Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Climbing the ladder: Teen actress finds success in Hollywood

Mandalynn Carlson got a foothold in acting when the film industry was booming in Michigan, and she’s continued to make a name for herself in the City of Angels.

The 15-year-old Taylor native has an impressive list of projects to her credit, and work isn’t slowing down for the fresh-faced teen, who’s lived in Los Angeles for the past three years.

Now living in Los Angeles, she and her mother, Sherri, recently returned to Taylor for about a month to visit family and take care of the house they still own in the city.

Mandalynn’s TV credits include appearances on “CSI: New York” and the ABC drama “Scandal” in which she played the daughter of Lisa Eddleston (“House”) and had a major scene with the show’s star, Kerry Washington.

“‘Scandal’ was awesome and probably my favorite TV show that I’ve done,” she said. “Kerry was so nice. Seeing her go into her character before we started filming was astonishing.

“I hadn’t been on the lot of a bigger set before that. I liked that she talked to the crew. I’ve been on some sets where the bigger actors don’t do that. Without the crew, there wouldn’t be a movie and they don’t really get the credit.”

Mandalynn even had her own hashtag — #hamandpineapple — created from the episode.

“We started off the scene arguing about pizza,” she said. “I wanted ham and pineapple.”

On the big screen, she’s appeared in “Machine Gun Preacher,” with Gerard Butler, and two films with Dean Cain — “Holiday Miracle,” which is due out on DVD during the 2014 holiday season, and “A Horse for Summer,” which also stars Christopher Atkins and will be released in Walmart stores in December.

A starring turn came in the thriller “The Dead Kid,” a film based on a short story by Gillian King.

Set during the 1980 child murders in Atlanta, the movie tells the haunting tale of the torment of a young boy and his subsequent disappearance, as witnessed by a young girl, Annie Baxter (Mandalynn’s role).

The project holds a special place in Mandalynn’s heart as it deals with bullying, a problem she’s faced firsthand.

The teen actress’ hazel eyes flash as she smoothes her auburn hair from her face, talking earnestly about her craft and what separates her from many of the “Disney” teen actors of today.

“I’m more of a serious person, which is different from a lot of kids out there,” she said. “I’ve been trained to be a movie star and that’s what I watch. I don’t watch Disney, but Disney is great — it launches a lot of people’s careers.”

Rather than being bubbly and bouncy, Mandalynn takes a more mature approach to the craft.

“My coaches and directors say I have this quality of stillness when I’m acting, where I just connect and suck you in,” she said. “They compare me to George Clooney a lot, which is amazing. I’ll take it!”

She cites Sandra Bullock as her acting inspiration and admires Mark Wahlberg for his directing and producing success.

Growing up in Taylor, Mandalynn was a performer from a young age, making up commercials and putting on “one-girl” plays for her parents on a basement stage at their house.

She began acting at age 2 and working in the craft professionally at 10 when she landed her first supporting role in a major feature film in 2011’s “Machine Gun Preacher,” starring Gerard Butler.

“When I landed that I thought, ‘Hey, I could do this for the rest of my life,’” she said.

An only child, Mandalynn was named by her father, Eric, a chef who named her after one of his favorite cooking instruments, a mandolin.

Her parents owned a film catering company. Being on set with them and meeting actors felt natural to Mandalynn at an early age.

“I was bullied in school, but these adults just accepted me,” she said. “I didn’t have to try and be someone else, which I loved. That’s when I got really serious about it.”

The actress credits Nancy Criss of Nandar Entertainment with much of her success.

“She brought me into a movie with Dean Cain … and when she did her next project, she invited me to come on,” she said.

The director/producer also helped the budding actress learn another aspect of the entertainment business.

“I brought up that I’d like to go into directing and she let me shadow directors and producers,” she said. “By the end of the month, I knew everybody’s job. She’s also going on to do more TV shows and has brought me onto two so far.”

One of those is a recurring guest role on “The Sparrows,” an hourlong family drama slated for Fox affiliate stations in October; the other is a series lead in a half-hour family comedy called “Fishes ‘n Loaves” now in development.

“It’s about a pastor and his family that go from a big-time church to a small rural church,” she said. “It’s kind of like ‘Green Acres’ wackiness.”

While age-appropriate parts for teen actresses might be difficult to come by, Criss is doing her part to make that easier.

“Her goal is to make family friendly content — movies as well as television shows,” Sherri Carlson said.

And finding suitable roles isn’t the only trial of being a young actress.

“There are less younger people trying to make it, but also the problem of getting people to take you seriously, especially when you’re trying to do drama,” she said.

“There aren’t a lot of young kid roles in serious drama, and when they do those, they go with big names or adults to play them.”

Mandalynn’s other projects include “A Christmas Promise,” starring Patrick Muldoon and Dominique Swain, coming out on cable during the holidays, and the feature film “Deadly Sanctuary,” with Daniel Baldwin.”

After a two-month search for a young star, she was cast as the series lead alongside co-star Ellie Kemper (“Bridesmaids,” “The Office”) in an NBC comedy called “Brenda Forever.” Ultimately the network decided not to pick up the pilot.

That kind of disappointment is something that you have to get used to in the business, she said.

“You really have to understand that there’s a lot of rejection,” she said. “You need a strong support system and can’t take it personally. A lot of times it comes down to things like who’s older or who matches the father better.

“If you love it, you love it, though. Don’t give up. I was out there for a year just training before I even auditioned because I wanted to make sure to be the best of the best.

“When you’re out in L.A., everybody is giving 100 percent so you have to give 200 percent.”

Mandalynn is homeschooled, which frees up her schedule for auditions, and she’s already starting college.

Her parents help keep her grounded and grateful for her success.

“My husband and I work really hard to help her not take it for granted,” Sherri said. “It’s a gift, and you have to treat it that way because it can be taken away so fast.”

As her career grows, Mandalynn hopes to focus on films with deeper meanings that leave lasting impressions on viewers.

“If I could be choosy, I’d like to do movies that leave you thinking about them after dinner or if you’re on a date afterwards you want to talk about what you saw,” she said.

One of her favorite recent films, “The Way Back,” is an example of that.

“I’ve been talking about it for months,” she said. “I want to do movies like that — ones that you watch over and over and always find something new.”

She’s on her way to that goal, having been nominated twice for Young Artist Awards in the “Best Performance in a TV Series — Guest Starring Young Actress” category for her turns on “Scandal” and “CSI: New York.”

Her film “A Horse for Summer” also earned the audience choice award at the 2014 Gwinnett Center International Film Festival.

Aside from film and TV work, she has done stand-up comedy five times at the famous Hollywood Improv and hosts a teen Internet radio show called “Beyond the Spotlight” with her co-host Sam Lant.

“It’s all teen run — even the sound engineer is a teenager,” she said. “We come at it from a teen point of view … and interview people in the entertainment business that teens would want to know.”

When she’s not behind the mic or in front of a camera, her interests range from reading and hiking to geocaching and putting together puzzles.

But acting is where her true passion lies, and that’s evident as she talks about her lofty aspirations.

“Ultimately, I want to win an Oscar … and then win another and another until I die,” she said.

Visit to keep up with her career.

Written by Andrea Blum for Reprinted with permission.

No comments:

Post a Comment