Amy Stoch's excellent adventure
|Actress, educator and Cleveland-native Amy Stoch|
Here’s the truth, and I hope Amy Stoch will forgive me.
The actress, educator and Cleveland native, possibly best known for her role as Missy, Bill & Ted’s stepmom throughout the time-travelling Bill & Ted trilogy, should star in her own dramedy series based on her life.
Her most recent journey back to Los Angeles to reignite the film component of her long career as both a performer and educator is both compelling and revealing. It’s a glimpse into the ebb and flow of the entertainment business and the challenge of chasing your dreams through middle age - especially in an industry as unforgiving as Hollywood - and retaining a passion for the discipline even as new obstacles get in the way.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
A movie star from Cleveland’s east side
Stoch’s journey began in Euclid, Ohio, an east side ring suburb of Cleveland, where she grew up. Her childhood was a lot like that of her friends, except for her singular pursuit of a dream she didn’t even know she had - until career day in Mrs. Jackson’s second grade class at Wells Elementary.
“Mrs. Jackson had all these jobs written on the board, and none of them seemed to fit me,” Stoch says. “But there was ‘movie star.’ I went home that day and told my mother I was going to be a movie star. It wasn’t like I was struck by a lightning bolt or had an epiphany. It was what it was. That’s what I wanted to be.”
Charting a course to Hollywood
Stoch characterizes herself as shy and quiet in high school - a practical person - but admits at least one friend described her singular pursuit as both brave and bold. She was charting a course toward her dream. The captain of her own destiny.
|Stoch's cast photo from 'Summer School'|
“But I also had the complete support of my parents, 100 percent,” Stoch says. “ I was focused, got good grades. They knew it wasn’t a whim. I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have their support.”
After graduation, she left Cleveland for New York’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Students weren't allowed to audition outside the institution, and Stoch found the experience too confining for her bigger dreams. It just didn’t feel right. So Stoch packed up and returned to Cleveland to figure out what would come next.
It was 1981. Cleveland was taking its first, small steps toward rejuvenation. The city hosted Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter’s presidential debate the year before, and the first rumblings of new construction and a renewed spirit were taking hold.
In many ways, the same was happening for Stoch. Her return to Cleveland was the first ebb in her acting journey. But she could sense the tide changing.
Stoch was temping at a bank, trying to figure out her next career move, when her father pointed her in a new direction. “He said I should reach out to a local talent agency. See how I fit in, and what I could do. And that was that.”
Stoch signed with the agency and work started pouring in. She was booked in ads for major department stores and appeared in a slew of local commercials. “We had a hot group of models,” she says. “We really thought we owned the city.”
Then came Shirley Hamilton and Star Search.
Searching for stars in Chicago
In the mid-80s, the Cleveland talent agency gathered up model portfolios - a select few - and Stoch was among them. Stoch’s agent was retiring, and didn’t want to leave until she introduced Stoch to Shirley Hamilton Talent in Chicago, a well known and respected agency still going strong today.
|Stoch in 'Gunsmoke'|
The meeting was a success, and the agency invited Stoch to come aboard. She did, and again, work piled up. “I was the K-Mart queen,” Stoch says.
The flow continued. Commercial work gave Stoch her SAG card, and her dream of becoming a movie star was coming closer to reality.
Then came Star Search.
Stoch was flown to Los Angeles where she would compete in the Spokesmodel category on the popular entertainment competition show. The talent program would host season-long competitions in various talent categories. Each episode, the previous week’s champion would face a new challenger.
In her first outing, Stoch beat model Anna Lee to become Spokesmodel champion and would then go on to best five more challengers. Ultimately, Stoch would lose to Barbara Baan, today a deejay in Kansas.
“I was bummed out,” Stoch admits. “It was my last show, and I’d lost.”
When the show wrapped, Hollywood agent Sue Cameron approached Stoch. Cameron was a show judge and liked what she saw in Stoch. “Without that, man ….,” Stoch trails off.
Ebb and flow. Ebb and flow.
Hurray for Hollywood
Stoch signed with Cameron and soon found herself in front of the camera. “There was so much going on in the mid-80s,” Stoch says. “I went on auditions all the time, for film, television and commercials. Everything. I made so many friends just at auditions. It was an amazing time to be there.”
|Stoch as Missy from 'Bill & Ted'|
Like that, Stoch was a working actor. She had small parts on Knot’s Landing and Hardcastle & McCormick. She spent a season on Dallas as Lisa Alden and played Britta Englund for a year on the daytime soap Days of Our Lives. Then came Bill & Ted and Gunsmoke.
Stoch was cast as Missy, Bill’s stepmom, in the original film, then returned in Bogus Journey and the recently released Face the Music. She also played Beth Reardon in a handful of successful Gunsmoke TV movies.
“I was never a star, but I was a working actor,” Stoch says. “You dream of getting an award, of course, but that’s the dream. If you want to make it in the business, the reality is you have to be a working actor. And I was.”
As the world edged closer to the 21st century, the film industry was undergoing monumental change. As independent films became more popular, studios were not only rethinking their production slate, but exploring new distribution models. The industry tide was retreating, and that made it difficult for many working actors to find regular roles.
“I was married, I had a 5-year-old, and I could see the writing on the wall,” Stoch said. “At about the same time, I was congratulating a friend for finishing her master’s degree program. I also thought that sounded like a perfect new adventure. I could leverage my experience to teach young actors.”
But while she was undertaking coursework at California State University, Norhridge, the waves of change would recede even more.
Stoch and her husband divorced. She was still working, thankfully, but acting roles were fewer and farther between. And now she was raising her son as a single parent.
Stoch also realized she would need her PhD if she wanted to teach at the college level. It took work and determination, but Stoch secured a fellowship at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“So I packed up, moved out of Beverly Hills, and headed back to Illinois,” Stoch says.
Driving the kids around in 'Bill & Ted'
Coursework was a breeze, says Stoch, but her dissertation in Theatre History, Theory and Criticism threw her for a loop. “It was real work, hard work,” she says. “It knocked me on my butt.”
The work was exacerbated by the stress of putting food on the table for both her and her son. She taught part-time and made ends meet, but says it was low time in her life. “Life is going to ebb and flow,” Stoch says. “There are times when it’s all working and times when it is not. That’s important to remember.”
Stoch finished her dissertation, got her PhD, and started, once again, looking toward the future. When her son left the nest to attend college and begin his life as a young adult, Stoch gathered up her own life and headed west to Los Angeles to, as she says it, “start all over again.”
Time to ‘Face the Music’
The AMDA College and Conservatory for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles hired Stoch to teach acting for the camera and theater history. She also teaches at the New York Film Academy and, on occasion, Loyola. Her life wasn’t quite settled, but teaching helped her build a new foundation from which to work.
“I’ve been lucky enough to dip my toes back in the business,” Stoch says. “But it took time to figure out how the business has changed. And so much has changed.”
And that’s the Netflix series, right? A middle-aged single mom who once enjoyed the perks of being a working actress in Hollywood has to start all over again, from scratch. What an amazing journey. What an excellent adventure, you could say.
See what I did there?
Be excellent to each other - and party on, dude
One role she was made to play would help Stoch get back in the game. Stoch joined the third Bill & Ted installment in June 2019. And while a lot has changed in Hollywood, what hasn’t is the dynamic between Stoch and her Bill & Ted co-stars.
|Flanked by co-stars Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves |
“It was like a family reunion,” she says. “Watching Alex and Keanu - to see them create those characters again - it’s been amazing to have a small part in that world.” Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves play the titular characters in the film series.
“When we shot the first one, we were all just starting out, and that was a good way to be on that film. No one was a ‘star’ – and that helped the ensemble gel,” Stoch says. “Now, 32 years later, being one of only four actors who have appeared in all three films? I felt a little like a lowly adjunct professor walking into the amazing cast of actors. I was very apprehensive. But after that first day? After watching the way Alex and Keanu worked together, how everything just came together? That helped me ease into it, and from there I was golden.”
Stoch has enjoyed how much Bill & Ted fans have embraced the film and cheered her return. “This film is so special,” she says. “And it really came out exactly when it was supposed to, at the time when we’re struggling through a pandemic and seem divided at every turn. It has this simple motto - ‘be excellent to each other’ - which is what we all need now.”
Now that the film is in the history books - it was the fifth most popular digital video rental in October 2020 and has grossed more than $32 million during the pandemic - it’s time for Stoch to find her next gig.
“It’s time to get back to work.”
And get that Netflix deal.