PHOTO CAPTION: Chelsea Frei plays Victoria Gotti in the upcoming film Victoria Gotti: My Father’s Daughter. The movie will air at 8 p.m. EST Saturday, February 9, on Lifetime.
By Anneliese Ziegenbein
Think about this: If you’re reading this article right now in Andover High School you could unknowingly be walking down a hall, sitting at a desk, or hanging out in a classroom that once occupied a rising star. Perhaps your teachers once taught Chelsea Frei, a young Andover High theater kid turned Lifetime movie star.
Frei’s passion for acting blossomed in our own town and her skills were built through plays at Sanborn Elementary School, West Middle, and Andover High School–schools that raised many of us, myself included. How often do you get to say that someone from your hometown is now playing the title role in a movie that millions of people will soon watch? Or that they grew up right near your own home?
Her most recent film, Victoria Gotti: My Father’s Daughter, will air on February 9. Frei holds the title role as Victoria Gotti, making this her biggest role yet. The film follows the life of Victoria Gotti, daughter of mobster and crime boss John Gotti. According to Frei, the movie zooms in on Victoria’s childhood and “how her life was transformed by the fact that her father was a mobster and how everybody in her family in one way or another has been affected by his name and the brand of the Gottis.”
Frei said, “It’s definitely a story of female empowerment…. It explains how she faced all these difficulties and found her own path…and how she became a very successful and accomplished author even in the face of what she dealt with and the traumas of her life.”
Even as Frei achieves greater and greater roles, she stays true to her Andover roots. She is eminently grateful for the opportunities that her former community provided her to help her become the skilled actress she is today.
She remembers doing her very first play at Sanborn Elementary. “I auditioned and that’s totally when I got the theater bug,” she said. From there she was hooked. Her musical streak began and she took part in many productions through Sanborn, West Middle, Andover High, and Boston Children’s Theater.
She attributes much of her growth as an actress to her upbringing in the Andover theater program: “Ms. Choquette was amazing, and I feel so lucky that I got to go to a high school with a director who cared as much and really put the time and effort into each and every one of us in the acting program.”
Andover’s highly regarded theater program really is unique with respect to its year-round efforts. Frei remarked, “I think the fact that we did three shows a year just shows how passionate [Ms. Choquette] is about the program and I was able to do a show at all times. In a lot of schools it’s just one musical or not even that.”
Choquette elaborated on the access that Andover students have to performing arts, saying, “We live in a community that supports the arts and families that bring their kids to plays, musicals, and musical concerts. Our community values performing arts, so students come to me with an appreciation for that right off the bat, which is helpful.”
She went on to say that Frei certainly came in with this attitude. “I remember Chelsea coming in and auditioning and participating in almost all of the plays. I remember her having a great sense of humor, and some really nice comic timing,” she said. She spoke highly of Frei’s talents and natural skills: “Her ability to memorize lines was, and I imagine still is, really terrific. Chelsea had the ability to really memorize lines and be off book right away, which is a pretty great skill to have, especially for a professional actor.”
Choquette saw Frei’s potential and knew she was going places. Still, she noted that while Frei had innate acting skills from the start, she also worked extremely hard to be the best she could be. “She was able to do everything that was required of her or she would work hard to learn those things,” said Choquette. “Whatever she needed to do, she would just plunge into it. If it was a skill that needed to be worked on, she wasn’t afraid to say, ‘You know what–I need to work on this so that’s what I’ll do.’”
Frei shared similar sentiments and discussed the lessons she took away, saying, “The lessons I learned when I was acting back then still totally hold up.”
Frei’s passion was always comedy: “At Andover High we did so many comedies and we always had the creative freedom to try things. I don’t think I would have known how to do that without her and the program in Andover.”
She took her passions with her beyond high school to NYU. Getting her BFA and studying drama was extremely important to her, and NYU offered her the ability to network in the city and meet people that would soon become her agents, writing partners, and friends. “I think just being in New York itself was super helpful to immerse myself in the culture and the theater,” she said.
During her time in the NYU acting program, she expanded on her theater and classical training. “The great thing about it is that you start in one program for two years, but then you get to choose your own path and your own classes, which is actually kind of different than a lot of BFA programs,” she said. “It allowed me to go down a lot of different avenues and figure out which I really loved. It opened up a lot of doors for me.”
New York offered her the opportunity to focus on comedy. She was able to get an internship at NBC on Late Night with Seth Meyers and later on SNL. She said, “I interned at two places that I grew up watching, which was such a dream. But, it also taught me so much about that world, about late night television, joke writing, and comedy writing.”
Since her time at NYU, Frei has accomplished quite a lot, from writing a webseries called Hostess, which was picked up by Funny or Die and Elizabeth Banks, to starring alongside actress Carly Craig in a YouTube series called Sideswiped, and now holding the title role in a Lifetime movie. She has come a long way since the Sanborn elementary school plays.
Choquette highlights the difficulty of being a professional actor or actress, saying, “Acting is hard because for every role that you get there are innumerable roles that you don’t get. You have to have this incredibly thick skin, a lot of self-confidence, and a belief in yourself and your own abilities no matter what, and I do feel that Chelsea had that.” She remarked that even when Frei attended Andover High School, she could tell she had the skill set and confidence to make it in the business.
Ms. Choquette strives to teach this lesson to her students: “You have to be resilient, you’re not always going to get the role that you want…. There are lots of ups and downs and I think in theater one of the really important things that we learn is to be resilient and to keep trying.” She identified this quality in Frei from the start: “I figured that she’d be able to power through the disappointments, and its an important thing to know and to learn and to be able to do not just in theater but in life.”
These qualities have propelled Frei to each of the accomplishments that have built up not only her resume, fame, and reputation, but also her appreciation for her Andover roots and the community that watched and encouraged her growth.
But this isn’t just a success story. Frei is an inspiration–and serves as a reminder of what we here at Andover High School are capable of. Seven years ago, she was just like us: walking the halls of AHS, doing homework every night, studying for tests, and dreaming about her future. And look at her now…her hard work, persistence, focus, and belief in her dreams allowed her to tackle them and make the most of them.
And with the same determination, we can too.