Amy Aquino has a resume as long as your arm. She’s been on numerous TV series including Being Human, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Brothers & Sisters.
Currently, you can catch her on the fourth season of the Amazon Prime series Bosch where she plays the role of Lt. Grace Billets.
I recently had the chance to talk with Aquino about her character, her experience in the entertainment industry, and her support of the Alzheimer’s Association.
“It was unbelievably painless compared to getting most series regular roles. It was so painless, I actually forgot about it, because I go in for a lot of guest starring roles. I just equated it with that, and if you want to survive in this business, you can’t get too focused on any specific audition. You do your audition, you do the best you can,” said Aquino.
“Then a couple weeks later, I get a call, and it was like, ‘Well, your manager and your agent are on the line together.’ I get on, and I said, ‘It’s either really good news or really bad.’ They said, ‘Great news! You got that job.’ I said, ‘Wait a minute. Which job?’ And it was Bosch, and I was stunned and thrilled.”
Bosch is based on a series of books by Michael Connolly, which follows a detective named Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch, played by Titus Welliver in the television series.
To prepare for the role of Lt. Grace Billets, Aquino read several of Connolly’s books where Grace was featured. She also worked closely with the series technical advisors, Detectives Mitzi Roberts and Tim Marcia, from the LAPD Robbery and Homicide Division.
“I did a drive along with them, and then they took me downtown. We also did some work at the headquarters there where they had us set up, where you can get a giant screen. They give you a laser gun, and that’s half the heft of the regular gun. There’s somebody controlling the computer, and you basically are walking into various scenarios and they can change the outcome,” Aquino explained.
“That was extraordinary, and it was extremely informative, especially for that first season where [there’s] an officer-involved shooting, where after that afternoon, I never was able to think about officer-involved shootings the same way. You had the experience of having to make a split-second decision, and it’s going to be your life or it’s going to be their life,” she elaborated.
“While I know that we definitely have biases that need to be dealt with in police departments across the land, I also have a tremendous amount of empathy for the people who put their lives on the line and have to make those decisions on a regular basis.”
Aquino has also loved having Detective Mitzi Roberts on set. Roberts and her partner Tim are full-time LAPD officers who have had a working relationship with author Michael Connolly for many years.
“Having Mitzi around, especially, has been incredibly helpful. From the beginning, it was like, ‘What would Mitzi do?’ Aquino explained. “I based my wardrobe on her. I will have even a minor question, ‘How would I react to this particular comment?’ I could text her. She’s either on a set, which she is a lot on her vacation time, her spare time or if she’s busy, she’s in court, whatever. I can text her and she will get back to me right away, so she’s really been my touchstone for that character.”
Mitzi isn’t the only officer on set. When Bosch visits the Hollywood Division to shoot an exterior scene on the roof or the parking lot, the background actors in police uniforms are always real police officers.
While working on these scenes, Aquino had the chance to converse with law enforcement officers and get their feedback.
“Whenever we are working there, when we need folks to serve as background performers, as background police officers, we always hire actual law enforcement officers, because they don’t want to have background people in police uniforms. It makes them a target,” she said.
Aquino’s character Grace and the show’s eponymous character Harry Bosch have a unique relationship that has shifted over the course of the seasons. Grace and Harry came up through the ranks together, and Grace has always been the person that Harry goes to when he needs a safe harbor for his daughter, Maddie.
“What’s interesting, however, is that over the seasons, as Harry has gotten more and more withdrawn as he has been focusing more and more on getting more and more information about his mother’s murder, he’s withdrawing from everyone, including Grace, which is very frustrating,” Aquino noted.
“It comes to a head this season because it’s such a complicated season. There are so many elements coming together for him, so much trauma that he’s going through, and not being someone who deals well with emotion, knowing that Grace does know everything about him and isn’t going to pull any punches, he’s actually withdrawn even more from her. The relationship has gotten–this season you really do see it get strained.”
Aquino’s resume is extensive, with guest and recurring roles in numerous series including ER, Crossing Jordon, Grey’s Anatomy, Felicity, and Being Human. I asked if she’s seen any change in the roles she was getting cast in or the types of stories she’s getting scripts for.
“I was never considered a leading lady. I was really never considered an object of desire. I’ve always been a character actor,” Aquino said. “I’ve always played a woman who’s very strong and tough. Some might characterize it as a bitch. I don’t, but there you are. I haven’t personally seen a shift for myself, but I’m going to qualify that.”
“When I started in this business [back in the ’80s] I was considered wildly ethnic. I would be sent in for ethnic roles only, and that shift, I think, has been remarkable, because I would try to explain to them, ‘Really if you want this to be a diverse cast, you are barking up the wrong tree. I’m actually white,'” Aquino continued. “I would have them bring me in for Latino roles, or want to bring me in, and I’d say, ‘No, she’s got an accent. Find a Latina actress.'”
Aquino has seen other shifts in the industry as well.
“One of the most positive things that I have seen over the course of my career, while it hasn’t affected me deeply, is this shift and this acceptance of who is an American, who is part of the scene. What is a woman? What does she look like? Where is she from? It’s gotten blown so wide open now that it’s actually very, very encouraging to me,” Aquino said.
“I’ve seen so much progress, and I try to encourage kids who are getting involved now to remember and look back and celebrate how much more open the business is now to who can tell the story, who is part of the story. When I started out, you needed to be white, white, white — upturned nose, super skinny, preferably blonde, all-American, if you were just going to play a role that was not specifically written for somebody who was not that,” she reflected.
“Now, I love watching the programming and seeing men and women, but especially women, who don’t fit that bill at all playing all kinds of characters, playing the lead, playing the love interest, playing the doctor, the lawyer, the whatever,” Aquino continued.
“I think that’s been a huge positive change in the industry. There’s still a ways to go. I think Latino actors are especially under-represented, and that’s something that really needs to be worked on. Still and all, the shift has been really dramatic and especially for women.”
Aquino is encouraged by how the industry has changed and how the molds for characters have been broken. She’s also glad to see the discussion of harassment in the industry breaking open. Aquino recalled an art installation at the Kodak Theater where the Academy Awards are held. The main staircase in the theater framed the Hollywood sign.
“Built into the stairway is this red carpet that’s made out of tile or terrazzo or something, with little sayings that are inserted in brass, so as you walk up, you can read these little things. You’re walking up and up and up and up and up and up until you get to where the Hollywood sign is framed, and at the top of it was a couch, a statue, a big, brass couch. It was just kind of a ‘Yeah. That’s Hollywood,'” Aquino remembered.
“They took it down. They removed it when all these allegations finally started surfacing, but for ten years, that sat there. It was accepted as, ‘Yeah, that’s how it works.’ No one was dealing with the damage and the pain and the violence and the wrongness of that. We all just went, ‘Yeah, that’s the way it works,’ until these women started coming forward, bravely, and it’s been a huge shift in consciousness,” said Aquino.
“I don’t blame the people for creating that or installing it. It was this kind of this funny little joke, and everybody got the joke. That’s how wrong and that’s how ingrained our perspective was with regard to sexual harassment in this industry,” Aquino continued.
Aquino and her husband have started traveling recently. They have a list of places they would like to visit and a few they might consider revisiting in the future. Recently, they had the opportunity to visit Lebanon.
“We just spent a week in Lebanon with our friend Tony Shalhoub, who’s a very dear, old friend who’s of Lebanese descent, and he wanted to go back. None of his nine brothers and sisters nor he had ever gone back to find the place where his father was born, and we were visiting with him while he was shooting in Paris, and he said, ‘I’ve got a week free. I’d like to go to Lebanon. Do you have any interest?’ We were like, ‘Yup! Totally.'” Aquino recalled.
“My husband and I are both into, ‘Okay, this is the time of life. If we don’t do it now, it ain’t going to happen. Let’s do it,'” laughed Aquino.
Between filming seasons of Bosch, Aquino has been doing plays each year. This is the third year she’s done a play.
“I am right now in rehearsals for a play called The Sisters Rosensweig by Wendy Wasserstein,” Aquino shared. “It’s the third play I’ve done there. They do wonderful productions, and it’s a terrific cast. I’ve done two others of Wendy’s plays.”
Aquino is also getting ready for a fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association.
“The Alzheimer’s Association is something that’s very important to me. There’s a lot of Alzheimer’s and dementia in my father’s family, and so I really want to support awareness. On the longest day of the year, which is June 21st, they encourage you to do something you love for people you love, and I do a lot of gardening, which is something I learned from my dad,” said Aquino.
“I have a blackberry bramble, and I generally make jam, and this time I made it with a bunch of other friends. We had special little Alzheimer’s labels, and anybody who gave $250 dollars or more got a jar of it as a thank you gift. The price is going to go up this year, however, because I ended up having to send out three dozen jars of jam,” she said.
“It was a great day. It’s a great event, and I absolutely plan on doing it this year. I’m trying to rope some more people into doing an activity that they love as well,” explained Aquino.
Featured image credit: J Squared Photography
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