For 'Dark Knight' actress Daina Michelle Griffith, anticipation is on the rise


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Actress Daina Michelle Griffith describes herself as crazy about Batman, and as proof, she offers that her dance ensemble nickname has always been "Vicki Vale," for the Gotham Gazette reporter. She secured opening-night tickets for "The Dark Knight Rises" and will join the hordes at 12:01 a.m. July 20, eager to see how Christopher Nolan's film trilogy concludes, of course, but she has a personal stake in the movie.

Unless she's been lost in the editing process, you'll see her in "The Dark Knight Rises" as Mrs. Foley, wife of Gotham City Police Department Deputy Commissioner Peter Foley, played by Matthew Modine.

"I already bought my 3-D IMAX tickets; I wanted to make sure I got one. If they didn't give me one or I wasn't invited to something, I didn't want to miss out on opening night," Ms. Griffith said. "So, me and a bunch of friends are going to the midnight show down at the IMAX at the Waterfront and cross our fingers and hope that Mrs. Foley was not cut out of the movie."

Ms. Griffith, 33, is such a cheerful presence in person and on the phone, it's difficult to imagine the red-head in the dramatic roles she has taken on in recent years. She's just completed the sometimes harrowing lead in the musical "Next to Normal," a heavy-lifting exercise in acting and singing. It came almost a year after the big-screen role that comprised one day of shooting but has packed months of anticipation. She recalled the moment she received confirmation from her agent that she had won a role in the film.

"Any job, even if it's a hundred dollars, I freak out because it means I get to keep making a living doing this. When she told me, she said ... you're playing a wife. And I'm like, the wife of who?! Am I Morgan Freeman's wife?! Please tell me I'm Morgan Freeman's wife!"

As part of the secrecy that surrounded filming "The Dark Knight Rises," Ms. Griffith didn't get her lines until the night before her scene was shot in Lawrenceville, the first day of filming.

Ms. Griffith, an Ohio native and graduate of Point Park University's musical theater program, has been seen on stages throughout Pittsburgh and has done voiceovers and small roles in indie films, but this was the experience of a lifetime, she said.

"They wanted to get the intimate scenes done so they could do all the stuff at the stadium and in Oakland with all of the hundreds and hundreds of extras. I had a 4:30 [a.m.] call time, and I was in the trailer with people I never thought I would ever be close to, having conversations and getting our makeup and hair done. And I was done that evening. We shot all the scenes that day and the next day, they moved on to Oakland. I got home at 8 or 9 o'clock."

She "signed a lot of stuff" that demanded secrecy from the actors in "The Dark Knight Rises," but her name appears on the cast list on IMDB -- a cause for celebration when she saw it there.

Some clues might be found on "The Dark Knight Rises" website, which has featured a Gotham City police file with what appears to be a warrant for the arrest of "John Doe, AKA 'The Batman' " and an internal document signed by Deputy Commissioner Peter Foley. It said the mayor was demanding that the Gotham City police redouble efforts to capture Batman due to the upcoming arrival of Harvey Dent Day.

"It's been a stressful year because I don't know if I'm even in the film," Ms. Griffith admitted, but she hasn't been idle. Her lead role as Diana in Carrnivale Theatrics' recent production of "Next to Normal," which ended Sunday, was an unexpected highlight.

She has performed in many regional musicals, and her previous singing role of note came opposite Marcus Stevens in the two-person "The Last Five Years" for Jewish Theatre of Pittsburgh in 2004, but she'd mostly given up on musicals until "Next to Normal" came along.

"This is special, yeah," she said of "Next to Normal," in which she played a schizophrenic housewife. "I have a degree in musical theater, and when I was at Point Park I did Sally Bowles in 'Cabaret,' and that was kind of massive, but nothing like this. ... I consider myself an actress who sings. Because I didn't grow up watching musicals or being in musicals, I didn't really start until I was 17 years old. My voice doesn't lend itself to shows like 'Oklahoma!' It's more pop-based, because I listened to the radio."

She best known lately for dramatic roles with Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre, Pittsburgh Public Theater and City Theatre. The actress whose website bio says she lives "in Steeler Nation -- aka Pittsburgh, PA. -- will be before hometown audiences again when she returns to Quantum Theatre in the winter.

Ms. Griffith had recognized that the "Next to Normal" lead suited her voice while watching the Tony Awards show and star Alice Ripley, but she didn't expect to have the opportunity before the Carrnivale Theatrics' show came along. Director Justin Fortunato told her that once she played the lead role of Diana, she should be ready to sing some more, and now she has a call-back for a production of "Next to Normal" at the Human Rights Theater in Dayton, Ohio, near her hometown.

"I don't know if it can relaunch a musical career, but that would be kind of awesome," she said.

It would be awesome, period, if she sees herself up on the big screen come July 20.

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Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960.


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