BABE #35: SHANLEY CASWELL,
Actor @ SAG-AFTRA
I've looked up to Shanley since we were 12 year-old pals at the Sarasota Players Theatre summer camp back home. She eventually moved out to LA, finished high school online and attended UCLA all while pursuing her acting career. Now she's in the big leagues doing pretty cool things (you might recognize her from handfuls of appearances and roles including The Conjuring, Detention, or even this episode of Punk'd.) The thing I admire most about Shanley is that she has humbly stayed true to herself through it all, and I can't wait to see where she goes next. Thanks for taking the time to be here, lady. You are a complete + total babe.
Hometown: Sarasota, FL
Current city: Los Angeles, CA
Alma mater: UCLA
Degree: B.A. in Anthropology
Hustle: Actor (SAG/AFTRA)
Babe you admire and why?
My mom. She is wise, compassionate, and brave in the face of adversity. She has worked hard her whole adult life to make sure that artists in our local community are appreciated and taken care of. She also fought to keep arts in schools; something that I think is so important for young minds. Having parents who support me in my career and who understand the lifestyle has been very comforting.
How do you spend your free time?
Outside! In California there are so many amazing hiking and backpacking trails, national parks, and adventurous things to do. Getting out is also a great way to get some perspective.
Favorite beauty item?
I love sheet masks. They make your face feel so soft, and they're really fun to scare your neighbors with.
Biggest pet peeve?
I N T E R R U P T I N G, talking while chewing food, mansplaining.
Favorite social media account to follow?
@JedidiahJenkins on Instagram. He writes the most thoughtful and profound posts about his daily life. They always make you stop and think about how you view the world.
Tell us about your hustle:
I'm an actor, so my life is either working insanely hard and long hours for months on end, or auditioning and taking classes when I'm not working. You can never learn too much as an actor (or an artist for that matter) and there is always room for growth. That's why when I’m not working, I’m studying.
What does your typical workday look like?
To be honest, there really is no "typical" work day in this industry. One day I could be going from audition to audition, changing clothes in my car and memorizing sides while sitting in traffic. Another I could be working a 15-hour day on a soundstage, and another I could be doing a night shoot from 7pm to 7am, in the middle of nowhere in Louisiana, covered in blood. It's so wacky and bizarre and unpredictable and I love it that way.
When did you first get into acting, and how soon did you know you would pursue it as a career?
My family was (and still is) very involved in my hometown theater community. So naturally I became a part of that as well. Then I did my first professional play in middle school and got paid for it (which I thought was crazy; they were PAYING me to do it? I would've paid them!) Then I got an agent, and after that I came out to LA for a summer in high school just to try it out for fun. Cut to ten years later, and I'm still here. I don't think I ever consciously made the decision that this was what I wanted to do as my career for the rest of my life; it just sort of progressed naturally. And I'm happy to be where I am today because of that.
How old were you when you moved to LA? What was that process like?
I was 15. Like I said earlier, it was originally just for fun. My mom and I drove across the country for the summer just to see what would happen. I was scared, excited, crazy and so thankful for the opportunity to even have a shot at my dream. I was so carefree back then, just doing what I loved to do every day.
Did you have the support you needed to adjust your school schedule?
Yes. I got my GED when I was 16 and then started taking classes at a local community college because the hours were more flexible and therefore better for most shooting schedules (night classes, online classes etc.). Luckily my parents understood that that was what I needed to work and go to school at the same time. They were always so supportive of me despite my numerous panic attacks and frenzied phone calls to them. I think I doubted myself more than anyone else, but luckily I was surrounded by so many supportive people and that's what ultimately gave me the reassurance that I was doing the right thing.
How did you balance college while continuing to pursue your career?
Lots of coffee, hard work, no sleep, and no social life - but it was worth it. I absolutely don't regret going to school or making it a priority in my life. I learned about the world, history, and different cultures. It made me kinder, more open minded, and grounded. I wasn't studying exactly the field I'm working in now, but in a lot of ways studying Anthropology has actually helped me as an artist and an actor.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering foregoing college and wants to jump into a career in the arts?
You can do both. It doesn't hurt to learn more, it only helps you grow. And if you're worried about the time, money, and effort that goes into going to school, I can tell you from personal experience that if you work really hard, you can make it happen.
Can you give a quick rundown on the acting jobs you’ve worked so far?
I've done projects ranging from big studio films to small quirky indies to numerous television gigs. My favorite projects to work on are small independent, well-written passion projects.
What are some of your favorite films and actors?
Girl, Interrupted. Fight Club. Pirates of the Caribbean, Natalie Portman.
What is your advice for someone who is in the beginning of his or her audition phase?
Play! It's so easy to get caught up in the fear of rejection or not getting the job, that sometimes we forget that what we're doing is supposed to be fun! And when you think about your audition as a chance to do what you love, it helps to lessen the nerves a bit.
Do you think your gender or ethnicity has had a large effect on your career? Why or why not?
Well, it's well-known that being a woman in this industry is difficult. We get paid less, and are still trying to get people to take us seriously. I've only recently been confident enough to stand my ground up against a director and make my opinion heard. People aren't used to that coming from a young woman. Not sure if it has had any large effect on my career as a whole thus far, but I'm definitely starting to feel a bigger effect as I get older.
What are your favorite genres to watch/act in?
I'm not particularly drawn to a certain genre as much as I am a character within the story. I love multidimensional, real, raw women. Those are the most fascinating and enjoyable roles for me to dig into.
Would you ever consider going back to theater?
Absolutely! I love theater. The energy, connection, and passion in theater are rarely seen on sets. I miss it.
What are some common misconceptions or stereotypes about the industry that you think should be addressed?
That all actors are vain and dumb. I had the same misconception when I first started working in the industry. And don't get me wrong, there are a lot of bad apples, but for the most part many actors that I have met are so emotionally intelligent and open-minded. They are compassionate, giving, intuitive, and vulnerable. Not superficial.
What is your favorite character that you’ve played so far?
I played a character called Riley Jones in a movie called Detention who was really fun to play. It was a quirky, dark comedy and she was the unconventional heroine. I think it was fascinating for me because there were so many different emotions I got to explore with her. There was a deep insecurity and not feeling like she was good enough, as well as terror, heartache, and triumph.
What have some of your favorite opportunities been in your career so far?
I get to travel to some great places for work. New York, New Orleans, North Carolina, etc. I always love getting to know the people and the culture of new places, and it's always nice to get out of LA sometimes; it can get suffocating here.
What is one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your work? How'd did you overcome it?
Dealing with rejection properly. It takes some thick skin to handle it on a daily basis. I think I've just forced myself to become confident and comfortable with my work and myself. If you aren't, the rejection and opposition can break you. As I've gotten older in this industry I've realized that I am who I am, and if they don't like it, fuck it. On to the next one.
How do you stay motivated?
Great movies and TV shows. When I see one that really inspires me, that's what keeps me excited.
How do you find a work-life balance?
Still working on figuring that out haha. When you're on a set it can be all-consuming because you work so many hours, go home, eat, sleep, then wake up and do it all over again. You're interacting with the same people for 15 hours or more a day, five or six days a week. Forcing myself to have some alone time helps, though.
How do you manage stress?
Driving away from LA, which is a form of escapism I guess. Whenever I leave what's familiar and really focus on what's around me instead, I find all of my problems or stressors become insignificant. Laughter is also the best medicine. I try not to take life too seriously and have a lot of fun.
Do you have any other community involvement / do you participate in any organizations?
I do! Some that are close to my heart are the Friends of El Faro organization that supports the Casa Hogar Sion orphanage in Tijuana. Also the Hollywood Dance Marathon that raises money for pediatric cancer research.
Do you have any noteworthy (intense, funny, embarrassing, etc.) work-related moments?
Oh boy, where do I start??! Saying an off-color joke to a room full of industry executives at a screen test who just responded with blank stares? Or pranking everyone on set with fake turds? Or how about the time that cast mates and I went around scaring the crap outta people when there was a power outage at three o'clock in the morning? I could go on and on. Like I said I like to keep life fun.
What do you hope for your future?
I hope to have a long career in the entertainment industry. Whether it is a career in acting, writing, directing, or producing.
Career and/or life advice for other women?
Hold your ground. Have fun. Find the humor. Read a lot.
Connect with Shanley: