I’ve known Challen Cates for almost two decades now but until our interview last week the most I could tell you about her is that she is from Virginia, is a talented actress and as you can see in these amazing accompanying photographs taken by Jennings Paige – She Never Ages. Just like the character Mrs. Knight she plays on Nickelodeon’s break out hit “Big Time Rush,” I’ve learned there is much more to Challen than meets the eye. Television Star? Yes. But she also proudly plays the real roles of wife, mother and advocate for the prevention of childhood sexual abuse. Oh, and she’s really funny too.
HMB: Looking at your body of work, I’d said your acting background is varied, some prime time TV guest spots, independent film roles, even producing. What attracted you to the role of Mrs. Knight?
CC: I was actually watching a competing show and I said to my husband, ” I’d like to play the mom on a show like this,” et voila that’s exactly what happened. Be careful what you wish for, right?! I love comedy and I really love working on a broad comedy. Mrs. Knight is such a cool and trusting mom and she’s a single mom. I have an incredible amount of respect for single mothers so it is an honor to play one.
HMB: Did you have any hesitations about becoming a series regular or was it more like a dream come true?
CC: This really is a perfect job for me at this point in my life. It’s great that I am working on a show that shoots 15 minutes from my house and a show that my kids like to watch! However, I am an actor and as much as I love playing Mrs. Knight there are also other roles that I want to experience. I love playing against type. Anything that involves totally losing myself in a character that is a departure from me.
HMB: What process did you go through to get the role on “Big Time Rush?”
CC: Besides the obvious sexual favors? Just kidding. Oddly enough, it happened through normal channels. I didn’t know anyone involved with the project. No nepotism. I just auditioned and got the part. As an actor, you go on so many auditions. Sometimes you walk out of the room feeling great and sometimes not so great. This time is just felt right. I was completely at ease with the character, even though we have different backgrounds and lifestyles. I think Mrs Knight and I approach life in much the same way–with a healthy sense of humor to get you through the day.
HMB: Every actress has to ask herself when the right time is to go from ingenue to more mature roles. Is this the first time you’ve played a mom?
CC: Ha! Moving from ingenue to mature roles wasn’t something that I decided, it was sort of decided for me. But really, aren’t mature role more interesting and multi-faceted!
I’ve been playing a mom for a long time. I’m just better at it now because I have real experience to draw from. And honestly, I think that having children has made me a better person and a much better actor.
HMB: When the show debuted, it was a huge ratings score for Nickelodeon garnering more than 6 million viewers, making it the top premiere in Nick’s history. How rewarding was that for you and the other cast members? Did it put any unexpected pressure on you to continue that kind of ratings success?
CC: We are all very excited that the show came out of the gate with such a bang. The ratings continue to perform incredibly well and we are all very proud of the show. And of course there is pressure to keep the fans in our new season. The creator of the show is Scott Fellows and I think he is sort of the John Hughes of television. He just speaks kid. I guess it helps that he is a father of 4. He really understands kids, their language, their humor. As long as he can continue to tap into that wavelength I think the show will continue to be a success.
CC: Um well it is probably that Kendall is so cute and funny it’s hard not to break down and laugh in the middle of a scene. And that Ciara is so darn cute I just want to scoop her up and squeeze her! She is also so sweet and innocent that I feel a natural maternal instinct to protect her. My own kids are only 2 and 5 so I am learning a lot about teenagers!
HMB: Your character is hilarious. I read a description online that Katie (Ciaro Bravo) is “always shown to have more tricks up her sleeve than her mother, who is portrayed as being very naive with regard to Hollywood machinations.” What’s your take on your character? Do you think she’s really that naive?
CC: Scott and I discussed this and we agreed that Katie gets her antics from her mother but Mrs. Knight just can’t see that. I mean seriously, this is the mother who attacked another mother at an audition, dressed up in a chef’s uniform to get an autograph for her daughter, knocked the maintenance man out with a frying pan, and pretended to be a hotel manager so that her kids could stay in Los Angeles. I love it and I can’t wait to do more shenanigans. Mrs. Knight does come from a more innocent place and perhaps she wants to hang on to some of that naivety because she wants her kids to be happy, and like every mother, hopes that they won’t grow up too fast.
HMB: Admittedly, this is me being an armchair writer/director but I would love to see Mrs. Knight have a larger role and more of a good cop/bad cop relationship with Gustavo Rocque (Stephen Kramer Glickman) who plays the boys manager, sort of reminiscent of the relationship Mrs. Partridge (Shirley Jones) had with Reuben Kincaid (Dave Madden) in “The Partridge Family.” It would be a kick to see more of Katie and Gustavo play off each other too. Any chance of this happening?
CC: Will you please call the show and pitch your ideas?! It would be great to go toe to toe with Gustavo. I don’t think he has a clue how fierce a mother can be when protecting her cubs. Right?! Katie is great with him and of course it’s hilarious because she is such a little peanut. I think that in the future there will definitely be more interaction between family and business. Watch out Mr. Rocque. And Griffin too!
HMB: Speaking of Shirley Jones, how does it feel to tackle the iconic role of “Mom of the Band?” How would you like to see your character develop?
CC: I love it! I just wish I could sing like Shirley Jones. I would like to see Mrs. Knight take a bigger interest in Kendall’s (and the guys) future as a musician and singer and in Katie’s future as an entrepreneur. I would also like to see Mrs. Knight be more involved in Kendall’s personal relationships as well. Heck, I’d like to see Mrs. Knight have a first name!
HMB: I love the fact that your family and the other boys are all transplants and end up living in a hip version of the Oakwood Apartments. Have you or any of the cast members ever stayed in the Oakwoods during your own acting careers?
CC: I almost moved into the Oakwood when I first moved to LA but at the last minute I stumbled onto a beautiful apartment on Crescent Heights in West Hollywood. The drawback was I shared the apartment and bathroom with two testonterone laden young guys. And apparently it’s come full circle!
HMB: How has life changed for you since Big Time Rush? Do kids recognize you wherever you go?
CC: Yeah I get recognized when I’m with my kids on the playground and at Colton’s preschool. Some of his friends are huge fans of the show which totally ups my cool factor. It’s hilarious. I love kids who are fans of the show. I especially love it when they know more about the show than I do. They can recite my dialogue, sing the songs, and correct me on the minute details of the show.
HMB: And an obvious questions, are the boys swarmed with fans?
CC: Oh gosh, yes they are all swarmed with fans and are getting an enormous amount of attention which all seems to be evenly distributed. Kids (and adults) love to tell me who their favorite guy is and I have to say it is very even. It was obviously great casting because there is a btr boy for everyone. The guys are all amazing and they are handling fame beautifully. They are all very close with their real parents which I think really helps keep them grounded.
HMB: You’re a mother and wife in real life also. How do you balance that with your shooting schedule?
CC: I am a mom in real life to my son Colton who is 5 and my daughter Jasper who is 2. My schedule on the show varies so we take it one week at a time. Every night Aaron (Challen’s husband) and I discuss our plans for the next day so that we can make sure that everyone is covered. It can get pretty tricky since both of us are actors and Aaron is also an acting coach (www.aaronmcphersonstudio.com). My kids have a wonderful nanny who helps us when Aaron or I can’t be there. Even when I’m not working on the show I am still running around this crazy city going to auditions and working on other projects. Sometimes I take the kids with me to auditions, especially commercial and voice over auditions. We just make it work out and we try our best to make it a fun adventure.
HMB: What do your kids think of their mom starring on Big Time Rush?
CC: Colton and Jasper just think it is completely normal. Colton says things like, “How was work today mom? Are you going to see Kendall today?” They love to come and visit me on set. They love the cast and crew and the awesome sets. They are also big fans of the show and the music. I love that it is actually a show they can watch. Nothing horrible happens to me on Big Time Rush. Thank goodness!
HMB: Do you think either of your kids have the acting gene? How would you handle it if they asked to become child actors?
CC: I don’t know. It’s too soon to really know. At this point Colton seems like a director and Jasper is my little comedienne. It is just such a hard profession. It is hard emotionally. The rejection is brutal and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. However, if they decide they want to be actors, we will do everything we can to support their decision and give them the encouragement and help they need.
HMB: What other projects are you involved with or have slated for the near future?
CC: I did a feature called Foosteps which should be coming out soon. I play a mom in that as well but it’s a chilling thriller and definitely not something my kids can watch. I am actively reading scripts because I would love to produce another feature but it really comes down to finding the right material.
Challen also works closely with the charity Darkness 2 Light, the world’s leading non-profit working to prevent child sexual abuse.
CC: I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and so it is a cause that is very close to my heart. One is 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused. We need to increase awareness and educate adults and children in how to prevent childhood sexual abuse.
ABOUT the Darkness to Light Organization
In 2000, Anne Lee, Darkness to Light’s President/CEO, developed and implemented a strategy for a non-profit primary prevention program with the mission of reducing the incidence of child sexual abuse through public awareness and education. With tremendous community support, over $100,000 was raised and an award-winning Darkness to Light media campaign was developed and launched in June of 2001. Darkness to Light’s public awareness campaign seeks to raise awareness of the prevalence and consequences of child sexual abuse. Their ads are a “call to action” encouraging adults to call or go online for free materials that educate adults to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse. Darkness to Light is also actively educating adults through its newest initiative, Stewards of Children, a sexual abuse prevention training program that provides frontline training for organizations and corporations that serve children and youth.
Love these Pictures? Photographer Jennings Paige can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org