By MARTY LANG
AMY BRENNEMAN'S life has a funny way of repeating
The Glastonbury native grew up immersed in law. Both
parents graduated from Harvard Law School, and her
mother, Frederica, was the second woman appointed as a
Connecticut judge, spending 32 years in juvenile court.
After graduating from Harvard herself, Ms. Brenneman
followed in her parents' legal footsteps, but not as a
lawyer -- as an actress. She used her lifelong legal
exposure to create a television series based on her
mother's career. As executive producer and star of the
CBS drama "Judging Amy," Ms. Brenneman plays Amy
Gray, a Manhattan lawyer and mother who moves home to
Hartford to become a juvenile judge, as well as to
strengthen family ties.
Law will once again play a prominent role when Ms.
Brenneman returns to Connecticut this week. She will be
host to a benefit for the Connecticut Children's Law
Center in Hartford on Friday and she will receive an
honorary degree from Saint Joseph College in West
Hartford next Sunday.
At the Connecticut Children's Law Center benefit, Ms.
Brenneman will present a dialog she wrote called "How I
Became a Judge." She will also host an auction afterward,
with the proceeds helping to provide lawyers to children
who otherwise would not have them because of family
Ms. Brenneman can thank her mother for getting involved
with this fund-raiser. She said her mom acts as her eyes
and ears in Connecticut while she works on the show,
assisting her in finding ways to help.
"This one was one that really appealed to me," Ms.
Brenneman said. "I truly let my mom steer me on these
things. This is something my mom is very obsessed with,
good legal representation for kids. So often, that doesn't
occur. It seemed like a pretty wonderful thing to do."
Wonderful is also how Ms. Brenneman described her
mood when told she would receive an honorary degree,
along with her mother, from Saint Joseph College.
"I thought it was a hoot," Ms. Brenneman said of the
announcement. "I thought it was great. I have my B.A., but
no higher degree, so it's good to just skip to the
Tracing Ms. Brenneman's path as she grew up in
Connecticut, a love for performing began far before her
involvement in her show. Born in New London, she spent
her first three years in Essex before her mother took the
bench in Hartford. When her family moved to Glastonbury,
she found an affinity for theater in a community program
called Creative Experiences.
"I was 11, and I was in the chorus of "The Music Man,"
and it was really fun," she said. "It was always very
emotional for all the kids involved in it, and this emotion
came up in me as it was ending. And I was only in the
chorus; it wasn't like 'Yeah, I did a great job,' or 'I'm really
good at this,' but 'I have to do this again.' There was
something mystical happening there."
She stayed with the seasonal program during her years at
Glastonbury High School. She also ran cross-country and
track and field, but the theater was her passion, one that
helped her through a rough social period.
"In the hierarchy that is high school, I was not on top,"
Ms. Brenneman said, laughing. "I had a hard time in high
school. I think it was painful, like it is for most kids, but
luckily, I had this other world. I had this family in the
Academically, Ms. Brenneman said she was a "medium
good" student. She loved history, social studies and
English classes, and hated math and science classes.
She also had her mother and father, an environmental
lawyer, pushing her, not toward law, but toward college.
"For both of them, education had opened up a lot of
doors," Ms. Brenneman said. "It wasn't snobbism, but a
true belief that going to a good place and meeting smart
people will really shape the rest of your life."
After narrowing her college choices to Harvard,
Georgetown and Barnard College, she decided to attend
Harvard. After being accepted early, however, she
finished high school a semester early and spent eight
months in France, working with a friend as an au pair.
"That was great," she said of the experience. "It was
wonderful to break out of who you are in high school. It
was a great thing to do before college."
Once on campus at Harvard, Ms. Brenneman quickly took
to that which she loved. She declared a major in
comparative religion and got involved in the theater,
befriending students who helped her found the
Cornerstone Theater Company. This group, with which
Ms. Brenneman serves as chairman, specializes in
community-based theater. Institutions will often invite the
entire company to live and work with them, helping the
community become reacquainted with the theater.
Performances have been done in Mississippi, on Indian
reservations in Nevada and in Connecticut.
"We're based in Los Angeles, but we're doing a show at
the Long Wharf" in New Haven, she said. "Cornerstone
was there over the course of two years, doing workshops,
and they adapted a play called 'The Good Person of New
Haven.' It's a really incredible show, and it's adapted to be
all about New Haven." The show runs until June 4.
After five years of traveling with Cornerstone, Ms.
Brenneman began building her Hollywood career. She
was nominated for an Emmy for her portrayal of Officer
Janice Licalsi on "N.Y.P.D. Blue" and appeared in movies
such as "Casper," "Heat," and "Your Friends and
Neighbors." But it wasn't until she and her husband, the
director Brad Silberling, traveled back to Hartford to make
a video for her mother's birthday when she got the
inspiration to develop "Judging Amy."
"My mom had actually pitched the idea for the show about
a year before that," Ms. Brenneman recalls. She said 'Why
doesn't anybody do a show about this world?' I spent
some time with people that she works with, and I was just
very moved by these folks. When I came back to
television, I said I know some stories and I know some
people that I don't think you've seen before. I knew if I
could get people involved, it could happen."
CBS took interest in the series, and "Judging Amy" is
watched by more than 15 million people each week. To
add realism to the show, Ms. Brenneman said an episode
will be filmed in the state, most likely in September.
"I've been hounded by the state of Connecticut," she
said. "We're also going to send a second unit back in
winter. It's impossible to recreate winter in California, so I
just need some bare trees and frozen ground."
The lure of the real-life Amy coming home has also
entered her mind. Ms. Brenneman said she would
consider moving back to Connecticut when she starts her
"I don't want to leave L.A. yet, because all my friends are
there," she said, "but the lack of seasons is profound.
You don't get to touch all the parts of your brain and your
spirit that you do when you have seasons. There is
something organic you're missing when you say 'Look,
another bright, sunny day!' "