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‘Mindhunter’ actor and wife find Pittsburgh a good fit; plan to stay

March 21, 2018 GMT

Add actor Cotter Smith and his wife — and fellow thespian — Heidi Mueller Smith to the list of people beguiled by the ’Burgh.

The couple stayed in an Airbnb rental in Pittsburgh’s East End for about eight months in 2016, while Cotter Smith filmed the first season of the Netflix crime drama “Mindhunter,” in which he plays Unit Chief Shepard.

“We fell in love and decided to stay,” says Cotter, who’s also had roles in movies like “The Post” and “X-Men 2” and recurring guest spots on “The Americans” on FX and ABC’s “Revolution.” The second season of “Mindhunter” will begin filming soon.

Since relocating last year from New York City, they’ve immersed themselves in local life, both personally and professionally. On March 3 and 4, they’ll meld the two by performing A.R. Gurney’s Pulitzer Prize-finalist play “Love Letters” at their new church home, the Unitarian Universalist Church of the South Hills in Mt. Lebanon.

The two-person play depicts a man and woman, childhood friends and once sweethearts, as they sit side by side, reading correspondence they’ve shared over 50 years as they’ve gone about their separate lives.

The Smiths’ performance is part of Sunnyhill Live!, a church initiative designed to bring diverse, high-quality cultural arts programming to the South Hills, according to co-coordinator Jane Elliott.

And having the Smiths is quite a coup, she says.

“They’re really wonderful people, and we’re so fortunate to have them,” Elliott says. “They’ll even stay after the performances to answer questions from the audience.”

“It’s a wonderful play and very popular with audiences,” Cotter says. “It’s beautifully written and more complicated than it would seem.”

A good fit

“Love Letters” is a good fit for the Smiths too, Heidi says, since email correspondence played a big part in their courtship.

She first became aware of Cotter while watching “Equal Justice,” an early-’90s television show in which he appeared alongside her stepfather, George DiCenzo. She admits she developed a little crush on him back then but, since she was married and a new mother, she decided it was a good idea to stop watching the show.

It was DiCenzo who put them in touch about 10 years later, when both were divorced.

“Our personal connection to the play is that we met by writing,” Heidi says. “In a completely old-fashioned way, we got to know each other through letters.”

When they got together, their careers took them to compass points across the country, including a stint during which Cotter split his time between Los Angeles and Heidi’s native Milwaukee.

“We say he moved to Milwaukee for me, I moved to New York for him, and we moved to Pittsburgh together,” she says.

Settled in

Heidi says she never felt like the Big Apple was a good fit for her, but Pittsburgh is.

When they returned, they settled back into the East End.

“It’s either Regent Square or Swissvale — no one can tell us quite where we are,” Cotter says.

What drew them back were all those things that have put Pittsburgh on so many “top” lists in recent years.

“There’s the culture, nature, great education, a great medical community,” Cotter says. “We’re near (Frick Park).”

In addition to being a theatrical actress and director, Heidi is a nurse who works part time in an allergy clinic in Mt. Lebanon.

Cotter recently did “Rule of Seconds” at the Barebones Black Box Theater in Braddock and will be teaching an acting workshop at Carnegie Mellon University.

And they’ve been welcomed into their chosen faith community.

“We went to them with the idea of doing the play as a way to give back,” Cotter says. “We spent a lot of time looking for the right church. (The pastor) Jim Magaw is a wonderful person. We have to travel a good bit to get there, but it’s worth it.”

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5750, smcmarlin@tribweb.com or via Twitter @shirley_trib.