Tamara Tunie of 'SVU' can sing, too

Tamara Tunie attends Closing Night Gala Presentation Of

Tamara Tunie attends Closing Night Gala Presentation Of "Flight" during the 50th New York Film Festival at Alice Tully Hall in Manhattan. (Oct. 14, 2012) (Credit: Getty Images)

Tamara Tunie knows a thing or two about corpses. And not just because she plays medical examiner Dr. Melinda Warner on "Law & Order: SVU."

Let's just say the woman is full of surprises.

First off, she acts -- most recently playing Denzel Washington's friend and a valiant member of the flight crew in his new film, "Flight," which opens Friday. Her face is also recognizable to TV viewers ("SVU," "24," "NYPD Blue," "As the World Turns") and fans of the film "The Devil's Advocate" (thanks to a memorably demonic role alongside Al Pacino).

She also produces (August Wilson's "Radio Golf," the basketball drama "Magic/Bird," and the Tony Award winning musical "Spring Awakening"), and works as a philanthropist on the boards of nonprofits, including Figure Skating in Harlem (figureskatinginhar lem.org, which provides education and life skills to girl skaters).

As you might guess from the title of her new cabaret show -- "Yes, I Sing" -- yeah . . . Tunie does that, too. She'll offer up standards, show tunes and more when she makes her debut at Feinstein's at Loews Regency starting Tuesday and running through Nov. 3.

Tunie, 53, is married to jazz singer Gregory Generet and lives in Manhattan. She spoke recently with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.

So you sing, huh?

When I first moved to New York, all I did was musical theater. That's what I studied at Carnegie Mellon University. At a certain point, I was getting typecast as just a singer, so I focused on acting. Now that's how I'm known.

Yes, you did "Julius Caesar" with Denzel Washington on Broadway. Not bad. I'll get to him in a minute. First . . . you grew up outside Pittsburgh?

In a funeral home.

Excuse me?

I grew up in a funeral home. Both my parents were morticians.

So you're used to corpses.

I feel right at home in the morgue. When they first offered me the part on "SVU," it was just for one episode. That was 13 years ago.

Are you recognized a lot now?

Yes. Mostly from "L & O," because the show is on all the time. A lot of people volunteer to be the dead body of the day. That's what I get mostly.

They wanna be the corpse?

Right . . . and I'm, like, really? It's so funny.

So . . . you act, sing, produce. I guess the big question is: What don't you do? Are you . . . a lousy cook?

No, I can cook. But my husband is a better cook . . . so he's the chef in the house. There was a time, actually, when I hadn't been singing, and I'd lost a lot of my ability. My range had shrunk. So . . . about three years ago, I said, "I need to get this back." So I got an extraordinary vocal coach, and by this time last year, my voice was strong, I was feeling good. We started looking at Cy Coleman music just for fun . . . and a few months later I was offered [to appear in] this Cy Coleman night at Jazz at Lincoln Center. That's like the universe saying, "Hello, I'm listening, and here's an opportunity." After that, I booked Feinstein's. It was intimidating. But I said yes. Saying yes forces me to move forward and make it happen.

Quite a positive outlook. I know you've had some karmic setbacks lately -- your former business manager pleaded guilty to stealing more than a million dollars from you.

Here's how I look at it: Life is full of challenges. Everybody has them. For some it's health, or family crises. I had a financial challenge. A big one. I was working three jobs at once and . . . he took advantage. I don't know if I'll ever have a run like that again. But life goes on. I have my health, my husband, my parents are still healthy . . . that's what matters.

Must've been nice to reunite with Denzel on this new film, "Flight."

When we did "Julius Caesar," the cast was tight-knit. We socialized together, and Denzel was part of that. So going down to do this movie with him was like, "Hey, bro, how you doin'? Together again . . . ." It was really wonderful.

He's a pilot . . . you're head flight attendant?

I play the flight leader on the doomed aircraft. The movie isn't really about a plane crash -- it's about a plane crash that sets other things in motion. It's a human frailty story. What do you do when you're looking into the abyss? Do you allow yourself to fall in or save yourself? Our characters have worked together and are friends and . . . it gets complicated. But I help save the plane! It was like being in my own little action movie. It was fantastic!

See? Once again, we get back to -- what don't you do, lady? So . . . if we fly somewhere together, you can land the plane?

If necessary. . . . If necessary . . .

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