SANTA MONICA, CALIF. – Charlene Amoia, who spent the first 15 years of her life in Buffalo before heading to Vegas and then here to Southern California, has an enviable Hollywood resume: Thirty films. Forty-two television credits.
Most of those movies are obscure indies, but she has roles in pictures with big stars (Will Smith, Steven Seagal) and broad distribution (“American Reunion”). Most of the television shows were one-time or, at best, recurring roles. But survey the list – it ranges from “Castle” to “NCIS: New Orleans” to the Nickelodeon show “iCarly” – and you’ll realize you’ve probably seen Amoia.
And let’s just get this out there now: On the smash hit “How I Met Your Mother,” she played the flirty, dreamy-eyed server known as “Wendy the Waitress.”
Congratulations, you say. That’s an impressive list of credits.
“That’s nice to hear, because it really doesn’t feel that way,” said Amoia, sitting under a yellow umbrella on the sun-drenched patio of True Food Kitchen. She’s eating an “Inside Out” burger, with a bun made of quinoa and hummus on the inside, and sipping a Kale-Aid infused with apple, cucumber, celery, lemon and a touch of ginger. Her dark hair frames a face accentuated by chocolate eyes and a pearly smile.
“Isn’t it interesting how that works?” she said, allowing one of those smiles. “You see someone at a party and you think they have their whole life together, and you have no idea. It’s fascinating.”
You really do have no idea. If you’re an outsider, you marvel at the famous names and titles. If you’re Amoia, you express gratitude for the opportunities – and you’re always wondering when, or even if, the next job will come.
“That last job could be the last job,” she said, sounding more philosophical than literal. “It’s probably not likely. I’ll probably get some job. Something will come up. But I don’t know.”
She never knows when – or how – jobs will happen.
Amoia stumbled into the acting business late in her teen years. She grew up in North Buffalo and attended high school in the city for two years before moving with her dad to Las Vegas at age 15. In Vegas, she was asked by her father’s colleague to fill in as a shoe model at a Nine West showcase. That led to other modeling gigs, and then commercial opportunities. Her first audition turned out to be for a 1-900 commercial; Amoia landed the job but, agreeing with her agent’s advice, decided that appearing in a phone sex advertisement would be a bad move.
“He said, ‘If you want a career, this isn’t something you’d want to have around,’ ” Amoia said. “But the experience of going into a sub-personality to do something was a lot of fun. That little thing hooked me.”
In 1999, she moved to Los Angeles and spent the next couple of years taking acting classes and auditioning for roles. She landed her first professional credit in 2001 on the soap opera “Port Charles.”
Since then, Amoia has worked steadily, but not as steadily as she’d like.
“What I want is to be working consistently,” she said. “That’s the hardest part of being an actor. There’s so much uncertainty.”
And unpredictability. Last week, Amoia’s latest movie, “Sniper: Special Ops,” was released on video. When the film’s producers cast her as the female lead opposite Steven Seagal and Rob Van Dam, they were impressed with the clips from Amoia’s video reel that showed her dropping by rope and firing guns.
Except Amoia never had a role where she was swinging on a rope. Nor had she fired a gun. The producers had accidentally received the wrong reel with Amoia’s name attached, so hired her thinking they were getting someone with a different skill set.
But Amoia was there, and willing, and shooting was about to begin. So she stayed, learned the lines (and how to shoot a weapon) and kept the job.
“It worked out great,” said Fred Olen Ray, the film’s writer and director. “It was serendipitous. It was a happy accident.”
Or take what is arguably her most famous role, as Wendy the Waitress. Amoia appeared in 17 episodes of “How I Met Your Mother” between 2005 and 2011. That’s only a small slice of the total run of the sitcom, which lasted for nine seasons, but enough to carve Amoia a niche in the pop culture zeitgeist.
“It feels like I was part of something that was really cool,” Amoia said, then adds a qualifier: “Sometimes.”
As in, “sometimes” she was a part of it. But she never knew quite when that would be. During her years on the show, Amoia would occasionally get a call to shoot scenes, often that same week. Other jobs would, and still do, pop up on similarly short notice. Many of them are one-time gigs on TV shows. Others are small roles in big movies (example: Will Smith’s “Seven Pounds”) or large roles in small movies. An example of that is the upcoming horror film “A Demon Within,” in which Amoia plays the young, single mom of a teenage girl.
“She has a lot of range,” said Justin LaReau, the movie’s director. “She builds a tremendous backstory for the character and showcases it very well. She’s very authentic with each character she does. It seems like it comes very natural.”
What seems natural is actually a technique Amoia has been using since her early years in L.A., when she studied at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. She preps for every role by asking herself emotionally probing questions: Where is the depth in this character? Where is the heart in the character?
“lf (my character) has a baby,” she said, “and I don’t have a child” – she doesn’t – “I have to imagine moments that will connect me to the heart and the love.”
Another approach Amoia says has guided her well: She preps for every audition and every role the same, whether it’s “Glee” or “90210” or a movie that few people will see.
The rest is fate. Fate that she’s hoping will soon lead to her having a regular role.
“That part is just luck, you know?” she said. “I think there’s a little bit of luck.”