Songs in the Key of Awesome
Actor Chelsea Frei on Comedy, the Arts and her Merrimack Valley Roots
Chelsea Frei’s mailing address may be on the West Coast, but her heart is in the Merrimack Valley. The actress, who was born and raised in Andover, Mass., is best known for her role as Bridget Moody in the Fox comedy series “The Moodys” and as crime boss John Gotti’s daughter Victoria in the Lifetime TV biopic “Victoria Gotti: My Father’s Daughter.” The 28-year-old Frei has experience writing, producing and voice acting in Hollywood, most recently lending her talents to the 2019 remake of “The Addams Family.” She has also gained a social media following for her hilarious @andovermoms Instagram account, which pokes fun at New England stereotypes. We chatted with Chelsea about growing up in the MV, the road to her acting career, COVID-19 (inevitably) and what’s on the horizon.
Can you describe your experience growing up in the Merrimack Valley and participating in theater at Andover High? How did this influence your career as an actress?
The first play I did was at Sanborn Elementary School in Andover when I was around 8. I hadn’t really thought about doing theater prior, but I loved the attention and making people laugh, and it was the most fun I had ever had. From there, I caught the bug and I realized that this is all I want to do. I feel so lucky that Sanborn, West [Middle School] and Andover High [School] had great theater programs.
Growing up, I was always in a play or doing a musical. During the summers, I would do soccer camp, then I would want to do the theater camp and whatever play they were doing there.
I started to get really serious about acting in high school, mainly because at that point you have to choose to make it something you really want to do. We had rehearsals after school, rehearsals every weekend, and it became a running joke that I was never around for events like football games because I was always doing a play. But I loved it and I wanted to devote my time to it. Luckily, Susan Choquette, who runs the Andover High drama program, is so passionate about trying different types of playwrights that she really expanded my horizons. I was exposed to so much and constantly wanted to know more.
As I entered my junior and senior years of high school I realized, OK, maybe I really do want to go into this, and that’s when I started homing in on a BFA program. I started doing North Shore Music Theatre and Boston Children’s Theatre during summers, doing as much as I could until I applied for early-decision at New York University (NYU), which was always my top choice.
I don’t think I would have ever gotten into a place like NYU without the privilege of having two parents who really supported me, and all of these programs, and also the privilege of going to such an amazing public school like Andover, where they really appreciate the arts. I still can’t believe I got to perform at the Collins Center [in Andover]. It’s probably the biggest place I’ll ever perform. Looking back, I’m like, wow, what a great experience to have that as my public high school.
Of the many plays you performed in during those years, what were some of your favorites?
My two favorites were, first “A Chorus Line,” which we did my sophomore year. I played Val, and that was so fun. I’m a famously terrible dancer and [“A Chorus Line”] was so dance heavy, but we all worked so hard and wanted it to look really good, and I remember it being such a collaborative process where we all became so close. My other favorite was “Noises Off,” which is a British farce and physical comedy that takes place behind the scenes of a show. It was my first play, really, and I remember learning about physical comedy from the other actors and Susan [Choquette]. That’s where I fell in love with comedy; I definitely think that was the start of the mindset of ‘this is really what I want to focus on.’
What was it about comedy that caught your interests?
I love acting and doing it all, but I love making people laugh, which includes going off of an audience and hearing what makes them laugh. Every night was different; each scene would make people laugh differently and you would have to feel the audience, which is the beauty of live performance.
Your acting style is clearly comedic, but do you plan on exploring more serious, darker roles in the future?
I definitely want to explore outside of comedy. That’s why “The Moodys” is such an amazing job, because the writers are so great and they make sure the characters are well-rounded. Our characters are dealing and grappling with real adult issues that people in their late 20s and early 30s go through, as my brothers and I do in the show. But yeah, I definitely strive to do more beyond comedy. Although, it can be hard because as people start to see you in a certain way, you can start getting cast as that. This can be amazing because I know something is my type when I go into a room for certain roles; however, it presents challenges when trying to be seen for more dramatic roles. That’s why I have written a lot for myself. I write a lot of my own material that showcases what I want to do, which helped me to find the best way for me to change how other writers and creators see me.
I just wrote this horror comedy that has a lot of serious stuff for the main character, who I hope to play. That’s why I wrote it, because I want to make something where I can really get into it and be taken seriously as a dramatic actor. I’d rather not wait for the part to come to me; I want to make it myself.
You’ve worked in many roles both in front of and behind the camera, from acting in television and movies, voice acting in an animated movie and producing short films. Do you prefer being in front of or behind the camera?
I love acting and writing the best, I think those two come the easiest to me. Producing is really hard. When I’m not acting, I love writing and creating stories. I find it very cathartic to write for myself and the things I’m going through, to get what’s going on with me out and into a character. Directing is something I have avoided because I get really into material from my own point of view, so it becomes difficult to see the big picture, but I have definitely thought about it and it may be something I do in the future.
How does voice acting compare to physical acting? Is it any easier since you are not technically on camera?
Voice acting is one of the most fun things ever. You can basically go to work in sweatpants and a messy bun and still play this glamorous character. The jobs are also so quick — you can go in and do it in minutes. I think “The Addams Family” took me about an hour. The thing with voice acting is that it’s really hard to get into and a really hard industry to break. I was so shocked beyond my wildest dreams when I booked “The Addams Family” because the initial audition was basically a self-recording on my phone. A couple weeks later I got the call, and to see them create this character based on some aspects of myself meshed with the images of the cartoon character — that was one of the most amazing experiences ever. I had previously done a lot of voice-over commercial stuff, which was also really helpful.
When you began working on “The Moodys,” what was it like working with seasoned actors like Denis Leary and Elizabeth Perkins? Were you starstruck?
The cast of “The Moodys” are some of the best people alive. I love Denis, Elizabeth and my brothers. Something so lovely about Denis and Elizabeth and the fact that they lead our show is that they really wanted us to feel like a family. On top of that, they’re really amazing people, so it never felt daunting. It was almost as if I didn’t have the time to be starstruck, because we jumped into the show almost immediately; we made the show last year in less than two months. We were all thrown into filming and had to act like a family and fight like a family, but it came very naturally, which I think made the process easier. Every time I go to set, I’m so grateful.
What was the process of getting that part like?
It was over a monthslong process, for sure. I don’t even know how many times I auditioned — at least five. They pair you with different brothers and sisters during auditions; meanwhile, they’re in the process of casting your parents so they want to see if you’re going to look like your parents. I remember hearing through the grapevine that they were working out a deal with Denis, and I was like, that would be good because Denis and I kind of look alike! It’s such a puzzle that comes together in the craziest way, but always ends up making sense in the end.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you and your career this past year?
I’m so lucky in terms of my situation. I was living with my sister, so we had each other while my parents were across the country. It shut down the energy of the industry for a while; those first couple months were so scary in terms of not knowing anything and having no information. It came at a very odd time when we were editing our first feature, which we were able to do from home.
I was also able to write from home, and my roommates and I were able to keep each other busy. I’m grateful that we were able to hunker down together, but it meant a lot when I was finally able to safely go back to Boston and see my parents.
What is it like on a film set with COVID-19 restrictions?
Every set is different, but I think there’s some things that everyone is doing. Everyone on set wears a mask at all times, even the actors unless the camera is rolling. I would have my mask on up until we started filming. The crew would come up and retouch you, and you put it on right when you are done with the scene. It’s mainly a matter of limiting the amount of touching everyone is doing and the exposure to other people. People are so grateful to get back to work that everyone is so willing to follow precautions and do things the safest way possible.
What’s up next for you? What are you looking forward to?
First, I just wrote this horror comedy movie during quarantine that I’m trying to get off the ground; I’m really excited about that. Next, the film that I wrote and produced last year that was made in Fargo, North Dakota, is still in the process of distribution and submitting to festivals. And, of course, there’s “The Moodys,” where filming for season two will begin shortly. I’m also on an episode of Hulu’s “Shrill,” which comes out later this year.
Tell me a little bit more about the movie you wrote and produced last year.
It’s a film called “Tankhouse” about a pretentious theater couple in New York who get blacklisted from the New York theater scene, so they move to Fargo, North Dakota, to start a theatrical revolution there. Christopher Lloyd and Richard Kind star with an amazing ensemble of actors. It’s actually based off of a short that myself and my writing partner made years ago, where we starred as the main characters. It went to a festival, and we met a producer there who wanted to make it a feature film.
CHELSEA’S FIVE FAVORITES FROM HOME:
Place to hangout:
LaRosa’s in Andover
New England season: Fall
Fast food: Dunkin’ Donuts