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The Reel Queens: Hollywood success seems a safe bet for LIC native

In the new film "21," Lapira plays one of five MIT students who, in the 1990s, trained to become card-counting experts and milked Las Vegas casinos for millions of dollars before they were caught. The film, based on Ben Mezrich's nonfiction book "Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Las Vegas for Millions," is scheduled for release on March 28.Lapira, who was born and raised in Long Island City but has lived in Los Angeles for four years, has become a ubiquitous presence in the entertainment industry during the past few years, appearing in off-Broadway productions, numerous supporting roles on major television shows, small independent films and now big-budget studio films.And for her role in "21," she tried her hand at method acting, following the leads of the film's characters by attempting to count cards at several Las Vegas casinos."I went out and gambled on my own, but the dealer was onto me," she said. "She could see what I was doing because my lips were moving. I'm an amateur."In the film, MIT student Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) joins a group of students who use fake identities and card-counting skills to win at blackjack after he struggles to pay school tuition. But the students are seduced by the lure of easy money and soon draw the attention of a casino enforcer (Laurence Fishburne).The film, directed by Robert Luketic, also stars Kate Bosworth as one of the students and Kevin Spacey as the math professor who leads the team.Lapira and her fellow cast members shot the film for one month at the Aladdin Casino, where they took part in a casino camp, learning how to count cards and gamble.In the film, Lapira plays Kianna, who is based on one of the actual MIT students but whose name has been changed to protect her identity. At the film's premiere, Lapira met the real Kianna."She's obviously very smart," she said. "When you're counting, you have to stay under the radar, so the casino doesn't kick you out. If [Kianna] had to flirt with the dealer so he would not notice she was counting, she'd do it."Lapira's love of performance began in childhood. She was singing and dancing at age 3 and taking part in community theater and musical theater in her youth. She got her first break in 2000, appearing in a small role alongside Richard Gere and Winona Ryder in "Autumn in New York."Her past four years have mostly been spent working on popular TV shows such as "NCIS" "The Sopranos," "Sex and the City," "Monk," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit."But the actress will make her big-screen presence felt in 2008, with appearances in "21" and "Cloverfield," and in 2009, starring alongside Jude Law and Forest Whitaker in the science-fiction thriller "Repossession Mambo," which imagines a future in which artificial organs can be bought on credit, but with serious repercussions.Lapira said she would love to work in both mediums as long as she is given the chance to play intriguing characters."It's the cliched actor's response, but I love both film and TV," she said. "I go where the quality material is. And it's fun - you get to drop in and meet these great people and move on."And Lapira said she loves when a good script gives her a chance for a homecoming, such as last year's "Cloverfield" shoot on the Brooklyn Bridge and the small New York-based independent film "See You in September," in which she has a starring role. The actress said she currently spends a few months out of the year in New York."[The industry] seems to be moving back east," she said. "I love my town - all my childhood friends are here. I've gone from being a Queens girl to a Valley girl, but anytime I can shoot in New York, I love it."

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