Bethany DeZelle finds roots in Atlanta’s thriving film industry and creative community
Atlanta actress Bethany DeZelle discovered her knack for performing arts at a young age, taking acting classes and serving as a member of her community theater when she was in elementary school in Alabama. But it wasn’t until after graduating from Auburn University with an MBA and working a corporate job for several years that she took the leap to pursue acting full time.
“I was working full-time for a coffee and tea company, and was still performing at night in a theater,” DeZelle says. “About three years into that I decided, ‘OK, let’s try something else; it’s time to do this.’” She applied to the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) with plans to pursue her MFA in performing arts. “Once I got accepted I knew it was time for me to fly,” she says.
And fly she did. DeZelle moved from Birmingham, Alabama, to Savannah and immersed herself in SCAD’s creative community. “I learned a lot about myself, and I learned a lot about being an artist,” she says. Toward the end of her program, she landed a coveted spot in SCAD’s acting showcase that took a select group of students on tour through Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta, where they had the chance to show their talents to top agents, casting directors and key industry players.
From there, DeZelle signed with talent agents and embarked on a year-and-a-half of auditions that led to project after project. In 2016, she landed a speaking role as a woman who encounters the character Eleven on an episode of Netflix’s Stranger Things, which was filming in the Atlanta area, where DeZelle now resides. This fall she’s in the film The Best of Enemies that was shot in the Southeast and stars Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson and Oscar winner Sam Rockwell. “It’s an awesome thing that actors don’t have to necessarily be based in L.A. or New York anymore to have access to those types of roles,” she says.
DeZelle says it’s equally important to stay grounded in her craft, a feat she achieves by fostering close relationships with like-minded creatives.
She’s maintained ties with her SCAD professors and mentors, including Dean of the School of Entertainment Arts Andra Reeve-Rabb and Performing Arts Chair Mark Tymchyshyn, who invited her back to serve as a lecturer at SCAD Savannah and a graduate mentor at SCAD Atlanta and Savannah in 2017.
Her advice for students and aspiring creatives? “You have to give yourself a little bit of grace because everyone has to start somewhere. A lot of people think, ‘Oh I’m gonna go take this class, do one audition and then book a series regular on this huge hit NBC show, which is hardly ever the case,” she says. “It’s a marathon; it’s definitely not a sprint.”
DeZelle has also found a sense of community in Atlanta’s flourishing film industry. “Atlanta has an amazing network of acting schools, actors, crew, Facebook groups—anything and everything you can think of because the Atlanta market has grown so much,” she says. “It’s so important to get into that kind of network of artists, not just networking with the producers, directors, managers and agents— that’s all important, too—but creating a community of artists is important.”
But DeZelle eschews Atlanta’s newfound nickname, the Hollywood of the South. “I think our actors, our talent pool and our crew pool can stand on their own,” she says. “Do you have to audition or bring in actors from L.A. and New York if you have such a great pool of talent here? My answer is no, I don’t think you have to because we’ve got it going on.”
STORY: Claire Ruhlin