Houston Actress Caroline Helander Talks about Her Journey from Humble Beginnings to Hollywood Stardom

by Bob Valleau on June 20, 2024 in Entertainment,

Caroline is a professional film, TV and commercial actor born and raised in Texas. Committed to ongoing training in the craft, she’s spent the last several years studying with some of the nation’s most respected acting teachers and coaches.

Caroline’s love for the craft of acting is equaled by her love of cinematic classics from Hollywood’s Golden Age. One of that era’s most popular genres, musical film, would have been a place she would routinely find work as an actor since she is also trained to sing and dance. It’s no surprise she’s set goals of contributing to historical drama films and series using these skills. She can be seen on her Instagram doing her best impressions from this golden era.

Before becoming a professional actor, Caroline most notably served on the staff of The Late Show with David Letterman. While working in New York for the hit CBS talk show as a Page, Caroline trained at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute. Prior to arriving in New York, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and Dance from the University of Texas in Austin.

Caroline Helander was born and raised in Texas. She graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a BA in Theatre and Dance. Courtesy photo.

This native Texan began performing on the stage while still in middle school, as an actor, dancer, and singer, and went on to star in musicals at her Houston high school. Later, she shared her love of the stage by teaching theater to middle and high school students for six years after returning to the Lone Star State from New York.

Caroline has appeared in movies such as Scream: Legacy, A Rainbow in the Dark, and Insomniac and in TV shows like The Long Exhale and The Radical Story of Patty Hearst.

Caroline talked to us recently about her journey from Houston’s humble beginnings to Hollywood stardom.

It Began With Ballet

“I can remember being in ballet classes at around three years old. Like most kids, my interest faded over, and I ultimately told my mom I was done after a few years. Fast forward to fifth grade: my drama teacher mentioned to me I should get into her children’s theater class. Terrified, I decided to give it a go. Being in that children’s theater class with people who soon became family to me was only the beginning of a lifelong passion in the arts. Once my parents realized how in love I was with it all, they would take me to New York City to see musicals over the summer and I thought, I wanna do that. I can remember it like yesterday, the first musical I saw –  Phantom of the Opera. Everything from the lights to the music – I was in love. 

“I soon found myself back in dance classes and joined the dance company in high school and began taking voice lessons. Drama class became a safe space for me where I could play and create, which in turn, led me to auditioning for the school musicals. The energy was addicting. Once you get that natural high from being onstage, it’s hard to ever go back. I tell people frequently that once it’s in your blood, it’s there to stay.”

With dreams of being on Broadway, Caroline moved to New York City after graduating from college. Courtesy photo.

Broadway and the Big Apple

Caroline’s dreams of making it big on Broadway drew her to New York City. “I knew in high school this is what I wanted to focus on in college. I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a BA in Theatre and Dance with a focus in Acting. After college, I packed my bags for the Big Apple and moved to New York City. Little did I know how tough this career would be! This girl thought she would move and be on Broadway. Yeah, there is much more to this than I could have ever dreamed! 

“I lived in New York for two years, working odd jobs to pay my rent so I could audition and train. I worked for the David Letterman Show for a year and had the time of my life. After two years, I decided it was time to move home to my roots in Texas. I received my teaching degree and went on to teach and direct high school and middle school theater at a charter school here in Houston for six years. Those were some of the best years with such amazingly talented kids. Being on the other side of things taught me so much.”

Living in Texas

After returning from her adventure up north, Caroline settled in her home state. She loves living here. “Texas is my home. I was born and raised here. I am one of four siblings in a huge family. I love being close to family, but I also love the artistic community I have found here! People probably assume I’m an extrovert, but I really am more of an introvert. I love to observe, and I love being home with my family. But get me on a film set and I am all in! Coming back home to Texas has been such a full circle moment. The younger me would have never imagined I would end up back here, but raising children here with my husband has been everything and more. When I mention to strangers that I am an actor, I sometimes get funny looks as to how I am able to sustain a career in a smaller market. I feel that now, you can honestly create a creative career almost anywhere. It took me years to realize you are your own CEO in the arts industry. It’s up to us to create opportunity and put ourselves out there – which isn’t easy being an introvert!”

What Sets Her Apart

Caroline talks about some of her life experiences being in entertainment. “I don’t consider myself any better or more knowledgeable than any other actors…I am always learning. I say ‘always’ because we all evolve over time. And life experiences are a gift being an actor. With age comes knowledge and a sense of confidence knowing who you are and what you want. I am always training to educate myself on what is new. We have all had to adjust to this new way of self taping and technical mastery in the past few years and it’s still evolving. But I do know, there is only one of us. We are all unique in our own way. And what is meant for us, will not pass us by. When a role is meant for us, it’s meant for us. 

“I remember auditioning for a movie a few years back that I ended up booking, and the lead walked up to me and said, ‘I remember seeing your tape, and you just were her!’ Sometimes it’s just who we are that lands us a role. Other times, it is almost always out of our control. All we can do is live authentically, do our best work and embrace the opportunities that do find us. Whether that’s a yes or a no. And it’s taken time for me to understand this business is not about the booking. Although that is always fun. That moment when your agent calls you or you get that email that says they want you! Focusing on the work is always best. Auditioning is our job as actors. Being on set is the fun part.”

Caroline stresses the importance of having a full life outside of acting. She and her husband have three children that keep them busy. Courtesy photo.

Handling Disappointment

“I used to get really upset when I wouldn’t book something. I would put all my energy into each little piece of every audition. Striving for some sort of perfection. And we all know life isn’t perfect, and neither is our art. These characters are not perfect. Over time, I’ve learned to do the work and just let it go. But there are times, of course, when you get super excited about an audition that comes in and it goes another direction. We are all human and there are times I will let myself stew a bit over it, but then I tell myself to go live my life and on to the next!

“Understanding that there are so many factors that go into every single role has helped me understand it’s not always meant to be. Having a full life outside of this industry is key to maintaining a lifelong career. Experiencing our life will also make our art full and come alive. That takes time and, I think, age. Staying positive and filling my cup with things I love to do other than acting help me stay sane! I will also say, having my children has helped keep me busy as well. It’s also been great for them to see that Mom has something she focuses on.”

A Balancing Act

Being an actor is hard, as well as being a mother. Being both at the same time can be challenging. “Sometimes I feel like I’m running a three-ring circus! My husband and three kids have become my biggest cheerleaders. I love that they are able to see their mom as someone who is here for them but also has a life outside of being home. Don’t get me wrong, balancing these things can be tricky. Not impossible. I try not to over schedule my days but stay as organized as I possibly can. And as a creative, that is tricky. We have ideas swirling in our heads daily so it’s important for me to stay as organized as possible. Giving myself time during the day to focus on self-care and training in my craft are priorities. It also helps prevent burnout.” 

Giving Advice

Everyone has a place in showbiz. “There is a place for everyone in this industry! If it is calling you in some way, do it. What’s the worst that could happen? Always be training, creating and collaborating. Find others where you are located and connect with them. Create something together. Even if it’s picking up your iPhone and shooting something. Put a pen to paper and write. Type up ideas. Anything! Know that you are the CEO of your business. No one else will do the work for you. Stay true to who you are. Don’t change yourself to be what you think casting wants. They don’t even know half the time until you show up. Know that everyone’s journey will look different. Be prepared for lots of ups and downs. Know this is a marathon, not a sprint. Take breaks. Train some more…and some more. Finding a community, whether in class or over coffee with industry friends, will be a lifeline even when things seem slow. This business ebbs and flows. Some moments will seem like you have it all figured out and others you will feel like you have no idea what you’re doing with your life. This is all normal.”

Musical film is one of Caroline’s favorite genres, and she enjoys doing impressions from this golden era on Instagram. Courtesy photo.

Her Favorite Role

“I have really enjoyed working with indie filmmakers, especially in the Texas area. People are so passionate about art here, and it keeps me so inspired. I have worked with Director Zach Salazar here a few times with Zenhouse Studios, and it’s always such a great energy working with the cast and crew of each project. Each one has been different, but I especially loved doing Diary of a Broken Home. It explores the issues of abuse within families and marriages but the part I loved most was that it focused on the woman’s point of view. I would love to see more stories like this. 

“I think, in a way, every project I get to do is challenging and rewarding in some way or another. There is always a new story to tell or a new character to explore. I would never be able to name just one project that was rewarding because they all are! Working opposite a Golden Globe nominee in a film I did a few years back was a challenge only because of the unexpected. I was so nervous arriving on set. But I remember what my coach, Alex Collins, said to me, ‘They are just like us, do what you know, and you’ll be fine.’ He was right! Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and know you’ve trained to be where you’re supposed to be at that moment in time. Know that you belong.” 

Staying Motivated

“A few years back, I became more active on social media with creating content. In a way it was a silver lining for me, especially during and after the pandemic. I found a beautiful community of people I have met and connected with that are now wonderful friends and mentors. They inspire the heck out of me and keep me going even during the slow times. Being in class or coaching for a big audition helps me stay sharp for when something does arrive where I have to be fully present for an audition or a particular project. But I do take breaks every so often. I think when you are in any art form, taking time for yourself is essential to prevent burnout. As actors, our tools are our body, mind and voice. Without any one of these, it can be challenging and sometimes even dangerous. Self-care is a huge part of what keeps me going in this business. Exercise, staying active, spending time with family and even going on a long walk. Sure, creating content is fun, but I also need breaks! I also try to travel when time allows with my family. It’s amazing what moments in nature will do for your creativity.” 


Visit Caroline’s website where you can link to all her social media.


Cover photo courtesy Caroline Helander

Bob Valleau is a regular entertainment writer for Texas Lifestyle Magazine