Faith-Filled and Funny — An Actress With Gumption

By Richard Wilkinson
Siobhan Fallon Hogan and her family

A few years ago the CUA-trained actress Siobhan Fallon Hogan landed a recurring role on a television series that seemed perfect for her. It was filmed in New York City so it would be easy to get to from her New Jersey home, she loved the character, and the regular pay would help her and her husband provide for their children and maybe even send them to college.

Then the show’s writers decided to have her character, a churchgoing Catholic, have an affair — an affair that would begin at Mass. Her character would drop her missalette, a guy would pick it up, they would lock eyes, and it would take off from there.

That was a problem for her.

Fallon Hogan said to herself, “Agh, this is the perfect job — and I can’t do it anymore. Because I’m not having an affair, and, especially, why did the writers have to start the affair at Mass?”

So, reluctantly, she quit the show.

“Which was hideous,” says the actress, “because I hadn’t even finished the episode I was in, so I had to go to work having quit — and who likes a quitter? Finishing that episode was like working in the enemy camp, or like being the 8th-grade girl that everybody hates and nobody wants to sit with.”

Fallon Hogan had told the producers that she didn’t mean to be a thorn in their side but she had to get out of the show because she had no idea the character was going to go down the path that was now being projected. She said to the producers, “I have a 12-year-old daughter and I’ve taught her certain things and if I do this, I’m nothing more than a big hypocrite to my family.”

One of them asked her, “Can’t you just tell your kids you’re playing a role and you’re acting?”

She replied, “No, I can’t.”

Fallon Hogan (whose first name is pronounced “Sha-vaun”) is one of an unusual and very small cadre of Hollywood actors: those who are very much in demand for major movies and TV shows, but who let their Catholic faith and desire to protect the morality of viewers determine the roles they take and the parts they turn down.

Fallon Hogan in the movie Men in Black
Fallon Hogan played the wife of a farmer who is taken over by an alien in “Men in Black.”

Photo: Photofest

Fallon Hogan and Henry Winkler in the movie Holes
She and Henry Winkler played husband and wife in the 2003 movie “Holes.”

Photo: Photofest

Her credits are impressive: being in the regular cast of “Saturday Night Live,” multiple episodes of “Seinfeld,” and roles in “Forrest Gump,” “Men in Black” and dozens of other movies.

“The good thing is, because I’m so goofy looking, I normally don’t run into the situation that happened on the TV series I dropped out of. I’m usually the dowdy character who is affair free,” Fallon Hogan quips in her habitual mode of self-deprecating humor. “Like I said to the producers of that show, ‘I should be flattered. Whoever would have thunk that in this visual medium the audience would care to see me in a compromising position?’ ”

Good Reviews

Though her movie parts are often short in screen time, reviewers have frequently praised her portrayals as being among the best in the pictures she’s been in.

Of her role as the wife of a farmer whose body gets appropriated by an alien at the beginning of “Men in Black,” The Hollywood Reporter called her a “standout,” and film critic Chris Hewitt said, “In the blink-and-you-miss-her role, Siobhan Fallon is a little, blissfully idiotic, gem.”

“The best of the bunch [of supporting actors]” in the 2001 Danny DeVito/Martin Lawrence movie “What’s the Worst That Could Happen?” “is the exuberantly talented Siobhan Fallon,” opined St. Paul, Minn.’s Pioneer Press. “She has, as usual, a small role and, as usual, she’s great. Fallon’s odd timing — a farm-fresh mix of warmth and sarcasm goes into every line — makes this minor character indelible.”

In the 2009 Renee Zellweger/Harry Connick Jr. movie “New in Town,” Fallon Hogan “steals the show,” according to themovieguy.com. In the 2010 Jennifer Aniston/Gerard Butler movie “The Bounty Hunter,” Fallon Hogan “has only three or four lines total, but there is more comedy found there than the rest of the movie combined,” says a review on filmschoolrejects.com.

Describing the art of being a character actress, she quips, “I play quirky, odd-looking characters for whom I come up with a limp and an accent, a twitch or [a habit of] blinking a lot.”

These are not glamorous roles. “Fort-unately, the worse I look, the more I work,” Fallon Hogan jokes. “A lot of the scripts I get now will describe my character like [here she speaks in a hushed voice], ‘Sue has a lot of city miles on her face. She’s had a hard life, and it shows,’ or ‘Jill is 53, fat, looks like hell and drinks too much.’

“I call up my agent,” she joshes, “and say, ‘Are you sure you have me for the right role? That can’t possibly be me!’ ”

Not So Easy to Say No

Fallon Hogan admits that the decision on whether to be in a movie or TV show can be tough, and says she’s by no means perfect.

“Recently there was a pilot for a television series that would have meant big money. And my part wasn’t dirty,” she relates. “But in the surrounding roles, the young women were living in the fast lane and having a lot of affairs to get ahead in their careers.”

For two days she told herself, “I’ll just go in and meet the producers.” She also tried to convince herself that she needed to do it for the money.

Finally, though, she concluded, “I can’t do this. My stomach has been upset for two days — and what’s a stronger indicator than your gut?” So she called the producers and told them the project wasn’t her cup of tea.

Through situations like this, she says she’s learned that movies are better for her, because one’s role is fixed, while in a television series one doesn’t know what one’s character is going to be asked to do. Focusing on movies also lets her work only a couple of months per year, so that she has plenty of time to join her husband, commodities trader Peter Hogan, in parenting their children, Bernadette, 14; Peter, 11; and Sinead, 8.

Siobhan Fallon Hogan and her family

When she’s on longer film shoots, she has even managed to bring her children along to be schooled where she works, which she did in Australia while playing the farmer’s wife for the 2006 movie “Charlotte’s Web” and in Scandinavia for the 2000 and 2003 art films “Dancer in the Dark” and “Dogville.”

During the 10 or so months of the year when she’s not working as an actress, Fallon Hogan finds the time to attend a weekly rosary group, deliver Communion to elderly patients at a local nursing home every other week, serve as an officer on the PTA of her children’s Catholic school, cook her family’s meals and clean the house. “I’m cleaning the sink as I’m talking to you,” she says while being interviewed over the phone.

Being in a rosary group “doesn’t mean that out of five decades of the rosary, my mind isn’t wandering on four and a half of them about what groceries I have to get,” she says. “So I’m not a really good Catholic; I just want to be a good Catholic.”

Acting only a couple months per year works out perfectly, she says with a laugh, “because so many scripts are disrespectful to women, deny the dignity of human beings, or mock Christianity or some other religion.” Those scripts end up in the trash.

“My faith has had a terrible effect on my career! I could have made a lot more do-re-mi!” Fallon Hogan kvetches, only partly tongue-in-check. “But I figure when it’s all over, God’s not going to care how much money I made. I may, but him … no.

“I feel really sorry for kids going into this business in their 20s because there are more and more scripts that I would never touch,” she says. “And when you say no to a project, people basically think you’re insane. They’re like, ‘What, are you kidding me? Don’t you realize what this could do for your career?’ ”

Talking the Walk

Fallon Hogan not only lets her faith guide her roles but — especially in recent years — she hasn’t shied away from speaking about her faith to her co-workers.

When the cast and crew of the movie “New in Town” gathered for a meal before filming started, one of the producers, a former Catholic, asked Fallon Hogan, “You’re not a practicing Catholic, are you? It’s just a cultural thing, isn’t it?”

She replied, “No, I’m a big fat holy roller!” The producer and other crew members proceeded to ask her challenging questions like why a good God would allow the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami — so what was supposed to be a warm get-together became a religious debate.

“I think the other actors and director at the table were, like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ But I had no choice,” she says. “It was so personal to me that I had to defend myself.”

Happily, the outcome was good: “It developed into a great friendship between myself and the producer,” she says. “The conversation was a way to get to know what a person is all about right away, instead of getting to know someone over the course of the two and a half months of filming. I sang ‘Getting to Know You’ to everyone as we exited the restaurant.”

As she told christiancinema.com, “There’s a feeling among a lot of Christians that there’s this conspiracy against Christianity, but there isn’t. People are interested and they want to hear [about] your faith. I think a lot of times we’re afraid to talk about it. As I get older, I’m becoming less afraid to talk about it. I think people find that interesting, just as I find it interesting to talk with people of other faiths and religious backgrounds.”

Humor helps her a lot, she admits. “I can get away with a lot more than many other people can — I don’t think people think I’m preaching or arrogant or holier than thou. My approach is, ‘OK, this is the way it is, and like it or lump it,’ but with a sense of humor.

“My mother used to tell me, ‘You’re just like your father, you have no inhibitions,’ ” she reveals. “I’m not patting myself on the back. A lot of people are impressed with others. I’m not impressed, so I’m not nervous. I think if you have a really strong faith, you’re not really impressed by people. They’re just people. Who cares if they have a big title? But this quality can be mistaken for being flip or irreverent, when, in fact, I do respect those who have gone before me, but people are just people to me.”

That disinclination to put anyone on a pedestal means she gets along well with the famous people she has performed with, including Renee Zellweger, Lauren Bacall, Kirk Douglas, Lily Tomlin and Harry Connick Jr., as well as with the non-celebrities she interacts with in her daily life.

A Born Performer

Raised by devout parents in a suburb of Syracuse, N.Y., Fallon Hogan calls herself an “uninteresting Catholic, who never veered away or had a period of doubt.”

Her mother was even stricter about movies than she is. “I remember inviting a friend to see a movie with my mother and me when I was 13,” the actress relates. “A character in the film said the word ‘prostitute’ and we were up and out of the theater in two seconds. My mother told the ticket agent, ‘I think it’s disgusting.’

“Until then, I didn’t know what a prostitute was,” Fallon Hogan says.

Even as a little girl, she loved to perform in plays, a quality also possessed by her late father, who was a lawyer. After graduating as an English major from LeMoyne University in Syracuse, she decided to become an actress. She happened to meet CUA alumna Linda Miller, the daughter of TV actor Jackie Gleason, who suggested she earn a Master of Fine Arts in acting at Catholic University; Fallon Hogan followed that advice, graduating in 1985.

In addition to the skills and techniques of acting, she learned two lessons at CUA that proved crucial to her future success. One was being steered toward being a character actress through what she calls a humbling remark.

“I considered myself to be an ingénue — on the good-looking side of the spectrum,” recalls Fallon Hogan. “But Professor Jim Waring, who was casting a Catholic University play, said I was a character actress. I asked him, ‘What do you mean?’ He replied, ‘Ingénues are the beauties, and you’re more of a character actress.’ ” Initially nonplused, she was later thankful for his comment.

Her other lesson came from having to do a solo graduate thesis performance consisting of two comedic pieces from plays, two classic pieces and a song.

Fallon Hogan at home

“Nobody would ever do a one-woman show unless they were forced to,” she says, “but once you’ve done one, it’s like having a child — you figure out you could actually do it again.”

That lesson proved to be her entree to success. Four years after graduating from Catholic University, while working as a receptionist in New York City and consistently getting turned down for roles in plays, she wrote a one-woman play in which she performed 10 comedic pieces about different characters. The characters included a Midwestern standup comedian who isn’t funny, a no-nonsense cheerleading coach, and a little girl selling paintings door-to-door who wears a sweatshirt on her head because she is afraid of bats swooping down and getting stuck in her hair.

Fallon Hogan performed the play, titled Bat Girl, in the lobby of the Westside Arts Theatre in 1989, the same year she got married. Reviewing the show, the New York Post hailed her as “comedy’s newest girl most likely,” and Back Stage magazine dubbed her the most promising new female comedian.

That show plus her critically acclaimed performance in a production of the Vince Waldron play American Splendor led to her playing the role of Elaine’s roommate on “Seinfeld,” which led to “Saturday Night Live” hiring her onto its acting ensemble in 1991. On the latter program she went on to play such roles as the smartest woman in the world, a dimwit community college student, a single person eating Lonely Choice dinners, and a gossipy sorority sister constantly blurting, “Oh, my God!”

And how did she feel about the skits on “Saturday Night Live” that some might consider to be morally questionable? The answer came just three weeks after joining the cast. She was asked to be in a sketch that she was very uncomfortable with and refused to be in, despite her fellow cast members’ repeated pleading.

“But they started to get to know that about me and respect that,” says Fallon Hogan, who speaks well of the series: “I will forever be grateful for the doors that my time on SNL opened for me.”

Though she left after one year, SNL did, indeed, prove a springboard to movie roles, which have been her bread and butter ever since. She also does guest spots on TV situation comedies and dramas. Besides playing Elaine’s roommate on three episodes of “Seinfeld” and Alec Baldwin’s sister on “30 Rock,” she has appeared on “Law and Order,” for example.

Last year a reporter visited her home and asked if her part in “New in Town” was her biggest role to date. Fallon Hogan’s husband, Peter, was in the room and interrupted at that point: “Whoa, whoa, whoa, her first big break was when she auditioned to be my wife. I cast her in the biggest role of her life.”

Coming Attractions

Catch Siobhan Fallon Hogan playing the mother of children’s Internet comedy sensation Fred Figglehorn in “Fred: The Movie,” which is scheduled to premier on the Nickelodeon television network in August. Also catch her in the movie “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” starring Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly, which is tentatively scheduled to reach theaters in early 2011.

 



Pat Carroll: ‘The Jury of 7 in the Front Row’

Pat Carroll
Ursula from the movie The Little Mermaid

Pat Carroll is another actress who took classes in CUA’s drama department and has turned down many parts that she felt would compromise her Catholic faith.

Primarily a stage and television actress, she won a 1956 Emmy for her role in Sid Caesar’s “Caesar’s Hour,” has been nominated for two other Emmys, was nominated for a Tony Award for her role in the Broadway singing revue Catch a Star, and received a platinum record for the soundtrack of the animated movie hit “The Little Mermaid,” in which she acted/sang the part of the flamboyant sea-witch Ursula (see photo at right). In addition, Carroll won best-actress awards from the New York Outer Critics Circle and from the Drama Desk for her performance in the one-woman play Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, which she also commissioned the writing of and produced.

The actress says that whenever she is sent a play script to consider, she asks two questions: “One, is the character fascinating? And two, if my mother and father were sitting on the front row along with the five nuns who taught me in school, would they be upset about seeing me in this play? Would seeing me in the play make their faces fall?

“I have turned down many a play thinking of that group of seven in the front row,” she says.

“This rule has saved me from some rather large mistakes,” she adds. “Sometimes the role I turned down was fascinating and I wanted to say I could push my rule aside. But I knew that the jury in the first row would stop me from any pleasure in playing it.”

What nixes a script for her is not vulgarity, which she says is sometimes an important part of the character. Nor, she says, does she require her character to have religious piety, or “to be a goody-two-shoes, which is boring as hell.” On the contrary, she says she loves playing evil characters, who can be a wonderful challenge to try to understand and portray.

What nixes a play for her is a boring script or “something immoral being lauded.”

Back in 1949, Carroll was producing and directing theater productions for troops stationed at the Fort Meade military base in Maryland. Asked to open a new theater at another base and to teach theater classes there, she felt she needed more training, so she took classes in CUA’s drama department.

She never enjoyed a class more than Professor Walter Kerr’s on aesthetic theory, she says, though she admits she only got a C in it. Thirty years later, in 1979, she took the one-woman play about writer Gertrude Stein to an off-Broadway theater. Kerr, who by then had left CUA’s faculty and become the main theater reviewer for The New York Times, gave the play a rave review.

The actress took the occasion to write him at the Times saying, “Walter, I didn’t do too well in your class, but I feel like with your review, I’ve just passed.”