The So-and-So Profiles shines a spotlight on the actress Chelsea Didier, a combination of acting, singing and dancing talent seeking to just make good art.
1. When, where and how did you decide to become an actress?
Most people have a defining moment. I didn’t have that. I’ve just always known. There was never a time I thought I’d be doing anything else.
I started off as a dancer when I was three years old. Dance then led me to a dance teacher by the name of Steven Lovelace. He started a dance company for young kids which I was a part of.
Then he started doing a summer theatre program. He suggested to my mom that I do it. I was only eight years old. I went out and I auditioned and it was all over.
Then as I started getting older, I just continually kept doing these summer theatre programs whenever I could. Dance was my thing to do during school and then as soon as it was summer, it was only theatre.
As I started getting older, I started taking weekend classes.
The only thing I ever wanted to do was perform. And that’s what it really came down to. It was something I couldn’t ever stop thinking about. When I wasn’t doing it, I wanted to be doing it or I wanted to be talking about another opportunity to be doing it. It was everything. When I wasn’t doing it, I was reading about it. I was reading memoirs. I was reading interviews with Laurence Olivier.
It just became everything.
2. Do you have a preferred style of dance?
I love dancing lyrical. It’s very feminine dancing but it’s not as structured as ballet. It’s just more free. That’s what it is.
My favorite style to perform is hip-hop. You get to be funky. That’s when I was able to express the most. I was most free. If I did that in the middle of a lyrical dance, people would probably frown upon that.
3. Where does your focus lie -- stage, film, TV or either?
I want to do film, [but] I never want to stop doing stage. It keeps you grounded as an actor. It keeps you very real, it keeps you humble and it makes you work harder than you’ve ever worked.
If the opportunity presents itself, I hope I can move to New York for six months and do an awesome play. That would be great for me. That’s my dream.
Movies made me feel so much more intensely than any other form of expression I’ve ever come across. I would re-watch Forrest Gump 17 times. It was about that for me, I wanted to notice all the little moments and re-watching it gives you a better clarity of the story and choices the directors are making.
You can create things in movies that you can’t create anywhere else. I love all of the different processes and how are we informing each decision by the next.
I was just obsessed with that whole world. It was never, ever about the fame for me. I was so inspired by people making such great art that made me think differently and view people differently or re-think a conversation I had with someone and go, “that’s what they meant.”
It kept me open. That’s the most beautiful thing about it.
4. What movie(s) makes you feel good, what movie(s) make you laugh, what movie(s) make you cry, what movie(s) expand your mind?
That’s so hard. Movies that make me laugh are movies like Wedding Crashers and Bridesmaids.
I’m a big fan of sarcasm. Vince Vaughn is the most sarcastic human being ever. If he’s a common denominator, I’ll probably like it.
I love Kristen Wiig. She’s someone I’ve really grown to look up to. She’s absolutely brilliant.
Any movie that’s daring, especially with comedy -- having Melissa McCarthy take a shit in a sink! It makes me happy that people aren’t scared or holding themselves to certain weird values. They’re making what makes them laugh. They’re just doing it. It’s just great.
Movies that make me think are probably my favorite types of movies. 50/50 was one of my favorite movies this year. It’s so good. It’s so well-acted. It stuck with me. There were so many moments that could have been overacted, overdone and overdramatic and stupid. It was real and that’s what I loved about it. I love anything that expresses real life.
I cry all the time. I never used to be a person like that but I’ve become this softie. Forrest Gump can still make me cry. I will cry out of happiness for a movie that is about not giving up hope and the strive to live or to succeed or to make it because at the end of the day I can relate to that. Those are all inspirational things to me.
50/50 moved me. A lot of movies have this effect on me; even movies that I don’t think are really meant to do this do -- like It’s Complicated.
5. What would this great play be that you envision yourself doing for six months in New York?
I’m always down with a musical.
I saw All My Sons a couple years back with John Lithgow, Patrick Wilson and Dianne Wiest (whom I love). The story was riveting,
I like some of the classics -- maybe not Shakespeare. I love Shakespeare but I’m not a Shakespearean actor. I can appreciate it, but I’m not going to go down that road. I would love to do some Chekov or Ibsen, newer plays -- plays that make me think.
6. What constitutes bad acting?
I know what it feels like when I’m bullshitting. We all do it. We all go there. Everybody has moments of bad acting. You’re not going to be awesome all the time.
If someone’s not really giving it with their eyes, they’re not there. You have to actually believe everything that you’re saying and you have to feed it to the audience with your eyes. You have to believe it to your core. There’s really no other way to go about it. You have to convince yourself. It’s so psychological, it’s crazy.
7. What for you is the importance of classes and seminars?
I feel most seminars in LA are bullshit, [but] I hear that there are some that are awesome.
They can be helpful. Sometimes in those rooms you’ll meet the right people. You never know. It’s all about being at the right place at the right time. It’s amazing how much of it is luck. You also have to be prepared and be ready at the right time.
There’s something to be said for them. Everybody needs training. I would not be half the actor that I am without training. Classes keep your skills sharpened in a constant way that will do nothing but propel you forward. A smart actor is an actor that never stops wanting to learn and improve their craft. You can never know everything.
8. What would you say to the naysayer who thinks they don’t need classes?
You absolutely need acting classes -- with the right teacher. It’s like yoga. Yoga with the wrong teacher is going to suck. Yoga with the right teacher is going to be awesome and give you absolutely what you need. You also have to click with them. – if someone’s going to be too intense or too strict, they’re going to scare you or it’s going to be too intimidating the learning process wont work.
[But] the teacher you’re paying money to is going to be a lot more forgiving than any casting director that you’re just walking into the room for. It’s really good to get your butterflies out in front of these teachers who are here to help you and want to see you succeed – for the most part. That’s why they’re there. That’s why they’re doing their job.
You just have to keep working toward your craft. It’s why I get up and try to do vocal exercises. Even though no one’s telling me to, even though I don’t have to get up at 9am for my voice class, I’m still trying to stay active -- even if it’s humming in the car.
If you are fully new to the table, you have a lot of work to do because there are a lot of people here that have been doing this for a long time and they know exactly what to do. They know every person in the room. There are people here who get auditions all the time. They know everybody because they’re always auditioning.
There are thousands of those actors in LA. You have to be prepared to compete with those people. I’m not even ready to compete with those people and I went to school for four years. That’s how I think of it.
If you want to be here, you have to make your presence known and come with a vengeance. You have to want to be here [and] work harder than you’ve ever worked.
Right place, right time, but you also have to be the right person at the right time.
9. Does the concept of self-taught apply to the craft of acting?
It can. For some people. There’s a few exceptions to everything I’ve just said. There are people who were just born to do this and they have inherently good timing and talent. They just have to prove themselves and they still have to work hard.
It’s when people think that it’s just going to happen that I get almost offended. They think that by moving here and just taking a class will be enough to make it happen. When I was at CalArts studying for my BFA in acting I took classes for 40-50 hours a week for four years and I still am taking classes and still learning. This is because I want this more than anything, I have since I was 7. I have real passion for this craft and its hard to think that someone that just woke up one day and decided to be an actor or to be famous, has the same passion as I do.
10. Where is the line between someone that doesn’t have IT and can never get IT versus someone that doesn’t have IT but can develop IT?
It’s up to the viewer. Some people are going to think you’re awesome and some people are going to think you suck. At the end of the day, that’s true.
I’m an actor but I can’t sit here and say that person definitely can do it and that person can’t. Who am I to say that? That isn’t even my place. I’ve seen what it looks like when it happens and it’s very different from when it doesn’t happen.
11. How do you describe your style of acting?
Rooted but off the cuff.
I like to be truthful and present but if I think of something in the moment, I’m not one of those actors going over my script and be like, “Definitely here, I’m going to turn my head.”
There are actors that are like that. They feel like they need to be choreographed to a tee. Part of me wishes I could be like that but that’s not where acting lives in me and it’s different for everyone. I like the spontaneity of it. It’s that much more truthful and it makes my brain get that much more rooted into the character.
It doesn’t mean I’m not going to rehearse, doesn’t mean I’m not going to do research.
12. What role has been your favorite to play and why?
I was able to play Gunhild in John Gabriel Borkman. She’s supposed to be this haggard, tormented woman that’s very lonely and she’s angry. I was given this part and I loved it.
I like playing people that are nothing like me. The farther away from me you are, the more I want to play you. I want to be shook by what I’m doing. I want to be riveting -- for the audience, but also for me.
In that respect, that’s why I love Rooney Mara right now. When you see her in interviews, she’s like [soft spoken], “I’m just really happy to be here.” And in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, she’s like, “RAWR!”
That’s what I love. That’s what it should be all about -- surprising people. Making them forget you are who you are.
13. Would you like to win an Emmy, Oscar, Tony, Grammy, all or doesn’t matter?
Oscar and Tony.
All, if we’re being real about it.
Any amount of recognition is great but that’s not why I’m doing it. It’s a plus.
Getting paid is a plus right now.
14. What would you say in your acceptance speech and who would you thank?
I would thank my family. I would thank Steven Lovelace, who was the one who taught me how to dance. He’s still in my life. He’s still like my pseudo-father. He showed me theatre. He showed me dance. He showed me performing. I owe him a lot. I’m indebted to him forever.
There are also so many people in the wonderful community of Santa Barbara. It’s a small community. Everybody who does theatre knows each other. There are so many teachers and so many friends that have endlessly supported me and done whatever they could to help me out.
I feel incredibly indebted to a lot of people.
15. What is going to keep you from giving up?
I’ve literally wanted to do this since I can remember.
If I give up on it, it’s like giving up on myself and I can’t do that. At the end of the day, when you don’t feel that there’s all the support in the world for you, you have to be your own support.
I belief in myself. There’s this new quote I saw the other day. It’s actually in a painting but I loved it. It was, “She believed she could, so she did.”
I’m going to work hard. And make good art.
16. What has been your greatest acting experience?
The best time I’ve ever had doing theatre was creating my own work – the hardest and most painful but also the most rewarding.
My favorite acting experience is still, and I have half a mind not to say this, playing the Scarecrow in The Wiz when I was eleven. It was so fun.
I should have something better to talk about, but that is my best acting experience. That was the first role that I really loved. I got the most lines and I was totally somebody else. I basically was Michael Jackson and that was awesome.
17. If a production was casting for a "Chelsea Didier" type, what would they be looking for?
That’s one of the best things about me. I have a lot of different types. I can play Sarah for days – girl next door, sweet, innocent, loving, maybe a little quirky. Maybe the best friend. I can do all of that.
Let me just lay it out his way. It’s the easiest way to describe it. I’m having new headshots taken. There’s three different works that I’m encompassing:
1. We’re going to do sexy secretary – Law & Order/CSI bitch.
2. We’re going to do bad ass bitch – True Bloodesque, Walking Deadesque, Dexteresque, kick some ass. Maybe a little edgier, harder.
3. We’re also going to more funny, quirky, girl next door, sweetheart. Maybe a little sassy.
18. Who are your professional inspirations?
Rooney Mara because I can’t stop thinking about her. That movie (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is ingrained in my head.
Meryl Streep. Kate Winslet. David Fincher. Brad Pitt. Natalie Portman. I love Tina Fey. And Kristin Wiig. Charlize Theron. I have much respect for Dianne Wiest.
Viola Davis. If you’re a great stage actress and you transfer into film, I have nothing but respect for you. That is not only one of the harder things to do, but it also means that you’ve paid your dues more than anyone else. There’s nothing like being a stage actor. Things do not fly in the theatre that fly on films. It’s a whole different caliber of actor. You’re dealing with people that are very well trained, take it very seriously. It’s a craft. It’s not just something to do. It’s art.
Viola Davis hasn’t been given the opportunities that Meryl has but I feel like she’s the same caliber of actress. She’s absolutely tremendous. I want to see more from her. It’s sad that she’s not given more. It’s because she’s a powerful black woman and there are not enough roles like that out there.
I’m a big fan of Anthony Hopkins.
I want to be Lucille Ball – absolutely. She’s been one of my heroes my whole life. That woman. Vitameatavegamin is my favorite episode.
19. How do you react when you tell people you’re an actress and the first thing they say is, “What restaurant do you work at?”
When I moved here I was embarrassed to tell people I was an actor. You tell someone you’re an actor in this town and all they do is smile or they do a little giggle to themselves. It got to be degrading a little bit.
I am an actor but I’m happy about it. I’ve learned to have pride in it. I have something different and special to offer.
For more information on Chelsea Didier, check out her website at www.chelseadidier.com.
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