Welcome to ACTING UP, the place where we celebrate standout performances in TV, streaming, and film. Other than spotlighting exceptional work from recent projects, this feature also shines a light on how certain actors got where they are today. Have a peek and then check out these notable performances to help hone your craft.
For number 24: Iliza Shlesinger plays the fiery ex-girlfriend of an-ex-cop-turned-ex-con hellbent on taking down a ring of police corruption inside the Boston PD in Spenser Confidential, a Netflix original film. (Premiere date: March 6, 2020)
When I think of the best Boston accents I’ve seen in films, my mind immediately goes to drama. Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. Casey Affleck in Manchester By the Sea. The cast of The Departed. But I can’t remember one as comedic as Cissy Davis – Iliza Shlesinger’s character in the Netflix original film, Spenser Confidential.
The funny thing? Shlesinger didn’t use a linguistics coach. According to this interview she did for Screen Rant, her method started by asking herself, “What would Peter Griffin sound like?” Then, once she got to the Boston set, she cornered anyone she could track down to read lines for her to mimic.
Cops, teamsters, anyone.
Released at a time when America (and the world, for that matter) started hunkering down for the real-life horror film “COVID-19,” Spenser Confidential has been seen a lot more people than it would’ve had it not been for coronavirus.
Honestly, the film is good, not great. But it does qualify as quality escapism, a priceless commodity at a time when the 24-hour (bad) news cycle is ruling us all. No doubt why there’s been a collective desire to be saved by the Tiger King.
The first time we see Cissy Davis (a dog groomer who touts herself as a “very successful small business owner”) is in flashback form – tossing Spenser’s stuff (that’s Mark Wahlberg) onto the street from their third-floor apartment screaming, “I love you so fucking much!” She just learned he’s going to jail for five years. It’s a toxic-yet-sweet dynamic that continues for the rest of the film.
In their next scene, we see her anxiously arriving at the jail, the day he gets out – a confrontation he’s avoiding. To the prison official who warns her that she can’t park there, she seems annoyed and unfazed. “Alright, Shawshank, I’ll move the fucking cah.” (Boston accent invoked.) It’s the first of many hilarious sentences that fly out of her mouth in sarcastic, witty and provocative ways during Spenser.
Another is the time she randomly has sex with Spenser in a restaurant bathroom to Foreigner’s “Feels Like the First Time.” That’s when Cissy relishes the five minutes of peace between them after sex, which she tells Spenser, “Lasts about as long as sex with you.” Moments later, she walks out saying, “Hell will freeze over before you ever touch me again.” Their game of cat-and-mouse continues.
The last time we see Shlesinger is one of the most amusing. At a celebratory lunch when Cissy tries to push her lines out through a mouthful of “lobstah.” It’s just quick a moment, but spotlights one of Shlesinger’s masterful qualities as a comedienne: Fearlessness. It’s a feel-good moment in a feel-good movie – and for Shlesinger, another reminder that she knows how to make the most of a role.
From the moment Iliza Shlesinger appears in Spenser Confidential, we catch a glimpse of an actress doing solid character work. Which might seem a bit odd given most people know Shlesinger from her five – that’s right, five – standup specials on Netflix. (Check out Elder Millennial if you want to laugh. Hard.)
But that’s all about to change as this moment could mark a shift in the 37-year-old’s career trajectory. Much in the way Amy Schumer did it years prior, (parlaying Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer to major film roles in Trainwreck and Snatched) the busy Shlesinger is about to take that next step into the arena of sketch comedy. Her new project: The Iliza Shlesinger Sketch Show (premieres on Netflix on April 1st), and like her standup, will serve up irreverent social commentary from the female POV – from dating to reality TV to social media.
Where did it all start for the Dallas-born Shlesinger? The big break happened when she became the first woman – and youngest ever – to win NBC’s Last Comic Standing in 2008. Since then, she’s been stringing off Netflix comedy specials like nobody’s business and even did some light TV/film work along the way.
Ever see the film Instant Family, a comedy also starring Wahlberg? She was in it.
Shlesinger has also produced a slew of other projects to show off her talents. Notable efforts include Truth & Iliza, a limited-run talk show she hosted on Freeform and her latest foray into technology, her podcast Ask Iliza Anything.
When she’s not busy with all that, she’s just sells out theater venues as a comedian headlining standup shows, nationally and internationally.
That was a pre-coronavirus world – so come to think of it, now might be a good time to become the stream queen.
Gregg Rosenzweig has been a writer, creative director and managing editor for various entertainment clients, ad agencies and digital media companies over the past 20 years. He is also a partner in the talent management/production company, The Rosenzweig Group.