HOLLYWOOD—Her name is Cassidy Risien and she’s an actress. Coming from
Texas she has had to reshape her personal reality to that of an ever changing film industry that takes no prisoners.
MSJ: Growing up in
Texas, what kind of creative input (outlet?) did you have?
CR: Well, technically, I am a half-breed, as I like to put it. Born in the
Midwest with strong Southern roots. My entire family is from Texas (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and all) however; my two sisters and I were born in Cleveland, Ohio where we spent the first half of our childhood before transplanting to Austin, Texas. Being exposed to both regions of the
US has certainly shaped me as a person and consequently shaped my perspective on acting.
Cleveland is simply closer to places like
New York City and
Chicago, where the theatre culture is strong and filled with stage history. Those theatrical elements and influences were very apparent in
Cleveland too. My mom would get my sisters and I dressed up to go see shows in the beautifully ornate and historical theatres of downtown Cleveland, and from a very young age I was immediately spell bound by the stage. In
Austin, the theatre culture was far different. Being a bit older it was so cool to see theatre in a new fashion. There are many small playhouses in
Austin that were once old warehouses or tiny hole-in-the wall black box structures that have been converted into performance spaces. Artists in
Austin frequently seek out unusual theatrical venues in order to have a creative space for exploration. The old notion to “Keep Austin Weird” echoes throughout the vibrant stage circuit and I am so thankful to have had exposure and involvement in the movement out there.
MSJ: Were you more influenced by the theater or did motion pictures have a greater impact on your life and why?
CR: I would say that I was more heavily influenced by the stage for sure. Experiencing theatre in a live performance is something that seems to me to be unparalleled. I enjoy the entire ritual surrounding the stage, getting dressed up to attend the theater and surrounding yourself in the atmosphere of it all. The sights, sounds and smells of the theatre have infiltrated all of my senses and captured my imagination with a force that I have never been able shake. I will say that there were a great number of films that have heavily influenced me as well, but most of them were films adapted from the stage, MGM classics and old musicals introduced to be by my grandmother.
MSJ: What actors were you really impressed with? Did you, at the beginning, imitate the way they performed on screen or in the theater?
CR: I love Madeline Kahn. I think she is just a delight to watch. She has an incredible sense of humor and beauty, which can be a difficult thing for women to balance. Also, Cloris Leachman, I find to be an incredibly talented and funny lady who's work I enjoy and admire. I've never found myself imitating the style of other actors. I have always just acted out what came to me very naturally through my own imagination. There have been moments when I have turned to study the style of great comedic actresses like Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, and Carol Burnette, because there is so much to learn from in their timing and expression.
MSJ: Where you very active in the theater department in high school or college? What kind of plays were you allowed to do? And is there one performance you are still most excited about and why?
CR: I have been active in theatre all my life. My mother had me enrolled in classes as far back as I can recall. I was the little girl who was dancing, singing and chasing butterflies on the soccer field instead of paying attention to the game, and I was fortunate enough to have a mother who was quick recognized where my talents and passions lay. I remember one of my very first auditions, it for a production of James and the Giant Peach. As a part of the audition, we were asked to sing a song. Before I stepped on stage, my mother pulled nine year old me aside to offer some direction. In her direction she had to describe to me who Marilyn Monroe was and what the word “sexy” meant, I then took my place on stage and gave my rendition of “Happy Birthday Mr. President” (Cassidy laughs and shakes her head) and that's how I landed the role Ladybug.
In high school I was as involved as I could be in theatre and all types of performance. From one act play competitions to the stereotypical High-school production of the musical "
Oklahoma." I hosted and preformed my own spots on our televised morning announcements and was approached by teachers to host other school events like pep-rallies, talent shows and mock pageants.
My college career was based solely around the opportunity for performance and the potential for study abroad in the area of theatre. I received my BFA in performance from
University and was on the stage starting freshman year. At SFA, I worked on some wonderful productions and I was fortunate to get cast in a few really spectacular roles, my favorites being Madame Arcati from Blithe Spirit and Maxine from night of the Iguana.
At SFA the productions had to be fairly conservative seeing as how the college is nestled waist deep in the East Texas Bible Belt. In my role in Night of the Iguana I was determined to get Tennessee Williams letter perfect, but when I left out a clearly scripted g.d. (god damnit) there was an audible gasp from audience and later my director was sure to speak a word to me about my choice, although he had a half smile on his face that said you shouldn't have, but I'm glad you did.
After my time at SFA I spent a year in Europe studying European Theatre Arts and movement in
Estonia. An entire article could be written on my time there alone. It was simple incredible. My eyes were opened to a whole new world of performance and approach to art. My time there was absolutely invaluable to me as an artist and just a human being. I was able to learn and grow and create and move and express like never before and I am forever changed from the experience. It was one of the most beautiful times of my life.
MSJ: What kind of image did you have of the film industry and
CR: Generally, I thought it was kind of soulless. I thought that the film industry was removed from the artistry of performance, and before actually coming out to
Hollywood to learn for myself, I was afraid that it was full of commercial consumer garbage. I had just come home from a magical fairy tale time in Europe and was seeking something with heart, and wasn't sure I'd be able to find it in
Hollywood. However, after a road trip through the desert where I ended up in
Los Angeles for the very first time I thought "I can do this." I have been here just shy of 8 weeks and am very green, but have found and am continuing to find a network of truly soulful and talented artists and creatives that keep the pulse of Hollywood beating and I am so glad that I made the choice to dive in with them and not let my outside perspective keep me from finding the heart of Hollywood.
MSJ: What has been the greatest problem or challenge since coming to the film industry?
CR: The greatest challenge for me has been to keep in mind that approaching the film industry is a way of life. It is in the everyday routine that will and had become my new lifestyle. I have to remind myself that each step will only lead to the next step instead I getting caught up in the end game.
MSJ: Was the competition aspect of finding an agent or job a tremendous jolt so far?
CR: No. I knew it would be, and I am not very competitive by nature so I have been preparing myself for the shift in mindset. Actors here have to be mostly concerned with self preservation, and no one can be faulted for that approach, granted, it is far different from the southern hospitality that exists in
Texas, but you have to know how to play if you want to join the band.
MSJ: Even though you haven’t been in
Hollywood very long, do you find yourself changing in the way you look at yourself and life and why?
CR: If anything, the change that I experience in looking at myself is becoming stronger in my own self awareness. Most of my major realizations about myself and my understanding of life came before moving out here to
Hollywood, and I know that there is a divine purpose behind that.
MSJ: When you look at yourself in the mirror who and what do you see? And does it make you feel more focused or do you have a sudden feeling to escape?
CR: When I look in the mirror I see Cassidy. I see a human being who possesses the ability to feel and experience and express emotion on a level that only an actor could understand. Knowing that I am out here in
Hollywood, seeing myself clearly for who and what I am as a human and as a product for film and knowing where the line that separates the two, has become crucial. My focus sharpened and I am taking each moment to move forward evolve as myself.