It's 4:02 p.m. on a balmy November Friday in Venice, California, and the late-afternoon twilight has begun to set in. I'm waiting outside Kreation Kafe, an organic luncheonette, to conduct an interview with Hollywood actress Carla Gallo. She is just two minutes late, but I'm already starting to assume the worst. Between her busy audition schedule and navigating through gridlocked L.A. traffic during peak hours, it would be unsurprising if meeting with the press were an afterthought. Would I be forced to sit on the bench outside the bohemian eatery, sipping an herbal tea concoction through one lonely straw as my audio recorder gathered dust?
Perhaps I had underestimated her punctuality, as a second later, I look up and see the dainty brunette cross Abbot Kinney Blvd. "You must be Alex," she says, smiling as she shakes my hand. "I actually haven't been to this restaurant before, but it looks really good." Her hazelnut-brown eyes match the rich color of the wooden table we're seated at, and she's clad in a gray sweater, casually slung over her shoulders atop a white t-shirt with black stripes. Not exactly what you'd expect a guest star on the aesthetically driven Mad Men to wear, yet it appears she's mastered the art of thrift store chic. "I've never had someone pick outfits for me," Gallo says. "Almost everything I get is from Goodwill."
The first major vote of confidence for Gallo came from Marlene Clary, her first grade instructor and theatre director at Berkeley Carroll Street School, a small private school in Brooklyn. In second grade, the teacher informed Gallo's parents that she should be the lead in The Final Dress Rehearsal, a play about the final dress rehearsal of a performance of Cinderella. "I would play an actress who is playing Cinderella," Gallo says, nibbling on her taco.
Gallo's mother, however, was less adamant about her daughter gracing the grand stage. "Since I was a bit of a slow learner, my mother told my teacher, 'I don't think she can work and learn her lines.'" Yet with enough persuasion, Gallo's mother caved in, and her daughter excitedly joined the thespian troupe. "I can remember the feeling on stage and people laughing at the comedy. It was from that point on, no joke -- I was going to be an actress."
Gallo turned 38 in June and has nearly two decades of acting experience under her belt, but she possesses youthful zeal when discussing her work, like a child playing with toys. She fondly remembers her starring role as the edgy girl next door, Lizzie Exley, on the Fox T.V. sitcom Undeclared in 2001, which was guided by raunchy and riveting comedy figurehead Judd Apatow and his ensemble, including the 2013 summer hit This is the End's Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel.
"That was Judd's movement," she recalls. "The friendly and goofy guy as the lead actor. I don't think people really appreciated it." Gallo is referring to Undeclared's Steven Karp, the charmingly awkward freshman, based on the show's creator, that was played by Jay Baruchel. Karp was the George Constanza to Apatow's Larry David. The gut-busting and tender, college-themed show lasted only one season, but its cult following has grown exponentially, becoming a semester staple on Netflix and IFC over the last few years.
Anyone who's seen pictures like The 40 Year Old Virgin and Superbad knows that the actors cast by Apatow and his team often appear in more than one movie they work on, and Gallo is no exception. The former film has Gallo as Steve Carell's toe-sucking temptress, and the latter film has her grinding on the dance floor with Jonah Hill before leaving an unexpected, unfortunate accident on his slacks.
Ergo, Gallo's upcoming appearance will be as an intoxicated and disorderly divorcee in next year's Neighbors. The production team includes the big guns of bromance, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. "According to the costume designer, my character is dressing too young. I was wearing really terrible Forever 21 clothes." Gallo is more amused than embarrassed by her characters, though she is itching to expand her repertoire. "I once literally had a casting director ask my agent, 'Can she play anything other than a drunk?'"
But Gallo's sundry display of credentials is too apparent for her to be typecast. Her IMDB sheet reads like a buffet menu, as she's taken on a diverse range of projects, making her one of the most versatile actresses in Hollywood. Her high profile appearances include the aforementioned Mad Men, Bones, Californication, and Carnivàle, an Emmy Award-winning series that incidentally ignited her most arduous preparation as an actress.
"The emotional stuff is the biggest challenge, for me to access that," says Gallo, who believes the process has become easier with age. "As life passes, you encounter difficulties and tragedies, and so it becomes easier. Carnivàle required that of me, and it was really hard." Portraying a young dancer named Libby Dreifuss, Gallo delivered performances that remain her most stomach-churning to date, on a show that during its two-year run conscripted its viewers to murder, madness, and morals.
Carla Gallo remains a familiar face, if not a fixture of cinema and television. "About once every four days someone comes up to me and is like, 'Hey, I know you from somewhere,'" she says, the last two words ringing the loudest. She's on the prowl for another defining role, and remains pragmatic and poised for a new opportunity. Fortunately, Gallo is seasoned enough in the business to know that genuine humility never kept anyone's name off the marquee.
This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post.