Alumna lands role in Tarantino film “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

The 2019 screen acting alumna from the College of Performing Arts, Rachel Redleaf (right), in her role as singer and actress Cass Elliot in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” which hit the big screen on July 26. Photo courtesy of Rachel Redleaf

Rachel Redleaf graduated from Chapman in May 2019 with a spark in her eye and excitement to take on the entertainment world. Not even half a year later, Redleaf, a screen acting major, could be seen on the big screen as Mama Cass in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

A native of Scottsdale, Arizona, Redleaf’s first performance was a munchkin in the Wizard of Oz. Since Redleaf could talk, she said she knew she wanted to be on Broadway, but also had a passion for screen acting.

Fast-forward 18 years, and Redleaf was cast in Tarantino’s film during her senior year and filmed on set while pursuing her degree. Redleaf’s manager, Jason Solomon, came across the production opportunity and recognized that Redleaf looked very similar to Cass Elliot – the 1960’s and 70’s American singer and actress who is commonly referred to as ‘Mama Cass.’ Redleaf took note of their physical resemblance and decided to send her audition tape with the hopes of getting a call back.

“I sent in the video, but I didn’t hear from them for a month,” Redleaf said.

After not hearing back, Redleaf was in awe when she received a call from Solomon and was told she got the part without even needing a callback.

“It’s a very small part in the movie, she’s there for a very short amount of time, but she has such a presence. I got to play an iconic woman,” Redleaf said. “Everybody in the scene was so happy to see her because she was the life of the party. In that scene, she was a light.”

When asked if going to college prepared her for the screen acting world, Redleaf said that she originally didn’t plan to attend a university. Chapman was at the top on her list because of its screen acting program, which she said few universities have Redleaf was originally waitlisted before finally getting her spot in the incoming class.

“I felt like that meant that I was supposed to be there,” Redleaf said. “I wasn’t even a film major and I got to hold a camera on day one. I got to see the other side of the film world.”

She expressed that she didn’t have the best overall experience at Chapman.

“I always thought success was happiness and it certainly makes me happy, but I really suffered through a lot of anxiety and depression during college,” Redleaf said. “You really need friends, love, and support. If you don’t have that, you really do feel empty.”

Redleaf also told The Panther how some of her acting instructors made her time at Chapman difficult.

“My acting teachers – one’s you’d think would be all for the experience of going to auditions and filming on set – would give me a hard time for missing class for production filming,” she said. “Real world training is more valuable than anything you could learn in school, because that’s where you learn the most.”

Redleaf did, however, develop close relationships with some theater professors, who she still keeps in contact with. Jay Scully, one of her former screen acting professors, still coaches her before every audition. When asked to share his thoughts on Redleaf, Scully didn’t hesitate to comment.

“Rachel came into my class with more professional experience than other actors, so she had a perspective that immediately clicked with what I was teaching,” Scully said. “She’s the kind of actor who immediately understands the emotional component and how to bring that out in any scene and that’s a remarkable quality.”

Giulio Ongaro, the dean of the College of Performing Arts (COPA), recalls that Redleaf’s senior showcase performance was a stand-out.

“It was a very in-your-face, very powerful, very courageous performance about body image: how heavier women are typically perceived in the acting world,” Ongaro said. “I was extremely happy to see her get the role in ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.’”

In addition to the Tarantino hit, Redleaf is also known for her role as Beth Chapin in “Atypical,” a Netflix-original series.

“My experiences would mean nothing if I couldn’t share them,” she said. “I want to share my story. I love it, and that’s what fulfills me.”