When I first met Mandalynn Carlson it was on the set of A Horse for Summer (a wonderful family-friendly film by Nandar Entertainment). I was very impressed with her talent, her command for the character and how she projected herself with co-star, Nicole Criss. There is an amazing synergy in the film between these two young ladies, and it captures your heart.
Since meeting Mandalynn, her career has matured, and in fact, taken off! She has received awards and roles that have given her the recognition she deserves. Mandalynn is the next generation of Women in Film. She is, and will be, a dynamic force to help level the playing field for women in this male-dominated industry. Her heart sees the discrepancy and her talent will shine a light. I look for meaningful productions ahead from this beautiful, intelligent and powerful actor/producer/director.
You will be inspired by Mandalynn’s story as you follow the path she has taken… for she is not afraid to pursue her dream and go the distance, wherever it may lead.
Jane Fitzpatrick: What is your background and story?
Mandalynn Carlson: I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. My grandmother used to perform plays during the holidays for our family. She enlisted the grandchildren as the actors, and we also helped her write the plays and make the costumes. My first play, I was two.
The first movie I ever did, I was five. My parents donated food to the set and I went with them. The director asked me to be an extra. I didn’t end up getting seen in the movie, but the director and producer, Marty Shea and Ian Bonner, sent my mom photos of me on the set, and a note that said, “The camera loves her face. You should consider her pursuing acting.” My mother didn’t think anything of it then, and I was content with family plays so we didn’t do anything about it at the time.
JF: How did you get involved in entertainment specifically and why did you make it a career?
MC: By the time I was seven, I was performing with the Praise and Worship team at my church each week for the children’s groups. When I was nine, I joined a drama club at my new school and landed all the lead roles. My drama teacher, Deanne, told my mom she should get me an agent. I bugged her until she finally did. My agent tried to help me find local jobs in Detroit. I was in a lot of student and small independent films. But, when I was 10, I landed a role in a bigger movie with Gerard Butler. After that, “acting” was all I wanted to do.
“Acting is something I am good at, and something I love. Soccer wasn’t my thing. Piano wasn’t my thing. Gymnastics wasn’t my thing. But acting, now that was my thing.” ~ Mandalynn Carlson
For a while, I just considered acting something fun to do and a way to meet people. But, I was talking to Ann-Margret on the set of All’s Faire in Love (my parents were catering it so I hung out on set because I loved the costumes). That conversation made something click in my head — it made me realize this was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. If I ever see Ann again, I will thank her for the inspiration she stirred in me.
JF: What awards have you received?
MC: This year, 2016, not only was I a presenter but I won two awards at the 37th Annual Young Artists Awards, for my performances in Grey’s Anatomy and A Horse For Summer. I had a guest starring role on Grey’s Anatomy, and Kevin McKidd directed the episode called Sledgehammer. It was the season twelve premiere.
I received a Young Artist Award, in 2015, for a small movie I filmed in Michigan called Small Town Santa, which starred Dean Cain and Christine Lakin. It was my first movie with Dean. He’s such a great guy. In 2014, I was surprised when I received a Career Achievement Award from the OMNI Music Awards. I now have a shelf with a bunch of shiny awards in my living room. It’s so cool.
In addition to these acting awards, I was also inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society at age 16, for my 4.0 GPA in my first year of college. This month, I received the President’s Award for continued academic excellence during my second year of college, still a 4.0.
JF: Tell us about the process you’ve been through to garner attention for your work.
MC: When I’m on a project, I post a lot on my social media to keep people updated and bring attention to the projects and the cast. I attend and network at screenings or events through the union and organizations I belong to — or special events where I have received an invitation. I really enjoy those events where I’ve met fantastic industry people. Sometimes I do interviews, like here with you and the LA Examiner. I like to talk a lot, so it’s easy. Social media, however, is definitely a huge part of promoting a brand.
Emmy season is just around the corner and my publicist tossed my name in the hat. My episode of Grey’s Anatomy was a powerful storyline for so many people. Six months later, I still have people DMing or tweeting me almost daily about the episode. They share how my character and her struggle was personal for them. Many ask if the character will be back on the show. I like that my work made such an impact. Being nominated would be a huge honor and would definitely catch attention. I’m crossing my fingers.
JF: Can you tell us about some of the people who have stepped up to support your efforts?
MC: My parents are a huge support system, as well as the rest of my family. They always have my back, and make sure I know what I’m doing and for what purpose. They also make sure my head is on straight, and that I’m serving God first before anything else. To add to my parents, I also have a really great team behind me. They are excellent and have worked tirelessly for me. They are my dream team. When I put their first initials all in a row and sound it out, they really are my D-R-M-N-‘T-M.
Kevin McKidd, from Grey’s Anatomy, has been very supportive. Playing the role of “Jessica Tanner” in Grey’s season premiere was a great experience. And when I was nominated and won at the 37th Annual Young Artist Awards, Kevin and his team were extremely supportive, especially on social media.
I am grateful to have director/producer Nancy Criss in my corner. She invited me to shadow her on sets and has really taught me a lot about directing, something I want to do very soon. She has given me a budget and an opportunity to write a web-series, and arranged for me to work with an Emmy-winning producer on the project. I am pretty excited. It’s called A Blind Eye. We plan to film later this year.
JF: What do you see developing in the future? Any further dreams?
MC: Oh, I’m always dreaming. The moment you stop dreaming, you may as well stop doing what you’re doing. It’s weird to think about how I started in this business, a young kid who was just having fun on set, and now I have all of these aspirations. I want to win an Oscar, that’s always been a dream.
I also want to start directing, writing and producing so I can have more control of what stories I bring to life and what is shown to the public. I think there is a definite need for more women in the film industry. Our population is 51 percent female, but in 2012, only 28.4 percent of the 100 top box office movies had women in speaking roles. From 2002 to 2012, out of the top 100 films, only 4.4 percent of them were directed by women. I definitely want to make stories about women that don’t center around relationships or how they are lost without men in their lives. I want to show strong women, because women are very strong. It’s time that we show that on the big screen. Yes, I know all these numbers off the top of my head. I’m kind of a geek like that.
JF: How can people learn more about what you’re doing?
MC: Social media is the best way to keep updated on what I am doing. My Twitter and Snapchat is @IActSoIAm, my Instagram is MandalynnCarlson and Facebook is MandalynnCarlson. My website is www.MandalynnCarlson.com.
JF: Do you have some advice or encouragement for “Dream Catchers” in the entertainment industry?
MC: One piece of advice: Don’t give up. Actor, Emma Roberts once told me:
“The ones who make it in this business are the ones who stick it out.” ~ Emma Roberts
I hung out with Emma on the set of Virginia. She and I talked about acting for almost an hour between her scenes. She told me that for a year no one called her for an audition. But she didn’t give up. Her advice to me was, “If you love acting, never, ever give up. There is a time and a place for every actor.” I’ll never forget that, and I’d like to thank her one day, too.
My favorite saying lately is “You can’t win the game if you don’t play.”
My ounce of wisdom to share with someone just starting out would be that this business is definitely not for everyone. There is a lot of hard work and rejection, so it’s important to have a good support system in place and do it as long as it’s a passion and enjoyable. It should never be a chore.
JF: Do you know of organizations “Dream Catchers” could utilize to further their careers?
MC: Other than the normal unions and industry groups and a fantastic team of professionals who are working for you, I think an actor needs a good coach to help further the career. Training is important and actors must train like they aspire to be an Olympic athlete. Train to become the best and then keep training.
Dream Catcher Mandalynn Carlson