Birthplace: Elmira, New York, U.S.
Maria Pitillo (born January 8, 1966) is a former American actress who has starred in film and on TV, most notably as Audrey Timmonds in Godzilla (1998), a role which garnered her a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actress. She also had a recurring role on the TV series Providence.
Maria Pitillo was born on January 8, 1966, in Elmira, New York, and grew up in Mahwah, New Jersey. She attended Mahwah High School, where she was on the track team, before transferring to Northern Highlands Regional High School. Pitillo met with success in New York City, performing in television commercials. In 1987, she was cast as Nancy Don Lewis for the ABC Network soap opera, Ryan's Hope, where she continued in that role until the series ended in 1989. In 1990, Pitillo was hired to play the role of Annie in the TNT Network production of The Lost Capone. In addition to her acting part, Pitillo also performed two songs for the movie, including the Jazz standard, Bye Bye Blackbird. To prepare for this role, she received coaching from William Esper and Harold Guskin of William Esper Studios in New York, and voice trained with vocalist Robbie McCauley.
Pitillo moved to California and by the mid 1990s, was working steadily on TV and film, with roles in Escape from Terror: The Teresa Stamper Story (1995), Partners (1995), Dear God (1996) and Something To Believe In (1998), Godzilla (1998), and a recurring role on TV’s Providence (2001-02).
Pitillo gained a reputation as a consistent utility actor who has worked numerous times with director James Burrows and writer/producer Jeff Greenstein. She is known to have participated during the early stages of project development, and read with prospective actors who are auditioning for unfilled parts. Such projects included South of Sunset, and Partners.
Married in 2002, and lives in Ross, California. Maria Pitillo retired from full-time acting in 2006 to raise her family and operate a small business with her husband. She is of Italian and Irish descent.
Pitillo is also an alumna of Playhouse West School and Repertory Theater.
Maria Pitillo was living in suburban New Jersey, and working as a department store clerk when a friend invited her to audition for a TV commercial. Her first job was an advertisement for Pepto Bismol. Subsequent commercial work included an ad for Bank of Boston, York Peppermint Pattie, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Chic Jeans, among others. In the fall of 1987, Pitillo was cast as Nancy Don (Lewis) on the ABC soap opera, Ryan's Hope, which lasted until that series ended its run in 1989.
Pitillo's own words state that she did not consider acting as a serious career choice until after Chaplin (1992). An article written by Stella Bednarz, of Soap Opera Digest, suggests Pitillo could be problematic when she didn't like her lines, and sometimes acted out behind the director's back:
"Pitillo seems less than thrilled with Nancy Don’s melodramatic dialogue. Kaplan retorts, “Maria, honey, if you can’t act it, say the words.” - Maria is propped up on a real examining table. In her free time, the patient makes faces".
Upon moving to Hollywood, Pitillo's work consisted primarily of television drama (South of Sunset), small parts in theatrical motion pictures, and included starring roles in several Made-For-TV movies. She earned critical praise for her roles in the following: Middle Ages, Escape from Terror: The Teresa Stamper Story, as well as Between Love and Honor. Pitillo's career breakthrough came with the 1995 FOX sitcom Partners. Cast as Alicia Sondergard, the comedy met with critical success for herself, as well as for co-stars Jon Cryer, and Tate Donovan. Partners failed to gain traction with audiences, and was cancelled in the Spring of 1996.
After completing Dear God in the summer of 1996, Pitillo was contacted by NBC President Warren Littlefield, who had taken notice of her performance in Partners. Littlefield then signed her to a development deal with the network. In early 1997, while trying to acquire a stake in DreamWorks Studios, NBC tried to leverage Pitillo, as well as director James Burrows with a project titled Nearly Yours, which actress Parker Posey had dropped out of. Dreamworks and NBC could not come to an agreement, and the deal collapsed. The squabbling between NBC and Dreamworks left the network with a programming hole, and Pitillo without a television project for all of 1997. It wasn't until filming began on Something To Believe In (1997), and Godzilla (May 1997), that she returned to work. NBC continued to search for a suitable television project for Pitillo, and with input from Littlefield, developed the sitcom House Rules, which aired as a mid-season replacement in March 1998.
Maria Pitillo starred as Audrey Timmonds in the TriStar Pictures film Godzilla, which opened in theaters on May 20, 1998. The film and Pitillo's performance were skewered by fans and critics alike:
"At its release, the film was much criticized by Godzilla fans the world over. Kenpachiro Satsuma, the actor who portrayed Godzilla in the second series of films (1984-1995) walked out of a Tokyo screening and told reporters that, 'It's not Godzilla, it does not have the spirit."
In 2004, director Roland Emmerich expressed his feelings about the film:
"In interviews promoting The Day After Tomorrow, Emmerich admitted regretting the production of Godzilla, particularly due to the rushed shooting schedule that was required for a Memorial Day weekend release and the studio's insistence on not test-screening the film. However, he defended the film as better than critics gave it credit for, as it was financially successful, and out of all the films he directed, it was the one which parents told him their children enjoyed the most"'.
In subsequent years, both Emmerich and writer Dean Devlin said little about the film. It wasn't until Devlin was pressed about the upcoming 2014 interpretation of Godzilla, that he expressed lament about his interpretation of the franchise:
"I know I screwed up my Godzilla,' he said. 'I’d be very happy if they pull it off and do a great one'".
Godzilla was nominated in several categories for Razzie awards, and Pitillo herself won the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actress in 1999. It is often suggested that criticism of her performance (and subsequent Razzie), hampered her career. Pitillo is known to have commented once about her role in Godzilla:
"This movie isn't written for big performances from its actors," Pitillo says. "I don't expect a lot from it. It won't be like, `Oh, Maria Pitillo is a great actress.' But it's an opportunity for people to see me."
Pitillo, Matthew Broderick, and Jean Reno were each under contract for a total of three Godzilla films. The first installment, having earned $379 million during its theatrical run, ensured that a sequel would be considered. Tri Star Pictures, which owned rights to the franchise, called on Centropolis to begin pre-production work on a sequel, which was tentatively named Godzilla 2. Keenly aware as to the reception of Pitillo's performance, the film treatment limited her presence to a small sequence in Act I. Ultimately, there was little enthusiasm to move forward, and the rights to the franchise were allowed to expire.
By 2000, Pitillo had starred in the indie film, Dirk & Betty, the comedy-drama, After Sex, and made guest appearances on several television shows. Her last film role was the Made-For-TV movie The Christmas Secret, starring Richard Thomas, and Beau Bridges. It originally aired on CBS, and later broadcast on the ABC Family network as part of their 25 Days of Christmas. She had a recurring role on Providence (2001-2002) as Tina Calcatera, a divorced mother, and love interest of Robbie, played by Seth Peterson, a role which lasted until the series ended in 2002.
In The Loop (1998)
People Who Fear People (1999) w/Jon Cryer, directed by James Burrows
Follow The Leeds (2003)
The Angriest Man in Suburbia (2006)
It's About This Guy (Date Unknown)
Maria Pitillo was born in Elmira, NY. Her parents divorced and her father moved Maria and her sisters Lisa and Gina to Mahwah, New Jersey. She attended Mahwah High School, where she was on the track team, before transferring to Northern Highlands Regional High School. She was prevented from attending her high school graduation ceremony after an altercation with her English teacher.
It is most often noted that Pitillo got into acting after a chance encounter with a friend, while some publicity material suggests that participating in Summer stock theater provided Pitillo the impetus to act professionally.
Received the 1999 Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actress for her role as Audrey Timmonds in the Centropolis Entertainment production of Godzilla.