Whenever one thinks of a Hollywood actress it’s easy to imagine a single woman who’s seen with a new man at every red carpet, spending her evenings wining and dining the night away. The entertainment industry charges a heavy toll and there’s constant pressure to stay on the forefront of the public’s mind. As such, having a family can be the farthest thought from a performer’s mind. Challen Cates is one actress that defies traditional thinking and balances her acting life on Nickelodeon’s popular show Big Time Rush with the life she shares with her husband while raising two small children. Cates spared a few moments to entertain some questions from Working Author to discuss her career and being an actress and a mother.
Fans of Nickelodeon will recognize Challen Cates as Mrs. Knight on Big Time Rush. For those who haven’t seen the show yet, Cates explains, “It’s about four best friends who move from Minnesota to LA to become a famous band. They learn about the ups and downs of the music industry and living the life in Los Angeles. I play the mom of the lead singer in the band and the ‘den’ mother to the rest of the guys. It’s The Monkeys meets Entourage.” The show differentiates itself with its wild and physical comedy. In fact, it’s the physicality that Cates enjoys the most. “Any of the Lucille Ball moments,” she answers, referencing one of the funniest redheads of all time, “…pratfalls, spit takes, stunts.”
It’s obvious that Challen Cates loves what she does for a living. When asked about any challenges on Big Time Rush all she can think to answer is, “I work with young, hot guys. Wait, is that a challenge?” The only real challenge it seems is in picking her favorite BTR member. “Oh, that’s a tough question,” she opens before answering in full, “I have a special fondness for Kendall because he plays my son. And Ciara (Bravo) because she plays my daughter. But I have a blast working with all of them.”
According to Cates, she got the part of Mrs. Knight in an unusual way – she auditioned for it. “I didn’t know anyone involved with the project. Imagine that!” However, being a working actress and a mother does make life complicated. “Oh it’s difficult,” she explains, “There is a lot of schedule juggling. You just have to be flexible and trust that it will all work out. My husband is also an actor and an acting coach. We trade off responsibilities unless we are both working at the same time. When I am busy on set Aaron sends me photos and videos of the kids which I love!” When she discusses her children, Cates’ answers overflow with joy. “Becoming a mother is the most amazing, rewarding and life changing thing that has ever happened to me. My children give me purpose. They made my heart grow.”
She incorporates this intense bond into her roles, giving them an authenticity that’s instantly recognizable. “I played moms before I was a mother, but I really didn’t understand the sacrifices that you will make for your children until I had my own. Mothers are fierce and we want to protect our children and help them achieve greatness. My character on Big Time Rush does everything for her kids and their happiness is paramount. I also know that you have to have a healthy sense of humor!” Conversely, her roles as mothers have also given her insight into motherhood. “I have learned a lot from Mrs. Knight about trusting your children. And trusting that the values that you have instilled in your children will guide them to do the right thing and make the right choices.”
Cates’ devotion to her family is heartwarming to behold. She has worked with some of the most notable names in the industry, including Betty White, Eva Longoria, Roseanne and Gary Sinise to name a few, but she lists her children as her greatest accomplishment before anything else. “As far as acting goes, I find it rewarding that I have been able to play so many different types of characters from so many different walks of life.”
Challen Cates continues to audition and she recently filmed an episode of The Whole Truth while still making quality time for her family. She lives a dual life that can’t be easy to manage, but knowing the kind of joy she derives from both worlds, it’s easy to understand why she does it. “Everyone around me inspires me. Being exposed to all forms of art encourages me. I am influenced by great performances. Whether they happen at the smallest theater in Hollywood, Broadway or on the screen…. Being an actress is difficult when you aren’t exercising your creative muscles and it is incredibly rewarding when you are.”