Mindy Sterling remembers what happened when she told her father, comedian Dick Sterling, that she wanted to become a performer. 'At the age of 13 my dad decided to get me private acting lessons to do Shakespeare', the Florida-raised Sterling recalls. He said: 'If you learn Shakespeare, you'll be a great actor'. 'And I was hideous - when you're thirteen years old, Shakespeare is NOT how you want to spend your free time! Needless to say, to this day I hate doing Shakespeare.'
But this initial trauma was not enough to keep Sterling from her dream, and her ambition and talent have turned into a promising career as a comic actress. Best remembered for her role as "Frau", one of Dr. Evil's sidekicks in the hilarious blockbuster "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery". Sterling reprised the role in the sequel "The Spy Who Shagged Me" and will also starred in the film’s third installment in 2002. She was also featured in the New Line comedy "Drop Dead Gorgeous," a behind-the-scenes mockumentary about a beauty contest in small-town Minnesota, and in Ron Howard's "Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Who Stole Christmas'" which starred Jim Carrey.
The daughter of a nightclub comic and a dancer, Sterling admits that performing has 'always been in my blood', and began her career as an amateur appearing in local dinner theater and community theater productions. She chose to move to Los Angeles to pursue her acting career, specifically hoping to hone her comic talents. After working with a number of improvisational groups in Hollywood, she finally hooked up with the seminal group The Groundlings. Nearly fifteen years later, she is still one of the group's most active and popular members.
'Improv is one of the more satisfying and challenging forms of performance. It's very freeing, it's incredibly stimulating because you get to play God with a suggestion that's given to you. You get to create the character, the blocking, the story and develop that one suggestion into something so incredibly terrific - or horrible', says Sterling. She still takes the stage whenever she can: 'I love it to death and still do the Thursday night shows. It's play time, and when you're playing with people you can trust, it's great'.
In addition to the weekly Groundlings Theatre productions, Sterling also became one of the troupe's instructors. Among her prized pupils were past and present and "Saturday Night Live" cast members including Cheri Oteri, Chris Kattan, and Maya Rudolph. She also worked closely with "Friends" star Lisa Kudrow. 'Teaching has brought a lot of confidence to my work, and it's such a reward when you see someone doing great stuff. You only hope that you have taught them something and added something to their success'.
Her role in "Austin Powers" came about through a friend and fellow Groundlings Theatre alum Julia Sweeney, who recruited creator and star Mike Myers to appear on stage in some Groundlings shows. 'Every time he did the show I tried desperately to be there because I found him to be a genius', says Sterling. She remembers feeling she did "horribly" in her audition for the role of Frau Farbissina, but she impressed Myers and director Jay Roach enough to win the role. Working with Myers on screen proved to be just as much of a treat as it was on stage: 'Mike is very generous about letting you do things to add to the scene and the character. He's very playful, and he can go on forever because he's got so much confidence and passion'. The scenes featuring Dr. Evil's dastardly cabal of villains are particularly memorable because of the interaction between Myers, Sterling and Seth Green, who played Dr. Evil's test-tube son Scott. 'There's a whole level of stuff that wasn't written and was completely in the way we played it' Sterling explains. 'People come up to me and say 'It's so funny that you were Scott's mother.' That was never in the script and never said, but we played it that way and it came through'. There was more fun in the sequel, where the suggestion of a romance between Dr. Evil and Frau turned into an unexpected love scene for Austin Powers' nemesis. There are even more surprises planned for the third installment of "Austin Powers". "Drop Dead Gorgeous" featured Sterling as one of the citizens of a small town which is obsessed with a teenage beauty pageant. She put on a 'really thick Minnesota accent' for the role, which also starred Kirstie Alley and Kirsten Dunst. She has guest-starred on numerous sitcoms including "Just Shoot Me." She had a recurring role in the zany "Manhattan AZ". and was a regular on the FX show "Instant Comedy with the Groundlings," which showcased her improv chops.
In addition to her busy Film and Television career, Mindy enjoys spending time at home with her husband, Brian Gadson, and son Max. Still, things have changed just a bit for Sterling: 'I was doing a voice-over for a cartoon and I noticed a bunch of sound engineers, whispering and pointing. Someone came up to me and said 'They recognize you from "Austin Powers,"' Sterling says with an embarrassed laugh. Clearly, this gifted comic actress hit her stride long ago.
Always keep busy acting. Whether it be in a play, showcase or taking classes. Classes are great because you are learning even if you are not actually performing a scene. You are watching, observing and absorbing. You are with other actors, good and not so good, so you can learn from them. Also, it keeps you in touch with what is going on in the business. You hear someone is casting something, or you may get agent info. You are always networking. You want to be ready at any cost for that audition and job. The waiting is hideous, so stay in the game until that opportunity is given to you.
Have other passions and things that you are involved in. You need to grow as a person and not just as an actor. Plus your other life will help you be a better actor.
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* Headshot Photo by Rob_Lewine
[a] © 2002 - Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon/SMPSP/New Line Productions
[b] © 1999 - Photo by Fellman - New Line Cinema
[c] © 1999 - New Line Cinema
[d] © 2011 - Warner Bros. Television