For Alison Allwine, a role in the Netflix film ‘Operation Varsity Blues’ means getting to play opposite Matthew Modine
It’s a big day for Alison Allwine, and not because she’s a fan of green beer. (Actually, I forgot to ask if she likes green beer, which would have been a perfect question for a story about a film launching on St. Paddy’s Day.) She’s in the Netflix film “Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal,” which debuts March 17. (And, just to be clear, the film has nothing to do with leprechauns, unless they were trying to get into Harvard.)
Pictured above: Alison Allwine plays a cheating parent in ‘Operation Varsity Blues’ for Netflix.
The 100-minute film, categorized by Netflix as a documentary, uses interviews and reenactments to shed light on the scandal. It stars Matthew Modine (“Full Metal Jacket”) as Chris Singer, who scammed the system by helping wealthy parents secure college admissions into elite universities for their children. Rather than focus on the celebrity angle (for example, the involvement of Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin), the film emphasizes some of the lesser-known characters.
Allwine, a veteran of Good Company Players, portrays Elizabeth Henriquez. She and her financier husband plead guilty to conspiring to commit fraud and money laundering in connection to fixing their daughter’s admission to Georgetown University. The couple paid $50,000 for SAT answers and $400,000 to bribe a tennis coach at Georgetown to say their daughter was a top-ranked player.
I caught up with the veteran performer to ask about the experience.
Q: How would you describe your character in three words?
A: Just three?! That’s so tough because in the court of public opinion, she is clearly quite: privileged, deceitful, and a cheat; but when playing a character, it’s important to view the world from their perspective and find compassion for them, an understanding of what would make a good person do bad things, so I had to marry my opinion of her and the previous three words, with some that explained her position, so from her perspective I’d say: maternal, tenacious, and self-sacrificing (cheated a bit with the hyphenated word). 😉
Q: It seems like Netflix moved really quickly on getting this story on screen. Did the project have a deadline-type of feel to it?
A: The director, Chris Smith, and writer, Jon Karmen, already had the connection with Netflix, and had worked together previously on “Fyre Festival: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” and “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” so they already had a working rhythm together, which always helps to move things along.
The night before I was supposed to report to set, at the beginning of April 2020, Hollywood shut down. I didn’t get the call to come back until the end of August, and never once did it feel rushed. The down timethat quarantine provided enabled the creative team to get very clear on all their storyboards and shot lists. When I got to set, it was a well-oiled machine!
Q: What was your timeline in terms of when you started shooting?
Once I was called to report to set, they knocked my scenes out in three days! I had a week of time that was on “hold,” meaning I had to be ready to go in at any moment in case they decided to reshoot something or make any changes.
We shot in L.A, and thankfully the locations we used weren’t very far from my home (L.A. traffic, you know). Because my character is incredibly wealthy, we shot in these extravagant homes in Encino and the Hollywood Hills. Gorgeous doesn’t even begin to cover it!
Q: How much did you know about the college-admissions scandal before landing this role?
A: I knew about the “big two” if you will — Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman. It wasn’t until I was cast and started researching my character that I learned how many people were involved and far this scandal reached into the recesses of the upper crust. I have friends who are private tutors and they know quite a few families who were swept up in this. It’s really unreal, the lengths these folks were willing to go to and how blatantly this kind of thing has been done over the years. If you’re in these upper-class inner circles, it feels like this has been standard practice for years.
Q: Tell us a little about the storyline of the film. How does your character impact it?
A: I honestly don’t know how the storyline will look until I see it along with the rest of you! When you’re filming and you’re not the main character, you just get the scenes that you’re in and if more info is needed to inform your scenes, you can usually ask.
I know that as the FBI is beginning to unravel the web of lies, Matthew Modine’s character, Rick Singer, speaks with me and other parents who are scamming the system, in a series of in-person and phone meetings.
I was fortunate enough to share two scenes with him, and I’ve got fingers and toes crossed that they both stayed in the final cut!
Q: I’m intrigued by the idea of life in Hollywood during the pandemic. How was it different to film this project?
A: It has definitely been different. Pre-pandemic, part of the fun of being on set was getting to commiserate with fellow actors and creatives, to hang out chatting during lunch or in each other’s trailers. Now, much of that has gone away. You can’t really rehearse closely with your castmates due to social distancing, and lunches are eaten with one person at either end of a 6-foot folding table. It was still great to be out of the house, working, and see someone that wasn’t my roommate! The masks, hand washing, and daily Covid tests were all second nature to us by then, since we’d already had about six months of practice!
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Q: If there’s one detail that you’ll remember forever from filming, what would it be?
A: Working with Matthew Modine. When I tell you he is one of the kindest and most humble people, I mean it. He has the most chill and lovely vibe about him and can really make a person feel at ease; which is exactly what you want when you’ve got to share scenes with a big star. The last thing you need to feel is starstruck or nervous when you’re trying to tap into your character and perform!
Q: Did your views on the college-cheating scandal change at all during the process of filming?
A: Not really. I felt what these parents had done was wrong and that this whole system needed to be brought down. During the course of filming, my character actually received her sentence, which Chris and Jon were able to include in the final script, I believe. If anything, I was upset these parents didn’t get harsher sentences for their crimes. I know all parents want the best for their children, but what these folks did was beyond reprehensible.
Q: Give us an update on your career and what you’ve been up to since your GCP days. Any future projects you can talk about?
A: Since leaving Fresno, I’ve traveled all over the world, performing and auditioning, and bartending, and auditioning, and performing, and bartending, hahaha!
I’m currently living in L.A. and working on my voiceover demo reel (a quick audio track that shows casting directors what I sound like), developing some TV shows I’ve created, producing my own work, and occasionally writing music. I like to keep myself busy!
I have a short horror film that I’m producing in April called, “Till Death Do Us Part”, and looking forward to getting that finished and submitted to some different film festivals. I’ll be sure to let you know when that’s available to view!
Q: Anything else you’d like to say?
For anyone who wants to be a professional performer, start as soon as you can, get coaching and stay in classes, get a good trade or skill (why do you think so many of us are servers/bartenders?! Good money and flexible hours!), always be learning, don’t be afraid to fail — every good lesson starts with a failure, listen more than you speak and actually HEAR what’s being said to you, don’t worry about what others think (most people are more worried about what they’re doing than what you’re doing), make strong choices, and make sure you really love it because it’s a lot of nothing happening until something happens and who knows how long something could take.