One of the best-known and best-liked members of our school’s Class of 2014 is Blythe Baird. Although Blythe has never been in one of my classes, we have worked together on various aspects of our school’s Writers Week. I admire the way Blythe thinks big and makes things happen, all while being one of the friendliest people you could ever meet. Blythe appears in the new hit movie Divergent, and I thought readers of this blog would enjoy hearing about what led her to that experience and what happened on the set. I greatly appreciate Blythe agreeing to share her story here. Please visit Blythe Baird’s web site and follow her on Twitter at @blythe_baird.
In elementary school, I was quite the force to be reckoned with. I was loud, opinionated, outspoken, and sometimes a compulsive liar for the sake of precious entertainment value. I believe I actually hold the record for most detentions acquired in a calendar year at that school. Maybe it’s because I’m a Leo, or maybe it’s because I have a severe case of youngest-child-attention-craving syndrome. I sorely lacked athletic ability. On the softball field, I was the chump playing with anthills in the outfield. My parents, determined to find an outlet for my ruthless spunk, ignored my protests and enrolled me in every sport in the book–swimming, basketball, golf, track, you name it. To say the least, I was a poor excuse for a team player.
After much begging and prodding on my part, my folks finally agreed to let me do community theater. I got hooked. I did every musical or play our local park district offered. After my first show, I started getting leads. I would pore over my script for hours, highlighting my lines and penciling in stage cues. The whole process was enthralling and fascinating to me. However, after years of grueling rehearsals, tech weeks, backstage drama, and itchy costumes, I wanted a change. At age twelve, I set my sights on television and film.
The first phase of action was research. I checked out every website, column, and book at the library about acting for the screen. I learned the qualifications for the Screen Actors Guild. I learned that if I wanted to get anywhere, I needed an agent or manager. I presented my parents with a PowerPoint presentation regarding these goals. Their response was less than I’d hoped. My father said, “I ain’t payin’ for nothing.” I mythbusted that real quick. I explained to them that agents and managers only get paid when you get work. They only represent talent they believe will bring in money. Still, my parents were unconvinced. I stuck with junior high theater but didn’t give up my lofty aspirations. I knew Chicago, only a forty-minute commute, was a growing venue for on-camera work. I submitted myself for casting calls online, but my chubby (okay, borderline obese) childhood frame was often rejected for being “too big.” This didn’t bother me. I kept at it.
Freshman year, I booked a cameo appearance as a young shoplifter on the USA network series “In Plain Sight.” I flew off to Albuquerque, New Mexico to get dolled up in hair and makeup, wardrobe, and eat meals with the cast between shooting takes. When I came back home, my parents noticed my grades had been slipping, so I had to slow my roll and focus on school for a bit. The summer going into junior year was when everything changed. I lost sixty pounds and dyed my hair back to blonde, after a horrendous but brief ginger stint. I self-submitted for a lead role in a short film shot in Chicago called “Disconnected.” To my utter delight, I booked it. It was so different from the things I had done before. In theater, you have to be huge and gregarious because you’re performing all the way to the back row. I had to unlearn that. In film, the camera is right there, front row. You have to be meaningful, subtle and not cheesy. Less than a month later, I got a call from a crew member of the film asking me to be in a 121 Help commercial they were shooting, providing hotlines for children in danger.
Shorty following all of that, I got signed by my wonderful management company followed by my equally wonderful agency, MbM and Big Mouth Talent. I started going on downtown auditions frequently, and going into my management to film audition tapes for sending to Los Angeles casting offices to be considered for bigger parts. One day I was at school when I got the call from my manager–“We got you a part! It’s a feature film shooting in Chicago this summer!” I freaked out. It was for Divergent. I had known about the Divergent book series because the author, Veronica Roth, had come to speak at my school for Writers Week that year.
When I went in for my Divergent costume fitting, they immediately placed me in Amity, the hippie faction. Typical. It was amazing to see the skeleton of this huge production–the costume holding place was about the size of Costco. I was floored. A few weeks later, we were told that a couple of featured extras–extras who had representation were given priority screen time–would be picked for a special cameo role in the choosing ceremony. It was intimidating, to say the least. A group of about fifty of us had to mime getting our hand cut and walking for the director. From that, a smaller group was selected and we had to stand in a line. One by one, Neil Burger looked us over and had us turn to the side, then back to front. He tapped some of us on the shoulder and said, “Thank you. You can go.” When he got to me, he said, “Step forward, please.” They then did the same with two of my friends, young actors from the Candor and Abnegation factions. We were to be the chosen kids who would go up and have a special part in the ceremony. They even gave us names since they would be called during the scene; mine was Erin Quinn. When we filmed it at this beautiful Scientology church in downtown Chicago, we got to go up and do our thing and close-ups every shot. It was awesome.
Because the movie is already so long, they ended up cutting a lot of the original shots out. All three of our little features were nixed. However, you can still see me in the choosing ceremony and the scene where Jeanine is lecturing the factions. It was a great experience. Shailene Woodley is a genuine sweetheart, Kate Winslet is a goddess, and everyone was just very down to earth on the whole.
Post-Divergent, my world opened up. I booked the lead in an Auslynn Films indie feature that’s set to release on Netflix, iTunes, and DVD in May called The UnMiracle, in which I play a teen hippie princess who struggles with substance abuse. It’s definitely my grittiest role yet. I also appeared on the premiere of NBC’s latest hit show, “Crisis.” In the past year, things have really been taking off and I love it. I have a fascination with the science of on-camera production. Hopefully, this is something I’ll be able to continue doing for the rest of my life. My plan is to go to college next year, of course, but follow wherever life takes me in terms of film and television. Que sera, sera.