ROANOKE, Va. — Southwest Virginia's connections to the cutting edge of show business just keep on proliferating.
Producer Dana Brunetti, who grew up in Covington, is one of the masterminds behind the Netflix original series "House of Cards." It turns out that Amazon Studios' rival enterprise "Alpha House," available through the online retailer's Amazon Prime service, has a major regional tie, too: Alicia Sable, who plays Tammy Stackhouse, the chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Gil John Biggs (John Goodman), is a Giles County native.
"This is my first series, and I can honestly say 'Alpha House' is like a giant family," Sable wrote in an email. "From the producers, to the Amazon executives, to the crew, everyone is so kind and nurturing."
A 1997 graduate of Narrows High School, Sable made her big screen debut in 2006, playing pin-up model Bettie Page's younger sister in "The Notorious Bettie Page." She lives in New York and primarily performs in stage productions. The most recent, "The Best of Everything," earned a good review in The New York Times and opened the door for her to join the "Alpha House" cast.
The show, written by Garry Trudeau, the creator of the "Doonesbury" comic strip, follows four Republican senators who share a home in Washington, D.C. A review by The Hollywood Reporter praised "superb camerawork and smart writing" and performances by Goodman and co-star Clark Johnson, who plays fellow senator Robert Bettencourt. The review also noted that the show enters into a crowded house of its own, with "House of Cards" and HBO comedy "Veep" already well-established and covering much of the same turf.
"While filming, it was obvious that Amazon was willing to put significant resources into this project," Sable wrote. "They are serious about entering this open market. I think in this day and time there is plenty of room to create various avenues for everyone to enjoy creative expressions of drama or comedy than through the narrow platform that exists on a TV."
In April, Amazon.com posted 14 pilot shows online, including "Alpha House," and let viewers rate them as part of its decision process about which shows to greenlight. "Alpha House" officially launched Nov. 15, and Amazon made the first three weekly episodes free — to keep watching, you have to purchase a $79 annual Amazon Prime membership. New episodes will appear each week through mid-January.
Sable first got the bug for acting at about age 11, after her mother took her to see the musical "Cats."
"I remember getting chills when the overture started and I was never able to forget that feeling," she wrote. "After that, it was all about absorbing everything I possibly could, and this was before the Internet when one could 'YouTube' Kristin Chenoweth 'Wicked' videos. I would find libraries and listen to Broadway soundtracks over and over."
Her parents, David and Gail Sable, supported her in her artistic endeavors. Her mother drove her several times a week from Giles so she could take lessons at the Radford University Community Arts School. "It was a sacrifice on my parents' part, but I had no idea at the time," Sable wrote. "I was finally in my element."
She graduated from Radford in 2001 with a degree in music and a concentration in voice, then enrolled in the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York. Her career began with roles in commercials, including a portrayal of a cheerleader in an ad for Verizon Wireless. She even acted in a Superbowl commercial for Hyundai, but her part ended up on the cutting room floor.
"I think those moments when you are staring at the TV and you expect to see yourself, but instead you find out you have been cut, really keep you grounded," she wrote.
On stage and on screen she was often cast as "cute-little-girl-next-door types," as she put it in a 2006 interview. She danced and sang on Broadway in 2008 in the revival of "Gypsy," the Tony Award-winning 1959 musical about stripper Gypsy Rose Lee.
When she auditioned for "Alpha House," her Southwest Virginia accent proved fortuitous, as Goodman plays a senator from North Carolina.
"During the final callback, they asked me if I hired a dialect coach to get the regional accent down. When I told them I grew up very close to North Carolina, in Southwest Virginia, I could tell from everyone's reaction how perfect a match it really was," she wrote.
"I went to Los Angeles for the first time (in December) for the Amazon Studios launch party and someone said, 'This is your first time in L.A.? You really are a true New York actress.' That made me really happy! But, honestly, I have been lucky enough to work in all areas of the industry. I jokingly say I am 'all over the map without rhyme or reason.'"