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Aimee Garcia's Return To Chicago
Multitalented actress has made her mark in Hollywood, but her hometown is still the center of her universe
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​Ross’ (David Schwimmer) girlfriend on “Friends.” During seven episodes on the show, Tom was kind of a lightning rod for fans of the show, some who didn’t like the fact that she had taken Rachel’s (Jennifer Aniston) place in Ross’ heart. “Fans still get angry about that,” she says. “There was a live audience [during filming of the show], and they would boo me when I came on because they really wanted Ross to be with Rachel.”
   Not to be discouraged, Tom moved on and exhibited even more of her talents, using her voice in popular animated series such as "Futurama," "The Simpsons," "King of the Hill," "Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness," "Pound Puppies," "Teacher’s Pet," "Batman Beyond" and "Mulan 2." 
   Now, it’s all about Andi Mack, the much talked-about series, where Andi, played by 13-year-old Peyton Elizabeth Lee, was abandoned by her teenaged mother. Enter Lauren Tom as Celia Mack, Andi’s grandmother who made her believe that she and Andi’s grandfather were her parents––and her real mom was her sister.
   There will be more to this continuing story when Andi Mack returns to the Disney Channel on Mondays in June.
Photography courtesy of Disney Channel
–– Walter Leavy
Photograph by Liz Lauren
   PERHAPS you know her as Veronica Palmero from the sitcom "George Lopez," or as Jamie Batista on Showtime’s drama "Dexter," or as Ella Lopez on the Fox-turned-Netflix-drama "Lucifer," but no matter how you have become acquainted with Chicago native Aimee Garcia and her multiple talents, she always leaves a mark in her roles on TV or in movies.
   At only 5-foot-4, the Fenwick High School graduate casts a long shadow in Hollywood. That shadow will extend a bit longer in October when she supplies the voice for the character Denise in the animated movie version of the popular TV series "The Addams Family," which also includes the voices of major stars such as Charlize Theron, Allison Janney, Chloë Grace Moretz, Oscar Isaac and the legendary Bette Midler.
   Garcia, the daughter of a Mexican mother and Puerto Rican father, began her career as a performer when, as a 7-year-old, she hit the Chicago Theatre stage as a dancer and later did a McDonald’s TV commercial with Michael Jordan. But as Aimee got older, she––like millions of other TV viewers––fell in love with Oprah and her talk show, prompting the aspiring high-schooler to prepare to walk in Oprah’s shoes.
   In an effort to become a talk-show host, Garcia enrolled in Northwestern’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism and graduated from the university with a triple major in economics, journalism and French. “Oprah was my favorite,” she says, “and I wanted to be like Oprah.” However, her acting career accelerated after Northwestern and hosting a talk show had to take a backseat. She excelled as an actress, and at one time was the only Latina in her generation to be on syndicated TV. Further, in 2007, she was nominated for an American Latino Media Arts Award (ALMA) and Imagen Award for Best Supporting Actress in a television series.
   Even with Garcia’s success in Hollywood, Chicago remains dear to her heart. She recently returned to the city, where––among a variety of activities––she threw out the first pitch at a Cubs game and led the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch. But perhaps most important during her visit, she delivered the commencement speech at Fenwick High. “I was so nervous I couldn’t sleep the night before,” says the occasional golfer who tutors junior high and high school students in Spanish. “I talked about all the times I failed––not getting 17 auditions in a row, being broke in New York City––and stressing that it’s not [necessarily] about talent, but it’s about persistence. It’s about falling down and getting back up.”
   That philosophy has served Garcia well in an industry that can be a bit unpredictable and demanding. And thanks to her multiple talents, she continues to be cast in various projects such as the historic movie El Chicano, which also stars George Lopez and Raúl Castillo. It is described as the “first Latino superhero movie,” comprised of perhaps the first all-Latino cast since the movie Selena was released in 1997.
   With such a level of success, Aimee is living the life of a certified star, but unlike many in the entertainment arena, she apparently is unaffected by the glare of the spotlight. “When I’m in Hollywood, people say, ‘Oh, you’re so grounded, so nice,’” she says. “And I say it’s because I’m from Chicago.”
––Walter Leavy
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"Oprah was my favorite, and I wanted to be like Oprah."
                            –– Aimee Garcia
Aimee's "first pitch" during a Cubs game at Wrigley Field.