Challen Cates is having a remarkable year. Having finished her role as Jennifer Knight on Nickelodeon's wildly successful musical comedy Big Time Rush, she also made an appearance in Seth MacFarlane's feature film A Million Ways to Die in the West. We connected with Challen earlier this summer to ask her about saying goodbye to BTR and her career in television.
"It's been a very busy year," she reflected. "Between finishing up Big Time Rush, and then going and working on A Million Ways to Die in the West, and my husband is Seth's acting coach, so he was there the whole time. I got to spend a lot of time on set just observing and watching all these amazing actors.
"[Then] coming back here and doing a good guest star [role] on NCIS and a web series called Namaste B--ches, [and I] had a horror film that came out on demand called Chasing the Devil," she continued. "All of that sort of has been happening at once, and [with] two kids and two cats and two dogs."
The biggest part of that was leaving behind Jennifer, the character she'd played over four years and almost sixty episodes. How hard was it for her to leave a regular role and move forward into the unknown? "It's hard. It's really hard, I've got to tell you," Challen admitted. "When we wrapped Big Time Rush, I could not stop crying. I was a mess. It was so hard to say goodbye to these people that I felt so close to. We had this incredible bond.
"I got really depressed. Thank God I had other things to go and put my energy into," she continued. "It's hard even when you're doing a play for six weeks. [And] being the grown up on the show, I got to watch [the kids] grow and mature and blossom."
Of course, when you have a hugely successful series behind you, it's almost as important what move you make next. What's Challen's plan for the rest of the year? "Definitely building on the momentum," she said, "and then I've also been thinking I need to do things that are very different to shake it off. I've done this one thing in a pretty convincing way, so maybe there's something else I can do."
"I feel like the character I played on Big Time Rush was such a loveable character," she continued. "I think for me, it's a lot of fun to play the villain. I think that's something I'd like to do more of. Not even necessarily the villain, but the bad girl. Maybe being the instigator."
While she hasn't found another series regular role yet, she's built a great resume of guest star roles, including The Whole Truth, Desperate Housewives, Criminal Minds, and CSI: NY. Most recently, you saw her on NCIS as Fay Gussman in the episode "Bulletproof." We asked her to talk about the difference when you're only working on a project for one or two episodes.
"Being a guest star is hard. You're like the new kid in school," Challen reflected. "But on a show like NCIS - which has been on for eleven years, which kind of blows my mind - they're having so much fun and they're so welcoming to people. They made it a really great experience.
"When I was on Big Time Rush, I did everything I could to make sure our guest stars felt very welcome," she added. "When you're done with your work...you do the best that you can, and then you just have to move on."
A fan of The Wire and Breaking Bad, and currently binge-watching House of Cards, Challen has made her career on mostly television but she told us that's not intentional. "I think that's just kind of the way that it's happened," she said. "I have done a lot of independent movies that've just never gone. There's a lot of stuff that just never made it to the screen or never got distribution. Which is kind of frustrating, because when you're shooting something, you get so excited about it."
But with a beloved TV series and a major motion picture behind her, she's got something new to be excited about, and hopefully she'll have plenty more excitement in her future.
For more with Challen, be sure you're following her on Twitter (@ChallenCates).