Mara Marini may be from Canada originally, but her face and ambition say Hollywood. Even in a phone interview she exudes an infectious sweetness that you’d imagine would have to carry over on the small or big screen.
And while she would tell you she’s blessed and appreciative of all that her time in Los Angeles has afforded her, it almost doesn’t seem fair that it’s taken this long for her star to shine.
“I literally told my parents since I was four years old, ‘I’m gonna move to L.A. as soon as I graduate…I knew I wanted to be here, I just didn’t know how I was going to get here,” Marini recalls.
Her ticket was acceptance to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (AADA). After attending York University in Toronto, Marini auditioned for the prestigious school that has trained many noteworthy names, including Adam Scott, Marini’s co-star on the hit NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation.”
Coincidentally, Adam Scott spoke at her graduation- and fellow “Parks” guest star Paul Rudd spoke at Adam Scott’s graduation, creating what Marini calls a “trifecta” of AADA alums on “Parks and Recreation.”
Regarding the idea of “making it,” Marini “never really had any grandiose ideas about being a star,” she says. “I just knew I wanted to act and I never wanted to do anything else.”
She had gained theatre experience in Canada and continued on that track in L.A. She also “did a lot of indie films, anything I could get my hands on.”
Only recently did she hire an agent that she really likes. Before that, she was self-made – a scrappy, door-to-door saleswoman of sorts, pitching herself at meetings. Amazingly, her problem was that she was just another blonde beauty with personality. “We have someone just like you” was an oft-heard soft blow sort of rejection she’d receive. Then there would be the vulgar male agents looking to capitalize on her sexuality: “We need you to come back in a bikini.”
After graudation, she faced many of the anxieties most young professionals face. “It was a lot of hustle…I knew I’d have to find my niche, so I tried a bunch of different things. I did stand-up [comedy] for a while,” she recalls. Though that foray only lasted about a year, like anything it was a learning experience.
“The problem for me was, to get into comedy, you really have to make that a career. You start off as either a ‘bringer’ or a ‘ringer’. So unless you’re a ‘bringer’ , which is like the star, you have to bring a certain amount of people per show or they’ll take speech time. So the first few times were great, but I didn’t want to be asking my friends to come every week, so it was a catch-22.”
Marini learned that it takes full devotion to make it as a comedian. Her friend, comedian Colin Kane, has taught her by example. ” … 24/7 he’s on it, promoting himself, him and his manager just going at it,” she says. “It really has to be your love and your career. And acting is where my passion lies.”
Of course, nothing in her acting career has come close to “Parks and Recreation,” which she describes as “the best time of my life.” The gig to end all gigs came about when Dorian Frankel, the casting director on the show, was holding a workshop. “Most of the time it isn’t super fruitful, I feel. But this time, I saw a breakdown for this Brandi Maxxxx character and submitted myself,” she recalls. “I felt like, ‘I have this, I have this. This is totally me.'”
Despite being disappointed with her audition, Marini landed the part. “That’s why you never know,” she says simply.
She’s had instances where casting directors have said “‘you will definitely hear back from us,’ then nothing. Or you will walk out feeling really bad about yourself, and you end up booking it. You just never know.”
The struggles to please industry professionals don’t stop there, however. The casting director for a now cancelled ABC show, The Whole Truth,” had brought Marini to try out several parts, and was not blind to her talents – but there was one aspect of her that he took issue with.
“He called my agent— a totally unsolicited call, which is nice—and said ‘Pilot season is coming up and we love Mara, we think she’s really talented, but you know—her hair is just so blonde. Maybe you should tone it down. Maybe she’s a bit too sexy,” Marini recalls with a laugh.Still, she admits that she did concede, dying her hair dark brown.
As fate would have it, though, she got the call from “Parks and Recreation” in January to appear for a second time as Brandi Maxxxx. Her first appearance was on April 28, 2011 in last season’s “Jerry’s Painting,” (seen at right) in which Brandi Maxxx publicly defends a painting that Jerry (Jim O’Heir) made depicting a topless Greek goddess that bears a striking resemblance to Leslie (Amy Poehler). The dark-haired look didn’t work for the buxom adult film star’s image, and Marini went back to blonde.
“Being yourself” is a challenge Hollywood, and something that Marini has struggled with since leaving the halls of the AADA. “You’ll be typecast as the tough guy or the nerdy guy, but that could be your ‘in’,” she says. “I could go out for more things and tone it down, but that wouldn’t be me.”
It isn’t only her brand of femininity that presents obstacles. Being a woman in the hypersexualized atmosphere of acting still has its pitfalls. “I feel that … there’s still a little bit of an old boys’ club,” she says. Even when she came across female agents, she felt the same discrimination. “I chopped [my hair] to just above my chin, [and dyed it] brown, and she didn’t even get me one audition. And that’s when I was like, ‘No, I’m not listening to anyone else but me’,” she recalls. “She would tell me you’re to pretty to go in for young moms and stuff, but you’re not pretty enough to play a supermodel.”