Who could have thought that simply singing “Happy Birthday” in a Florida playground would land Robin Ignico the role of a lifetime? But that’s exactly what happened to the actress, who went on to star as Duffy in the 1982 movie, Annie. We spoke with Robin about being in the iconic movie, her life after Annie, and why it’s good to be a boss babe.
How did you become involved with the movie Annie?
I was 10 years-old and I was playing in a playground in Clearwater, Florida. A casting director for Annie came up to me and asked, “Will you sing Happy Birthday for me?” I sang for him and he said, “I’m flying you to California.”
What did your mom think of a strange man approaching you and asking you to sing?
Back then, times were different. We didn’t have the craziness then like we do today. It was a small town, and everyone was nice to each other.
We didn’t hear anything for three weeks, and then he sent a limo to take me and my mom to the airport to fly to California.
You were one of the three finalists for the role of Annie. It was between you, Aileen and Angela Lee.
Yes, it was down to the three of us. They cast Aileen as Annie, and I was originally cast as July. Two months into the filming, they switched my part with Lucie Stewart, and I became Duffy and she was July.
Were you disappointed that you didn’t get the title role?
Not really. I didn’t have the singing or dancing experience like the other girls had. I had never taken singing or dancing lessons. Also, I didn’t go on a lot of auditions and callbacks like some of them had. I was just a hometown girl with dirty feet on a playground. So, it only hurt for about five minutes, and then I got over it.
What was it like filming Annie?
Wow. It was like going to an amusement park every day. We played together; we ran around Columbia Pictures Studio when we were filming in LA. In New York, we had a great time, too. We went sightseeing. It was amazing.
And when the movie premiered?
It was a lot of fun. The big premiere was at Mann’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. I was filming another movie so I didn’t go to the premiere; my sister went in my place. I was filming Don’t Go To Sleep, where I played a girl who killed her entire family.
That’s a slight departure from Duffy.
Oh, yeah. I wore a straight jacket and everything!
It’s like you were trying to be an orphan again, but this time in a much more homicidal kind of way.
Unlike some of the other orphan actresses, you went on to do a lot of work after Annie.
I did a lot of Trapper John, M.D. episodes and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers with River Phoenix. He was my boyfriend in the series. We filmed in California in a location so remote that we had to take a plane to get there. River and I used to play down by the river. He was a real boy’s boy. He would play tricks on me all the time; he was a really nice guy.
And now what are you doing?
I decided that I wanted to go back to school and get my business degree. Now I’m in property management. I manage 60 buildings both in New York and L.A., both commercial and residential. It’s busy work; I don’t even have time to breathe!
Do you miss acting?
If anything came up again, I’d do it. I’m not actively pursuing it. I’ve been doing my job for 24 years now. It’s great when you’re the boss! [laughs]. But acting is a numbers game. Out of every 100 auditions you go on, you might get a part. You have to survive, and get a real job. The reality is that not everyone is going to keep going on and on in this business. I wanted to have a real career and a real life. I have three beautiful nieces and a nephew; they are my babies. I would love to get them into acting and be their manager.
Then, technically, you’d be an Aunt-ager…
Yes! I want to make them into stars. As for me, we’ll see what happens. I’m happy where I am right now. I’m still a country girl at heart.