Chandler Kinney Proves Not All Child Stars Are Crazy

When you think of famous teenagers, you probably think dramatic, obsessed with Instagram, naive, maybe even materialistic. You probably don’t think down-to-earth, realistic, and smart.

But let Chandler Kinney, the actress currently shooting Lethal Weapon with Damon Wayans, school you on stereotypes and show you that even though she’s only 16, she probably has her head on straighter than most adults you know.

We talked to Chandler about the acting industry’s focus on appearances, what it’s like to be home schooled, and that one time she had to chop off her hair for a commercial role.

You got into acting through your experience dancing ballet, which is widely known for their harsh body expectations from dancers, did you feel that you ever had body image issues from this?

Luckily I never had too serious of body image issues because of the studios that I went to, especially Debbie Allen Dance Academy. There are so many dancers like me and I was very welcomed into that academy. I feel that the dance world has changed a lot – especially ballet. People like Misty Copeland really paved the way for the dancers like me, especially African American dancers. And I think people have realized that not everyone has the same body. That’s okay, you can still dance and be a professional ballerina.

Acting similarly places importance on appearances, do you feel that they do this differently or more subtly than the dance world?

That’s a tough one. I don’t know, I feel that they’re kind of equal but in different ways. Dancing is obviously more about your body strength and body in general whereas acting a lot of times is about your face, which is hard, especially going out for a commercial auditions.

A small example is like, you have to match your family [for a commercial]. So you might go in and do a really great job, but they might want a different mom or different dad or brother who doesn’t look like you. So there are those limitations on acting and that can really change your whole career. Like if you were going out for a really big part but they wanted someone else who looked nothing like you, then you wouldn’t get the role. So it’s a hard balance, but ultimately I just keep going and you have to keep pushing on to different auditions. You may do really well and still not get it, a lot of it is about appearance. I feel like everyone wishes it wasn’t so much about appearance, but ultimately it’s just the industry and a part of the job.

Have you ever been told you had to look a certain way for a role? Or been rejected for not having the right “look?”

Oh yeah! Definitely. I think every actor goes through that. Sometimes you’ll be too short, too tall, too young, too old, they might be looking for a certain ethnicity. Sometimes it might even come down to, ‘oh your hair is too long.’

Funny story, I actually did a commercial and they wanted to cut my hair and I let them and they cut it quite a bit. It’s just interesting how everybody in the industry is looking for certain looks for their projects, which is completely understandable, but there’s definitely been so many times where I feel like I’ve given it all I had and done a really good job but not gotten it because I don’t look a certain way. It’s one of those things that you learn right off the bat, you have to get used to it and learn about rejection and not take it personally because at the end of the day it’s all business. You gotta keep going.

What commercial did you get your haircut for?

It was a JIF commercial, like the peanut butter. It was totally fine because I actually needed a trim, but yeah. It was a little surprising. But, part of the job.

I’m sure it’s surprising how specific they have the look that they want down, because peanut butter has nothing to do with hair.

Yeah, it’s totally interesting. It’s something you’d never think about until you get the role.

You danced for so many years but are now focusing on acting, do you ever feel like all that time spent dancing was a waste?

No. Not at all. Dancing is still a really big part of  me, I love it. Even to this day, I haven’t danced in a little over a year because I was filming my other show, Gortimor Gibbons Life on Normal Street on Amazon, and then that pulled me out of dance and after I finished that I booked Lethal Weapon.

But I feel like dance helped me so much just as a person and as an actress because I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned a lot about discipline and time management [laughing]. Being a kid in the industry is really difficult because you’re still in school. I used to dance almost 30 hours a week, so with that and balancing school and martial arts as well, I used to do that, it was really difficult. But it’s really trained me and prepared me for everything that has come my way in my life.

Do you think in the creative industry it’s natural to change focus after doing something for so long?

Um, yeah. I think it is. I have a lot of friends who are in the acting industry but they’ll also be actors or singers. I think it’s really a cool thing that people can change focus and try different things. Ultimately we’re still all kids and we don’t have to 100% commit to one thing in our lives. I think that’s a part of childhood, finding out who you are and what you want to do with the rest of your life. For me, right now I’ve 100% committed to acting. I was dancing for so long and I wanted to become a professional dancer, but ultimately I chose that I want to do acting for the rest of my life. I think I made that choice because I can actually act for the rest of my life, dancing is 100% body and at some point in your life you can’t do everything you could as a kid [laughing]. But you can act your whole life, for me that was the ultimate deciding factor.

So are you home schooled currently?

Yes, so I work at home and go in once every other week to meet with my teacher. I really like it because it allows me to do what I want to do.

How long have you been doing that?

I started home schooling in sixth grade, I did an online program. It was still really nice because I got to go into school everyday, but it was just a more flexible school. So if I had to take a day off to go film I could do that and not miss too much. But then I started a different school and now I just work at home by myself. I go in once every other week for a one on one meeting with my teacher. I really like it because it works with my schedule and I’m an independent worker and fast-paced, so it really works well for me.

I feel like you definitely have to be an independent worker to get that done.

Definitely, or you will fall behind. It’s difficult at some points, but I do it because it allows me to continue acting.

You’ve worked on many different TV series, with Lethal Weapon being your latest. How do you get yourself prepped for starting work on a new series?

I think starting a new show is the most fun and exciting because you get to know your character and that’s the ultimate thing. On Lethal Weapon I’m playing Riana Murtaguh and she’s kind of a typical LA teen. Always on her phone, a little mouthy sometimes, a bit rebellious. In our case we’re rebooting a show that used to be a movie, so I obviously watched the film and learned the other characters in the show. We’re on episode five right now so still in the beginning, and it’s really cool.

You also had a role on Amazon Prime series Gortimer Gibbons Life on Normal Street, do you think that streaming services have opened up more opportunities in acting? Or has the work just shifted?

It has opened up more opportunities in acting, and especially for viewers. I think that’s the main thing. It’s really cool what Netflix, Amazon, Hulu [have done] because it’s much more convenient for our viewers because they can watch whenever they want. For acting it’s pretty similar to a regular TV show, you still film regularly.

If you’re watching Netflix what’s your go-to?

Right now it’s New Girl, it’s so good. I just started. I’m near the end of Season 1 and I’m low key addicted.

Photos by Benjo Arwas
Styling by Dion Bleu Drake
Makeup by Kristina Brown
Hair by Tiffany Daugherty

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