I hate EGGPLANT!
8. As Medical Examiner "Melinda Warner," on NBC's Law & Order: SVU, who would you have liked to be a guest star victim that never got cast? I can’t say coz I would be so happy to see him naked on my table and I don’t want to embarrass him. But his initials are "CT." But actually I don’t think Channing would be embarrassed…OOPS!
9. You were also on an episode of one of my favorite shows, HBO's Sex and The City. If you were to spend a night on the town with "Carrie," "Samantha," "Charlotte," and "Miranda," who would you choose to spend the evening with and what would you do for the night? I loved doing the show, but they didn’t have any black girlfriends. My white and Asian girlfriends found that not to be very realistic. Did they not find anything in common with black women? Hmmmmm…?
10. When you are not acting, singing, directing, or producing, you are involved with many organizations such as Figure Skating in Harlem, HarlemStage/The Gatehouse, God's Love We Deliver, and Hearts of Gold. When someone that you helped through one of these organizations tells you how much you helped them, do you feel the same as if someone tells you you helped through a role you've played or does this mean more to you? As a result of all this community work, was there ever time you thought about giving up working in the entertainment industry and working full time in the community sector? I am happy if any part of what I do touches anyone in any way. It’s ALL good!
11. What haven't you done that you would still like to? "Mrs. Lovette" in SWEENEY TODD! but I WILL one day!
12. What can you tell us about the movement of Frog Kiss to Broadway, which would be amazing because I loved the show when I saw it in NYMF and was lucky enough to get to interview Curtis Holbrook for "Call Me Adam." It has been a long journey for FROG KISS. It’s future however remains questionable at this point. Stay tuned.
Enthralling, charismatic and passionate are just a few of the words that characterize the type of performances Tamara Tunie is known for delivering. Her background spans film, television and stage. It doesn’t stop there. Her wealth of talent encompasses producing and directing. Such versatility has earned Tamara the respect and admiration of her peers and an increasing global fan base that have come to recognize her as the industry’s quiet, graceful leading lady.
Fans also can look forward to her return in season two of the Sundance TV original series The Red Road. Tamara stars as "Marie Van Der Veen," the matriarch and the "moral fiber" of an American Indian tribe. She is enjoying developing the vulnerable "Marie," a character who must balance loyalty involving her sons against the well being of the community. The role is a marked departure from the sophisticated and powerful women she is known for portraying.
Other memorable television roles include her portrayal of Medical Examiner "Melinda Warner" on the NBC drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and "mean Alberta Green" in the Fox hit series 24 Season One, as well as attorney "Jessica Griffin" on the CBS daytime drama As the World Turns, for which she received two NAACP Image Award nominations and two Soap Opera Digest award nominations.
In film, the Pittsburgh native has worked with some of the most respected directors in Hollywood, including Robert Zemekis, Taylor Hackford, Brian De Palma, Mimi Leder, Harold Becker and Oliver Stone. She also worked with the legendary Al Pacino in her portrayal of "Jackie Heath," the possessed wife of a partner in his law firm in the box-office topper The Devil’s Advocate, and as Pacino’s press secretary in City Hall. Among Tamara's most unforgettable performances was her co-starring role as "Margaret Thomason" in the Oscar-nominated film Flight, which starred Denzel Washington. What many don’t know is that Tamara narrated Eve’s Bayou, directed by Kasi Lemmons. She later worked again with Lemmons on the film The Caveman’s Valentine, opposite Samuel L. Jackson, for which she was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award.
Tamara made her feature directorial debut in the indie romantic comedy See You in September, starring Estella Warren and Justin Kirk. On Broadway, she has produced hit productions including Magic/Bird, August Wilson’s Radio Golf (2007 TONY and Drama Desk Award Nominee for Best Play), and Spring Awakening (winner of the 2007 TONY Award for Best Musical and the 2007 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical). Currently, she is producing, and developing for Broadway, Frog Kiss: The Musical – a re-imagined "bed-time story" with a bawdy twist. Frog Kiss earned more citations for excellence than any other musical at the 2010 New York Musical Theater Festival.
Some of her key theater credits include lead role of "Madame de Merteuil" in Les Liaisons Dangereuses; sharing the Broadway stage with the late great Lena Horne in the musical Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music; "Helen of Troy" in the New York Shakespeare Festival’s production of Troilus and Cressida in Central Park; "Maggie" in the first all African-American production of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; and the 20th anniversary, post 9-11 benefit concert of Dreamgirls.
Tamara extends herself beyond acting, producing and directing. She is deeply engaged in the community. She has served as chair emerita of the Board of Directors of Figure Skating in Harlem, a nonprofit organization that teaches education and life skills to young girls through the art and discipline of figure skating. Tunie also is President of the Board of Directors at Harlem Stage/The Gatehouse, a board member of God’s Love We Deliver, and she serves on the Advisory Board of Hearts of Gold.