Actress Bridgetta Tomarchio figures she gets her stage presence from her dad, Mr. Tire. But she's taken it far afield of "on the rim and out the door."
Tomarchio, daughter of the tire store executive known around Baltimore for doing his own ads, has for the past four years been the ExtenZe Girl, host of an hourlong infomercial for a "male enhancement" product. She has appeared in the Lingerie Bowl, which had scantily clad models playing full-contact football. She played one of David Duchovny's hotties on Showtime's "Californication."
Joe "Mr. Tire" Tomarchio, does not approve. And even Bridgetta says she is tired of always playing "the hot-girl sex symbol."
She breaks out of that sort of role in "6 Nonsmokers," a low-budget independent comedy by Maryland writer/director Francis Abbey that's in its final stages of editing. In her first starring role in a feature film, Tomarchio plays a bespectacled Ph.D. trying to mediate a conflict among six stupendously mismatched roommates.
"I'm typecast, basically, and it's really hard to get out of that typecast," Tomarchio, 30, said in a telephone interview from her Los Angeles home. "This is the first thing that's showing people I am funny and comedy's my forte. It will give people a new perspective on me because I'm so nerdy."
Does the new perspective extend to Joe Tomarchio, who did not speak to his firstborn for months when she started that ExtenZe gig? His daughter is playing a psychologist. Her long brown tresses are primly pulled back. She wears business suits borrowed from her mom.
His take on Bridgetta's big, respectable break: It really rusts his rotors.
A man who for years has successfully and colorfully griped about competitors in radio spots and occasional TV ads has plenty to say about his daughter's Hollywood aspirations, none of it good. Not just because Tinseltown is so shallow, but also because Bridgetta is so smart.
"She could BE a Ph.D.!" he said. "She could be TEACHING someone to be a Ph.D.!"
This is not just parental pride talking, Joe said.
"As a young child, we would show her something once and she would get it - mathematics, her vocabulary. She started talking at a very young age."
So when she was a teenager, her parents had her IQ tested.
"My wife hired a psychologist," he recalled. "It was a doctor. It was a professional. It was a professional test. It was very expensive. Back then it was several thousand dollars. I come back and they tell us, 'Your daughter's IQ is 135.'
"My daughter is fairly brilliant, for lack of a better way of putting it, and she could do anything that she wanted if she applied herself. But she's chasing this Hollywood dream," he said. "I don't like that whole Hollywood persona, where it's just based on what you look like. ... If she would have applied herself to almost anything else, she would have been far more advanced in any career she would have chosen."
Joe Tomarchio, 53, said this with all the passion you hear in his radio spots, like the one that goes like this:
"This is Joe Tomarchio from Mr. Tire. You know what really rusts my rotors? My competitors. They advertise one price, but when you get there, you pay another price. It's like going to a restaurant and ordering spaghetti and they charge you for the plate and the fork and the knife. At Mr. Tire, it's all you can eat."
Those ads cut through the "clutter" of other commercials by being "cute" and "a little edgy," said Tomarchio, who six years ago sold Mr. Tire to Monro Muffler Brake Inc., the publicly traded national firm based in Rochester, N.Y., that's kept him on as executive vice president for store operations.
For all the sway Mr. Tire has over radio listeners, his daughter manages to tune him out.
Blame Dad for giving her a taste for the limelight. When Bridgetta was a kid growing up in Ellicott City, the family would gather around the cassette player for a preview of his latest ads.
"He would bring them home, a bunch at once, and play them for us," Bridgetta recalled. "It was always a really funny, witty commercial. ... He's actually a really good actor. I think I get my stage and speaking skills from him."
Bridgetta was painfully shy as a youngster. An only child until age 6, when the first of two siblings arrived, she clung to her mother's side. She nevertheless got interested in children's theater at Ellicott City's Little Theater on the Corner.
"The director would squirt me with a water bottle until I would talk louder," she recalled. "I got out of my shell, obviously."
Her father was something of a wallflower, too.
Joe Tomarchio never wanted to play pitchman for the tire-store chain he launched with his brother in the 1970s. The only thing he knew about radio was that his ads on there needed more zing.
"I was constantly complaining that the spots weren't creative enough or aggressive enough," he said. After venting to ad agency reps in 1998, they came back with the suggestion that he do the spots himself.
"I argued with them," he said. "When you hear your own voice, you don't think you sound good. And I still don't. I have a Baltimore accent. And they said, 'Try it. What do you have to lose?' "
Mr. Tire had 26 locations in the Baltimore-Washington region when Monro, which has 785 stores in 19 states, acquired it. Joe Tomarchio credits the ads for some of that success.
"It's played well for us," he said.
Bridgetta Tomarchio also knows what sells, and in Hollywood, it's sex.
So she played Lingerie Bowl quarterback in a padded bra and boy shorts.
She came over "for a long, crazy night of debauchery," in her single appearance on "Californication" late last year.
Her ExtenZe Girl gig is not as raunchy as it sounds, though it's certainly not family fare.
To Bridgetta, it's exposure and steady work. "I'm very good at hosting," she said.
But even she sees a downside.
"I'm known for this more than anything," she said. "I walk into a store and it's like, 'Oh, it's the ExtenZe Girl.' "
And then there was her father's reaction.
"I did not talk to her for three, four, five months," he said. "She doesn't need to do that kind of malarkey."
Eventually, he came around enough to start talking to his daughter again, but he still very much disapproves. He looked over her last contract before she signed but had no contact with the company.
"I would probably want to punch the guy out," he said.
In "6 Nonsmokers," Bridgetta plays Dr. Regina Powell, a university psychologist whose mentor is billed as the world's greatest conflict mediator. After hopscotching to hot spots around the globe, they are asked to bring peace to six roommates. Writer-director Abbey considered the role a stretch for Bridgetta.
"It was really casting her against type," he said.
Her father would strongly disagree. Even Bridgetta contends that playing the goofy nerd comes naturally.
"I'm a computer geek," she said. "I have every video game there is. I play my Wii every day. I am the biggest klutz you ever met in your life. I probably fall down four times a day - I'm not kidding."
Greg Thompson, a Los Angeles actor who plays one of the roommates, backs her up on that.
"When you meet Bridgetta, you suddenly realize, 'Oh, wow. She's kind of this kooky-fun, very easygoing [person],' " he said. "She's not that laid-back, sultry vixen."
But Hollywood is, more often than not, looking for sultry vixens.
Since the movie was shot, Thompson has coached Bridgetta for two TV auditions, both for sexpot roles.
"One of the things here in L.A., you do have to kind of embrace what they see you as," said Thompson, who gets typecast himself as rogue cop and serial killer. "And then you can say, 'I really want to try this.' I think Bridgetta's been smart to realize, 'OK, if that's how I can sell myself to get in the door, up to a point, I'm willing to do that.' "
Or, as Bridgetta put it, "You got it, flaunt it."
Mr. Tire just wishes she flaunted her smarts over her looks.
"Certainly there are people who play that card who have nothing else to fall back on," he said. "This is not the case. She doesn't need to play off her good looks. It annoys the hell out of me."
No restaurant review Elizabeth Large is on vacation. Her restaurant review column will return next week.