Hamilton, Lisa Gay

views updated Jun 11 2018

Lisa Gay Hamilton



Lisa Gay Hamilton is a classically trained actress whose work encompasses film, television, and theater. She made her movie debut in the 1985 cult favorite Krush Groove, appeared in a number of New York Shakespeare Festival productions during the 1990s, and won an Obie Award for her performance in Athol Fugard's Valley Song. To television viewers Hamilton is best known for her portrayal of Rebecca Washington on the Emmy-winning legal drama The Practice.

Hamilton was born in 1964 in Los Angeles but grew up in the Long Island, New York, community of Stony Brook. Her mother, Tina, was a social service executive, while her father, Ira, was an engineer who later moved to Florida after the marriage ended when Hamilton was in her early teens. The Hamiltons were the only African-American family in their neighborhood. "I had rocks thrown at me when I was riding my bicycle," she told journalist Alvin Klein in the New York Times, and she was called racial epithets at school. Hamilton recounted one particularly upsetting episode when she was cast in a school production of the musical West Side Story. She played the female lead, Maria, but the boy who won the male leading role was forced to drop out when his father objected to the interracial casting.

Graduated from NYU, Julliard

Hamilton earned a degree in theater from New York University in 1985. Soon afterward she made her screen debut as Aisha in the urban-music movie Krush Groove, a depiction of New York City's early hip-hop scene presenting a fictionalized account of Russell Simmons's pioneering Def Jam Recordings label. Hamilton harbored more serious ambitions, however, and applied to the Yale School of Drama. The graduate program offered immense opportunity for any actor who hoped for a career on the stage, and especially for African-American performers. At the time, the school's artistic director was the esteemed black actor and director Lloyd Richards, and August Wilson held regular readings of his acclaimed Pittsburgh Cycle plays with the company. "I knew, especially as a woman of color, I really, really wanted to go to Yale," she told Jesse McKinley in the New York Times. However, according to Hamilton, she failed the tryout. "My audition was a dog. And I was just crushed because all I ever wanted was to be in the ring," she said, referring to the cycle of plays by Wilson.

Hamilton instead entered the Juilliard School in Manhattan, another well-regarded training ground for Broadway hopefuls. However, pursuing a master's degree did not immediately afford the types of opportunities she desired. In Juilliard productions she was consistently cast in supporting roles that were usually "black, old women," she told John Rockwell in the New York Times. "I never kissed at school—never had a love scene, ever." Her next screen role came in Reversal of Fortune (1990) a Barbet Schroeder film about the legal case involving Claus von Bulow, who had been convicted twice of the attempted murder of his heiress wife. That same year, Hamilton achieved her goal of appearing in a work by Wilson when she won a role in the original Broadway production of The Piano Lesson, which went on to win a Pulitzer Prize.

During the early 1990s Hamilton was cast in a number of New York Shakespeare Festival productions, which are held in an outdoor setting on the Delacorte Stage in Central Park during the summer and in the Public Theater of New York during colder months. When Hamilton was asked to read for the role of a prostitute in Henry IV, Part II, she bristled at what she considered typecasting and asked the director to let her read for a much larger role, that of Lady Percy. Hamilton wound up auditioning for Joseph Papp, founder of the Shakespeare Festival, and won the part. "They may not have thought of me in the first place," she told Klein in the New York Times. "But then I felt if actors of color can challenge the system and get directors and producers to see new possibilities—well, they did."

Won Obie Award

Hamilton went on to appear in Athol Fugard's acclaimed Valley Song, set in contemporary South Africa following the end of apartheid. The drama opened in December of 1995 at the Manhattan Theater and earned her an Obie Award—the honors bestowed by the Village Voice on the best off-Broadway actors and productions of the season. In Valley Song she played a young woman named Veronica, who aspires to become a singer in Johannesburg now that freedom has come to black South Africans. "It is a performance of both subtlety and panache, and a lesson in the art of transformation," asserted reviewer Peter Marks in the New York Times.

Hamilton appeared in the highly regarded Quentin Tarantino film Jackie Brown in 1997, the same year she made her debut in the ABC television drama The Practice. Her character, Rebecca Washington, was a receptionist and paralegal at a Boston law firm, but secretly attends law school and passes the bar over the course of the next few seasons and becomes an attorney. It was not the first television role for Hamilton, but it was her most visible to date. "I got it purely by auditioning," she told David Sheward in Back Stage. "Like most actors, I made the annual pilgrimage" to Los Angeles in the winter and early spring months for what is known as pilot season.

Hamilton's years on The Practice restricted her ability to audition for New York stage plays because of the show's shooting schedule on the West Coast. She did, however, appear in the movie Beloved in 1998, the screen adaptation of Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. She played the younger version of Sethe, the character who was played in older age by Oprah Winfrey. Living in Southern California for part of the year did allow Hamilton to take on more film roles, and she appeared in the Clint Eastwood drama True Crime (1999) and in The Sum of All Fears (2002), an espionage thriller that starred Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman. After seven seasons on The Practice, Hamilton was released from her contract along with half of the cast, including Camryn Manheim, Lara Flynn Boyle, and Dylan McDermott, after the show's producer, David E. Kelley, was forced to make budget cutbacks.

At a Glance …

Born March 25, 1964, in Los Angeles, CA; daughter of Ira (an engineer) and Tina (a social worker) Hamilton. Education: New York University, BA, theater, 1985; Juilliard School, MA, 1988.

Career: Film, stage, and television actor. Made directorial debut with the documentary film Beah: A Black Woman Speaks, 2003.

Awards: Obie Award for performance, Village Voice, 1996, for Valley Song.

Addresses: Agent—Paradigm Agency, 10100 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 2500, Los Angeles, CA 90067.

Directed Documentary Film

Hamilton made her own foray into filmmaking with her documentary Beah: A Black Woman Speaks (2003). Its star was Beah Richards, best known for portraying the mother of Sidney Poitier's character in the 1967 comedy Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Richards was a veteran actress who was nominated for an Academy Award for that role, but also had a long career on Broadway that included performing in the original production of A Raisin in the Sun. Hamilton compiled more than seventy hours of interviews with Richards to make the documentary, but sadly her subject never saw the finished product before she died in 2000. As Hamilton told a writer in the Houston Chronicle, Richards "set a standard a lot of black actresses have been trying to achieve in their own work. She had her own approach to acting, and she also respected me and encouraged me to continue on my own path to find out who I am."

Hamilton later performed in Nine Lives (2005)—a work by filmmaker Rodrigo García, son of the novelist Gabriel García Márquez—and Honeydripper (2007), which takes its story from the mythical birth of rock and roll at a blues club in the Mississippi Delta in 1950. She played Delilah, the wife of Tyrone "Pinetop" Purvis (Danny Glover), who owns the club of the film's title. In 2008 she appeared in The Soloist, a film about the real-life musical prodigy Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), who was living on the streets of Los Angeles as a homeless schizophrenic. The mother of a young son, Hamilton has said in interviews that she envisions a future for herself as a drama teacher—perhaps even at her alma mater, Juilliard. "So few actors of color are classically trained," she noted in the interview with Klein in the New York Times. "Families don't encourage them. Schools don't do enough to recruit them."

Selected works


The Piano Lesson, Walter Kerr Theater, 1990.

Henry IV, Part I, New York Shakespeare Festival, 1991.

Henry IV, Part II, New York Shakespeare Festival, 1991.

Measure for Measure, New York Shakespeare Festival, 1993.

Two Gentlemen of Verona, New York Shakespeare Festival, 1994.

Valley Song, Manhattan Theater Club, 1995.

Gem of the Ocean, Walter Kerr Theater, 2004.


The Practice, 1997-2003.


Krush Groove, 1985.

Reversal of Fortune, 1990.

Naked in New York, 1993.

Twelve Monkeys, 1995.

Jackie Brown, 1997.

Beloved, 1998.

True Crime, 1999.

The Sum of All Fears, 2002.

The Truth about Charlie, 2002.

(As director) Beah: A Black Woman Speaks, 2003.

Nine Lives, 2005.

Honeydripper, 2007.

Deception, 2008.

The Soloist, 2008.



Back Stage, September 5, 1997, p. 5.

Houston Chronicle, September 16, 2000, p. 5.

New York Times, July 25, 1993; January 12, 1996; January 26, 2003, p. 9; December 19, 2004, p. AR6.

—Carol Brennan

Hamilton, Lisa Gay 1964– (Lisa Gay Hamilton, Lisa gay Hamilton)

views updated Jun 27 2018

HAMILTON, Lisa Gay 1964
(Lisa Gay Hamilton, Lisa gay Hamilton)


Born March 25, 1964, in Los Angeles, CA (some sources cite New York, NY); daughter of Ira (a construction worker and realtor) and Tina (a social worker) Hamilton. Education: Attended CarnegieMellon University; New York University, bachelor's degree, theatre; Juilliard School, master's degree.

Addresses: Agent Writers and Artists Group International, 8383 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 550, Beverly Hills, CA 90211. Manager Stacy Boniello, The Firm, 9465 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212.

Career: Actress.

Awards, Honors: Obie Award, Village Voice, distinguished performance, Clarence Derwent Award, Drama Desk Award nomination, and Ovation Award nomination, all c. 1996, for Valley Song; Screen Actors Award nominations (with others), outstanding performance by an ensemble in a drama series, 1999, 2000, and 2001, and Image Award nomination, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, outstanding supporting actress in a drama series, 2000, all for The Practice; Image Award nomination, outstanding actress in a motion picture, and Black Reel Award nomination, best supporting actress in theatrical category, both 2000, for True Crime; Documentary Award, American Film Institute, AFI Fest, 2003, for Beah: A Black Woman Speaks.


Television Appearances; Series:

Way Cool, beginning 1991.

Dr. Laura Reed, One Life to Live, ABC, 1996.

Rebecca Washington, The Practice, ABC, 19972003.

Television Appearances; Miniseries:

Ophelia, Hamlet, Odyssey, 2000.

Television Appearances; Movies:

Brenda, Drunks, Showtime, 1996.

Jeanne Baptiste, The Defenders: Choice of Evils (also known as The Defenders ), Showtime, 1998.

Virginia Mapes, Swing Vote (also known as The Ninth Justice ), ABC, 1999.

(As Lisa Gay Hamilton) Julia, A House Divided, Show-time, 2000.

Television Appearances; Specials:

Soul Train Christmas Starfest, syndicated, 2000.

Herself, World VDAY (also known as Until the Violence Stops ), Lifetime, 2004.

Television Appearances; Awards Presentations:

The Fifth Annual Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards, syndicated, 1999.

The 31st Annual NAACP Image Awards, Fox, 2000.

Presenter, Lifetime Presents: Disney's American Teacher Awards, Lifetime, 2001.

Television Appearances; Episodic:

Latoya Kennedy, "Dog and Pony Show", Homicide: Life on the Street (also known as Homicide and H: LOTS ), NBC, 1993.

Suki, "To Protect and Serve", New York Undercover, Fox, 1994.

Denise Johnson, "Purple Heart", Law & Order, NBC, 1995.

Rebecca Washington, "The Inmates", Ally McBeal, Fox, 1997.

Kendall, "Critical Condition", Sex and the City, HBO, 2002.

(As Lisa Gay Hamilton) Herself, Intimate Portrait: Lisa-Gay Hamilton, Lifetime, 2002.

Herself, Intimate Portrait: Eve Ensler, Lifetime, 2003.

Art show attendee, "Losing It", The L Word, Showtime, 2004.

Television Appearances; Pilots:

Vanessa, Cherry Street, South of Main, ABC, 1994.

Porter Russell, Clarissa, CBS, 1995.

Television Appearances; Other:

Marty, Naked in New York, 1993.

Television Director; Episodic:

"Heroes and Villains", The Practice, ABC, 2003.

Film Appearances:

Aisha, Krush Groove, Warner Bros., 1985.

Girl, Bloodmoon, LIVE Home Video, 1990.

Mary, Reversal of Fortune, Warner Bros., 1990.

Teddy, Twelve Monkeys, Universal, 1995.

Betty, Palookaville, Orion, 1996.

Dr. Quinlan, Lifebreath (also known as Last Breath ), APix Entertainment, 1997.

Sheronda, Jackie Brown, Miramax, 1997.

Vickie, Nick and Jane, CFP Distribution, 1997.

Bonnie Beachum, True Crime, Warner Bros., 1998.

Voice of Shirley "Shirl" Jones, Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (also known as Halloween: H20, Halloween: H20 (20 Years Later), and Halloween 7 ), Miramax/Dimension Films, 1998.

Younger Sethe, Beloved, Buena Vista, 1998.

Ten Tiny Love Stories (also known as Women Remember Men ), Lions Gate Films Home Entertainment, 2001.

(As Lisa gay Hamilton) Captain Lorna Shiro, The Sum of All Fears (also known as Der Anschlag ), Paramount, 2002.

Lola Jansco, The Truth about Charlie, Universal, 2002.

Film Work:

Director, producer, and additional camera operator, Beah: A Black Woman Speaks, Women Make Movies, 2003.

Stage Appearances:

Member of ensemble, Twelfth Night; or, What You Will, New York Shakespeare Festival, Delacorte Theatre, Public Theatre, New York City, 1989.

Grace, The Piano Lesson, Walter Kerr Theatre, New York City, 19901991.

Bernice, ServyNBernice 4Ever, Provincetown Playhouse, New York City, 1991.

Kate, Henry IV, Part I, Estelle R. Newman Theatre, Public Theatre, New York City, 1991.

Lady Percy, Henry IV, Part II, Estelle R. Newman Theatre, Public Theatre, 1991.

Mariane, Tartuffe, Hartford Stage Company, Hartford, CT, 1992.

Pooty, Reckless, Hartford Stage Company, 1992.

Lieutenant Johnson and Duckling, Our Country's Good, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Cincinnati, OH, 19921993.

Isabella, Measure for Measure, New York Shakespeare Festival, Delacorte Theatre, Public Theatre, 1993.

Molly, "It's Our Town, Too", The Best American Short Play Series, Westbeth Theatre Center, New York City, 1993.

Clara, The Family of Mann, Second Stage Theatre Company, McGinnCazale Theatre, New York City, 1994.

Silvia, Two Gentlemen of Verona, New York Shakespeare Festival, Delacorte Theatre, Public Theatre, 1994.

Veronica Jonkers, Valley Song, McCarter Theatre, Princeton, NJ, 1995, then Manhattan Theatre Club Stage II, New York City, 19951996.

Also appeared in The Vagina Monologues, Westside Theatre Downstairs, New York City.



Beah: A Black Woman Speaks, Women Make Movies, 2003.



Who's Who among African Americans, 16th edition, Gale, 2003.


Back Stage, September 5, 1997, p. 5.

Interview, November, 1996.

Los Angeles Times, March 30, 1997.

People Weekly, November 2, 1998, p. 25.

TV Guide, July 29, 2000, pp. 3639.