The Clovis, New Mexico News Journal may call her "the Girl from Pittsburgh," but Brandi Engel, co-star of a new film being shot in New Mexico, belongs to Mt. Lebanon, where she's been training for show biz since she was old enough to tie on tap shoes.
Engel, a 2004 MT. Lebanon High School graduate, arrived in September on the set of "Believe in Me," a film about an underdog girls' basketball team that makes it to the Oklahoma state championships. A visit to a master acting class at the Center for Theatre Arts—where Engel spent most of her formative years—taught by Hollywood acting coach John Homa, an old friend of CTA director Marc Field, set.the process in motion. Homa took a shine to the 17-year-old Engel, persuaded her parents to bring her to L.A. for rounds of auditions and meetings with agents and managers, and before she knew it, Engel had snagged a co-starring role. The movie, based on the book "Brief Garland," by real-life coach Jim Keith, stars Jeff Donovan of "Touching Evil," Samantha Mathis and Bob Button, who played the warden in "Shawshank Redemption." The film is scheduled to open next fall.
Now, it's on the set from 7:30 a.m. until after midnight, a trailer of her own, and collapsing with the crew in the hotel at the end of a long day.
Irony No. 1: Engel's mother, Jeannette, of Queensbury Circle, who owns and operates four Mattress World stores with her husband, Dean, takes a dim view of show business as a profession. "I didn't want her to go to the theater," she says. "We just blinked and this happened."
Jeannette spent September and October with Brandi in Clovis and Albuquerque, N.M. Her husband, and son Jon Jon, a third-grader at Foster School, came out to join mother and daughter. Engel has another brother, Cory, 27.
In the movie, Engel plays real-life athlete Candy Brown, now in her 60s, who she met on the set. She and Brown share similar upbeat personalities, she says. "We even wore the same outfit—black pants and a white shirt—to the same interview." One thing that surprised Engel was the preparation and rigorous play going into the basketball scenes.
"They train you like real pro basketball players," she says. "Some of the girls on the team are professional players who have played in Europe." While doing layups during a take, Engel slam-dunked the winning shot and injured an ankle. A private trainer helped her rehabiliate and the scene was reshot using a special brace. Later that week, a production film crew from "The Oprah Winfrey Show" came to interview cast and crew, and film some of the basketball scenes, which may be broadcast on the show in March.
Engel still plans on attending Duquesne University, where she received a full scholarship, "unless something drastic— again!—happens," she says. "They keep sending me scripts," she says, one in particular for a film starring teen A-list star Lindsay Lohan; Engel hopes to audition for the role of Lohan's character's best friend as soon as she can take a few days off and fly to L.A.
"I want to keep rolling with the punches and see where it takes me," says Engel. Her mom, though excited for her daughter, continues to emphasize Duquesne and the scholarship waiting for her.
Irony No. 2: Not only does Jeannette Engel take a dim view of show business ("I'm not a TV person, and I don't go to movies," she says), "she has no idea who any of these people are!" laughs Brandi. "She wanted to lead me away from all of this. I'm the one who has always been pushing since the age of four."