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‘A fun game of Spot-the-Boston-actor’: TV shows and movies cast their eyes on local theater performers

TV series like ‘Julia’ and movies like ‘Don’t Look Up’ are casting their eyes on talented local stage performers

Celeste Oliva (pictured with Nael Nacer in "Tiny Beautiful Things" at Gloucester Stage Company) is among many local theater performers who have been landing parts in TV shows and movies.Jason Grow

My regular beat is theater, but I also watch a lot of TV and movies, and I get a kick out of it when an actor familiar from the Boston stage pops up on a television series or in a film.

Their fleeting presence onscreen prompts the kind of “Hey, isn’t that…?” response that can turn the viewing experience into a fun game of Spot-the-Boston-actor.

I suspect I’m not the only theatergoer playing this particular parlor game. As TV series and movies have done more location shooting in and around these parts, local performers have been landing quite a few parts of their own, albeit usually of the blink-and-you’ll-miss them variety.


That aspect does give me (and I’m sure them) a bit of a pang. Their tiny roles usually don’t tap into even a fraction of a fraction of what they’re capable of. These are, after all, the same actors who dynamically inhabit the most challenging lead roles theater has to offer.

Still, it’s a treat when a luminary of the local stage suddenly materializes onscreen, as Celeste Oliva does in HBO Max’s “Julia,” where she plays a receptionist at WGBH-TV. Oliva also appeared on “SMILF,” the 2017-19 Showtime series set in South Boston, and in the films “Don’t Look Up” (2021) and “The Company Men” (2010).

Not that it’s inhibiting her local stage career. Just this week, Oliva’s performance as an online advice columnist in Gloucester Stage Company’s “Tiny Beautiful Things” earned her a nomination by the Boston Theater Critics Association, of which I’m a member, for an Elliot Norton Award.

In “Julia,” a miniseries about Cambridge’s own Julia Child, Oliva is joined by such other familiar faces from Boston theater as Paul Melendy, Dale Place, Kevin Fennessey, Kris Sidberry, Richard Snee, and Gene Dante. In “Don’t Look Up,” in addition to Oliva, there are by my count nearly a dozen actors who have logged significant time onstage in Boston, including Georgia Lyman, Lewis D. Wheeler, Snee, Bill Mootos and Allyn Burrows (who is also the artistic director at Lenox’s Shakespeare & Company).


When Ben Affleck’s “The Town” came out in 2010, it was a gas to spot Boston theater stalwart Jeremiah Kissel portraying the lawyer to Rebecca Hall’s Claire, and Lyman playing a waitress. That same year, Wheeler, Burrows, and Adrianne Krstansky were among the topnotch Boston-area actors who joined Oliva in John Wells’s “The Company Men.” Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea” (2016) featured Wheeler and Burrows in the cast.

Actors need to work, so here’s hoping they all continue to get parts in movies and TV series. Here’s hoping, too, that their roles get bigger — though maybe, selfishly, not so much bigger that they leave Boston theater behind.

Don Aucoin can be reached at donald.aucoin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeAucoin.