SD: Chancellor, let’s start with how you got into acting. When did that spark first get lit?
CP: I was around nine when I got my first modeling job. I knew right away I’d found something I loved. While doing some Nike Runway work, I talked to some of the other kids about acting. Then I took classes at Northwest Children’s Theater in Portland, where I learned the difference between modeling and acting. Modeling is all about striking poses, while acting is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and finding the character.
SD: Before Lorelei, you’d done a little screen work, mostly on commercials. I’d love to hear what it was like for you, as a young actor, walking into the controlled chaos of a movie set for the first time.
CP: I felt overwhelmed at first — there were more crew members on the Lorelei set than I was used to. But eventually, we became a family. You really get to know people over the course of a feature film shoot. Doing multiple takes from different angles also took a bit of getting used to. I was able to keep my energy up thanks to Amelia [Borgerding] and Parker [Pascoe-Sheppard], who play my onscreen siblings. They were so sweet and funny they always put a smile on my face. Having my mom on set giving me encouraging looks was also really helpful. She helped me regain my confidence when I got nervous.
SD: I promise you directors get nervous too! And it’s okay to feel vulnerable. It’s a vulnerable thing you’re doing, putting yourself out there. And you can use that vulnerability, pour it into your character because he’s probably scared of something too. You’ve told me you learned a lot from working with Pablo and Jena, who are veterans in the acting world. Jena, of course, was a child actor as well. Can you describe what it was like having them as collaborators?
CP: It was amazing. They’re so talented, but also caring and humble with it. And they really took the time to give me advice on acting and on the movie industry. There’s one scene in the film in which I punch Pablo’s character, Wayland. I was really scared of the emotions in that scene, and I was nervous about shooting it. But Pablo took me to one side and said, “Whatever emotions you’re feeling, let them out. Don’t hold back.” I’ll never forget that advice, it helped me so much.
SD: You and Pablo really showed up for each other in that scene. Even when it wasn’t your shot, you both stayed emotionally wired so you could help the other actor get to where he needed to be. That generosity earns you a lot of respect as an actor. You spoke earlier about character building. Tell me about Dodger, who you play in Lorelei. How did you find your way into his character? What were the pivotal scenes for you?
CP: I really connected with Dodger — like him, I place a lot of value on fitness and working out. And, like him, I’ve felt singled out because of my race. My high school is pretty diverse, but when I’ve hung out with friends in malls, we’ve been racially profiled and asked to leave because we were black. What also helped me with my character was doing acting exercises with you and Sabina [Friedman-Seitz, who plays Layla and is an associate producer on Lorelei]. I imagined what it must be like having a single mom and no dad, and how it must feel to have a new father figure suddenly insert himself into your family. I was most nervous on my first day on set shooting my very first scene. Thankfully, my character is doing push-ups in that scene, and I found that action very calming. It took the edge off my nerves. One scene I loved shooting was the scene in which my onscreen siblings and I see the ocean for the first time. It felt very freeing to shoot that scene. It was so easy and natural.
SD: That ocean scene is one of my favorites too. You’re reacting authentically to having the ocean at your feet and the sea breeze on your face. You have this joyful expression, and it’s all real, you were perfectly present in that moment. As I think of what’s next for you acting-wise, I find myself wondering who your role models are. Whose footsteps do you want to walk in?
CP: Of course, Dr. Martin Luther King has always been a role model. He stood up for what he believed was right and risked his life to fight for that. Kevin Hart is hilarious and completely self-made. He worked so hard to get where he is now, and he never stopped trying. I admire his persistence. Another role model is Michael Jordan because of his kind heart. Also, J. Cole, who created a foundation to give opportunities to young people in his hometown of Fayetteville, NC. And Chance the Rapper because he’s down-to-earth and gives thanks to God in his work.
SD: It’s so important early in life to have successful role models who look like you and who share your background and values. Another thing I’ve found helpful is having short-term goals and long-term dreams. To that end, if you could play any role in any movie, what would it be? Think big!
CP: I grew up a huge fan of the Godzilla movies of the 80s and 90s. As a fanboy, it would be a dream come true to act in a Godzilla movie.
SD: I get that. Since I saw the twin suns setting on Tatooine, I’ve been a Star Wars fan, and I’d give my back teeth to direct an episode! I’m curious, though, what you feel is missing from the movies coming out of Hollywood. Especially as a young person of color, what do you think are the stories and perspectives we’re not seeing enough of?
CP: I’d like to see more interracial families like mine in films and on television. My dad is black and my mom is white. I’m a lighter-skinned black person, and sometimes I’ve found it hard knowing where I fit in. Thankfully, I’m equally close to my black family and my white family, and I’m comfortable, now, accepting that I come from both. But it would have helped me growing up to see more families like mine on screen.
SD: I’m so encouraged by your generation. You’re demanding to be seen and authentically represented. I feel the future is in good hands. Tell me where you personally hope to be in 10 years. Also, where do you hope the world is in 10 years?
CP: For myself, I want my hard work to pay off. I dream of working on major movies that are commercially successful: Marvel films, action films, horror films. I’d also like to be a businessman and launch a clothing brand. For the world, I hope that in 10 years we’ll see an end to the worst kinds of racism. I’m not confident racism will disappear entirely, but I hope we won’t have to keep arguing that our lives matter.
SD: I want all that for you too, and more. I watched you on set leading with kindness — you were always generous with your time, you were like a big brother to Amelia and Parker, who play your siblings, and you were never too tired to smile and say thank you. That kind of grace will carry you a long way. Right now, you’re in your junior year of high school and have some big decisions coming up. What do you think is next for you?
CP: I’ll be applying to college in the Fall. I haven’t decided where or what yet. But I’d like to combine acting with either sports broadcasting or sports medicine or business. I’d also like to continue playing basketball and go as far as I can with that (I currently play point guard and shooting guard for my high school team). And I really want to get more feature film experience under my belt, and I hope that more opportunities become available, both for myself and other diverse actors. A good start would be casting breakdowns that don’t specify race. Also, stop assuming that families are all-white by default. You can have different races, ethnicities, and nationalities all within the same family.
SD: I love this challenge you’ve just issued to us filmmakers. To interrogate our assumptions during the casting process, but also to be more color-conscious at the screenplay level and write more racially and ethnically diverse characters. Can you share your social handle and agent details so that we can get you hired?
CP: I’m @cperry.33 on Instagram. My agent is Jason Jeffords at Puddletown Talent. I can’t wait for Coronavirus restrictions to lift because I love acting and want to get back to work. If anyone’s casting right now, hit me up!