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Amy Russ returns to New Rep stage

Lenny Megliola

So there she stood, practically naked before Tony Soprano. Now what do I do, Amy Russ thought.

Back story: Russ was cast in the final episode of "The Sopranos." She played an FBI agent who was having an affair. They were rehearsing her scene one day.

"In the scene I come out of the bathroom wearing only bra and panties," she says. James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano) was doing a take while on the phone and had no clue how Russ would be attired - or lack of - when Russ made her entrance.

It took a moment for tough guy Tony to find his composure. Russ, meanwhile, just ran her lines. "He's a nice guy," says Russ. "And big. You know how some people you see on TV are really smaller (in real life)? James is bigger!"

But it's the stage, more than TV, that Ohio-born Russ is making her bones. Her latest gig finds her on the New Repertory Theatre stage for the second time, in Moliere's "The Misanthrope," which runs through Feb. 10. She did "The Ice Breaker" at New Rep last year.

In "The Ice Breaker" Russ played a graduate student working on her thesis and trying to track down her mentor, a climatologist. She finds him. And the story unfolds. "He's a recluse, living in the desert," says Russ. "Of course, there's an attraction between them. It's a love and science story."

"The Misanthrope" changes Russ's range. "It's a classic, Moliere's funniest play," says Russ, "and my favorite." Now New York-based (where she auditioned for "The Misanthrope"), Russ was only too happy to make a return to the local theater scene. "Theater here is so good it blows me away. Sometimes it's better than New York. The (Boston) audiences are scary smart."

Her father was a musician, so there was an air of theatricality early in Russ's life. "We'd go see him play and I'd run on the stage. When I was little I was always putting on shows and working with puppets. By the time I got to junior high school I knew what I wanted to do."

Her feelings were reinforced in high school when "whatever show they did I was in." Her range of roles was wide. She played Lola in "Damn Yankees" and the title role in "The Diary of Anne Frank." Russ says, "I actually played Jesus Christ once, in a play called 'Hedged."'

Two weeks after graduating from high school in Cincinnati, Russ enrolled at New York's American Academy of Dramatic Arts. "It was my first time living away from home. It was a little overwhelming. But I loved it. I learned so much."

Russ's intent was to be "a serious actor, but I'm also a singer." Her voice came in handy when, after her New York schooling, she wound up in South Florida doing "a lot of musicals. I was supporting myself as an actress. That was pretty cool. I wasn't getting rich, but I had a cabana for three months. Not too shabby when you're 21."

Last month Russ did a live radio play for the Musical Theater of Connecticut based on "It's A Wonderful Life."

Many actors seek work and don't find it. Russ went through that in her early New York days. Working for a Manhattan company - she'd rather not name it - she was bored out of her mind.

"I was working seven hours a day with nothing to do." To combat the unwanted downtime, Russ learned how to build a Web site and started Actorsweb.com. "It's a cost-effective way for actors to market themselves," says Russ. "You can put up a video, photos and your bio."

Amy Russ's bio is getting thicker all the time. She's got her union card. She's ready for anything. After all, she didn't back down from Tony Soprano.

WHAT: "The Misanthrope"

WHEN: Through Feb. 10

WHERE: New Repertory Theatre, Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal St., Watertown

COST: $30-$55

INFO: 617-923-8487; www.newrep.org

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