LOS ANGELES, Calif.
Deep in the bowels of the Sony Studios lot, Monica Raymund faces a microphone, trying to find a simpler way to criticize a smile.
It's an odd ritual required in the making of modern TV. Raymund, playing a budding expert in nonverbal communication on Fox's new crime drama Lie to Me, stands in a recording studio dubbing lines that either weren't taped correctly when filmed, or that producers want to hear emphasized differently.
The line she's struggling with is easy: "There's something not right about her smile; she doesn't look happy." But the direction from producers — "make it simpler, like you've just discovered this" — is not.
Complicating things, it's only the second time the St. Petersburg native has done this. Years at Shorecrest Preparatory School in St. Petersburg, four years at New York's prestigious Juilliard School of drama and time at the Broadway Theatre Project in Tampa never really covered puzzling a new line reading from a few words of direction relayed by a sound engineer.
Indeed, since producers snapped her up last summer to film the pilot one month after graduating from Juilliard, Raymund has gotten a crash course in TV Making 101. First lesson: Deal with the cameras.
"I know it sounds silly, but it takes some time getting used to all the cameras in your face," says Raymund, 22. "I think it's like playing jazz. After I learn the rules, I can have fun and play a little bit."
She needn't worry. An hour after walking into the studio, she has nailed redubbing five lines in two acoustical settings and collected compliments from the engineers.
Maybe this TV acting thing won't be so tough, after all.
• • •
Raymund's move to the big time came the way several opportunities have come in her short career: by nailing an audition she expected to fail.
Alerted to the part by a New York casting agent, she never anticipated scoring a role in Oscar-nominee Tim Roth's new network TV deal. But in short order, she was cast in Lie to Me as Ria Torres, a natural at reading people hired by Roth's character, a crime-solving doctor who specializes in studying the involuntary physical cues that betray emotion.
The show debuted last Wednesday as a quirky take on the typical police procedural drama, with Roth's Dr. Cal Lightman coming off like a British, emotion-reading version of the charismatic curmudgeon at the heart of Fox's current media drama hit House. For Raymund, two months into a move from the East Coast, it has been a fun, frenetic and unexpected opportunity.
"I just really didn't think I was any good on TV," she says, despite a short resume that also includes a part last year on NBC's Law & Order: SVU. "I just knew I wasn't going to get it, so I was so relaxed about the audition that I got it. The same thing happened with my audition for Juilliard . . . if I don't take it seriously, I tend to do better."
In person, Raymund is earnest and quick to laugh, model thin with a face that seems a youthful cross between Halle Berry and Jennifer Lopez. But spend five minutes talking about acting — she can reminisce for long minutes about vanishing into a role onstage — and it's hard to believe there's a part of this job she doesn't take seriously, especially in learning how to act on television.
"She was so cute . . . she didn't know what a two-shot was or anything," says Kelli Williams, Roth's co-star on Lie to Me and a TV veteran after six years playing wide-eyed lawyer Lindsay Dole on ABC's legal drama The Practice (the two-shot is a camera image that includes two actors at once).
"Really, she was focused and responsible and ready to learn anything," Williams adds. "She reminds me of me when I was just starting out."
Father Steve Raymund, board chairman and retired CEO of Tech Data Corp. in Clearwater, says that work ethic has distinguished his daughter from the start, when an impromptu vocal performance during her bat mitzvah hinted at a performing future. Area playwright/actor Bob Devin Jones saw that dedication up close in 2001, when he wrote a musical about St. Petersburg's African-American social center, Manhattan Casino, crafting the lead role with a certain talented teenager in mind, calling her "a combination of Vanessa Williams and Diahann Carroll."
As a career inspiration, Raymund cites another Shorecrest grad: Patrick Wilson, a Tony-nominated actor who vaults between movies (Watchmen, Lakeview Terrace) and Broadway (The Full Monty). And in the age of Obama, the actor is hopeful her biracial heritage — mom Sonia is an immigrant from the Dominican Republic and dad Steven is a blue-eyed, Jewish California native — will help her access a range of roles, even as she struggles with the meaning of race herself.
"Sometimes, growing up, I tried to be very Latina; I would change my voice . . . experiment with my hair a lot, trying to figure out who I was in a primarily white school," she says. "Race, to me, is a very blurry thing . . . and I hope that anybody who feels 'there's not a place for me' will see that times are changing. Look at the White House."
Airing after TV juggernaut American Idol, Lie to Me is a serious priority for Fox. Billboards touting the show were inescapable across Los Angeles during a recent visit. Raymund confesses she's hoping the show runs a long while for a selfish reason: She'd like to start a family.
"I don't know what happened; I was the girl in high school . . . who wasn't going to wear an apron and wouldn't have kids until I was 35," she says, laughing. "Acting is a luxury, a gift. (Marriage and family), that is my true, true dream. . . . One thing my parents always taught me was to maximize my options."
Eric Deggans can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8521.