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Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Jul. 15, 2009 8 years ago

Teen actress scores Hallmark movie

by: Heidi Kurpiela Contributing Writer

It’s 2 p.m. and actress Shanley Caswell is fresh off a flight from Los Angeles to Tampa. Sitting in her parent’s, Chris and Patricia, Cherokee Park living room, Caswell admits that the Ritz crackers she had mid-flight have done little to quiet her growling stomach.

The 17-year-old is chipper. Her feet, in Converse sneakers, dangle from the sofa as she makes large, animated gestures, gushing about what it was like to work with 1970s icon Angie Dickinson, who plays her grandmother in the Hallmark Channel movie, “Mending Fences.”

“When Angie Dickinson talks, it’s epic,” Caswell says. “Everyone just shuts up and listens. Her voice is so famous. It’s that raspy, sultry voice that everyone knows from ‘Police Woman.’ For an older woman, she just brings it.”

And then there’s Laura Leighton, of “Melrose Place” fame, who plays Caswell’s mother in the movie. The actress, says Caswell, “will laugh until she cries, not at all like her character on ‘Melrose Place.’”

Caswell has a lot to be effusive about. This movie marks her first big role since leaving Sarasota in 2007 to pursue an acting career in Los Angeles.

Shortly after bidding farewell to her 10th-grade classmates at Riverview High School, Caswell filmed an episode of “Zoey 101,” the now-defunct Nickelodeon sitcom starring Britney Spears’ kid sister, Jamie Lynn Spears. Caswell followed up the role with a guest spot on another Nickelodeon sitcom, “iCarly.”

Between auditions Caswell earned her GED, taking high school classes over the Internet in Los Angeles, where she lives with a family friend whose three children are all Disney or Nickelodeon actors.

“Mending Fences” was Caswell’s lucky break. Earlier this year she had tried out for two other Hallmark movies and was turned down for both. However, the casting office kept her audition tapes on file, and when the script for “Mending Fences” surfaced, they offered her a part over the phone, no audition required.

“I was blessed,” Caswell says. “The audition process can be so stressful and heartbreaking sometimes.”

In the movie she plays Kamilla Faraday, a surly teen in gothic makeup; a role Caswell says wasn’t difficult despite her own sunny disposition.

“Kamilla and I are both witty and sarcastic,” Caswell says. “I just don’t have that teenage angst.”

The role required so many layers of black clothing that Caswell needed a team of wardrobe assistants to help strap and tie all her outfits together.

“If you pay attention, you’ll notice that my dress looks slightly different in every take,” Caswell laughs.

She says graduating from high school a year early paid off on the Hallmark set. The cast worked 12-hour days, five days a week, this winter on a sprawling ranch outside of Los Angeles. Had Caswell not already earned her high school diploma, the crew would have had to work around her school schedule.

Now that filming has wrapped, Caswell is back to her regular routine — audition-callback, audition-callback. The uncertainty of the industry thrills her.

“I could never do the same thing every day,” she says. “My older brother is an engineer and I don’t know how he does it.”

She’s currently taking online classes at Santa Monica College, where she’s yet to declare a major. She plans to transfer to the University of California next year.

“No matter what I study, I think I’ll at least minor in acting,” Caswell says. “I love it so much. It’s like a mix of education and imagination.”


“Mending Fences” airs at 9 p.m., Saturday, July 18, on the Hallmark Channel. The film stars Angie Dickinson, Laura Leighton, David Lee Smith and Sarasota native Shanley Caswell.  For more information, visit


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