By ANGYE MORRISON
If you ask Christie McLendon to tell you a little about herself, she'll say she’s from Daisy, graduated from Claxton High, and has worked at Candler County Hospital for 25 years. She’ll also laugh and tell you she’s been married to her husband, Mike, since 1989, and “so far we haven’t killed each other.” She’ll tell you about their children, who she’s so proud of: Matthew, 27, who served in the Army for seven years, and Kate, who is 23 and works at PDI in Statesboro.
McLendon might even tell you she loves to sing, be outdoors in the sun, and enjoys a really bad pun or two.
And, oh yeah…she’s been in some television shows and movies you just might recognize.
McLendon is known to audiences in Statesboro for her many roles over the past few years at the Averitt Center for the Arts. She was first cast as a chorus member in “Little Shop of Horrors,” and says that although she’d had no experience with theater before then, she “loved everything about it.”
Growing up, McLendon always wanted to sing, but never had any lessons or experience. She didn’t sing her first solo in church until her senior year in high school, at Daisy United Methodist Church. After she married Mike and the couple moved to Metter, she didn’t sing again for a while.
“No one knew me and I’m a pretty complacent person, so I never was like, oh hey, did you know I can sing? But my mother is not. So she told the pastor of my Metter church that I could sing, so he asked me to do a solo,” she said.
That church, Cedar Street Baptist, didn’t have much of a music ministry at the time. McLendon’s mother was attending Trinity Baptist in Nevils, and it wasn’t long before McLendon and her family did as well, as she was immediately drawn to their choir.
“It didn’t take but a couple times seeing the huge choir they had that I wanted to be a part of that. So we decided to join,” she said. “They also have a very active drama program, and so I did a few plays, and a friend at church told me about the Averitt in Statesboro.”
McLendon says she’d never been exposed to theater, and had no interest in musicals then. But after seeing a production at the Averitt of “9 to 5,” starring Brooks Adams and Nora Franklin, she was hooked.
“I just couldn’t believe these were local people. It was so good and seemed so professional,” she said.
McLendon’s talent soon took center stage as she was cast as Miss Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls,” her first lead role. She calls that role one of her favorites, right up there with the one she’s probably best known for: Louise in “Always…Patsy Cline,” a role in which she absolutely stole the show.
Hearing the audience laugh at all the right places, and “ooh” and “ah” at what’s happening on stage is an amazing feeling, she says.
“I love when it all comes together on stage and the audience gets into what you are doing, like really going along on the ride with you,” she added.
Preparing for her roles on stage is something that McLendon takes very seriously, and she says she looks up the production on YouTube and tries to watch as many versions as she can, so that she can see all the different ways her character has been done. She also tries to find a script online so that she can further research her character — all before she gets the actual script for the local production.
McLendon says the she finds her over-preparation is what gets her in trouble the most.
“I’m very prepared. I’m usually one of the first to be off-book. I know my lines, I know your lines, I know your blocking too, so trying to make myself hush…I’m not the director, trying to tell others, hey, you should do this or do it this way. I’m working on that,” she says, laughing.
Acting on stage in front of an audience has taught McLendon a lot about herself as an actor and as a person.
“I think I’m much more confident in situations that require me to talk to strangers in any place,” she said. “I used to have a great fear of embarrassing myself. Now I just laugh it off, and I’ll even post the embarrassing situation on social media to make fun of myself. I try to always make the best of whatever happened.”
In addition to her work on the stage locally, McLendon also plays the part of Andylina Darling in an ensemble cast that travels the Southeast and portrays the beloved characters from “The Andy Griffith Show.” The group made a stop in Statesboro at the Averitt to perform “A Tribute to Mayberry” in October 2017.
In recent days, McLendon has made the leap from the stage to both the small and big screens. She played three different roles in “Mayberry Man,” a movie that follows the show’s characters on a journey that McLendon says isn’t meant to recreate “The Andy Griffith Show,” but is instead a simple, feel-good movie about family values.
“Originally, I was going to do a character, Juanita Pike (the mayor’s daughter). She is very awkward, singing slightly off-key; and then do Charlene (Darling) for a small scene,” she said. “But due to COVID, one of the others couldn’t come so I was asked to fill in for the fun girl, Daphne.”
The movie was filmed in Danville, Indiana. You can purchase the movie on DVD at mayberrymanmovie.com.
McLendon says acting on a television or movie set is “so different” than acting on stage.
“On stage, you must sell the emotion to those in the back row, so everything is over the top, every emotion, every facial expression. In films, it’s so subtle. Toning it down is very hard for me. I’m very demonstrative just in my everyday life, so especially in background work, you are not supposed to draw attention to yourself. That is a struggle,” she said.
The shift from stage to screen isn’t really a leap, McLendon says. She says that doing background characters is something anyone can do.
McLendon learns of roles by following various casting pages on Facebook, which often post gigs that anyone can audition for. In addition to “Mayberry Man,” she’s had parts in “Devotion,” “No One Will Believe You” and “Switched Before Birth” (Lifetime movies), “I Want You Back” (Amazon movie) and “The First Lady,” a Starz movie featuring Gillian Anderson. McLendon was cast in the final entry in the Halloween movie franchise, “Halloween Ends,” starring Jamie Lee Curtis.
She’s also been in the popular Netflix shows “First Kill” and Stranger Things,” as well as “Heels” (Starz) and “Stargirl” (CW Network).
But her next big project is something closer to home, and something she’s looking forward to, as her husband will be on stage as well.
“Mike has the bug too,” she said. “He loves being in anything that I’m involved in. He used to help me run lines and stuff, and that developed into him getting parts himself.” He will be playing a Winkie, a flying monkey and a citizen of Oz in the upcoming production of “The Wizard of Oz,” to be performed at the Averitt Center for the Arts July 15-17 and 22-24.
McLendon will be starring in dual roles as Auntie Em and Glinda the Good Witch.
She’s also looking forward to Mayberry Days in September, and filming in the "Mayberry Man" series. She will also perform in October on the Cruise to Mayberry, and plays to perform in December in “Christmas Belles” at the Averitt.
That’s a lot of time spent under the lights, but McLendon wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I just do it when I can,” she said with a smile. “I’m not gonna quit my day job. I just have fun with it.”