WITH boundless energy and bags of creativity, Keely Cat Wells continues to impressively straddle the worlds of business and acting. Driven by an infectious passion for her work, Keely finds time to pursue her artistic dreams while also running her own Talent Agency in London (CC Associates) and a Talent Management Company in Hollywood (C Talent).
Keely took time out of her extremely busy schedule to chat with Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge about her work.
Q: Has it always been your dream to act as well as be an entrepreneur? Or did one of those passions come first?
A: I was lucky enough every Christmas when I was a kid to go and see Pantomimes in the UK, taken by my extremely special Grandpa, now 95 years old and still writing poems, making change in the world and just being absolutely amazing! I recall at the end of each Panto standing up in the audience and dancing all out hoping that someone may ‘scout’ me to be in the next production.
I went to Musical Theatre classes throughout my childhood, balancing that with horse riding as I grew up as a country bumpkin on a farm. In my teens I moved to London to train at The Urdang Academy – one of the leading dance colleges in the UK. I suffered health issues going into my second year. In the midst of operations and being very unwell, I started reading acting books and told myself I wanted to have a voice. I wanted to be able to use the shit I went through to help others and figured storytelling through acting was the way. I spent a lot – and I mean a lot – of time in the hospital watching TV and films and it really was a life changing experience for me.
I also didn’t want to go back and redo all the years I missed at college. This was a way for me to go straight into work when I was better and to learn more about the industry. I decided to work at very well-known Talent Agency. First interning then moving up to be the Children’s Talent Agent. It makes me truly believe everything happens for a reason!
Q: A lot of actors I speak to very much have an entrepreneurial mindset in terms of creating their own work. I wonder, how does your entrepreneurial spirit overlap with your passion for acting?
A: AS an actor you are your own business. I am sure you have heard that before but it is true. You have to invest in yourself, you have to market yourself, create and design yourself as the most sellable product!
It is not just good enough anymore to be a good actor. A good actor with no business tenacity is like a racehorse with no racetrack. When you are acting, playing another character on screen, you have to know where the camera is, where your mark is, take direction quickly and basically be able to decipher through a lot of technicalities and still be real and brilliant in making sure the audience trusts you. There is your similarity to business.
People say your either using the left or right of your brain, one is the creative and the other is the logic and technical stuff. Learning to use both in harmony is key. Also, acting skills have definitely been helpful when securing some business deals!
Q: Is it ever a tough balancing act between the two?
A: YES it is tough balancing the two, but they both go very hand in hand. For instance, a lot of my companies clients have got a meeting or booked a job purely because the casting director or company have worked with me as an actor and trust that my companies actors are also trustworthy, good at what they do, prompt and proficient. And vice a versa!
Relationships are definitely strengthened with having so many on my team, my companies employees, clients and I are one big team which makes juggling them both a well rehearsed show!
Q: As you have alluded to, hard-work and creativity are in your blood. I have enjoyed reading about your grandpa Paul Zetter, his achievements and his poetry. Can you tell us about his influence in your life and on your work?
A: MY Grandpa’s poetry is very special to me. Since I was very young he would teach me songs, play the violin with me and read me his poetry and writing – not forgetting his terribly fantastic jokes!
As well as his incredible creative ability, he also was a highly respected business man, running one of the biggest and most successful football pool companies in the world and then being the creator and Chairman of Sports Aid Foundation (SAF) – a non profit which has created a lot of the top sports people such as Tovil & Dean, Sebastian Coe, David Wilkie and many many more. SAF is still running to this day.
My Grandpa also fought in the war. His stories, creativity, knowledge make his words of wisdom so helpful to me. He is a very compelling role model.
Q: You are also fantastic role model for young women who want to chase more than one passion in their life. What would your message be to young people trying to make their way?
A: I think running two companies, balancing other ventures and my acting career is very much like making a relationship between two people work – bare with me here. You need to have patience, you need to invest your time (and money), you have to be a quick problem-solver and most importantly you have to see its future. You have to love it, be completely crazily, head over heels in love with it. You have to be willing to make sacrifices. And it must be fun!
I think you also have to have a bigger reason as to why, why you want to do it, what do you have to give and why does the world need it. Then you never know what could happen – a baby could come along!
Also having a strong support system. My teams in the UK and USA and of course my family very much help me with dealing with the time differences. At first when I set up shop in the USA, I would stay up all night to do the UK work and literally never sleep. I learned that that is a long road to disaster! My support system and the love they give the companies is crucial. I am so grateful.
Q: I’m sure there are many, but can you name one or two talents – past or present – that you dream of working with?
A: MOST definitely Meryl Streep! What actor doesn’t dream of working with Meryl Streep!
I also always get so excited to be able to find they next little superstar of a child actor for the books, someone like McKenna Grace or Jacob Tremblay. As an actress, I would also love to work with the ‘The Rock’ Dwayne Johnson. His work ethic is truly amazing!
Q: Can you tell us about some of the non-profit work you are doing in Hollywood at the moment ?
A: I feel very strongly about helping those who are going through – or have faced – adversity. To change perceptions and change judgmental mind frames. Change is a natural constant in life – the weather, the seasons, the date, your age and look. Some of this you have control over, and some you don’t. As an actor you have to notice the changes in society, you also have to notice what isn’t changing and needs to. That is when you have to be the change.
I feel very strongly that anyone should have a chance to be successful (what ever that means to them) and that the only obstacles they should face are the usual discrepancies life throws at us. Being a certain ethnicity, a certain weight, having a disability should not be a problem for the industry. Being different is the new ‘normal’. There are enough challenges as there is, being you should not be another.
Q: You will appear in James Marsh’s upcoming film King of Thieves. What do you enjoy about working on big projects like this one? Are there any stories you can share?
A: IT is super exciting and there is a funny story about how this came about. I got a call from my agent asking if I could go and do an audition, but could I also bring my ballet shoes and leotard. So I went along, got tapped and did some stretches for them, simple ballet movements. Then later that day my agent says that I will be on set the following evening for a night shoot. When I get there they usher me up to see James, who is half way through shooting a scene, he cuts and says something along the lines of: ‘The ballerina from my dream!’
He went on to say that the previous night he had had a dream about a ballerina in the film and I had just made it happen! So there I was, I was given my marks, put on a podium, trying not to wobble or pull a muscle (it was freezing) and did my job. It was enormous fun and I hope his dream stayed a dream and not a nightmare!
Q: If we could look five years into the future, what would you hope you were doing?
A: IN five years time I will be a series regular role on The CW, I will be up for an Emmy, I will have changed the lives of many facing adversity and I will have produced the feature film I have written. I will be on a show that I produced with all my companies clients in as well as me. A handful of my clients will be up for multiple awards and most importantly we are a strong, happy team who is doing good for the world. Making an impact and making this world a better place telling compelling stories.
Q: Are there any other upcoming projects you can share with us?
A: AS far as upcoming projects go, I am extremely busy (as always). I have just wrapped a nice little role on ABC’s Speechless and I am currently filming some other ‘secret’ projects I wish I could tell you more about.
Also, I am pushing a feature I have written. We have excitingly just got confirmed distribution for this film, which is a jukebox musical with a very strong message. The hope is it will inspire and change the way people think about invisible illnesses and mental and physical health. My companies are a constant project working everyday to make them even stronger and continue you to change the lives of our talent.