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30 Rock Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

Vanessa Minnillo

This is an interview with Vanessa Minnillo (Carmen Chao) on January 27, 2011 about the show 30 Rock.

Question:
Going into this were you nervous or did you have any anxiety about working with the 30 Rock cast?

Vanessa Minnillo:
This is a big deal for me. This is 30 Rock, NBC, it's you know Emmy Award winning, Golden Globe winning, and the cast alone is just - this is as good as it gets. You know, this is A List - these are A List actors and comedians that I'm working with, so I was completely beside myself. I was so nervous that I was actually making myself sick just for the audition process.

And I was traveling actually the day that they were auditioning girls for the role of Carmen Chao, which is my character's name, and I couldn't make the audition. So what I had to do was put myself on tape, which is even more nerve wracking, because one of the things I love is being able to walk into a room and meet people, make eye contact, have a conversation with them, and then go into reading.

But this is just me putting myself on tape, sending it in directly to, you know, the people - and the powers that be, and then they show Tina, she's the final yes or no, and I completely, to be honest, I made a fool of myself. But, it thought it was necessary for the character. I laid it all on the line. I - it took me, gosh by the time I got to my friends house to shoot it, it was already midnight.

I came back home at 1:30 and the car was picking us up for our flight at 5:00 am. I didn't sleep. I showed it to Nick when he woke up and I'm like, "What do you think?" And he said, "It - wow. Like, you literally just put on the line." He said, "They're either going to think you're crazy and you're psycho, or that you're really a good actress."

And so, it's - it - you'll see Carmen is a fun character to play. She's bananas. She's very confident. She's very honest. She's very outspoken. She's very out there. And so, I tried to let that come across on the tape and I - obviously I think it did, and they literally called me while I was in Cincinnati for our engagement party actually and said, "You got the job." So, I left from Cincinnati to New York, shot it, all in one day, and just had the most amazing time.

Question:
Does the story line allow you to come back to make future appearances?

Vanessa Minnillo:
The story line is - you know, obviously I don't want to give too much away, but yeah it does and it - that's the beauty of 30 Rock. They said with everybody that they've had, you know, it always leaves the door open for this big revolving door of fun guest star appearances. I guess recently they had somebody on there play an HR guy and they loved him and had such a great time with him and he was great, that they brought him back already for a couple other episodes. So, I am putting all of my faith in the TV Gods if they will let me come back. Trust me, I've begged, you know, and said as much as I could.

Question:
Looking forward into the future, would you want to star in your own weekly series?

Vanessa Minnillo:
Yeah, I think that would - that's like the dream job. For me, hosting was always fun and was something that I was able to do at - without sounding, I don't want to - some people find their niche. Nick - you know, like Nick is able to sing a capella in front of 50,000 people. I cannot do that, but I can host. You know, I can get on a microphone and I can be myself and I can interview people, and I enjoy that.

Acting is fun because it lets you dive into other parts of your personality and in your brain, and even in your psyche. You know, you just - it's almost therapeutic when you dive into characters. So, when I came to L.A. I actually have been doing some guest appearance roles, I've had a couple pilots that didn't go, but they're all - it's all good stuff. You know, people are out here for years at a time and never get one, so I have to count my blessings in that regard and hope this year is the year. It's already starting out with a bang with 30 Rock, so hopefully I can keep the momentum going.

Question:
Do you think that comedy is your strength, or would you like to try a drama?

Vanessa Minnillo:
I've always said comedy is exactly what I want to do. But interestingly enough, while I've been taking acting classes and coaching, my coach says that your drama's probably more where I'll be comfortable because I have so much to pull from in every single one of the roles I had to be dramatic in. Like, I just got back from Hawaii Five-O. I have to cry. I was on CSI: New York, I had to cry. I was on Psych, I had to cry.

And so I'm like, "Wow, I guess there is a little dark Vanessa that's dying to come out and just express herself," you know? So, I'm open to any and all opportunities, not just limited to comedy, but that one for sure I feel the most comfortable in.

Question:
On a personal note, have you and Nick set a specific wedding date yet?

Vanessa Minnillo:
No, we haven't. We're enjoying being engaged. Everyone rushes to the next step, and I like this step, you know? It's fun and I'm in love and we're happy, so when it comes and it happens organically, I will be welcoming it with open arms.

we actually met at a pageant, believe it or not. We were both judging Miss Teen USA. This is in like 2003 maybe. He was judging. I was judging. I was a - I was Miss Teen USA 1998, so they brought me back to judge and he was, you know, Nick Lachey and 98 Degrees and his album and had a solo album coming out, so he was a judge as well. And that's where met as friends and obviously through MTV had kept in touch whenever he came to New York to do TRL. It was like - I just saw an old, you know, family member, "Hey, what's going on? How's it going?" So, I had known him for a minute.

Question:
Your character Carmen's actions put Liz in a situation of having to pretend she's pregnant to cover up one of your co-worker's pregnancies. As a woman in the entertainment industry and a host similar to working in a news bureau, what are you feelings on how a pregnancy can affect a woman differently than a man?

Vanessa Minnillo:
I think it's a beautiful thing and I think that it's an advantage for a woman. You know, it's - it kind of reminds me of that movie Knocked Up where Katherine's Heigl's character ends up getting pregnant and they embrace it. It is different, you know, and I applaud all women that can work on up to the day that they go to the hospital.

Most women can't work until like the, you know, middle of the third trimester until their eighth month or so, and it's amazing. It's amazing that they can do that, but I think, you know, they - they're not - they're determined to not let it slow them down. So, that's what the fun twist in this, is that I get to be the woman who throws a monkey wrench in Elizabeth Banks and Tina Fey's characters, and kind of try to be that girl that's going to crack the case. So, it's funny to watch them like cut a squirm and, their characters that is, and be uncomfortable while I'm around.

Question:
How would you handle a situation like that, and would you and Nick consider having children any time soon?

Vanessa Minnillo:
.You know what, it - things happen and if a blessing comes before the wedding then that's exactly what it is. Ideally, I'd love to go through this pilot season and we've already - you know, I shot 30 Rock and it airs next Thursday at 10 o'clock on NBC, very excited about that, having a little get together party at the house, and then we have Hawaii Five-O the next week after that Valentine's Day, pilot seasons this year, then obviously hopefully we'll be more in wedding planning mode.

And yeah, I'd love to have children and work. You know, I look at someone like Reese Witherspoon, for example, I think she's an amazing and she's a strong woman who can manage her two babies and, you know, everything she's gone through, ups and downs in her relationships, and still be a talented actress as well as a Ambassador for her causes. She's done it all and she's done all with grace, and it is possible.

You know, even if like a Gwyneth Paltrow who manages to have her Web site and be connected to her fans through GOOP, and then have her children and be an actress and be her Ambassador for her causes as well. I definitely don't want it to slow me down. I think I'm always going to be go, go, go, and I'm going to be pregnant and fat and happy through it all.

Question:
Have you found a wedding dress yet?

Vanessa Minnillo:
Oh, no I haven't started. Literally when he proposed in November, it was the holiday, Thanksgiving, and the - well, it was our birthdays, then the holidays, then Christmas, and we were away in Italy for New Year's, and also work. You know, I managed to - we shot 30 Rock in New York, so it's - you know, I had to get there, and then just shot Hawaii Five-O.

So, it's been a busy time and it's a fun time. I'm honestly like still excited about the work part of it. Like, I - it's like Christmas, I guess, when you shoot a show. I shot 30 Rock in December, so it was to be in New York during Christmas time is probably the best time, and to be standing on the street literally in Manhattan on the Upper East Side with Tina Fey and Elizabeth Banks, I'm like, "This is pretty cool. This is work, but this is pretty cool."

We just were hanging out. It was - it - because Elizabeth is also shooting a movie, I believe simultaneously, we tried to get me in all in one day, and so it was a long day, but just so much fun. Like, I just - I really want to be their best friends.

Question:
Is there anything about your wedding that you're looking forward to planning?

Vanessa Minnillo:
I think that would probably be the dress, yeah, for me because that's the first time like, you know, that Nick will see me come down the aisle, will be in that dress. So, I'll be most excited. Not, meticulous and not, you know, so obsessive, just more excited about that process.

Question:
What character on 30 Rock would you say you are most like in real life?

Vanessa Minnillo:
On 30 Rock? Oh, that's a good one. You know what, it's - honestly, like when I get asked a question to what animal would you be, I literally, and I mean it from the bottom of my heart, I'm a chameleon. So, when I see Tina Fey's character and, you know, just Jack, him and Lemon, and she's just, you know, like she's eager and she's ready to go, but then she's like a fish out of water. I feel like that character, but then when I see Elizabeth Banks' character, Avery, I - and how she's trying to keep it all together, but there' so much going on internally, I feel like her as well.

And then Carmen, the girl that I'm playing, Carmen Chao, is just everything that I think every professional woman, or just female, suppresses those thoughts, those looks, those glares that just - that (unintelligible), I don't - I can't explain it, gets to come out. So, I had so much fun being this woman because she is just - she's cut throat. She's getting the job done and she's taking names, and she is not looking back.

So, I think that is in all of us a little as well, which is why it was fun to be able to exploit that part of it, because I'd like to think that it's a very little part of all of us. But, you know it's acting and that's what so fun about acting, you can be whoever and you can make it however you want to make it.

And to be with a really talented cast and crew was just, for me, eye opening, because the - it really is amazing when you work alongside people that are as talented and as accomplished as they are. It makes you better and it makes your work ethic and it makes you go through the process smoother, but also more efficiently. And you - I learned so much in the 24 hours that I was Tina Fey and Elizabeth that I definitely will take with me.

Question:
What would be one memorable moment or one story from that day of shooting that you could share?

Vanessa Minnillo:
It's just - it's funny because I do, like I keep thinking about this moment. Just to see everything that revolves around Tina and to see this big beautiful show she has, 30 Rock, and what she's done with it. And then, and know that she's a mother, and know that she's gone through so much in her life. We literally sat there and we were just two girls and she was talking to me and Elizabeth about these snacks. And she was like, "I was given these snacks," she's like, "And I'm eating them. Like, I'm munching - I'm almost done with the whole bag."

And she was so excited about these snacks, and again we go to do a take and she's very professional and she's talking to people on set and she's very professional, on a business call very professional, but then she runs to her trailer and she looked like the cutest little like 12-year old girl, like legs going left and right, running, running, running in her big coat, and she grabs her little bag of treats and runs back with this grin on her face.

Like, it was the most awkward, cutest, most adorable running and smiling and giddy. And she got back and she was like, "Oh, I wanted to show you guys the treats." And I'm like, "You're just - you're amazing. You know, you have it so together and you are so down to earth." It's - I have that vision of her just running down the streets of New York smiling and holding this bag of candy. I know that sounds lame, but I loved that moment. I love that she's still her. You know what I mean? And someone didn't go get it for her and she made it a very real moment for me.

Question:
How did the opportunity and how did the opportunity for 30 Rock present itself to you?

Vanessa Minnillo:
Well, you know, obviously living in Los Angeles, one of the biggest reasons I actually made this my home was because this is where the television world, you know, L.A. and New York, but most - but more so L.A, and Jessica, my agent and my managers, I got a call there was an audition.

I was going to be out of town. I was going to Cincinnati. We actually were having a little engagement party in Nick's hometown and I was so bummed, but you know business first. So I said, "Is there any way that I can make this happen via tape?" And they said, "Absolutely, because it's going to New York anyways." So, the people in the studio in L.A. won't - it has to get to sent to them anyway.

So, at 12 o'clock at night, the night before I left for a 5:00 am pickup, I put myself on tape and just went all out, because at this point you can't meet the people, you can't, you know, have conversations, you can't redo it, they can't direct you, so to speak; normally they do. I just - I was kind of a little crazy, so that - I wanted them to really get a feel for me and what I thought Carmen Chao's character was.

So even before I went into the lines, I had the camera running and just was bantering with my girlfriend kind of bossing her around as if I was on a real set in a real audition really being Carmen. And they went - they sent it off to New York, New York liked it and loved it, and sent it off to the powers that be and finally said, "We need Tina's approval." And you know I heard through the grapevine Tina saw it and was like, "Wow, this girl is crazy. She's perfect." So, while I was away on the weekend she called on and - or she called, excuse me. They called and said I booked it and I literally left the next day to New York, the day after the party, and shot the episode. It was very quick and it was - I literally laid it all on the line.

Question:
As a child of a military family, do you do anything the USO?

Vanessa Minnillo:
.I've done a lot of stuff here with my team as well, because I was - there's a lot that goes on that I don't think people understand. And by that, I mean even the children of the parents that are shipped away, you know, when I was growing one of my biggest fears was having two uniformed men come to the door and knock on the door to tell me, God forbid, that my father was gone, you know, or missing or had passed, or anything of that nature.

So, every time the doorbell would ring, I'm not thinking, "Oh, it's Girl Scout Cookies, or it's the pizza guy," I'm thinking, "Oh, my gosh, is this the door, you know, is this it?" You know, "Is this going to be bad news from daddy?" So, I try as much as I can, we do - I do a lot of stuff locally, but as far as the USO, it's so funny because I said to my dad, I said, "I'm not a singer. I'm not, you know, a comedian. I can't offer them anything. I feel like I can't go because there's nothing I can do. I can't perform."

And he said, "Vanessa, just you going and not singing and not doing a stand-up comedy act, just supporting them," he says, "Anything from home just lifts your spirit up so much to know that people are back here thinking about them, that people out - back here care about them. And that you want to go all that way just to kind of be a little piece of home to remind them, you know, what they're fighting for and what they're doing," he said, "It means the world."

And so since then, I've been doing my best to try to get on a tour and Nick and I have talked about it a dozen times. It isn't the easiest thing, obviously for safety issues, but it definitely is top, top, top of our priority list, and we do as much as we can locally. But like I said, whenever we travel if there's any opportunity to do anything with anybody in the military we are all over it.

Question:
Was it challenging at all in any way trying to show up to work and try to get in character and develop chemistry with Tina and Elizabeth and these other people in such a short span of time?

Vanessa Minnillo:
Yeah, the scary thing is, it all happened so organically and beautifully that it - I - as soon as you meet Tina and Elizabeth you're - I mean literally you're the - I shot a scene in the studio in Queens, and then we had to drive into New York and me and Elizabeth shared a car, so you know it's literally like you jump into the family. It was a long day, but it was great because they broke it up.

So we had the studio set shot, and then we drove into the city and we actually went to 30 Rockefeller Center, which it was so cute, because everyone in the cast and the crew were like, "This doesn't happen a lot," you know, because it is a big deal. Like, the whole 30 Rockefeller Center is - it's high security, there's a lot going on, so they go there, but just not every single episode.

And so, I got to go to the actual MSNBC Desk and sit in 30 Rock's MSNBC Desk and do one of my scenes, and then we traveled all through New York, so it was broken up a bit. And naturally, you know, just hanging out with them, because they're such wonderful women, it was an easy day. I didn't feel like it was a long day, and it didn't feel like we were in four or five different locations.

Question:
You were saying earlier that you're so happy to be a part of this show, so I'm guessing you were a pretty major 30 Rock fan. Do you have any sort of specific episodes or memories from the past seasons that you really appreciate or love?

Vanessa Minnillo:
I - you know what, I think if you were to ask any 30 Rock fan to pick a moment, I really do believe from the bottom of my heart that it's probably impossible. There is just something that they tapped into and it really is - it's amazing. And for me to be able to be a part of it and not just to be a part of the show and to be able to act alongside the actors, but just how it all went down with sending a tape in, it all seems very surreal and I still don't believe I'm on 30 Rock. I don't think I'll believe it until it airs the night of February 3, and I'm excited.

I have all my friends coming over, we're having a 30 Rock party, but I'm also nervous, you know, because you put yourself out there and that's what actors do, but just to get to know that I was able to do it with Tina and with Elizabeth and just that NBC and 30 Rock were so gracious to hire me, I'm excited. Like, I am just speechless, literally, right now. It was a dream.

Question:
What did you enjoy most about Carmen, overall?

Vanessa Minnillo:
I enjoyed how she was - in a weird twisted way, but she was a very strong, or she is a very strong and independent and outspoken business woman. You know she - I don't think she's malicious, but she's definitely driven and she's definite - she knows exactly what she wants, and she will stop at nothing to get it. So, I loved that part of her. I loved that she's very, very on it.

Question:
Was there instant chemistry when you first started working with the cast? They've all been together so long, so they fit together like old puzzle pieces.

Vanessa Minnillo:
Yeah. No, I - like I said earlier, I felt like it just meshed. As soon as I walked in the door and I sat in the makeup chair, I mean everyone was there because they were doing - they shoot - were shooting two episodes simultaneously. So, while they were shooting one in the studio, we were getting ready in the studio, shot one scene, and then left the studio to go on location.

So everyone was there, except for I didn't see Tracy or Alec, and they just - it just - it's like a big family, but it works because they're all very easy going, they're all very funny, they're all very open. You know, this - they've been doing this for a while now, and they're comfortable in their setting and they just welcomed me like a new family member.

Question:
Why do you think people keep tuning in to watch 30 Rock?

Vanessa Minnillo:
I think that they definitely tapped into something where everyone can relate to situations or to characters, and it's fun to see them kind of get themselves out the messes that they've created.

You know, we like to think that in our 30's, 40's, and 50's that we've got it all figured out and 60's and so on, and that we know what we're doing. But, we're all going through life one day at a time just like everyone else and we all make our mistakes and we all have our blunders, and I think that this show shows that. It shows the vulnerable side to a corporation and a business, and it shows a human side, you know, and the problems that we have as individuals, but yet it's still able to be a successful business. So, I think that they've definitely tapped into that great resource, and that's why people can relate.

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