ARTS: Hollywood Dreams

cassidee vandeliaCassidee Vandalia never planned to be in movies. Now, she’s already acted in five and four of them were just this year.

All five were shot, at least partly, in Oklahoma. That helps, considering she’s a relatively normal teenager at Edmond Memorial High School. Still, there are conflicts. Her latest feature, “Hollis,” lensed in the town of Hollis, Oklahoma in May, but she wound up playing hooky so she could spend more time on the set. “I was scheduled for four (days), but I stayed for a couple more just to hang out with everyone,” she said. “I was missing high school, but really, on a set, there’s no other place I’d like to be.”

Vandalia started acting at Central Middle School in Edmond, under drama instructor Beth Stukey. “It was just something I did for fun and realized that I loved it and that I was good at it,” she said. “Really, it surprised everyone.”

Vandalia did a lot of theater in middle school, and in eighth grade she attended the Oklahoma Arts Institute at Quartz Mountain to develop her craft. Her judge, local casting director Chris Friehofer, said to her, “I want to put you in movies.”

“It was really exciting,” she remembers. “I never thought of doing film.”

In addition to “Hollis,” later this year she can be seen in visionary director Terrence Malick’s “To the Wonder,” his first film since his Academy Award nomination for “The Tree of Life.” In it, Vandalia shares a scene with Javier Bardem, the
actor who played a memorable hit man in “No Country for Old Men” and will square off against James Bond this winter. Bardem plays a priest and Vandalia plays a bride-to-be. Also this year, she filmed “Yellow” with director Nick Cassavetes (“The Notebook”) and “So This is Christmas,” a holiday drama. In 2010, she appeared in “Heaven’s Rain,” about a real-life Oklahoma tragedy.

She says sometimes actors forget about each other after they part ways, but this summer she spent a month in California catching up with her younger “So This is Christmas” cast mates and she hopes she never forgets the people she worked with on “Hollis.” “There’s just so many people there that I completely connected with,” she remembers. “It really was a great cast and crew.”

Vandalia landed the role of Mary in the film “Hollis” after writer/director Sonny Priest saw her in a test scene filmed for another movie. “You could tell she had talent right away,” Priest said.

What led Vandalia to accept the role in Priest’s film was the quality of the script. “It was really good,” she said. “Hollis” is about a high school grad having to choose between family obligations and college. She also was interested in the subject matter, which addressed autism.

Once she took the role, Priest wasn’t disappointed. “She doesn’t overplay things, which is really hard for young people not to do,” he says.

“It’s so hard not to overact,” Vandalia admits. She says the best characters are the ones who seem like they could be someone’s mom or best friend. “You can relate to those people.”

One thing Priest thinks helps her as a film actress is that these days she only does movies and she doesn’t need to “unlearn” anything from the theater acting style. “She hasn’t picked up what would be film bad habits but theater good habits,” he explains. “That’s one of the reasons I think she’s really natural. She’s
really good; she has good instincts.”

In “Hollis,” Vandalia plays a nice, moral person. Although that’s closer to Vandalia’s real-life personality than some of her other characters, it was still a bit of a departure from the norm. “In middle school I played ‘Rizzo’ in ‘Grease’ and in ‘So This is Christmas’ I was kind of the edgy girl,” she said. “I’ve never really played a ‘girl next door.’ My character in ‘Hollis’ is sweet; she’s caring. She’s innocent and wholesome. It was refreshing to play a character like that.”

However, she doesn’t want to limit herself to one type. “I like both because I’m a complete goof, so playing an edgy girl — bad, the wrong side of the tracks — is fun because it’s completely the opposite of me,” she explains.

“Hollis” is still in post-production, so a distribution plan isn’t nailed down yet, but Priest hopes to start with some festival showings. In the meantime, Vandalia has a couple auditions coming up, and she recently had her first experience with the other side of filmmaking, as a production assistant. “It’s my first time being on set and not acting,” she says, adding that while
directing might interest her in the future, for now she plans to focus on acting.

After graduation, she plans to skip college for now and head for
Hollywood. “When I get to L.A., however long it takes, I just want my dream to come true.”

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