Brittany Underwood spent five years portraying a character named Langston Wilde on the soap opera “One Life to Live” on ABC.
The 2006 Mountain Lakes High School graduate recently landed another soap opera role on a network one wouldn’t necessarily associate with the genre.
“I play the female lead in ‘Hollywood Heights’ on Nick at Nite,” Underwood, 24, said in an e-mail interview from her current base of Los Angeles. “My character’s name is Loren. She’s a senior in high school and an aspiring singer/songwriter who has trouble admitting just how good she is. But with the help of her supportive friends and mom, she might just get enough confidence to really go for it with her music.”
The show debuted Monday and airs every night at 9 p.m.
Underwood said she caught the acting bug while performing in school plays and in community theater when she was growing up. She has come a long way from her first job appearing on NBC’s crime drama “Law & Order, SVU.” That was back when she was in high school.
“I was then lucky enough to do Shakespeare in the Park with Meryl Streep a year later,” she said. “That was an incredible experience that I will never forget.”
From there she had a five-year run on “One Life to Live,” which was canceled by ABC last year.
“The people there became a second family to me,” she said. “Everyone loved each other so much, and it was really hard to say goodbye.”
Prior to landing the role on “Hollywood Heights,” Underwood appeared on “The Big C” on Showtime and portrayed Willow Palin, daughter of former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, on HBO’s adaptation of the best-selling book “Game Change.”
“I’ve been so lucky throughout my career that I’ve always gotten to work with really nice people. It makes all the difference in the world and is not always so frequently found in this business,” she said. “So when I moved out to L.A., I was scared I wouldn’t be able to find another ‘family’ like I had been fortunate enough to have had thus far in previous jobs. I was however not disappointed, booking ‘Hollywood Heights’ as my first job in L.A. and finding another group that were just genuinely good people.”
Underwood’s career has been watched from afar by family and friends, and also by some of her former educators in Mountain Lakes.
Donna Lee Donelan of Whippany said she’s been following Underwood’s career ever since she was her student at Briarcliff Middle School, where Donelan directed her in three spring musical productions.
“I will always remember how amazed I was when this petite, shy sixth-grader came in to auditions and wowed me with her mature, beautiful voice, not to mention an innate acting ability that was already developed far beyond most children of that age,” Donelan said.
“Although she was only a sixth-grader, her first year in middle school, Brittany was given a main role in ‘Pirates of Penzance’ as Ruth, Frederic’s nursemaid. The following year she had a major role in ‘Oliver!’ and in eighth grade she played the very challenging role (even for adult sopranos) of Josephine in Gilbert & Sullivan’s ‘HMS Pinafore.’ ”
Donelan, who said she held a “Hollywood Heights” premiere party at her house when the program debuted, said she was struck by Underwood’s “very humble demeanor” and how she worked hard at learning her roles and performing to the best of her abilities.
Underwood graduated from Manhattanville College in New York in 2010. She majored in biology with a minor in business management. She moved to Los Angeles last July.
“A normal day working at ‘Hollywood Heights’ is usually about 12 hours, give or take, but always a five-day week,” she said. “It’s not all spent on set, though. We’re getting our hair and makeup done, running lines with each other, having wardrobe fittings, reading scripts for the next day, and sometimes just having fun and pulling pranks on each other or bonding as a cast. So even though it’s a lot of work, and more intense than anything I’ve ever worked on before, we still all have a blast with each other.”
She said she loves living in Los Angeles and enjoys watching her fellow acting friends perform shows around Hollywood.
“I have so many talented musician friends who are just so awesome to see live,” she said. “It’s really a treat. … Recently, I’ve started getting more and more into music with all of the singing I’ve been doing with the show, and also my friends have been helping me learn to play the guitar and piano. I’m really enjoying that and want to focus more on that when I have more free time.”
Free time is not in abundance these days, meaning Underwood hasn’t had the time to look for different acting opportunities.
“Right now, my schedule with the show is so hectic that I’m not really able to go on auditions, but I will be getting right back into all of that as soon as I’m done taping the show,” she said.
Donelan, her former teacher, said she’s not at all surprised by Underwood’s success.
“I am so thrilled because it is so hard to make it in this business, but Brittany went after what she loved while pursuing an education in the sciences, as well, and has made it happen,” Donelan said.