‘‘I was looking for authentic tough girls,’’ recalled Peri, owner of Boston Casting Inc.
‘‘You look like you should be selling lemonade,’’ she told one, who was escorted out of the room that day last spring.
‘‘You don’t scare me,’’ she told another.
When Peri, who has been working in the film industry for more than two decades, set her critical eye on Erica McDermott, a 36-year-old Scituate mother of two cherub-like daughters on her very first movie audition, Peri thought, ‘‘Too pretty.’’
Until McDermott opened her mouth.
‘‘You better give me a part in your [expletive] movie,’’ said McDermott, who swears that her children have never heard her swear.
‘‘You’re in,’’ Peri told McDermott.
A month later, after two more days of ‘‘auditioning her tail off,’’ McDermott (in green top, below) was cast as one of Mark Wahlberg’s sisters in ‘‘The Fighter,’’ a film about Lowell boxer ‘‘Irish’’ Micky Ward that is already generating Oscar buzz.
Many women balance work and motherhood. Many women launch new careers once their kids are in school. But by seriously pursuing acting, McDermott has re-launched herself.
‘‘I feel like Stella’s got her groove back,’’ the brown-haired, blue-eyed woman said in a recent interview.
But as the registered nurse tries to leverage a lucky break into steady work, she faces a variety of challenges: her age, her lack of an agent, her residency in Massachusetts, and competing commitments that would press on any working mother.
Though McDermott had acted in some school plays while growing up in Somerville and Quincy, she shied away from performing until she teamed up with a group of ‘‘funny moms’’ for an October 2008 staging of ‘‘The MOMologues’’ in a fund-raiser for Scituate’s public schools.
The show sold out, McDermott was a hit, and, telling only her husband and her mother because she ‘‘didn’t want anyone to think I lived in a pipe dream,’’ she started taking free acting classes through the nonprofit Rock Educational Cooperative and Plymouth Rock Studios last February.
By June, she had her part in ‘‘The Fighter,’’ which also features Christian Bale. Since then, she landed a small role in ‘‘Knight & Day,’’ a film with Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise that had scenes shot in and around Boston, as well as parts in commercials.
‘‘Some people take sewing. I took acting,’’ she said.
McDermott, a 1995 graduate of Salem State College, said she feels it’s important for her daughters to see her working to improve herself — she makes sure her nursing licenses are up to date and continues to take acting classes.
‘‘I do believe that my kids are proud of me,’’ she said.
But 7-year-old Maisy (below, right, with her sister, Kate), when asked what she thinks of her mother’s acting, took a break from singing along with the Chipmunks to express some mixed feelings.
‘‘I think it’s really cool, but I miss you when you’re gone,’’ she said, looking at her mom.
‘‘I miss you, too,’’ McDermott replied.
McDermott is past the age that Peri says actors are most likely to make a name for themselves. But McDermott laughs that concern off.
‘‘I like to say I’m 30 with six years experience,’’ she said.
Since she has no agent, McDermott needs to learn to promote herself, industry professionals said.
‘‘She’s got to be her own agent,’’ said Kevin Lasit, her acting teacher at Plymouth Rock Studios, who has been acting and directing for 20 years.
The lack of opportunities for actors has Peri advising the most talented ones to head for Los Angeles or New York City. ‘‘Don’t waste this time here,’’ she tells them.
But McDermott and her husband, Bob, say they’re committed to staying in Scituate for now. McDermott, who is also a coach for her daughters’ cheerleading squad, said the most rewarding part of being a mother is helping her girls carve out their own identities. But in doing so, she lost her own. Acting changed that.
‘‘I felt like I was an individual again,’’ said McDermott.
And her husband and parents, who often take care of the girls so Erica can race to auditions, say they’re happy to help.
‘‘It’s an experience we all go through together,’’ said Bob McDermott, a senior vice president at Putnam Investments, who said he felt like he’d ‘‘had 18 iced coffees’’ when he learned his wife would be in a major motion picture.
‘‘People are genuinely happy for her,’’ he said.
Her story is also a source of hope for actors scraping by in Massachusetts, said Lasit. McDermott’s ‘‘peers in her class were so inspired by her because when they look at Erica, they say, ‘That could be me. It happened to her, it can happen to me,’’’ the acting teacher said.
Lisa Rafferty, a Scituate writer and director who coauthored ‘‘The MOMologues,’’ agrees. ‘‘It’s the ‘that could be me’ thing that’s very powerful,’’ she said.
But McDermott is trying not to get people’s hopes up. She doesn’t know how much time she’ll actually be on screen in her movie roles until the films are released. ‘‘You don’t know what happens in the editing room,’’ she said. McDermott doesn’t even know whether she would be invited to awards ceremonies.
For now, she will keep auditioning for parts, but says that even if she never gets another acting role, she will consider herself lucky: ‘‘I’m the type of person that makes the best of what you’ve got.’’
Erica McDermott will join nine of her neighbors in a benefit performance of ‘‘The Best of the MOMologues’’ at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Scituate High School, a fund-raising event for the Scituate Education Alliance. Tickets are $21.