“I didn’t know, for example, that he had polio,” Levine says. She was also unaware that Alda’s mother exhibited symptoms of mental illness throughout his life and was hospitalized for it when he was about 18. “I spent months working closely with Alan and had no idea of the tragedies that surrounded him and the hardships he had to overcome to have the faith in himself to do this work.”
Similarly, Levine had bonded with the actress Molly Ringwald in a mommy-and-me class when the two were traversing the new frontier of first-time motherhood. But it wasn’t until interviewing her for Little Known Facts that she learned that Ringwald’s father is a blind jazz musician. They spoke about her catapult to stardom in the mid-1980s, with the blockbuster success of Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, and about the perils of young fame.
“I found her story incredibly compelling,” Levine says. “How do you forge your own identity when the world has decided who you will be? She has had to prove herself over and over again, and she’s done it with incredible humor.”
From Acting to Podcasting, a Mid-Career Reinvention
It’s intimate conversations like these with stage and screen artists that are earning Levine’s podcast five-star reviews on iTunes and Podbay. Listeners call the show “hilarious,” “warm,” and “welcoming,” and say that Levine “has a gift for turning an interview into a conversation with an old friend over coffee.”
That’s precisely the vibe Levine was aiming to achieve with the project that materialized serendipitously in 2016. “A friend who had just taken on a podcast business told me that I might be great as a host,” she says. Having no experience in the space, her first inclination was to say no.
“But at the time, I had mindfully decided to say yes to more things,” Levine says. “I am an actor, but doing shows every night is hard on the family,” she adds. (She and her husband, the actor Dominic Fumusa, have two children.) “It was just a weird confluence of moments” that led to an opportunity that has since become a full-time job.
Given her long career in acting and theater—she starred as Lucy in the 1999 Broadway revival of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and appeared in television shows and films, including The Nanny Diaries, Law and Order, and the memorable Seinfeld episode “The Contest”—interviewing colleagues in the business made perfect sense. Levine points out that the same skill set needed for acting translates easily to hosting a podcast.
“I get quite engaged with all sorts of storytelling,” she says. “As an actor, you are also an investigative reporter,” she explains, noting that she devotes a lot of time to research before each interview. “I want these conversations to unearth new parts of these artists for my listeners as opposed to retreading the same things they’ve heard a hundred times.”
Her first interview subject was long-time friend John Slattery, the actor and director known best for his work in Mad Men. It went so well that Levine says the experience allowed her to give herself the “seal of approval” to move forward on the project. To date, more than 125 artists, including Jason Alexander, Cynthia Nixon, Uma Thurman, Octavia Spencer, Julianne Moore, and Edie Falco, have visited the studio for Levine’s up-close-and-personal-style interviews.
“Almost every one of my guests is a friend, and I still haven’t run out,” she jokes. “Most of my interviews are with friends I’ve collected job by job by job.”
Some guests, such as Tony Award-winning actors Julie White, PCS ’09, and John Benjamin Hickey, FCLC ’85, are friends she met at Fordham. Others are fellow performers she met as a founding member of the Naked Angels theater company, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, and Mary Stuart Masterson.
A Talent for Comedy
Levine’s conversations with her guests are often laced with humor, something that has served her well, she says, not only as a podcast host but throughout her life and acting career. It’s the reason she landed the role of Lucy in the Broadway musical, even though she insisted, when she was called to audition for the part, that she couldn’t sing.
“The director apparently had seen me perform before and felt that I had the essence of what they had in mind for Lucy,” Levine recalls. “They wanted a comedic actress.” The team worked with her on vocal exercises to give her confidence, and the project turned out to be one of the most memorable highlights of her acting career. “It was a stage-door experience that was the most glorious … so pure and beautiful,” Levine says.
Years later, the song Levine sang in the musical, “12 Little Known Facts,” inspired the name of her podcast. “It was the perfect name for what was happening in all of my conversations,” she says.
Fordham and theater weren’t in Levine’s thoughts until she spent a gap year between high school and college in Israel. Before that, her plan was to study advertising.
“Fordham was so enthusiastic and excited that I spent a year in Israel—not only did they give me credits for the courses I took, but they gave me a whole year,” says the New Jersey native. “They understood the life experience and community service were meaningful in my development as a human and my education at the college level.”
Levine adds that there is no better place to learn about theater than in New York City, and that in addition to giving her the chance to perform in and work on several productions as an undergraduate, her Fordham Theatre instructors frequently took her and her classmates to see shows on and off Broadway.
“It was such an exciting time, running around in the city with a group of warm and gifted students,” she says. “It was a tremendous beginning to my life in theater and I’m so grateful.”