At Least One Futterman is Starting to Get Famous

By Ellen Futterman

The actor with the familiar name is on the line. After several years of following his career, I got a call from Dan Futterman.

You know, Dan Futterman, who plays Vincent Gray in the CBS drama, "Judging Amy." The actor is no relation but I still claim him as my little brother.

"I struggled with the name," said Futterman, 33, calling during a lunch break from filming the TV series. "I thought about changing it to my mom's maiden name, which is Roth. But at the last minute I decided to stick it out. If John Malkovich can do it, so can Dan Futterman.

"At least it's not a name people forget."

Futterman is calling not only to chat with a fellow Futterman but also because he is starring in a new movie, "Urbania," which opens today in St. Louis. He plays Charlie, a gay New Yorker who has experienced a traumatic loss, although for much of the film, that loss remains a mystery. While the film is dark and edgy, Futterman's emotionally nuanced performance is garnering great reviews.

"Jon Shear (the co-writer-director) showed me the script a couple of years ago, and I thought it was so unusual," Futterman said. "I kept reading and reading because I wanted to find out what happened. As I went along, I was very moved by it. I thought the character of Charlie was astonishing -- like no one I had ever seen in movies before. He had experienced such a tremendous loss and was trying so hard to deal with it."

"Urbania" was shot in 18 days for $225,000. It made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival this year.

Futterman says he doesn't worry that the film will typecast him. "I worry about getting typecast when I play a character too close to myself," he said. "Like a worrier, depressive, a neurotic. Someone like Vincent.

"Actually, I really like playing someone different from me. It feels good to tap into a different part of human sexuality and stretch in new ways."

Futterman's first big acting break came in "The Birdcage." In the film, he played the straight son of Robin Williams' gay character. "That was the easiest job I ever got," said Futterman. "I met with (director) Mike Nichols once. What's so great about working with Mike Nichols is that he doesn't have to answer to anyone. He asked me to read once. Then he looked at me and said, 'You look a little like Robin. You've got the part.' "

Getting cast in "Judging Amy" was a little more difficult. Futterman had auditioned for another role in a TV series about lawyers in New Orleans. But the show never got made.

Still, at that audition he met Barbara Hall, who went on to become an executive producer for "Judging Amy." In addition to Futterman, the show stars Amy Brenneman and Tyne Daly.

"I got a call from her about this new project," said Futterman. "I met with Amy, and we hit it off."

Between the show and "Urbania," Futterman is starting to get recognized, although he assures me our name is not yet a household word. "Two types of populations seem to know who I am," he said. "The gay crowd along Christopher Street in Greenwich Village for 'Urbania' and women over 55 for 'Judging Amy.' "

He laughs, then adds: "I'd like to do more films and even some theater work. I really miss that. But 'Judging Amy' is a good experience. We get scripts that deal with real issues, and we all get along pretty well."

In fact, the cast gets along so well that everyone agreed to shut down production for the month of March. That's because Brenneman is due to give birth then, as is Futterman's wife, Anya Epstein. The couple met when he was filming an episode of TV's "Homicide." She was a writer on the show.

And what are they planning on naming the baby?

"We're not sure if it's a boy or a girl," said Futterman. "But for the last name we may go with Epstein. It's one thing for me to choose Futterman but I'm not sure I want to saddle a kid with that."

Thanks brother Dan. Have you considered Malkovich?