By Doris Wedge
For The Transcript
There was a party at the Govich home in Norman recently as friends and family of Milena Govich watched the first show of the season of the “Law and Order” series in which Milena plays a lead role.
The 1995 Norman High graduate has experienced a steady rise in her career since landing in New York City in 1999, two weeks after graduating from college.
Her story isn’t the traditional lore of being discovered while walking down the street, but is one of having talent fortified with years training in the performing arts, backed by intelligence, beauty and the intense desire to succeed in the competitive world of show business.
Govich’s preparation for her career included studying ballet since childhood, including dancing for the Norman Ballet Company. She also studied voice, violin and played in the Norman High Orchestra. A student in the pre-med track at UCO, where her mother, Dr. Marilyn Govich, is a voice professor, she continued her studies of vocal performance, dance and the violin.
As she was preparing to graduate and began applying for admission to medical schools, she had that gnawing feeling she needed to test her talents in a bigger arena.
“I knew that if I was in medical school, I wouldn’t have time to perform,” she recalled in a phone interview this week.
Scholarships had paid most of her college expenses and she had pocketed her earnings playing violin in a string quartet at venues in Oklahoma City, enough to take care of herself while she began auditioning.
“I didn’t want to spend my energy at a day job. I made auditioning my priority. I got really good training in Oklahoma and when I arrived here I felt that I was ready to be here,” she said.
Govich added she occasionally took an office temp job to make ends meet.
The auditions resulted in roles in Broadway shows such as “Good Vibrations,” “Boys From Syracuse” and “Cabaret,” in which her brother Mateja (“Matt”) also performed. She toured with “Cabaret” and played Eva Peron in the European Tour of “The Best of Andrew Lloyd Webber.”
At Boston’s North Shore Theater, she had the title role in “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” Govich has appeared in several independent movies, garnering acclaim for her lead role in an independent movie “Bad Behavior.” TV credits include appearances in “As the World Turns,” “Guiding Light” and appearances on Good Morning America and the Rosie O’Donnell show. She had a reoccurring role in the TV series “Rescue Me: FDNY,” and in the legal drama series “Conviction.”
“I have worked consistently since I got to New York City. Some roles were better than others … some more exciting than others. Some paid better than others,” she said. “I have learned a lot every time I have done a new show, whether on stage or film or TV, and I feel like I am finally ready for a job like this.”
To prepare for the role of a New York City detective who carries a 9mm Glock, she flew home to receive training from her uncle Jerry Green, who recently retired from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, and her cousin, Norman Police Sgt. Blake Green, who heads up the Norman Police Academy.
“The gun is a part of my costume, not loaded of course. I handle the weapon every day and the training and advice has been invaluable to me. Not only did they teach me safety, and the technical elements involved in shooting and being a marksman, they also gave me insight on the emotional side of carrying a weapon and having it at your disposal.”
During the “Law and Order” shooting schedule, the cast and crew work 12-hour days, five days a week, with shooting often stretching to 14 or 15 hours, “into the wee hours.” It takes about eight workdays to shoot one show, she said. Having started shooting in July, she was at work this week on the seventh episode, playing Nina Cassaday, a newly appointed detective having to establish her credibility with the more experienced characters. The story line parallels her personal challenge of establishing her own credibility with the seasoned stars of the show.
“You are never sure what you are going to get into, coming on board a show which has been running for 17 years. When I first arrived, everyone was so welcoming, so supporting. They made me feel like this is my new family.”
Most of the filming is done on the streets of New York.
“We have shot scenes in neighborhoods with drug dealers around every corner, but we also have filmed in an $18 million dollar penthouse.”
Because they are filming on the street, with everyday activities going on around them, there is some time each week spent looping parts of the script because the noises of the city overrode voices during the filming.
Her mother visited her in New York City last week and spent a day on the set. She met her daughter’s co-workers, from the show’s leading actors to technicians.
“They were so nice to me and I heard the words a parent loves to hear, what a wonderful person Milena is and how great she is to work with.” Dr. Govich said.
At the Norman “watch party” for the season premiere, friends and family members who had seen Milena grow up were pleased with her performance.
“We cheered. We laughed. It was so interesting to see her reactions to others, her facial expressions. We would say ‘I’ve seen that look,’” Dr. Govich said.
Dr. Govich’s sons, Matt and Nikola, are aspiring actors who are hoping to follow their big sister into major roles. Their father is the late Dr. Bruce Govich, an OU voice professor, and the siblings grew up steeped in the performing arts, knowing many of their parents’ students who headed for New York or L.A. in search of careers in the performing arts.
“I’ve heard the horror stories and the triumphs,” Milena said.
Now enjoying the rewards of a blossoming career, she said. “I am really thankful for all the experiences I had growing up in Norman. Because of the University, I was exposed to artistic things that I might not have been in another place. There were a lot of people who influenced me. I am really grateful for that. And I like to get back whenever I can.”
She is married to David Cornue, a writer/composer, and is proud to talk about his musical “Smoking Bloomberg” which was selected for performance at the New York Music Theater Festival. Married nearly four years, they live in a small studio apartment, barely 400 square feet.
By Doris Wedge
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