Actress from Mahomet gives thanks for Hanks
Champaign County native Melanie Paxson confirms something most of us know: Tom Hanks is one of the nicest guys in Hollywood.
She recently worked with the two-time Oscar winner for the first time, on the movie "Saving Mr. Banks," which opens Friday.
In it she plays Dolly, the secretary to Walt Disney, portrayed by Hanks.
She called the acclaimed actor a "great guy" who took good care of others on the set by providing them, at his own expense, a massage therapist.
"It was his gift to the cast and crew," she said.
"Tom Hanks is just a wonderful man, and is just kind to everybody," she added. "He knows who he is. You can just tell he wants you to have a good experience with him. He knows it's a special thing, and he takes his job as Tom Hanks seriously."
If you haven't heard by now, "Saving Mr. Banks" is about Walt Disney's attempt to convince curmudgeonly British author P.L. Travers (played by Emma Thompson) to sign over to him the rights to her book, "Mary Poppins," for a film adaptation.
Paxson called Dolly a good-sized role but said she has only two or three scenes in the movie with Hanks. She has more with other cast members — B.J. Novak, Jason Schwartzman and Thompson, who also wins rave reviews from Paxson.
"She was so loving and makes everybody feel so special," she said.
Trying out for the role was just one of the many auditions Paxson attends — usually more than one a day, three to four days a week. Winning the role seemed "effortless" because she apparently was the right actress for the character, said the 1990 Mahomet-Seymour graduate.
Asked whether she's had a breakthrough role yet, Paxson, a University of Missouri theater alum, couldn't point to just one.
"It started in Chicago when I got a recurring role on the (ABC) TV series, 'Cupid,'" she said. "Then I got some roles at Steppenwolf, and that sort of brought me to Los Angeles" in 1999.
Once there, Paxson, a pretty brunette with a girl-next-door look, began doing more TV series, pilots and movie work.
"Nobody has seen the pilots but getting them is a pretty good thing," she said.
She has done many commercials as well. The one that brought her visibility was as the plucky spokesperson, or "voice of reason," for Glad Products, which makes food storage containers and trash bags.
In those spots, she stood up to the likes of Bobby Knight, Sugar Ray Leonard, Joan Rivers and Jerry Stiller.
She's no longer the face of Glad but instead for Red Robin gourmet hamburgers in its ad campaign.
Though like most actors she wants more work, Paxson keeps busy — so much so that she won't return home for the holidays, even though she loves Mahomet, Champaign and the Midwest in general.
She likely will be back in July. Her parents, Randy and Gay Moore of Champaign, will visit the Paxsons in California next month. The actress, her husband, Andy, and their 3-year-old son, Miller, live in the San Fernando valley; he owns Simplethings Sandwich & Pie Shop, with plans to open a second location in L.A.
For now, Melanie Paxson doesn't know yet whether her role in "Saving Mr. Banks" will lead to more acting jobs. The new year will tell, she said.
"I would love to have a TV series or do more supporting roles in movies, and I would really love for this movie to lead to voice-over work in animated films," she said. "It's hard to get into that world. I feel like this is a good place for me to start, with this movie."
You saw her in ...
Melanie Paxson, a 1990 Mahomet-Seymour alumna, has had several roles in TV, movies and commercials. Among them:
— Jaclyn in the ABC series "Cupid," starring Jeremy Piven (1998-99)
— Joyce DeWitt in the TV film "Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of 'Three's Company'" (2003)
— The daughter of characters played by John Larroquette and Christine Baranski in the NBC sitcom "Happy Family" (2003-04)
— Julie in the ABC sitcom "Notes From The Underbelly" (2007-08)
— Wendy in the movie "Ready to Rumble" (2000)
— A ticked-off co-ed in the movie "Slackers" (2002)
— The "voice of reason" in the national Gladware commercial campaign of the early 2000s and in other national TV ads, including Round Robin gourmet burgers, Progressive Insurance, Fiber One Bars, Milo's Dog Treats, Target, Yoplait and 1-800 Dentist.
Melanie Paxson won't be back home for the holidays but fans can catch her on the big screens of Savoy 16 and Champaign's Carmike 13 starting Friday, when "Saving Mr. Banks" is released nationwide.
Can't wait till then? Here's a link to the movie's official trailer. It's 2 minutes, 55 seconds long, with Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Paul Giamatti ... and 2 words from Paxson at the 38-second mark.