13 Reasons Why Actress Chelsea Alden on Overcoming Fear & Staying Inspired
Chelsea Alden opens up about her most recent film projects, what inspires her and how she pushed through obstacles in her career.
Chelsea Alden’s acting career spans hit TV shows like 13 Reasons Why and Grey’s Anatomy, and feature films like The Tale. With her recent debut as producer of the short film The Human Project, this starlet has carved her own path to the big screen without asking for permission.
But it’s not just Chelsea’s acting credits that demand attention. Chelsea is one of the most humble, generous and quick-witted actors I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to. Her enthusiasm and positive energy seeped through the phone like a warm ray of sunshine, leaving me inspired and with a smile on my face. Because in spite of all she’s achieved, she’s not afraid to share the inevitable highs and lows that come with the territory. Between her journey to acting, current projects and advice for aspiring actors, Chelsea opened up about every aspect of her career.
Journey to 13 Reasons Why
Chelsea started acting at a young age, beginning with community theatre. “I loved all kinds of performance, including music and dance. I ended up booking my first commercial when I was around eight years old and just kept at it. Between all the other activities I was involved in, acting was the one that stuck. I grew more passionate about it as time went on.”
Pursuing theatre as a training ground, Chelsea absorbed all she could from theatre culture. From there she enrolled in a few acting classes to hone her craft. Fast forward a few years and Chelsea had sustained a steady stream of appearances in a range of TV series’ and short films. “I was really lucky to start working with a number of talented people in film and TV. I ended up on a bit of a roll that continued to bring great projects my way.”
Booking a recurring role in season two of 13 Reasons Why was an exciting achievement for actress. Especially since she was already a fan of the show.
“When I auditioned for the show, I had no idea it was for 13 Reasons Why! But I did feel really connected to my character, Mackenzie. Even though I didn’t know the full context, I felt like I knew her. She’s a very honest and genuine character.” Within a week she was selected and on the set, meeting and shooting with the rest of the cast. “It was exciting, and I was nervous! This group was such a family and I wasn’t sure how I would fit into it. But when I arrived, they immediately welcomed me. I feel very lucky to be a part of the team.”
Chelsea strongly identifies with her character, Mackenzie: a wide-eyed, independent and artsy teenage girl. Mackenzie is sister to Cyrus, and the two befriend Tyler who is being bullied and labeled as an outcast. “It was great that in season two we see Tyler gain some genuine friendships. Mackenzie plays a big role in that. It’s been fun to help her character find confidence and be a positive influence on the show.”
As for the subject matter of the show, Chelsea shares much appreciation for the producers and writers who have worked behind the scenes to bring the difficult themes to light. “I’m very impressed and inspired by how the writers have been able to tackle the themes. Sexual assault, bullying and gun violence are not easy things to talk about or watch. Everyone working on the show aims to portray them honestly and genuinely. Since we have a hard time talking about these things in real life, my hope is that addressing them on TV will provide an outlet for people to discuss. I feel really proud and empowered to be a part of this vision.”
On acting and lessons learned
After hearing some of the twists and turns of Chelsea’s career, I asked her what advice she would give to an aspiring actor. Chelsea generously peeled back the layers of her own success, revealing a wealth of insight for others hoping to achieve the same.
Chelsea’s first piece of advice revolved around setting up a healthy circle of support. “Make sure you’re surrounded by people who love and support you. Even if you are talented and passionate about what you do, it’s a hard business. You will go on hundreds of auditions and hear ‘no’ a lot more than ‘yes’. But if you have people who encourage and congratulate you, it will be much easier to stay positive. Celebrate the small successes and find people who lift you up when things don’t go as planned.”
As for the qualities that make a great actor, Chelsea offered up three key principles to consider. First, confidence is key. “There is a difference between confidence and ego,” she says. “You have to be confident and assure others that you can deliver. Every incredible actor I’ve worked with was very confident in their ability to portray their character. And, that they were the best for the job.” She reiterated however, the importance of keeping that inner-confidence in check. “Understanding the difference between confidence and ego will take you far,” she says.
Chelsea also stressed the importance of being genuine and treating everyone with equal respect. “I had the chance to work with Laura Dern on The Tale – she was so incredible and gracious. She never made me feel as if I was less than she was, even though she’s an accomplished, award-winning actress. At the end of the day we are all there to create something amazing together and everyone deserves to be treated with genuine respect.”
The third quality was vulnerability. “As an actor, baring your soul to portray characters on screen requires great vulnerability. Often times, this means revealing areas of your life that you would only show to yourself. The greatest actors are willing to share a beautiful vulnerability on screen, again and again.”
Breaking barriers and overcoming fear
It’s easy to look at a career like Chelsea’s and assume the road has been easy. Rosy even. But Chelsea was quick to dispel this myth. She thoughtfully responded to my question about overcoming career barriers by pinpointing two of her own largest obstacles: rejection and self-invalidation.
“For me, these two go hand in hand. When someone says, we loved you, but we’re not going to hire you for the part, there are two ways you can react. In a perfect world, I would like to be able to brush it off and say, oh well, on to the next one! But there was a part of me for a long time that caused me to get in my own way. I would get a rejection from one audition, and then immediately put the fault on myself. My internal dialogue went something like, you’re not pretty enough, tall enough, skinny enough, or talented enough. Going down these rabbit holes were not only detrimental and unnecessary, but that they hindered me from booking more work."
Evidently self-aware in retrospect and passionate about helping others overcome this barrier, Chelsea continued to analyze her past in more detail. “These negative trains of thought became really problematic because the next time I would audition, I was bringing that baggage with me. And the casting director could feel that energy. You need to be able to walk into the room and make everyone trust that you can bring the character to life. When I was walking in the door carrying the rejection of previous auditions, this limited my ability to have others trust me, because I didn’t trust myself.”
These words could not ring more true about self-limiting beliefs. The shackles of fear-based thinking not only afflict actors, but anyone who’s experienced having a door slammed in their face after giving it their all. Chelsea shared the approach she’s used to get out of this mental rut from her own experience.
“For me, it came down to having a great team to talk me out of that state of mind. Your support circle can help remind you of past wins and shut down the opportunity to beat yourself up. Also, practice creating more positive trains of thought by believing there is something absolutely perfect for you out there. Believe that you will book it. You will get there. It takes work to train yourself in this line of thinking, but it will fast-track your success.”
Offscreen inspiration, hidden talents and new projects
Although there’s not too much downtime for the actress at the moment, Chelsea’s favorite pastimes are ones I could relate to. “Anything that allows me to unplug from my phone. Working out, taking a hot yoga class or heading for a hike help me clear my head. Otherwise, I love having a great girls night with my best friends and sharing a bottle of wine.” Exploring her pastimes further revealed a hidden talent…“I can touch my tongue to my nose!” she admits with a laugh.
Not surprisingly, the actress also spends free time recharging her creative batteries by turning to different sources for inspiration. “I am really inspired by music and musical theatre. I’m on a Dear Evan Hansen kick these days. I also love immersing myself in a new film series. Often I’ll watch something and feel so moved that I’ll be inspired to explore a new acting project or even write a song. Although I’m not a professional musician, I use it as a creative outlet for fun.”
Chelsea’s channeled her energy and talents into a few new projects these days. She stars in the new horror film, Unfriended: Dark Web, coming to theatres on July 20, 2018. The Human Project, is a short film she both produced and starred in that is currently on the festival circuit. In addition to working on a few other TV projects, Chelsea will continue her role as Mackenzie in seasons three of 13 Reasons Why.