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Class Act

Atlanta’s most versatile actress goes back to school. 

Rhoda Griffis enjoys evoking all her emotions.

City for Display: 

From the moment she tapped onto the stage as a dancing caterpillar in The Wizard of Oz, Rhoda Griffis knew she wanted to be an actress. “I was in second grade, and, when I heard the audience clapping,” she says, “that was it.” She left her “two-stoplight” town outside of Raleigh, N.C., for the renowned University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where she met her future husband, Jay Freer. After graduation, they followed the rest of the class to New York, where Freer then proposed a different scenario—move to Atlanta and open a theater company. This time, she followed her heart, believing her favorite proverb, “You grow where you’re planted.”

She spent seven seasons commuting to the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival, before landing her first big screen role as Jacqueline Kennedy, opposite Michelle Pfeiffer, in Love Field (1992). “My orthodontist once told me I looked like Jackie O.,” she says, “and when I walked into the audition, the director cast me immediately.” More than 40 roles have followed, including memorable scenes in The Blind Side (Sandra Bullock’s sister), Walk the Line (the lady who scolds Reese Witherspoon), Runaway Jury (the tortured woman with a penchant for painkillers) and, our personal favorite, Army Wives (the divine Lenore Baker Ludwig). This versatile actress is even part of a Trivial Pursuit question. (“Who has been portrayed by Blair Brown, Jaclyn Smith... Rhoda Griffis and Juanin Clay? Answer: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis”)

In this month’s Parental Guidance, Griffis plays the super-strict violin teacher Dr. Schveer, opposite Bette Midler and Billy Crystal. Griffis took lessons at The Lovett School, where violin teacher Anne Page advised her on the character, and her husband, Freer, has been the director of fine arts for more than 25 years. As is the norm these days, the film was shot in Atlanta, which always turns Griffis and her fellow local actors into the ultimate tour guides. “We put on our ambassador sash and wave the baton,” she says, “because we want them to come back.” Restaurant recommendations include The Optimist, but Midler wanted to talk shoes. “So I sent her to Julio at Saks, because he never steers you wrong.”

Griffis credits powerhouse women like Shay Bentley-Griffin for leading the L.A. film business to Georgia, and Susan Booth, for ultimately raising the bar for the arts. But she says it’s Tyler Perry and Oprah who are “putting their money where their mouth is” to keep our Southern actors on screen. Griffis points out how impressed Crystal and his production team were with the local talent.

So, what advice does the actress offer to the new kids on the set? “Never stop training, and take every class you can,” she advises. “When you stop learning, you stop growing.”

Griffis’ Hots
Kindness, elegant shoes, unexpected inspiration, driving fast on winding roads, handwritten thank-you notes

Griffis’ Nots
Being late, animal cruelty, private cellphone calls in public