Claudia Lee Just Did It

“Just Do it.” This is more than a slogan for Nike. This is a guiding principle. It’s emblazoned on the shirts they sell, inscribed on walls at their retail stores, and proclaimed in their commercials. Although many may wear Nike gear, few actually take this message to heart. But every now and again you meet someone who challenges the status quo. Someone who doesn’t wait for life to happen to them, but instead goes out and creates their own experiences. Claudia Lee is one such person and she doesn’t need a check mark to tell her to live her life.

Claudia started acting young. "In order to help me get over my acting bug, my parents sent me to a camp that the New York Film Academy was hosting. My roommate during the camp, and now friend told me that her father owned a studio. I later found out that it was Silver Cup Studios, which is a working television and film studio in Brooklyn. My friend's mother attended a compilation at the end of our two week camp that showcased all of the students’ work, a few of the shorts that I was cast in during the camp, made the cut and were included. She was the one who approached my mother and suggested that we take acting seriously because I had “talent” and they had friends in the industry that they could introduce us to. That ended up being Harry Abrams who owns Abrams Artists Agency.”

Claudia met with Harry and there was an instant connection with the charismatic 13-year-old girl who just wanted to talk about film and TV non-stop. Her parents took a chance and flew her to Los Angeles for a three-month trip. Within seven weeks of being in La-La-Land, she booked her first national commercial. Since then Claudia hasn’t stopped working. She Landed noticeable credits at a young age, like Magnolia Breeland on Heart of Dixie and as Brooke on KickAss 2. Claudia just wrapped filming season 2 of Famous in Love, in which you can catch her acting alongside Bella Thorne.

Growing up in the mid-west as an art-centric kid who loved film and theatre made her somewhat of an outsider. “I was a theatre kid that went to a school that was extremely academic. Everyone in my high school graduated and went to college. Our high school was on the campus of Purdue University, so it was a very athletic driven school as well. I never really fit in. I always felt that there was something more for me in life, that there was something I wasn’t really tapping into or exploring yet. When I got the opportunity to leave and give acting a shot, it just felt right. It felt like I was doing what I needed to do. I believe my biggest conviction in life is that I do not want to be wasting time. I want to be doing what I love and I want to be working as hard as I can and make myself better in this art form. I love what I do and I constantly want to grow end explore. When I moved, it felt like it was meant to be. And I think that’s why things took off the way that they did.”

Claudia follows her heart but still leads with her mind. She is adventurous but calculated in execution. That ability to follow her intuition has served her well. 

Claudia grew up being drawn to the great performers of our time. "Meryl Streep, Sandra Bullock, Natalie Portman, Nicole Kidman and Charlize Theron. Those are the women I’ve grown up watching. I also grew up watching old cinema with my father, such as Some Like It Hot with Marilyn Monroe and West Side Story starring Natalie Wood to name a few. Many of these iconic women from the old cinema era have influenced my passion for acting. That era was so magical, sometimes I wish “Hollywood” still had that flare. "

At 21 Claudia hasn’t stopped working since landing that first commercial at 13 years old. While other actresses her age may have experienced a burnout or gone off the rails, Claudia managed to stay the course. For that she thanks her Lafayette, Indiana roots. “Growing up in Indiana helped me have a sense of reality. It can be hard to stay grounded when you’re working in this industry and are 16 years old while making a ton of money. Every day you’re going to set, you’re working 12 hour days and then also doing schooling. It’s nuts! I was going to school before I was going to set every day. I graduated high school in three years while taking college courses. It can be this really warped sense of reality out here for kids and I understand why kids may lose it when they finally gain their independence. I do believe having my mid-west values and having my family support me helped a lot. That sense of normalness really guided me and I’m really appreciative of it."

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For an industry that is known as an advocate for progressive thinking, Hollywood has had a lot of skeletons come out of its closet lately. These dark corners of the movie industry are now coming into the light in the wake of the #metoo movement. There is a whole new crop of young talented actresses like Claudia that are coming up in Hollywood watching those who came before them stand up for what right and are getting inspired.

"I’m really inspired by this movement of empowering women and I am upset that it had to come to this point for change to finally be made. Although, the women that have spoken out, have changed the game; and their bravery and determination have begun this incredible shift in everyone’s awareness. I’m proud to be part of this change. To bring our photoshoot into it, we had some pretty cool looks and some pretty body positive styles that Derek went with. I don’t think maybe a year or two ago I would have been comfortable being photographed in a bra, but I am now because of this whole movement of women empowering themselves which makes me empowered. I’m excited to see more female-driven films and projects and to see more women behind the scenes. To be quite honest, I think women are strong and powerful and some of the best things on this planet…not to toot my own horn. We have a voice and it will be heard, and I’m glad that people are finally listening."

 

That voice Claudia has that needs to be heard is a voice of truth, and that’s what she wants to be portrayed in her acting.  “When it comes to acting you want it to be truthful; it has to be truthful. It’s a conversation that you're having just like we are having a conversation right now. I feel like people complicate acting and make it about all of these things that really don’t matter. If it's true to you then its true to the story.”

Staying truthful was never an issue for Claudia. She stayed true to herself and to her passion for acting back home in Indiana and leveraged that honesty and assurance of herself into an acting career. 

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Nike makes a living off of making comfortable athletic wear under the slogan “Just do it,” but the irony is “doing it” is never comfortable. It forces you to get out of your comfort zone; forces you to leave the known and enter the unknown. It’s in that space where Claudia finds her truth. "I want to get better at what I’m doing with my life. I want to grow constantly. I want to push myself further and further and further. I really don’t want to be comfortable, if that makes sense? I feel that as an artist, we are asked to go to these places that are uncomfortable and you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I guess that’s my goal, to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s really a vulnerability that I feel that in the 21st century we close ourselves off to. We close ourselves off to feeling something because it’s too much or it’s too painful. I find that opening myself up and allowing myself to be more vulnerable opens that vulnerability and shared empathy for others. So that is what I want to attain and reach for; growth, being comfortable with getting uncomfortable, and staying curious.”

Just do it, go all in, grab life by the horns. These have become cliché idioms we use to either sell a product or get someone to do something they don’t want to do. But occasionally you meet someone who just did it, grabbed life by the horns and went all in. Claudia Lee is one such person.

Model: Claudia Lee
Photographer: Noah Asanias
Article by: David Karuhije
Edited by: Emily Primus
Hair by: Jade Kugelman
Makeup by: Dani Dyrland
Styling: Derek Parrot