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‘Boss’ actor James Vincent Meredith a familiar face on Chicago stages

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‘Boss’

Series premiere on STARZ

9 p.m. Oct. 21

Updated: October 19, 2011 5:56PM



James Vincent Meredith has entered politics. On television, that is.

In the latest career turn for the busy Oak Park actor, Meredith plays Chicago Alderman Ross in the new STARZ series, “Boss,” which premieres at 9 p.m. on Oct. 21.

“[My character] kind of butts heads with the mayor (played by Kelsey Grammer),” the actor said. “I think he sees a better future for Chicago without this particular mayor in office. He occupies himself most of the time with trying to figure out a way to get this guy out.”

Although he was originally hired for only three episodes, Meredith has been given a continuing role in the series, which has already been renewed for a second season.

Meredith grew up in Evanston, where his parents still live (“That’s where I learned how to act”). He first got “the bug” from his seventh and eighth grade drama teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Laboratory School. He would go on to refine his craft at Evanston’s Piven Theatre Workshop, studying with founders Joyce and Byrne Piven.

“It was pretty demanding time-wise,” he recalled. “I was glad that my parents were cool and supportive.”

After graduating from Evanston Township High School in 1989, Meredith attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“I tried to pretend that theater wasn’t very important to me and that maybe I’d do something that was more like a regular person, so I majored in pre-law,” Meredith said. “That was a mistake because I dropped out after a couple of years.”

By the time he returned to Chicago in 1994, he was determined “to do ‘this.’ I didn’t know what ‘this’ was. I just knew it had something to do with acting, whether that was camera or theater.”

Like many other aspiring actors, Meredith did his share of waiting tables and working at coffee shops. Then, in 1995, he landed his first professional acting job with Child’s Play Touring Theatre. Meredith stayed with the company for three years. The job gave him an opportunity to hone his improvisational skills.

“I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m not a great improviser,” he laughingly noted. “In fact, I run in fear from those places.”

In 1998, Meredith was hired as a teaching artist in the Chicago Public Schools with Whirlwind (now called Reading in Motion) where he also met his wife. He continued was doing some stage work, but it wasn’t until 2000, when he was cast in “A Raisin in the Sun” at the Goodman Theatre that he left his Whirlwind job and joined Actors’ Equity.

“I was a nervous wreck,” he admitted. “I was acting on the biggest stage I’ve ever acted on before.” He was also a bit intimidated by performing alongside such costars as Harry Lennix.

After that, Meredith did a couple of shows with Journeyman Theatre Company, and “King Lear” at Piven, where he’s now an ensemble member. A small role in “Julius Caesar” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater opened the door to roles at that company where he learned much about classical theater. Meredith’s first performance with Steppenwolf Theatre Company was in “The Pain and the Itch” in 2005. He has appeared in a number of shows there since, including “The Hot L Baltimore,” “The Tempest” “Superior Donuts” (also on Broadway) and “The Bluest Eye,” among others, and joined the company’s ensemble in 2007.

“Steppenwolf was a place where I’d always dreamed of working,” he admitted. (Meredith is appearing in Steppenwolf’s “Clybourne Park” through Nov. 13.)

His other TV credits include “Prison Break,” “ER,” “The Beast,” “Law and Order SVU,” “Detroit 1-8-7” and “Chicago Code.”

“I feel really blessed to have so many opportunities to continue to work at doing something that I really enjoy doing,” Meredith said. Every day I kind of pinch myself. I feel like I lucked into a pretty good gig.”

Myrna Petlicki is a local free-lance writer.



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