Shantel VanSanten has brought some incredible characters to life throughout her career. From her work as Quinn on One Tree Hill to her more recent characters like Becca on The Boys and Karen on For All Mankind, she has a way of bringing strong and complex female characters to life.
To celebrate Season 2 of For All Mankind, Shantel sat down with us to chat about everything — like which roles she auditioned for (but didn't get), what it was like telling Karen's emotional story during Season 1 of For All Mankind, and if she kept anything from the set of One Tree Hill. Here's everything we learned:
1. First, what's the last TV show you binge-watched?
2. Do you have a favorite TV show?
The "before bed TV" tends to be our favorite comedy shows. So we always turn on The Office, New Girl, or Parks and Rec.
3. Which emoji do you use the most?
Oh my goodness. I mean, that could get me in trouble. I probably would say either "praise hands" (🙌) or "heart eyes" (😍), one of the two.
4. What's something you've gotten into or picked back up since the pandemic?
I didn't cook as much before the pandemic and then we really got into it. I find that takeout makes me feel sad because I love the experience of restaurants, so I just started cooking at home.
5. Do you have a favorite thing to cook?
Yes, I make an incredible beef stew from scratch, like the entire thing. It's one of my favorite things to make. Another thing is this Moroccan chicken with vegetables, and then, I make this avocado yogurt dipping sauce with sage and lemon.
6. What's the last book you read?
Such a Fun Age. It was so good. The girls from the show [For All Mankind] and I all read a bunch of books together during the pandemic, like Where the Crawdads Sing, Such a Fun Age, and Normal People. We would try to read one a month.
BuzzFeed: I love that we've all just been going through Reese Witherspoon's book club list during the pandemic.
I know, right? We all follow her and are like, "What did she say to read next?"
7. What's your wildest fan story?
I mean, the proposals that happen that are very serious, like I've been sent videos with proposals. One guy did it in person. I was in Paris at a convention for One Tree Hill, and the guy got down on one knee. I just thought it was for a photo, and I was like, "Ha! Of course I'll marry you." He was not kidding and had a ring. I was like, "I...I have a boyfriend. So I'm so sorry that I said 'Yes!' I was kidding." Obviously, I'm thinking it's all just for a photo op, but it definitely wasn't. He was very, very serious. So that got awkward very quick.
8. Who have you been the most starstruck by?
Probably Helen Mirren. I was at an after awards show party and saw her float into the room in this blue dress. I just stood there like mouth agape, as though I was a small girl watching a princess walk into a room.
9. What's your favorite movie of all time?
This is so sad, but it's Step Brothers. Like, you would think I would have such a more sophisticated answer considering that I'm an actress, but it really is my go-to feel-good movie. I always laugh and I always find something new that I just think is so wonderful. John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell are two of my favorites, and if I have to pick a movie, and I only could watch one forever, why not a comedy?
10. Have you ever caught somebody else watching one of your movies or TV shows on a flight or somewhere else?
Yes, I have. It's funny because my hair always changes in between projects, and I'm lucky for that because most people are like, "You kind of look like somebody from this show that I watch." And I'm like, "Oh, that's cool!" I sat right next to a guy who was watching episodes of The Flash on a flight. I was shooting For All Mankind, so I had dark brown hair, and I was just sitting there thinking, "This is so bizarre." I never said anything. I would feel totally embarrassed and weird.
Then, there was one other time where I was in a coffee line in Toronto, and the guy was watching an episode of For All Mankind. He looked up, he saw me, he looked down, and then looked back up. I was like, "Hi! Nice to meet you." And he was like, "This is so weird."
BuzzFeed: Also, For All Mankind is a show I need to watch on a big TV because it's so expansive, so the fact that he chose to watch it on his phone in line is wild to me.
Right? This doesn't feel like an 8 a.m. coffee line show, but hey.
11. Have you ever gone back and watched your previous work?
I usually do. I'm actually excruciatingly critical of myself, but I like to go back because people always say that there's three movies or episodes that you shoot. You have the script, you have what you shoot, and then you have what happens after editing. Most of the time on a set, you're always playing around so much that I always wonder what take resonated or how they edited a scene. It helps educate me while I'm shooting too. I can now see how they're going to edit it and how to move in a scene in an interesting way with the camera. There's an education in watching my old work. I try to remove myself and my own critical thoughts. I think you're constantly learning in this business. I've never watched anything two or three times, I usually watch it once and I'm like, "Okay, that's enough looking at myself."
"There's an education in watching my old work."
12. What's a role people would be surprised to find out you auditioned for but didn't get?
Oh my gosh, there's been a lot, are you kidding me? I've been doing this for too long. So, Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried ended up doing it, but Dear John. I remember reading the script and being like, "Oh my gosh, this is the best movie ever." I went in and met with the director and it was only Amanda Seyfried, myself, and Jessica Biel. I was like, "Why am I here?" It was like they were like, "Let's throw a regular person in the mix." I was convinced I wasn't supposed to be there. I'm so fortunate that I'm a working actress, but obviously, their fame level had a little bit to do with me feeling quite out of place.
13. What do you look for when you're auditioning for a role?
If I really resonate with a character, I want to try it. There have been a lot of things that I've auditioned for and I always tell my team of people, "Let's fight for it!" I'll send in a tape and I'll do what I have to do. There's been a lot of things that I've been close to getting and, you know, for one reason or another, it just wasn't my role.
14. What was your audition like for For All Mankind?
I had just finished doing the show Shooter, and it was my first audition back in the game after three years of doing that television show. So, they sent me the script to audition with and it was one of our biggest scenes from Episode 1. It was like a four-page monologue. I was like, "I am not about to go into an audition room and do this scene. I am rusty." I did not feel ready for it. So I remember telling my manager, "I'll send in a tape." I sat at home and really worked on it with my boyfriend [now fiancé], and it felt like a more comfortable environment to play around. I sent in my tape, and the next day they called and said, "You have a meeting with the director and two of the producers." Again, I sat in a tiny boardroom with five other girls and looked around and compared myself to them and thought, "I'm never going to get this. Why am I here?" I felt like I did the worst audition. I left the audition room and I was like, "I quit. We had a good run. My career is over. I don't know what I'm doing anymore."
15. Where were you when you finally found out that you got the role of Karen?
I actually was at a museum with my boyfriend [now fiancé]. We went to the space exhibit and, no lie, I am not making this up, I got a phone call that I got the role as I stood underneath the Challenger space shuttle. I was like, "What is life?" And, of course, he was like, "I told you that you didn't suck!" It was really a beautiful and kismet moment that ended up happening. I second-guessed them the whole time too. I was like, "Are you sure? Was I like the runner-up?"
"I got a phone call that I got the role as I stood underneath the Challenger space shuttle."
16. Karen is a very complex female character. What is it like playing her?
I just love it. I love being able to play all the different shades that exist within Karen. It was tough to finish Season 1, and I needed like a month off to process everything. I think all of these characters are really relatable because us as humans go through a massive amount of loss and grief and change, so Karen exemplifies that for sure.
17. As you mentioned, Karen goes through a lot, especially in the final episodes of Season 1. What was it like bringing that heartbreaking character arc to life?
Our writers gave me a beautiful gift. To start off in the place that she was and in just 10 episodes to go through so much, you just don't always get that. I felt really grateful for being on that journey with Karen. It was emotionally taxing, that's for sure, and now to have such a tremendous loss that will forever change her outlook and her life. To be honest, we kind of go on another journey like that in Season 2. The writers craft these arcs that I never see coming.
18. There are a lot of subtle things that your character does in For All Mankind that show her evolution, like when she takes off her nail polish. What was it like using those little things to tell Karen's larger story?
The nail thing is a really big metaphor and we actually continue it in a very subtle way for people who watched Season 1. It's something that's always there. It's like its own character, just like our clothes or our hair or makeup. All of those are little components to telling the story that are really beautiful.
"All of those are little components to telling the story that are really beautiful."
19. One of my favorite moments in Season 1 is when Karen goes to the bar and talks to Pam. What was it like filming that scene?
I loved that scene in Episode 10. I remember very specifically being like, "I'm gonna slick her hair back and she's going to show her arms." Basically, she's going to be rid of all the things that were structured and felt like she had to hold in place in order to keep everything together, because now she's lost everything. There were a lot of metaphors and there's a lot going forward that I can't wait for the audience to see.
20. Do you have a favorite outfit of Karen's from Season 1?
You know, it was really hard to pick and you don't always see it, but the yellow launch dress that she always wears as like her good omen. We shot pictures in it to show that she always wears this one yellow dress. Jill [Ohanneson], who was our head of the costume department, had this rack of gorgeous clothes. It was so much fun to put on all of Karen's stuff because instantly I got into character.
Everything was very stiff and tight, and put together, and I feel as though I'm very much so not that way in real life. So I knew the minute that I felt uncomfortable, I was in Karen's skin, in a sense. But, the yellow dress in particular, you could barely zip it up over my rib cage. It was very tiny. It was one of my favorite costumes, other than her weekly pajamas. Those are always fun. We were picking out the ugliest, craziest pajamas, and I was like, "There was no sex appeal."
21. The cast of For All Mankind is one of my favorite ensembles on TV right now. What is it like working with everyone behind the scenes?
I know a lot of people say it, but it feels so different on this show, we all get along so well, especially as women. I don't know if it's just our age, but there's no competition. There's such cheerleading and celebrating for each other. It feels like that only adds another beautiful layer to the show.
22. Do you have a favorite behind-the-scenes memory from filming For All Mankind?
I have so many good memories. I mean, there were days where we would go in for fittings and know that Chris [Bauer] or Sarah [Jones] was shooting a scene, and we would go watch each other, just to say "Hi," and give each other a hug. Because my storyline is so separate from everybody, just looking over and seeing your friends at video village and being like, "What are you doing here?" It always felt like you had a really beautiful support system, especially for me in the midst of Karen's emotional moments. Having that support system off camera was really special.
23. What's something you're a huge nerd for?
I am a huge nerd for space, and it is so heartbreaking to me that I am on a show about space and I'm not one of the astronauts. If you said, "You could go to space right now," I would be like, "Goodbye!"
24. What's your favorite keepsake you've taken from a set over the years?
I always try to keep a little memento. I'm very sentimental. So I remember when we did The Messengers, which was only one season on The CW, but I got to go to the JPL Laboratory [NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory] in Northern California, and I got to learn about asteroids and space. They gave me a real model of an asteroid that they're tracking. By the way, there's a lot of asteroids that are actually within our orbit and really close to Earth, they just don't talk about them, but they keep track of them. So, they had a model of one of them and they gave it to me. They made sure to put it in the show, and then I got to keep it!
25. Did you keep anything from The Boys after you finished filming?
I kept a photo of one of my favorite scenes with Karl [Urban] and I framed it. I had Karl sign it for me as if I'm a fangirl.
26. Speaking of The Boys, how was it bringing Becca's story to a close during the Season 2 finale?
There's such tragedy in her ending and in that show overall. It's just heartbreaking. Honestly, I could've probably kept like a pint of fake blood from that show. I was just covered by the end, so that's one of my last memories from filming.
27. And finally, did you get to keep anything after filming wrapped on One Tree Hill?
I always try to take something that was very much that character. So, I have Quinn's camera strap that she wore in the very first episode she was in. I keep thinking that maybe one day if I ever have a kid, maybe they're gonna want [all of these old props] or maybe they'll be like, "What is this box of junk?"