Mandalynn Carlson just celebrated her 15th birthday on August 25. The homeschooled actress, stand-up comedian and radio personality co-hosts a teen-focused radio show, “Beyond the Spotlight,” on the Universal Broadcasting Network. Mandalynn has performed on stage at the world-famous Hollywood Improv about a half dozen times, and she was cast in a funny skit on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Even though Mandalynn describes herself on Facebook as a “dork and class clown,” when it comes to the big screen she prefers more serious dramatic roles.
A survivor of teen bullying that other kids can identify with, Mandalynn is an outspoken advocate of anti-bullying education. After starring in “The Dead Kid,” a short film with a powerful message about bullying, she went on a tour of Southern California schools earlier this year to talk about the effects of bullying and how to put an end to it. The tour of Southern California schools is part of the “Music Is My Language” Tour with This Boy, That Girl and Matt Ryan King who are touring with Aaron Carter.
Mandalynn was bullied herself when she lived in Michigan, escalating to the point where her parents found it necessary to pull her out of school and homeschool her. Homeschooling has turned out to be a good thing because it allows Mandalynn to study at her own pace in between shoots. A straight-A student, she even finished an entire year of Physics and Chemistry in just 29 days! Mandalynn is currently dual-enrolled in a distance learning program that is allowing her to complete high school while working towards her Associate’s Degree in Film Studies at Santa Barbara City College. Later, in addition to Film Production, she plans to major in business.
An only child, Mandalynn’s legal name is actually Amanda Lynn Carlson. She goes by Mandalynn because her father, a chef, said that his daughter would shine brightly and that she would be razor sharp, just like one of his favorite cooking tools – a mandolin. When she was growing up, her parents Eric and Sherri owned a catering company in Detroit. They often brought Mandalynn along when catering movies being filmed locally, so she has always felt at home on movie sets and comfortable being around actors. Mandalynn and her parents now reside in Los Angeles with their black lab-mix, Deli.
Mandalynn knew that she wanted to be an actress ever since she was 2 years old. From ages 3 to 7, she put on her own plays and commercials at home. In 4th grade she started performing in the drama club at school and in the children’s ministry at NorthRidge Church in Plymouth, Michigan. At age 10, Mandalynn wrote her first screenplay called “The Secret Recipe.” Also at 10 years of age, Mandalynn landed her first supporting role in a major feature, Machine Gun Preacher. In 2012 she appeared in an episode of “CSI: NY,” and in 2013 she was in an episode of “Scandal” for which she was nominated for a Young Artist Award.
Two of Mandalynn’s latest projects took place in Arizona. She stars as lead character Summer Dean in A Horse For Summer, a family-friendly faith-based film that will be in Walmart stores
in time for the holiday gift-giving season on Tuesday, January 6th. [Pre-order now at Amazon.com.] The movie was filmed in and around the San Tan Valley including shots at Rodeo Hard Stables, Queen Creek Olive Mill, and Way Out West Ranch. Mandalynn also recently finished Deadly Sanctuary, a feature-length western thriller based on a novel by award-winning mystery writer Sylvia Nobel. It was filmed this spring in New River, Black Canyon City, Bumble Bee, and Colossal Studios, Arizona. It’s due to be released in Spring 2015.
Producer/director Nancy Criss (Deadly Sanctuary and A Horse For Summer) has offered Mandalynn a recurring guest star role as a character named Towie Jensen in a new hour-long wholesome family drama series called “The Sparrows” to air on FOX affiliates this fall. Mandalynn also has been in a couple of Christmas movies. Small Town Santa (formerly known as Holiday Miracle) is the story of a small town Santa and a small town sheriff. It will be coming out on DVD in December. A Christmas Promise, about a girl and her dad who try to help save a horse farm, will also be released in December.
Mandalynn hopes to someday produce her own family- and faith-based films. When she’s not busy acting or studying, she enjoys reading and going online as well as keeping in shape with adventurous activities like horseback riding, rock climbing, and island hopping. She also loves meaningful quotes that inspire her to be a better person. One of her favorites is by Benjamin Franklin: “The Constitution only gives you the right to pursue happiness – you have to catch it yourself.” Mandalynn’s personal motto is: “I am second…Jesus is first.”
Homeschooling Teen’s Q&A with Mandalynn Carlson!
What do you enjoy the most about acting?
I love being able to be different people for a moment in time. To be able to step into a character and completely take them on, from the way they talk or walk or breathe, the way they look at things and how they speak to different people. It’s fascinating. I know I did a great job when I get emails and tweets from people who saw my work and wanted to let me know they ‘get it’ or how much they identified with my character or the story I am telling. I still have people, fans actually, who found me when I was on an episode of “Scandal,” tweet me. A couple weeks ago, one of them was in an airport and decided to order ham and pineapple pizza. They tweeted me a photo of it because the “Scandal” fans gave me my own hashtag #hamandpineapple after watching my episode. It’s so fun. I enjoy my acting and interacting with the fans.
What challenges do you face as a young actress?
There are a lot of young actors that are amazing and going for the same roles as I do. It’s difficult because when you are in my age range, adults can play the roles of young teen girls, so you are going up against a twenty year old who has been doing it longer or has more credits. The other challenge is that people perceive young actors as train wrecks waiting to happen. Just because I am a child/teen actor doesn’t mean I’ll make the poor choices that many of those before me made. Not all child actors have public problems like you read about in the tabloids. There are plenty of us who are doing it the right way. Another challenge is just being able to climb to the top of an agency so I can get the opportunity to audition for the really visible roles. It takes a ton of work and luck.
How has homeschooling helped you in your acting career?
Homeschooling is a lifesaver. It’s flexible. It makes auditioning easier and especially when I am working. If I have to be somewhere in two hours, my mom doesn’t have to pull me out of school; we can just put school off for those couple hours and I’ll finish as I have time in the evening. Plus, I feel focused. I just took a driver’s education class and it was distracting to sit in class with teenagers who are on their phones, talking, sleeping and not really paying attention. Because I am homeschooled, I don’t have to try to ignore the distractions, I can just focus on my work. That’s a bonus for me.
Do you have ever any trouble balancing work and school?
When I am a lead in a movie, it takes a lot of time and focus. Between filming my scenes, I have to do work on my character and know my lines. Since that is a lot of responsibility to carry a movie, it becomes a priority and school has to be flexible. Plus, the focus of my homeschool is performing arts, so when I am on set, it is graded by my mom and sometimes she gives sheets to the directors and producers, asking them for a grade on my performance. I work, get paid and get school credit.
Being an actress is a busy job, even when I am not filming. There are auditions, classes, character study, plus I host a weekly teen radio show. I don’t have trouble balancing everything because of how flexible the program is.
Sometimes I am on location and my mom used to have me try to keep up with school, but now, she just says, “Do what you can in the time they give you and we will catch up after wrap.” That’s what we do. When I am filming, if I am not on break, they need to school me three hours. But, it can take nine hours to get three hours done. Sometimes, I just get back to my computer, open up my lesson and ten minutes later get called back to set. So, when I am on set and being schooled, we work on subjects that don’t require a ton of focus. When my mom can, if we know in advance that I am filming, she will catch me up or get me ahead so we can do a school break.
What has been your favorite project to work on so far?
My favorite project acting-wise is A Horse For Summer. The role of Summer was absolutely amazing. She was wonderful to play and to get into the nooks and crannies of her mind. I worked with wonderful people like Dean Cain, Christopher Atkins and Lee Meriwether. I am so proud that I can attach my name to such a wonderful project that is getting amazing feedback and reactions from people that have seen it.
My other favorite project is Deadly Sanctuary. I had a small role in that, but I was able to shadow the director, Nancy Criss, for the whole time and learn her job. I also went around and talked to the producers and the AD and the camera department to try to learn what they did and what made a good director in their eyes. I learned the easiest way to communicate with them to make sure that everyone is happy and the director’s vision is well communicated and understood.
What are your future plans and aspirations?
Plan A is to win an Oscar. I don’t have a Plan B. To get to that goal, I’ll keep working on everything creative. I am working to be a triple threat, but not like people in Hollywood think. Usually that is for an actor / singer / dancer. I want to be a writer / director / actor who produces. Look at Sylvester Stallone. He took his career and controlled it all. I want that. Right now, I’m writing treatments and jotting down ideas for a feature film that I want to direct and star in. It may take me a couple years to get it all together, but I’m not in a rush. I want it to be perfect. Something that is widely distributed and has an awesome story.
Who are your mentors or role models?
I have two role models for completely different reasons. I have admired Sandra Bullock for many years. She is the reason why I wanted to win an Oscar and started down a more serious career path. I also admire Mark Wahlberg, because he has made his own fame, time and time again, with the rapping, acting and now producing. You have to continually work at it to stay on top and he does. I want to be like him, producing and starring in my own films.
So many child stars have gone bad, what do you think is the secret to maintaining your sanity?
Seriously, I believe it’s my upbringing. I grew up in a home where I was taught to respect those around me, my parents, my friends and family. I am so lucky to have such a great support team like my parents, grandparents and close friends. I also watch who I am friends with, the company you keep, ya know. haha. I know what I want and I know I can’t reach that goal by engaging in bad behavior, not that I have time for that anyway. But it’s not my style. I get enough ‘bad girl’ in the roles I audition for or am cast to play.
There is a movement with the serious teen actors in Hollywood. No drugs. No alcohol. No screwing around. Get good grades. Do a great job and be better than what everyone expects you to be. I mean, the media is looking for an actor to slip up. I get it, it sells magazines. The press loves it. I would be really nice if they followed around some of these kids who do not exercise bad behavior. I’d love it if they reported the good and positive things we do like charity work, instead of all the trash they publish. But in Hollywood, even bad press is good. It’s sad.
What advice would you give to other aspiring young actors?
Acting is work, hard work. You have to stay strong because there will always be someone giving 100%. You have to give more. Always more.
I’ve been acting professionally for four years. I’m doing ok for that little bit of time, compared to my friends who have been doing this for 10 years. They are the ones you see on television and in big movies. They’ve been at it a long time and acting is a learn-as-you-go kind of craft. You can have raw talent and that’s good. But it’s a piece of clay. Each role, it has to be molded. Worked. Shaped into something beautiful, unique and memorable. Like a pot or vase.
Most of all, my advice is, love it or leave it, give more than 100% and don’t give up easily.
Connect with Mandalynn!
IMDB: Mandalynn Carlson
Listen to Mandalynn live every Saturday at 10am Pacific or 1pm Eastern time on UBNradio.com.