I f stardom were spread via sheer proximity, you’d already know Patricia Lawton’s name. She’s walked down New York City streets with George Clooney, chatted with Jennifer Aniston on the set of the movie Bounty Hunter, met Robin Williams on the movie Awakenings, compared similar Coach pocketbooks with Sarah Jessica Parker while filming Sex and the City and had a decadent lunch on a Long Island horse farm with James Gandolfini on the set of The Sopranos. During that shoot, she played a maid rather than a nurse, her usual role.
Lawton, an actress and acting coach residing in Madison, has been at the edge of the spotlight for thirty years. In 1984, she had “the right look” and landed acting gigs on two soap operas, as a nurse on Loving and as an upper-middle-class friend of one of the principals on All My Children.
I recently met her when we were both background extras on Dustin Hoffman’s forthcoming movie Boychoir, being filmed in various spots around the state, including Yale’s Woolsey and Sprague Memorial Halls. As a member of SAG and AFTRA unions, Patricia was paid for the day. (I, on the other hand, was considered a volunteer. This was clearly the beginning and end of my film career.)
How many people do you know who can claim to have portrayed a news reporter in the movie Autumn in New York and conversed with Richard Gere between takes? Or to have had a friendly talk with Laura Linney while taping an episode of The Big C? Or to have rubbed shoulders with soap opera queen Susan Lucci on All My Children?
For her career, Lawton must be spontaneous, ready to go when her agent calls, to audition for commercials or as a “day player” on a set, usually filming in New York City. As a day player, she might get a role for two days or five and she finds herself being cast most often as a nurse, like a recent gig that put her next to Edie Falco on Nurse Jackie. Despite no medical training of any kind, she keeps finding herself with a stethoscope in hand—as she did for a recent episode of Hostages, and on Person of Interest and Royal Pains. Playing a nurse is just her thing.
Most of the time, anyway. You might also see her—though, if the folks behind the cameras achieved their goal, you won’t recognize her—as a stand-in for Kim Cattrall on Sex and the City and as a stunt driver in the movie Stuart Little II. She also played a dead body lying on an Oriental rug in a townhouse on the series finale of Third Watch (she says she even managed to take a nap between takes), and has appeared multiple times on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.
When she isn’t on a job, Lawton teaches children, teens and adults. She says she gears her acting classes toward people who want to get started in the business but just don’t know how. This month she’s slated to run $75 group seminars on Saturdays, providing instruction for acting on camera, delivering monologues and analyzing scripts, as well as lessons on more the more technical and business-oriented ends of the profession. (Email her at email@example.com to find out more.)
If you’re more media consumer than media creator, as of course most of us are, watch for Patricia Lawton on the new TV drama series Black Box set to debut at the end of April, in which she was filmed resuscitating one of the stars as—you guessed it—a nurse.
Written by Bonnie Goldberg. Photograph courtesy of Patricia Lawton.