Actress Rachel Cannon talks about moving home to Oklahoma
Oklahoma-born Rachel Cannon has played Deidre on ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat” since 2015. The series finale aired in February. Cannon attended film school at the University of Oklahoma, where she cheered on the pom squad and was a member of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority. In 18 years in Hollywood, she became a sitcom staple. Famed producer Chuck Lorre called her "comedy gold," and hired her on “Two and a Half Men” and “Big Bang Theory.” She starred opposite Jon Hamm in the final season of “Mad Men.” She has filmed multiple network television pilots. This summer, she starred in the faith-based short film “Send Me Wings,” which she co-wrote and produced alongside Lance McDaniel, former executive director of DeadCenter. "Send Me Wings” is currently being submitted to film festivals globally.
While continuing her successful Hollywood career, Rachel decided last year ago to raise her family in Oklahoma.
VeloCity sat down with her in February to talk about why she wanted to move back to the Sooner State and what she hopes to accomplish while she's here.
VelocityOKC: So when did you live in Oklahoma City previously?
Rachel Cannon: I grew up here. I went to Yukon High School and went to the University of Oklahoma in the 1990s. I was on the pom squad at OU.
What was Oklahoma City like when you lived here?
It was a great place to grow up. But I feel like because I knew that I wanted to get into the entertainment industry, that didn't exist here. So I had to leave if I wanted to do that. My family moved to Houston, so I’ve been gone for 20 years and I really haven’t come back.
The city has changed a lot. It is such a surprise to come back and see all the different restaurants and boutique shops and all the businesses that had popped up. And I think the Chamber was obviously a huge part of that, but it just was a nice surprise, because it's not what I was expecting to come back to. My family also moved to Houston, so I've been gone for 20 years and I really haven't come back.
When did you start thinking about returning?
Well, it kind of happened very quickly. So I was in LA for 19 years, really focused on pursuing acting and production jobs where I could, and if you'd ask me literally 20 minutes before I gave birth to my little boy, I would've said that I would live in Los Angeles forever and ever and ever. As soon as I held him, everything just kind of shifted a little bit for me. And I started thinking about, instead of just thinking about me as an individual, it really became about what's the best thing for him and for our family. And so I think I started looking at things just through a different lens. I still wasn't ready to come back to Oklahoma. I still was very much just trying to figure out where in Los Angeles I needed to live to give him the kind of life that I wanted for him.
And then I feel like the industry just shifted so much over the past two to three years specifically, just with the explosion of streaming services. There's so much content that's being produced, but now it's being produced all over the United States. So I was no longer getting auditions that were just being filmed in Los Angeles. Every job that I was up for, I was going to have to get on a plane to go somewhere. So I shot a series in Chicago. I did one in Atlanta. So everything was just kind of being pushed all over the place anyways. And so my husband and I just had a conversation one night where we were like, "Well, if we're all going to have to get on a plane and fly to wherever anyways, doesn't it make more sense for us to go be closer to family and be in a place that we can give him the quality of life that we both had growing up." My husband grew up in Minnesota, so we had a similar upbringing.
So we very spontaneously went online and bought a house on the Internet, sight unseen.
Wow. So you still had family here or was it just closer to Houston?
It's closer to Houston. My grandmothers are in town, my extended family is all here. My brother lives here with his kids and all my friends are here, my community is here. And I just, I wanted to plug back into that, at this point in my life. I really missed being a part of that.
And how old is your son?
Three and a half. So we've been here for a little over a year, and it's been wonderful. And I travel back for work. I can hop on a plane for meetings, I can do Skype sessions with directors. I do put myself on tape for auditions. It's like nobody even knows I'm here.
And when you told your LA friends that you were going to move here, what did they think? Were they like, "Hey, where's that?”
The interesting part about that, I was expecting to get a lot more of that. And instead I had a lot of people that were like, "Oh my gosh, you're getting out." And they were jealous. So I've had so many people comment on my pictures. They'll see my stuff on Instagram, and they're just like, "Man, life looks so good there. It just looks like you're really enjoying your family life." I just finished this the sixth season of Fresh Off the Boat, and the last episode where everybody's kind of talking about what they're going to do next and what they're going to be focusing on. And I just said I'm hoping to be able to find projects and to do things in Oklahoma, because they're really trying to build this industry here. And so many of my friends were like, "Here's my number. Please bring me to Oklahoma so I can raise my family there. It looks amazing in your pictures." So I know that Oklahoma probably feels like maybe people don't know where it is, but it is a lot dreamier from the outside looking in than I think Oklahoma realizes. Because I didn't have anybody respond with, "Oh, what are you doing?"
It was quite the contrary. I have another friend, Jenna Boyd, who's in Tulsa. She's another actress, and she's on the show Atypical. And she called me shortly after I moved and she was like, "Okay, you've inspired me..." And she had no connection here and she is happier than she's ever been in her whole life. She has fallen head over heels in love with Oklahoma.
Tell me more about why you wanted to raise your kids here. You said you wanted something that you had, but you left that. So what did you still like about that as an upbringing?
When people asked about Oklahoma, I always said it was a wonderful place to grow up. I think there was a safety here that allowed me to really pursue whatever it was that I wanted to. Dreams were a little easier here. Maybe it's the wide open spaces.
I feel like I had a good relationship with my teachers, and the kids, and the families of the kids that you were friends with, and everything just seemed like such a close-knit community. And I just didn't see my friends that grew up in Los Angeles, they didn't have that same experience. Everything felt very spread out, and it just was missing that community. So when I started thinking about how he was going to grow up, I really got stuck on where's he going to learn to ride a bike? And I couldn't get past that.
Okay. I can understand that. Learning to ride a bike is a big part of growing up.
And you think that because he's a little boy especially, I want him to have independence. I want him to be able to go to the parks and ride a scooter and go off and play. I mean we used to get on our bikes and go play in our neighborhood for hours. And my mom was, "just be home by dinner time," and that was a thing. I can't imagine doing that with my child in Los Angeles. So I just, I needed him to have that independence, to be able to grow up without me standing over. I would have been a helicopter parent in Los Angeles and there's really no way around that.
So what do you hope to do now that you're back?
I'm still traveling back and forth for work. I'm still putting myself on tape for auditions, and just trying to figure out what that next right project is going to be. I'm being a little choosier about it right now, because I don't really want to do a series in Los Angeles. My hope is that we can change the landscape here a little bit in Oklahoma, and I can do a series in Oklahoma. That's my wish.
And what are you doing in terms of the Oklahoma side to make that happen?
I've partnered with Matt Payne, for an Oklahoma-based business that is devoted to film. We really want to bring the 20 years that we spent in Los Angeles back to Oklahoma and pour into the community.
Do you think that Oklahoma has potential, especially of all the places that you've been?
I do. You know, one of the first series for Amazon. It was "Zombieland". So it's the guys that did the movie, they did a TV version of that. When Amazon first did their first run of pilots. I was in one of those, and we shot it in Atlanta. And that was when Atlanta's film industry first started kind of taking off. And if you look at the growth of Atlanta as a hub for entertainment, once they put a tax rebate in place in 2008, between 2008 and 2018. I mean the growth that that city had in 10 years, they went from being a $93 million film industry to a $2.7 billion industry in 10 years. I think that if we kind of model ourselves after that, I think there's no reason that we can't do the same. I think if you look at the cities side-by-side, Oklahoma has so much more to offer. We're closer, we're cheaper, and we have a better quality of life. And more density room for growth.
Those wide open spaces are going to come in handy.
And so anything else you want to add as far as things misunderstood about Oklahoma City, or Oklahoma that you've gained since you've been back?
You know, I worked with Lance McDaniel and I got to do "Send Me Wings," which was the short film that we co-wrote, produced, and shot, that I starred in. It was an incredible experience, because there were only five, or six of us on the crew. I had never worked on a project that was that small. Everything I've done is prime time television where you have hundreds of people going around. I always joke that when I did "Two and a Half Men," I wasn't even able to put my bra together by myself. There was somebody that it was her job to wrangle that. There was, everybody had a job and you weren't able to cross contaminate departments.
With this, Lance and I were just doing everything. Lance is moving furniture, so he's set decoration. I'm doing craft services and putting all the food out for everybody. I was wardrobe. It was just a great, great experience. By the time he brought me on to the time we wrapped production, so we wrote it, cast it, shot it in three weeks, which was incredibly fast and so much fun. I flew out a couple of my friends from Los Angeles that actually acted in it with us. We worked with a couple of local actors from Alva that were extraordinary. We had a great experience. We're doing the film festival circuit with that right now, but it just kind of gave me a little taste of, I think what's possible, and being able to do things like that here, I'm really excited about. I'm speaking at OU, I guess this week (in February), to one of the acting classes there. I just want to really be able to have opportunities to mentor and help anybody who's interested in the industry see where they can fit into this, and hopefully we help create the landscape for that to happen here so that we can retain our talent.