Despite being a full-time student at UC Davis, Santa Barbara actress Courtney Morse still finds time to audition for film and TV roles. Her latest turn, as Jennifer in the short feature My Marilyn, has extra special meaning as it is having its world premiere at the S.B. International Film Festival (SBIFF). The film tells the story of a young Marilyn Monroe–obsessed actress who goes to Hollywood to find fame but instead struggles with delusions of grandeur, identity, and an innocent understanding of the world. In a recent email interview, the San Marcos High School alum told of the audition process, filming on Hollywood Boulevard, and what it means to her to be in the SBIFF festival.
Is it difficult to attend college and pursue an acting career? I am a full-time student at UC Davis, and I am studying communications. It is challenging to also be pursuing an acting career at the same time, but I audition when I am home on break in Santa Barbara, where I can easily travel to L.A. for auditions.
What lessons would you like the audience to take away from your character Jennifer’s story in the film? In my opinion, the lesson to be taken away is that beautiful, innocent girls flow into Hollywood with stars in their eyes of becoming a movie star, and the reality of that situation rarely materializes.
What was it like filming on a crowded street in the Hollywood Boulevard scene? Were there paid extras, or was it completely public? It was a surreal experience but absolutely crazy to film on Hollywood Boulevard. I was dressed in full Marilyn Monroe makeup, hair, and her iconic white dress in 90-degree weather, and when walking down the street midday, I attracted lots of attention, particularly from tourists. It made me understand what a celebrity must go through, because I had everyone’s eyes and cameras on me. Some people were taking photos, and some were trying not to stare. Several tour buses pulled over to stop while the people onboard took pictures. The people in the background of the film were all real tourists.
The film centers on a young woman struggling to become a star. Do you see any parallels to your own struggles? The only parallel to my experience as a young film actor is that everyone who wants to get their foot in the door starts off working on student films for free. That is the industry standard. All the actors I know also work on student films for free.
How did you hear about the part? What was the audition process like? The casting call came in on Actors Access, where I submitted myself and then received an invitation to audition. I walked out of the first audition, and after looking at the other girls in the waiting room for the same role, I told my mother that I wasn’t going to get a callback. Several days later, I received a callback, to my surprise. So my mother and I drove back to Studio City, and there were three of us that were called back. They had me read with Beverly Hyde, who was cast as the mother in the film. Again, I walked out of the audition and told my mother that I wasn’t going to get the part. About a week later, I received an email from Marcus Mizelle, the director, offering me the role. I was completely shocked and thrilled.
What drew you, if anything, to the role? It was interesting to play this character because although she is an actress that is about the same age as me, I have very different values than her.
What does it mean to you to have the short premiering here, at this particular film festival? It is such an honor to be the lead in a film that was accepted into a film festival. The fact that it is the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, a festival that is so respected around the world, it is hard for me to believe that this special thing has happened to me. I am a Santa Barbara local that loves this town and everything about it, and having the world premiere here is simply amazing. I am making a special trip home from Davis to attend the world premiere, and I wouldn’t miss it for anything.
My Marilyn will screen as part of the Santa Barbara Shorts program, Saturday, February 11, 5:40 p.m., at Metro Theatre 3.