Issue Contents  : :  Feature Stories  : :  Headstrong in Hollywood

Headstrong in Hollywood
by Yvonne Gay Fowler

Amy Gunzenhauser '99
Amy Gunzenhauser '99
"Life is very, very complicated," says Amy Gunzenhauser '99, voicing perhaps the biggest understatement of the day. At age 28, she's earned a reputation in Hollywood as a clever and competent television and film producer, fueled by successes at VH-1, MTV, and now, the indie film industry, in which she's landed a job as casting agent and production executive for Straight Out of Compton, Return of the Westsiders, starring James Russo.

Adding to the frenzy is Gunzenhauser's part-time career as a voice-over actress, which demands endless auditions--10 to 12 per week--scheduled carefully before and after her day job as a development executive with the Los Angeles production company One Roof Entertainment.

"If my career never matriculates into anything more, at least I'll know that I gave it 150 percent," says Gunzenhauser, whose distinctive high-pitched voice prompts telemarketers to ask if her parents are home; it's an inflection that makes her a natural for voice-over work. Late last year she landed the role of Leonardo, a series regular on the Nickelodeon cartoon Preschool Daze, which is scheduled to premier in November. A spin-off of the popular and irreverant Rugrats cartoon, the new series teams Gunzenhauser with GoGos guitarist Jane Wiedlinand and former Saturday Night Live star Loraine Newman. She also performs the voices of Mac and Cher on a second Rugrats spin-off, All Grown Up.

Gunzenhauser conveys a tenacity that is no doubt inherited from her parents. Her father, renowned orchestra conductor Stephen Gunzenhauser '63, is also a prolific recording artist. Her mother, a nurse, has a flare for the arts as well, having served as a body double on TV shows such as Hack and as a stand-in for actresses such as Holly Hunter.

Amy herself entered the spotlight at age 7 as a national competitive figure skater, but then traded the ice for acting class as a teenager. Her first commercial voice-over as the "mmm, mmm, better" Campbell's Soup kid was followed by a run of PSAs, infomercials, and a role on the animated pilot Bucky Beaver's Wild Adventures.

"I thought I was crazy as a little kid," Gunzenhauser laughs, recalling childhood memories of invisible characters, made-up voices, and imitations of Tina Turner in her living room. After high school, she turned down an offer of admission by New York University to audition with Oberlin's theater and dance program. Wearing all black and toting an 8x10 glossy photograph, she made a memorable first impression on the theater faculty. "I will never forget Jane Armitage's reaction to my appearance," Gunzenhauser says. "There was this silent laughter exuding from her."

"It was ridiculous," laughs Armitage, professor emerita of theater and dance. "Amy was standing on the steps of Wilder Hall right before freshman orientation, dressed to the tee in all black. She handed me a résumé that was as long as my arm, along with a beautiful formal picture. She was so nervous, but she did an incredible audition that blew me over. She ended up playing the lead in Kindertransport Problematic her senior year."

After graduation, Gunzenhauser dove into the entertainment industry feet first. For a month and a half, she was relentless in contacting the Hollywood office of Emmy Award-winning director James Burrows '62, who finally offered her an internship. Eight months later, she talked her way into a senior position with a publicity company, and subsequently landed production jobs with VH-1 and MTV. "I just kept talking," says Gunzenhauser, laughing about her assurance to network producers that she could book five celebrities each week for VH-1's Rotten Television, hosted by former Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten.

She landed the job as associate producer and worked feverishly to sign, seal, and deliver the promised names. Word of her ability to book hot talent soon floated around Hollywood, earning Gunzenhauser a reputation as being sharp and thorough. Flying high off a recent sale of her own full-length comedy script, Gunzenhauser shows no signs of slowing down. She's considering giving on-camera work another go around, but admits she's hesitant because of the industry's demands for the "perfect body."

"I'm just trying to keep it real by working extremely hard; that's what I learned at Oberlin," she says. "I like the hustle and bustle of this lifestyle. The stress somehow keeps me going. If I don't have a hundred things to do, I feel lazy."