Amanda Peet for “What Doesn’t Kill You”

Amanda Peet grew up in New York with her older sister and their parents; Charles, a lawyer; and Penny, a social worker. She made an unconventional stage debut at the age of three, when she jumped onto the stage during a play.

Yet, despite this early start, she later studied acting more as a hobby than anything else. She studied history at Columbia University, where a drama professor convinced her to audition for acting teacher Uta Hagen, with whom she later went on to study for a four-year period.

During this time, she participated in the off-Broadway revival of Clifford Odets’s “Awake and Sing.” She supported herself during the audition phase of her career by working as a waitress and with the residual checks she received from a Skittles candy commercial. Perseverance and hard work paid off, and, in 1995, she was cast in a guest-starring role on the hit series “Law & Order” (1990).

Her feature film debut came in 1995 with the movie Animal Room (1995). For a while afterward, Amanda continued to find steady work but also found herself appearing in a depressingly large number of indie films that were never picked up for distribution.

She did, however, meet her boyfriend Brian Van Holt on the set of indie movie Whipped (2000). Her turn as the ditzy hit-woman with the heart of gold in the hit comedy The Whole Nine Yards (2000), opposite Bruce Willis, took her from supporting role status to leading lady.

That same year she was voted one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World by “People” Magazine and continues to be challenged by the roles that come her way. Next year she’ll be seen in the tentpole disaster movie 2012, but meanwhile the actress stars opposite Mark Ruffalo in What Doesn’t Kill You, about two childhood friends from South Boston turn to crime as a way to get by, ultimately causing a strain in their personal lives and their friendship. Peet talked to Paul Fischer in this exclusive interview.

Question: What was the attraction of this movie for you? I guess it’s tough to find female characters that are sort of interesting in this kind of male milieu.

Peet: Yeah. I thought it was a great portrayal, though. I thought I didn’t feel like it was just one long-suffering wife scene after enough. Like, I felt like it was varied, and I was so excited to work with Mark Ruffalo and Ethan. And so it was a no-brainer for me.

Question: How different are those guys’ acting styles? I mean, do they work very differently?

Peet: No. They work similarity. They’re both really just unbelievably enthusiastic, and unjaded. And they’re both really dedicated, and really fun.

Question: Where do you find the truth in a character like this? I mean, where do you go to find the truth of the reality of a character, of a woman like this?

Peet: I just don’t really think too much about it, except to just think about Mark. And I just tried to play it off of Mark, and be in the room with him. And that’s it!

Question: This almost seems very reminiscent of movies of the ’70s. Did you look at any other films as kind of a reference point for you? Or are you a fan of this style of film?

Peet: I am. And no, I didn’t look at any other films, except to look at accents. But otherwise, I didn’t. No.

Question: I’ve been talking to you for years, but what are the continual challenges for you to find women to play that really interest you?

Peet: I think it’s really hard out there. And, you know, if you’re not Julia Roberts or Nicole Kidman, it’s really difficult to get something that’s dynamic and/or funny, or that is an interesting stretch. You know? So, I think there’s more in TV. And so that’s one way to go. And I think otherwise, you just need an incredible amount of patience.

Question: Do you try to be as selective as you can?

Peet: I do, but I believe I may not have as many choices as some people I’d imagine. I mean, people who are ahead of me on the hierarchy probably know what I have, that’s – there aren’t that much to choose from. So I try to be selective, and obviously having a husband and a daughter makes it much easier, because it’s easy. There’s a huge incentive now to walk away from something.

Question: What are your future plans at this point, and how are you able to balance this frenetic world of motherhood with a professional career?

Peet: Well, I think that I try really hard to not feel too guilty. And I try to remember that it’s better for me to give her a model of striving for a career. But it’s not easy. And, you know, as she gets older, it’s only gonna get harder. So I feel like now is sort of the time, while she’s kind of not mobile, and she’s not in school yet, and she’s not super-attached to anybody else yet, other than her father and myself. And her nanny.

Question: What are you doing next, do you know, Amanda?

Peet: I don’t know. There are a couple things I’m kind of circling. But they’re not really fully alive yet, so I’m not quite sure. I’m certainly going to take a good long break after 2012 opens, August 20th.

Question: Do you want to return to the stage?

Peet: I do, actually and now, of course, it’s been so long that – again, that I feel like I’m gonna be nervous all over again. You know, my goal in complete would be to do, like, three plays in a row. And then I feel like, finally, I would just – I think previews and opening night would be, like, a breeze. I mean, ” Here we are again. Here come the critics,” and I wouldn’t even care. That’s my fantasy, anyway.

Question: Do you have a thick skin when it comes to critics?

Peet: WellThe theater review that I got was just horrible. So – so I learned that lesson, luckily, very early on. But, you know, you find out that your reviews are scathing reviews even if you don’t actually read them, because people look at you with such sort of sympathy and awkwardness the next day. I mean, you really figure it out quickly.