Theater alumna makes blazing TV debut on NBC
Above: Angelica Herndon with cast member Steven McQueen on the set of "Chicago Fire." (Photos courtesy of Herndon)
By Kaidi Ilves
Angelica Herndon almost lost her life, caught in a burning building with her bridesmaid and pastor on her wedding day — but only on the small screen. The Florham Campus alumna appeared in the November 10, 2015 episode, “Regarding this Wedding,” of NBC’s hit series “Chicago Fire.”
Part of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s QUEST program, a five-year teaching combined degree, Herndon earned her B.A. in musical theater in 2013, and her MAT in 2014.
Starring in ‘Chicago Fire’
“I have an agent in Chicago who I signed with during my senior year of college. I’ve been fortunate to book several auditions every week. The executive producer of ‘Chicago Fire,’ who also directed this episode, liked what I had to offer,” says Herndon.
Although this was her first time appearing on a TV show, Herndon mastered it like a seasoned veteran — at least according to the regular season cast. “Everyone was so kind and supportive, and they couldn’t believe it was my first time on set!” says Herndon. “‘Chicago Fire’ was an absolutely amazing learning experience. I was so honored that I was chosen for this big role.”
Angelica Herndon (middle) with "Chicago Fire" cast members Dora Madison Burge (left) and Kara Killmer (right).
Life on the set
Herndon described life on the set as a “utopian popup world.”
“It was incredible — some scenes took 60-70 takes and several hours to film, but on screen they lasted less than a minute! Between the different reactions and shots, plus the side stories and scenes, being delayed by thunder and lightning when shooting outdoors … there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes movie magic going on.”
Herndon says the bar scene near the end of the episode was actually the first one she shot, and her first speaking line — when she brought in pastries for the fire crew — was shot at a completely different location the following day. “The funniest thing happened with those pastries,” she says. “The production assistant asked me if I wanted her to hold the box of pastries between takes, and I thought it was no big deal so I said no. That five pound box started to feel an awful lot heavier after just a couple of takes. I quickly got over asking for and accepting help after that!”
Growing into an artist at FDU
“FDU’s theater program had a tremendous effect on me. I learned how to tell stories through music and how to dissect [the work of William] Shakespeare, both of which were defining moments for me,” says Herndon.
Herndon (second from right) in FDU's production of "Spring Awakening" in 2012.
Furthermore, she says the semester she spent studying abroad at Wroxton College contributed tremendously to her growth as an actress. As an avid history enthusiast, learning about theater and art history at the birthplace of one of the most important figures in playwriting helped Herndon study Shakespeare and find metaphors and themes throughout his shows.
Stephen Hollis, director of the theater arts program and assistant professor of theater, guided Herndon throughout her studies at FDU and remembers her as “a first class student — enthusiastic, talented with beautiful singing voice and a delight to work with.” Hollis says he is “not surprised” that Herndon has done so well so soon after graduating.
Herndon has fond memories of Hollis as well, saying that his mentorship helped her understand herself as an artist. “He has the key ingredient for being a good mentor: he was able to see my potential before I could see it myself,” she says.
Herndon appeared on stage nearly every semester, most notably as one of the leads in Shakespeare’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona” her sophomore year, and as the female lead in “Pajama Game” her senior year.
Herndon (left) as Julia in FDU's production of "Two Gentlemen of Verona" in 2010.
Advice for aspiring actors and actresses
“You will have to learn to cultivate yourself. There will be a lot of rejection, but you should recognize that the lack of feedback you receive does not reflect on you. Do your best and good things will come out of it.”
As for what lies ahead, Herndon wouldn’t elaborate. “I didn’t die on ‘Chicago Fire,’ so here’s to hoping I may be asked to come back,” she says. “You’ll definitely be seeing me again somewhere!”
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