Meredith Eaton-Gilden ‘96
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What is your edge (strength)?
I would say my perseverance and tenacity. I've been forced to deal with adversity my entire life, and from that, I have learned to forge ahead even when it seemed impossible. There isn't anything that I can't do if I am fully committed and dedicated.
What at Hofstra gave you your edge?
My experience as a student at Hofstra's New College gave me a solid foundation to build upon. The program was receptive to addressing my and my fellow students' individual needs. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming, and the staff was very open-minded, which I greatly appreciated.
What is your field of specialty, and how did you come to work in the industry?
I have a dual career. I am a mental health therapist and an actress. I have worked in both professions for many years and enjoy both. However, for now, I have chosen to pursue my acting career. I appreciate the ability to use my background and training in psychology to help in preparing for a role. I earned my master's degree in clinical psychology from the Derner Institute of Psychoanalysis at Adelphi University. After I secured my first series regular role on CBS's Family Law, I worked on a locked, in-patient psychiatric unit for a year in California. I also worked in an adult day treatment facility for clients with dual diagnoses (mental illness combined with alcohol and drug dependencies). Unfortunately, that program closed and at that time, I was offered a three-episode character arc on ABC's Boston Legal, which subsequently turned into 16 episodes. I am hoping to be back for season four.
What was your first job after graduating from Hofstra, and what was the most valuable thing you learned there?
After graduating from Hofstra, I was immediately accepted to Adelphi University. While working on my master's degree, I worked part time at United Cerebral Palsy in Bellmore, New York, as a program administrator. I am especially proud of the fact that my grandmother, Nina Eaton, founded United Cerebral Palsy. I learned many invaluable things at that job, especially how to work with a developmentally disabled population, and how to better understand the needs of those who have physical and emotional problems.
What is the single most rewarding experience in your career thus far?
It has been very rewarding to hear positive feedback from the public regarding my acting work. I was raised in an intimate town on Long Island where everyone knows everyone. Combine that with the fact that I am short stature, which just magnified my recognizability. Let's just say, I have grown accustomed to being noticed because of my stature. It is refreshing to finally be noticed and or stared at for a different reason!
Who in your field do you most admire?
In the field of entertainment - David E. Kelley, creator and executive producer of Boston Legal. Mr. Kelley is one of the chosen few who cast nontraditional actors in traditional roles. His creativity demonstrates that actors who are different can lend credibility to roles for which they might otherwise be overlooked. I appreciate his willingness to think outside the box and open the minds of the public. He is in every sense of the word a creative "genius."
In the field of psychology - I greatly admire my mother, Diane Eaton. She is a practicing psychoanalyst who is well respected in her community. My mother is a dedicated, talented and brilliant woman who has been my role model my entire life. I admire her a great deal.
What was your major?
What was your favorite class?
Intro to Drama. I hesitated to sign up for this class, but to be perfectly honest, I didn't really have a choice. I had two options to fulfill a core requirement, and this was the better of the two. Our professor required us to write in a journal each week, and I keenly remember his enthusiasm and support in his feedback regarding my entries. It was ironic that a class I didn't even want to take initially ended up being my favorite class at New College!
What is your fondest memory of Hofstra?
Being a part of New College. I got an EXCELLENT education through New College - the nontraditional format was attractive to me since I never scored high on standardized tests. The primary program focus at that time was on writing. I believe that my writing and ability to express myself was strengthened by my education at New College. New College was personal and focused on my educational needs. Being a member of the Delta Phi Epsilon sorority was also a highlight of my time at Hofstra. Of my Delta Phi sisters, Frances Zelazny Ganz, who also attended New College, has remained one of my closest friends.
What advice would you give current students?
Enjoy every minute that you are here! Take advantage of the beauty of the campus and the friendships you will make. You'll only have this experience once in a lifetime. Study and work hard and make it worthwhile for you. I can tell you that Hofstra is recognized throughout the country, so be proud that you are part of such a wonderful school.
How do you balance work and life?
When you love what you do, balancing work and life doesn't become as much of a struggle. I work long hours (16 hour days) on the set. I do most of my other work on the weekends. Or at least try to!
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years, I hope to have added more great roles to my resume, continuing to be in films and television. An Emmy would be nice to prop up on my fireplace mantle. I hope at some point to write a book. I have recently begun to speak at universities and health conferences. I hope to expand upon these engagements and continue to motivate people through my speaking and acting.
Of all your major acting roles, which was your favorite, and why?
I don't think I can answer that because any time that I have an opportunity to work in film and television, I feel really fortunate. I don't choose to portray stereotypical, mythical type roles. I only accept roles that are respectable in my eyes. At the end of the day, it's my face on the tube/silver screen so I have to be ok with what I am putting out there. I am proud of all of the roles I have portrayed. I have a special place in my heart for the very first character I ever played, Maudey Beasley in a movie called Unconditional Love. Of course I love Bethany on Boston Legal. How could you not? She's so fantastic and such a spitfire. I also enjoyed my most recent role as a wife and mother in Gary the Tennis Coach (with Sean William Scott and Randy Quaid) - it's a great comedy that will be coming out later this year.
What advice would you give current Hofstra drama majors, or any student who is interested in becoming an actor?
Have a backup plan! Everyone who lives in L.A. wants to be an actor. I don't know what I would do without my college education - it's my safety net. I have a choice of what I want to do. Having a choice is invaluable. That being said, I still say if you really want to be an actor, pursue it with vigor. It's an extremely difficult career path to embark upon.
How have you avoided typecasting in TV and film?
The movie Unconditional Love was a great springboard. Most of the women I play are very edgy, assertive, "take-charge" kind of women. I don't go out to audition for stereotypical roles - elves, fairytale roles, and the like. I am attracted to roles that feature powerful, strong, capable women. I am very involved in the accuracy of the roles I play - I speak up when I have to regarding accuracy in some roles. I love the current media exposure little people have been getting. TLC's Little People, Big World, which features my good friends the Roloffs, is great at showing that little people are the same as everyone else.