Mentors and Miniatures: Abtahi, O’Brian, and Prinze

Photo by Whitney Conley

Dot Steverson and the Star Wars track welcomed Omid Abtahi, Katy O’Brian, and Freddie Prinze Jr. to the Marriott Imperial ballroom Friday evening for a wide-ranging Q&A. The panelists covered topics from what they originally wanted to be when they grew up to what they hope to leave as a legacy, giving those in attendance a sense of who these actors are beyond the characters they play.

The very first question Steverson asked the panel was about what they originally wanted to do when they grew up. O’Brian had dreams of being a veterinarian, but the “sadness” that too often comes with the work turned her away. Abtahi was an athlete in his youth with a particular affinity for soccer. He dreamed of being a professional soccer player but in high school broke his leg. He actually found acting as a result when he had to find a class to fill his sixth period. Looking for an “easier” end to his day, he chose the acting class. For Prinze, being part of a family of performers going back three generations, there was no choice. Performing was simply what he was destined to do.

The questioning then turned to what the actors were using to fill the time made available due to the strike. O’Brian and her wife live in a 120-year-old house that they are slowly rebuilding and training their dog. They have also taken up Dungeons & Dragons. Abtahi is busy raising his son but when time permits, he enjoys a good video game. Prinze is a surfer, but it was important to him to point out that surfing is not a hobby: it’s a life. Continuing the theme introduced by O’Brian, Prinze said he’s a painter of miniatures and, as a game master, creates custom games for tabletop role playing games that he shares with his friends.

The range of experiences and diversity of backgrounds among the panelists really came through when asked to identify their mentors. For Prinze, who grew up in the world of performers and actors, it was Brian Dennehy (d. 2020). According to Prinze, Dennehy changed his entire outlook about the profession. Through both word and deed, Dennehy emphasized professional discipline and preparation. In the same vein, Prinze spoke highly of Peter Falk (d. 2011) and the impact his emphasis upon being prepared and respectful both of the process and the people on the entire creative team had on him. Abtahi credited the lessons he learned from Mali Finn, the former drama teacher who became an influential and successful casting director. Interning at Finn’s firm, Abtahi learned more in his first six months under her tutelage than he did “over four years of classes.” Finn taught him the keys to successful auditioning. It was obviously good advice because he won the role after each of his first three auditions. O’Brian, reflecting upon her Indiana roots and midwestern values, credited her parents for mentoring her development as a person and professional.

O’Brian’s emphasis upon her upbringing also shaped her answer to the question of legacy. She hopes to be known as someone who, not just through her work, made people’s day a little better. Her goal: to bring a smile to someone’s face. For Abtahi, his legacy lies in his son, for whom he hopes to be a good dad. Finally, Prinze, echoing again his mentors Dennehy and Falk, hopes to be known and respected as having been “super professional.” His goal is, at all times, to come to work prepared, treat the entire crew right, know peoples’ names and give everyone the respect that they deserve. It was an insightful and captivating hour for all.

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