Julie Civiello, a 2005 Deering High School graduate, dissuades anyone from embracing the notion that being on TV is glamorous work. At the very least, it’s hard work.
Civiello will make her debut on network TV on Tuesday in the ABC show “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” a weekly episodic series based on Marvel Comics that has drawn attention and solid ratings since its debut in the fall.
She has a small role in the episode, portraying a newlywed named Nicole, whose honeymoon is cut short by an unexpected visit from a seductress. Her scene appears late in the episode, which is titled “T.A.H.I.T.I.”
Civiello, 26, has spent almost five years in Los Angeles preparing for this break, and most of a life dreaming that it might happen. She started her acting career at the Children’s Theatre of Maine as an elementary school student.
Until she got the call for a single day of shooting in the cold California desert, Civiello balanced her dreams with the reality of working multiple jobs, making connections and pursuing every angle.
“It’s very difficult to get your first credit. If you do not have a connection, it is very, very hard,” she said by phone from Los Angeles. “This one came about in a very unusual way. I was previously personal assisting for lead actor Clark Gregg. I was on the set with him every day, reading lines, keeping up with his social calendar. I was friendly with one of the producers. She knew I was an actress, and she said, ‘I will bring you in for whatever role is right for you.’ This one clicked.”
Before that, she worked “a million different jobs, just trying to land these survival jobs that are flexible with minimal hours. I’ve worked as a personal assistant, tutored, waitressed at two different restaurants, worked at an art store.”
Whether her diligence and patience will pay off remains to be seen. She hopes her character will have a recurring role, and she is following leads for other film and TV projects.
Civiello is well-positioned for attention.
“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is considered successful. It was the highest-rated network drama debut in four years when it premiered in the fall, though its numbers have since declined.
Civiello’s mother, Mary Ellen Civiello of Portland, is relieved that her daughter finally landed a role.
“I worry about her in Los Angeles, with all the rejection that she goes through with the auditioning process. I was tickled to hear that she was chosen and can finally make some money,” she said. “I have always supported her to follow her dreams.”
In addition to her break on TV, Civiello recently got engaged to someone her mother described as “a nice young man from a nice family.”
Civiello got involved in the Children’s Theatre of Maine and acted through high school and beyond. After graduating from Deering in 2005, she studied acting at Boston University, earning her degree in 2009.
She took the train to Los Angeles that summer, and has been there since.
Pamela DiPasquale, a former artistic director at the Children’s Theatre of Maine, said she suspected Civiello would pursue her passion for acting as she grew into an adult. DiPasquale cast her young student in lead roles in such challenging plays as Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.”
“Those were the types of plays we were able to do because of the talent of Julie Civiello to play those roles,” DiPasquale said. “There are many beautiful, wonderfully talented children that I met at the Children’s Theatre of Maine, but Julie was one of the standouts. She was smart, empathetic, gorgeous and had a passion and desire to learn and explore and express herself on stage.”
Deering High English teacher Kirsten McWilliams remembers Civiello as “super positive, motivated and dedicated. She was very genuine, with a real smile and curiosity and spirit.”
She wrote with self-awareness and a level of sophistication that was uncommon for a student her age, including one creative writing piece about feeling self-conscious in a bathing suit and another about the Maine poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, McWilliams said.
Another Deering teacher, Ian McLean, said teachers feel satisfaction when former students achieve their dreams. He had Civiello in his marine ecology class when she was a senior. He has Googled her name now and again, hoping to learn that she landed a role.
“As teachers, we get to see these young people with all the promise of future aspirations and possibilities laid out before them, but rarely get the satisfaction of seeing if they followed and achieved their dream or were forced to recalibrate and pursue something more practical,” he wrote in an email. “Julie was so obviously passionate about acting and writing even as a teenager that I really wanted (to) see (and believe) that great things come to great people who work hard. In her case, I would have been crushed to think that life had forced a more pragmatic ending.”
Civiello’s training paid off on the day of the shooting in early January. She awoke at 3 a.m., drove two hours to the desert set and spent most of the day shivering in the cold. She was done at 5 p.m., and drove home exhausted.
A few weeks ago, she went to a sound studio in Los Angeles to do voice work.
She hopes this break will lead to similar opportunities that helped another Deering High graduate, Anna Kendrick, who has starred in major movies and received international exposure.
Kendrick graduated two years before Civiello, and has been a role model for the young actress since second grade at Longfellow Elementary School, when Civiello heard Kendrick, then a fourth-grader, confidently declare, “I’m going to be an actress.”
“I was like, ‘That is what I want to do,’ ” Civiello said.
Her mom is excited about Tuesday’s show, but not at all nervous. She knows her daughter will represent Maine with honor.
The elder Civiello will watch the show with her husband, her brother Mark and his wife, Liz, and a niece and nephew.
She’s telling everyone she knows to watch until the very end of the episode. Civiello’s scene closes the show, she said, adding, “Don’t turn the TV off.”
Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at: