Amanda Fuller Q&A

Portrait by Benny Haddad

After years of appearing in guest roles on TV shows like Malcolm in the Middle, CSI and, most notably, Grey’s Anatomy (as intern Morgan Peterson), last fall Amanda Fuller landed her biggest gig yet as Tim Allen’s daughter on ABC's Last Man Standing. The Sacramento native talks about her full-circle moment with the Home Improvement star, making her acting debut at age 3, and having pickles and ice cream cravings at Leatherby’s. 

Last Man Standing is only in its second season. For those who haven’t discovered the series yet, what’s it about?

It’s Tim Allen’s show, and he plays the marketing director of a big sporting [goods] store called Outdoor Man and he’s married to a wonderful [woman], who’s played by Nancy Travis, and they have three daughters. I play the oldest daughter and it’s about his life living with [these] women. My character is more liberal and he’s more conservative, so we’re always up against each other. So there’s a nice balance of yin and yang.

And this season, we’re doing a lot to up the ante and make things more interesting with more real issues and stuff that families can connect to. We have a new showrunner, Tim Doyle, and his goal is to make this like All in the Family back in the day when we weren’t afraid to talk about things that were uncomfortable and when the entertainment world wasn’t just an escape. So Tim came in with this conscious intent and we’re running with it. We have episodes about bullying and racial issues.

Hopefully we’re gaining a bigger audience than the show had before because it’s more current and more relevant. It’s a sitcom, so we’re of course telling jokes all the time, too, but at least we’re rooting it to something deeper, which is really exciting.

Another actress played your character Kristin originally. Is there also a difference between the first and second seasons for your character?

Yeah, I think so. She’s a little more outspoken and her sense of humor is a little drier. She’s maybe more hard-edged and not so sweet. She got pregnant at 17, had her baby and had to drop out [of high school]. Now [her son] is 5 years old, she works in a diner and she’s trying to build something for herself so she doesn’t have to rely as heavily on her parents for support. They wanted someone to bring more conflict to the show and raise the drama a little bit.

Then it looks like they’ve got the right girl, since your background is mainly in drama. For example, you had a high-profile recurring role in Grey’s Anatomy last season [as Dr. Morgan Peterson, Dr. Alex Karev’s intern whose premature baby struggled to survive].

That was definitely a dream come true for me because I was addicted to the show. I’d watched all the seasons from day one. My boyfriend at the time and his sister and I would have Grey’s Anatomy nights—we would cook food and watch it together.

It’s interesting because it’s been a long time since I’ve done a sitcom, but it kind of feels like home for me because I grew up doing [guest spots on] sitcoms like That ’70s Show. I tend to go to the dark side pretty [easily], so it’s nice to also be reminded of the lighter side of things. I think it’s good for me to be pulled out of that and into an environment where I can just play. I’m really enjoying the opportunity to [return] to my roots.

Were you a big fan of Tim Allen before the show?Amanda Fuller plays Kristin, the oldest daughter of Mike Baxter (played by Tim Allen) on the sitcom Last Man Standing, which airs Friday nights on ABC. (Photo by Carin Baer/ABC)

I was. It’s funny because when I was a kid, I used to hang out on the set of Home Improvement. I had a manager who also managed Taran [Noah Smith], who played the youngest kid. So I would come to tape night. Talk about a full-circle moment. And my brother [Jeff], who is a first A.D. [assistant director], actually met his wife on the set of Santa Clause III [when they were both production assistants for the film]. He got married last August, which is the month I started shooting [the second season of Last Man Standing], so it was surreal. So I had always loved Tim and been aware of him from a really young age.

What’s he like to work with?

He’s incredibly down to earth and normal. He’s also a comedian, so he’s hilarious and always telling stories and coming up with new material. And he’s a total guy. He’s not like the sweetest person to be around—he’s constantly screaming. Not in an angry way, but just in a humorous way. I have three older brothers and I grew up around that kind of high energy, so it’s fun.

You and your high-energy brothers grew up in Sacramento, right?

Yeah. We lived in Greenhaven in the earlier years and [moved to Elk Grove] when I was about 6 or 7. I went to Holy Spirit [school] in Land Park. It’s right across from the zoo, so I’d go to school and hear animal sounds. Every memory is pleasant. I have nothing negative. I remember going to Vic’s Ice Cream with my grandma. She also took me to dance classes and the Mother Goose consignment shop—she’d pick me out something. My parents owned a children’s furniture store called My Kid’s Room [on Florin Road] that’s no longer there. Some of my first work in front of the camera were the print ads for the store. My friends and I would get on the bunk beds when I was like 3 or 4 and we would be in the newspaper ads and stuff.

Is that what got you interested in acting?

I was kind of born with the bug. I don’t know if it was because I had older brothers and I was trying to entertain them or what, but ever since I could remember, I was begging [my parents] to get me on the stage. I was a ham. It helped having people like Ron Cisneros [director of Cisneros Studio of Dance in West Sacramento] to take dance and musical theater [lessons] from. He runs a very popular [children’s] theater program and I remember marching up to him when I was 3, and I was like, “I know you’re supposed to be 4, but I want to be in this play.” And he let me do the part—one of Annie [Oakley’s] little siblings in Annie Get Your Gun—because I was so bold and kind of demanded it. I also did Peter Pan. I was one of the Lost Boys. I did The Nutcracker with the Sacramento Ballet. Anything you could do up here, I definitely took advantage of. Then I moved down [to L.A.] when I was 11 so I could get more [acting] work.

Do you still have family up here?

Yeah, my parents lived down [in L.A.] with me for years, but then six months ago, they moved back up to be closer to my grandma. They live outside of Sacramento, near Jackson. And my brother Matt lives up there. I visit at least a couple of times a year, but I’ll be visiting more often now that my parents moved back. I look forward to anytime that I can go to Leatherby’s with my family and just chill. Every time I go, I have a different combination of ice cream. It’s a fun place to be adventurous. And you know what? I know they’re not known for this, but the pickles on their sandwich plates—they’re very basic, but sweet, and for the longest time, they were the only pickles I liked. I wouldn’t eat them anywhere else. So that’s the one thing I always have to have.

I also love to visit my school, like I’ll always go back to Holy Spirit and walk around, and Downtown Plaza and Arden Fair mall, all of those kind of landmarks that maybe aren’t so exciting [to someone else], but for me are reminders of where I came from. Everything there [in Sacramento] always brings back good memories and I really cherish that. Home is where the heart is, and my heart was there, so that’s where it will always be.  S