The Unicorn Booking: Actor Nicole J. Butler on Being "She-Shed Cheryl"

Actors always believe there’s one booking out there that will magically transform their careers into a continual stream of job offers, fame and fortune. The reality is, of course, less magical. While one notable booking can open doors to more and better opportunities, true success is the result of repeated and consistent work that makes up the journey that is an acting career. Actor Nicole J. Butler writes about this very process in The Huffington Post. Her HuffPost Personal essay shows all of us how, after 22 years as a working Actor, she’s found pop culture ascendence and massive virality but knows that she still has to get out and work at it again tomorrow. The fact that she’s making her living doing what she loves is Nicole Butler’s big win. You can read Ms. Butler’s essay below (shared with her permission) and click on her photos to visit her website.

I’m The Star Of That ‘She Shed’ Commercial. Here’s How Going Viral Has Changed My Life - by Nicole J. Butler

At 4:37 p.m. on Jan. 30, 2018, I received an email notification from my agent regarding a State Farm commercial audition scheduled for the following afternoon.

I’m an actress in Los Angeles and this was a normal occurrence for me, so this particular email did not stick in my memory. But I can tell you that I most likely thought, Aw, man, I’ll be stuck in Santa Monica during rush hour! ― because that’s what I usually think when I have to audition in Santa Monica right before rush hour. But this is the career that I chose, so I stopped whining and set about preparing for the audition.

I put the time and location into my calendar, mentally chose appropriate clothing based on the character description, and then downloaded the audition script and began to read. That’s when I first saw the phrase that would change my life: “she shed.”

What the heck is a she shed? I wondered.

A quick internet search revealed that a “she shed” is the female equivalent of a “man cave,” only instead of being inside the house, it resides in the backyard.

Cool, I thought as I scrolled through Pinterest, nodding my approval at the array of brightly colored, creatively decorated sheds. Moments before, I hadn’t even known that she sheds were a thing and now, to my artsy eye, they’d become #goals. 

The next day I went to the audition, did my thing and left. I felt like it went well but fixating on the outcome of an audition makes me a neurotic mess, so I put it out of my mind.

Six days later, my agent emailed to say that casting wanted to see me for a callback the following afternoon. Commercials usually have a turnaround of two or three days from first call to booking, so I was genuinely surprised to find out that I was still in play for the role of Cheryl.

This time I arrived at the audition to find several male actors seated in the waiting area ― potential husbands for Cheryl. I was paired with Reggie Currelley. After we introduced ourselves to one another, we went into the audition room to be judged by a host of decision-makers including the director, the casting associate and several people from the ad agency. This is what actors do.

I remember thinking that the director, Craig Gillespie of “I, Tonya” fame, was very clever and that the audition itself was a lot of fun. Reggie and I worked well off of one another, everyone in the room laughed at the moments in the script that were supposed to be funny, and I left feeling like I had done a good job. I wish I could tell you that it felt “magical,” but the truth is that it felt as solid as hundreds of other auditions for hundreds of other jobs that I didn’t end up booking. 

But this one, I did book. I was going to be Cheryl with the burning she shed.

One day after the callback, I was told that the shoot would take place on Feb. 10 ― a rare Saturday shoot at Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena. I was happy to get the job in the first place, and knowing that I would be paid at a higher rate because it was on a weekend was a bonus! And though I’m not a sports fan, even I knew that shooting at the Rose Bowl was a score. 

When I pulled up at the Rose Bowl that Saturday afternoon, the first thing I saw was a flaming shed on the lawn. It was the she shed, and it was very much on fire. After hair and makeup, Reggie and I were shuttled to a nearby house where we filmed in the backyard, across from a makeshift she shed consisting of a white tent with moving lights inside.

Reggie and I followed the script pretty closely, and Craig alternated between guiding the action and letting us improvise, all while keeping the atmosphere convivial. During a break, we watched a small but impressive display of Hollywood magic: An editor at his laptop superimposed video of the flaming shed at the stadium onto an image of the white tent standing about 15 feet away from us. The moving bulbs inside the tent had thrown a flickering light on our faces the way a real fire would have.

Reggie and I, along with the crew, worked until it got too dark to shoot anymore. I left tired and chilled, and my feet were a little achy, but inside I felt the contented glow that comes from putting in a good day’s work with good people doing something that you love. We tried so many different variations of the script that it was impossible to guess what the final product would look like but, luckily, we didn’t have to wait too long to find out. The State Farm she-shed commercial premiered on television about a month later. 

Our commercial wasn’t the only one State Farm shot around that time ― there were several others. One had over 11,000 airings by the time the she-shed ad started to run. My hope was that the she-shed spot would be popular enough to air that much, but there was no way to tell how viewers would react to it.

I’m happy to report that as I write this, the she-shed commercial has aired on broadcast television well over 33,000 times and has racked up almost 1 million views on YouTube. A thousand of those views were probably family members, but it’s still safe to say that the ad has gone viral ... and so have I.

Before we go any further, I want you to understand that I’m not out at parties trying to see and be seen (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that). I have never tried to “go viral.” I hone my craft, do my work, go home and mind my business.

Actor Nicole J. Butler

Actor Nicole J. Butler

I’ve shot a lot of commercials ― about 40 of them ― and some of them have been popular, including spots for Progressive Insurance, Gain laundry detergent, Pizza Hut, Walmart and Target. On occasion I’m recognized as “that actress from that thing,” but before the she-shed ad, it wasn’t very common. I’d get a lot of “your face looks familiar” but that was usually as far as the recognition went. So when strangers started yelling “SHE SHED!” at me when I was walking down the street and stopping me in the grocery store to ask if I was “She Shed Cheryl,” I began to realize that this commercial was on a whole different level. 

Yooooo ... what is this? I wondered. I mean, acting I understand, but fame? Bruh.

One day, a few months after the commercial started airing, a waitress brought me my bill and said, “I’ve been meaning to ask you ... Are you ...?”

I knew where this was headed. 

“Yes, that’s me,” I responded.

“That’s my favorite commercial!” she said, grinning broadly.

I thanked her and tipped her extra because I can’t have her out here telling folks that “She Shed Cheryl” is a cheapskate. Smart woman, that waitress. I’m not at all mad at her hustle.

There has been talk of petitioning State Farm to shoot a sequel to the commercial and some people have expressed a desire for a she-shed sitcom starring Cheryl and Victor.

While visiting friends in South Carolina six months after the ad began to air, we went to the state fair and there were two women staring at me. I mentioned this to one of my friends and she said she’d overheard one of them ask the other, “Is that that woman from the she-shed commercial?” I looked up and smiled at them, and they smiled and waved back. Yes, ma’am, that’s me.

As more and more encounters like these happened more and more frequently, my introverted-but-not-shy self has had to learn how to navigate the visibility that comes with going viral.

Now I receive memes and screenshots of myself on TV from friends and family members almost daily. I also routinely get sent links to internet discussion boards where “Who burned down Cheryl’s she shed?” is a burning hot topic. I joined Reddit just so I could participate in one of the discussions. There has been talk of petitioning State Farm to shoot a sequel to the commercial and some people have expressed a desire for a she-shed sitcom starring Cheryl and Victor. Someone even mocked up a she-shed movie poster. I laugh every time I see it.

Nicole J. Butler in front of several of her oil paintings

Nicole J. Butler in front of several of her oil paintings

Thankfully, the commercial is comedic, so people tend to be happy when they realize that I am that actress. I get a lot of questions about what “she shear” means (it’s actually “chichi-er”) and theories about who burned down my beloved she shed (Victor is always the prime suspect). And it seems that everyone wants to know what Cheryl’s new she shed will look like. To be perfectly honest, so do I. 

I’ve posed for quite a few pictures and been asked for my autograph. I was recently told by one woman that I look younger in person. I just said thank you and awkwardly posed for a photo with her.

When I first began to be recognized, I would try to deflect the attention with a bit of self-deprecating humor. But I am truly grateful for fans of my work and I never want my discomfort with the newly gained attention to read as dismissiveness, so now I roll with it. It’s getting easier with time, and I’m even getting used to having “SHE SHED!” yelled at me. It once made me want to pull my hat down over my eyes and hide. Now it makes me giggle. The bottom line is: I’m in a hit commercial that makes folks happy and I’m honored to be a part of their joy.

Since my family recovered from the shock of my announcement that I was moving to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career 22 years ago, they’ve been mostly supportive. Now I can actually feel that they are proud of me. And when people ask, “What has your daughter/sister/niece been in?” all they have to say is, “You know She Shed Cheryl?” It’s actually “real” now. And my mom’s name is Cheryl, so this is kismet. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

On a very personal level, the birth of She Shed Cheryl doesn’t mean that I’ve suddenly become wealthy (yes, people ask me about my finances *side-eye*) but my bills are paid, which is a beautiful thing, and I’m getting used to that as well. Some days I still get a little overwhelmed, but most days I just feel blessed beyond measure.

I don’t know what’s next for me or for Cheryl and her ill-fated she shed. As always, I have my hands open: Whatever is no longer mine will fly from them, and whatever life has in store will find me when it’s time. For now, I am making a living doing what I love to do and that alone I call winning.

Castable Types Headshot Makeovers: Check Out The Difference

The purpose of your headshots is to market you, your energy, types and talent. That comes through your eyes, facial expression and body language.  You must always elicit your Castable Types from the inside as well as the outside. Don’t just sit there and listen to music or chat away between the flash. Be in the prior moments of the appropriate Castable Type monologues so that you are truly, deeply and honestly projecting the life of the character. Be in their world, not yours, or the photographers. Your headshot must say something; speak for you when you aren’t there to do it in person, essentially auditioning for you before you ever get a call. Make sure it does the job nd isn’t another run of the mill actor pic that hits the trash can rather than the submission file. Check out the difference in these two Castable Types Headshot Makeovers below. Each of the Actors featured had a significant upsurge in interest and response from the industry once they put their new Castable Type headshots into circulation. If you want to turn your headshots into a truly effective marketing tool for your acting career and get noticed, I take you through the process step-by-step in my webinar course, 7 Steps To Launch + Grow Your Acting Career. You can get the webinar here, If you’d like to sample before you buy, sign up for a free 60 minute webinar version of the course at this link:


Your Talent Is Your Business


It saddens me to see actors struggle to understand what some people call the “business side of the business” and be told by so-called experts that it’s something separate from creativity, almost like a burden you have to bear...and I’m frustrated by those “acting experts” who haven’t done much professional work in years and teach outdated acting technique that’s nothing more than a series of imagination exercises ending in lots of discussion about the exercises but not a lot of professional level performance or follow through on how to use imagination in actual working situations on the kinds of projects being produced today. I’m especially saddened watching actors spend all their money on endless scene classes where memorization gets you brownie points but your skill set is no better off and your unique talent remains underdeveloped. Your talent, creativity and imagination are the tools you need to succeed in the acting industry. They are your business! Knowing how to develop, polish and present them is simply an extension of who you are as a performing artist and when you have great, focused, authentic marketing tools and a reliable, accessible performance level audition and acting technique, you have a tool kit other actors lack. I can teach you how to put these elements together so you can launch, grow and sustain an acting career that makes you happy and becomes your reality.

Integrating Your Physical Appearance With Your Castable Types

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Your Castable Types are, of course, shaped in part by your physical appearance. The only time it isn’t considered is in voiceovers. But keep in mind that societal and cultural influences are constantly and exponentially expanding the definitions of beauty, masculinity, fitness and what is “camera ready”. In most cases, your appearance should give definition to your Castable Types rather than determine them. You do that by integrating your physical appearance with your Castable Types. For instance, many of us are hyper-focused on our weight but there are many other facets of appearance which inform your Castable Types, like physical life and voice, just to name two. These are outward aspects of your energy that are very relatable to the camera or audience. A beautiful full-figured actor with a smoldering voice, who brings sensual intensity to words and movement across the stage or on camera can be far more compelling and authentically sexy than a model thin one who moves and speaks awkwardly and self-consciously. If you’re a size 18 female you may not be cast as the next Bond Girl but then again, you never know. You could certainly be cast in a role that calls for a sense of sexuality, of sensuousness or seduction if those are qualities you radiate authentically. It just may not be in a formulaic vehicle. And that may only be one of your Castable Types. Embracing your personal Castable Types and developing the elements you radiate authentically will allow you to perform using all those parts of your talent and not feel less than or eliminated by your physical appearance because it’s integrated in your Castable Type. That’s what we want as actors, that’s when we do amazing work! Bringing your look into harmony with your Castable Types is crucial to developing your talent to a professional level and often easier than you might think.

Why Do So Many Talented Actors Never Get The Chance To Use Their Talent?


A burning question most emerging Actors have, the one your Mom probably asks you, is why do so many talented actors never get the chance to use their talent, many seeming to never even get out of the starting gate? The simple answer is that no one tells them how to attain their creative goals, establish artistic credibility and how to build a professional acting career. They don’t have the core, required information, that working blueprint they can follow to get an acting career off the ground in a sustainable way so many of those talented actors, often the smartest ones, decide they won’t even try because they refuse to set themselves up for failure. Others bluster ahead and feel like they may be going in the right direction and gaining momentum for a time, but inevitably hit roadblocks that cost them in big ways. Usually, to the point that it pulls the rug out from under anything they might have achieved so far. I see this a lot with people who get an agent or manager to submit them a couple of times, often for parts cast mainly on physical appearance or age - though the actor may not know that, and maybe they book something once or twice, and then they get nothing else and the agency or manager drops them. A little bit of forward motion that ends up hurting you because you now have to explain why that agency dropped you to the agents and managers you try to get to represent you next. 

You don’t want to go down a path of very predictable trials and errors, chipping away at your creative, financial and emotional capital until you feel used up and hopeless about ever realizing your dreams. You can’t just decide to get headshots one day, slap a scene you’ve done four or five times in class on a reel and put it on the internet or send it to some agents and think anything real will come of that. That isn’t a career plan its a chore list. To get yourself off that well worn path of futility and go from struggle to progress right away you need to: 

Get Industry-savvy guidance so you can begin to plan out your career goals in a real way because saying I just want to be in something is the kiss of death. It shows that you know nothing about the industry and are probably not in it for the long haul. Frankly its what fame whores and fools say.

  • Don’t solicit or accept advice from people who aren’t actively working in the industry. This includes family, significant others and your friends.

  • Learn to identify advertorials and promotions in the trades - this goes for schools too! Just because they have a celeb alum or former client has no bearing on the present.

  • Stop looking for shortcuts and wishing for silver bullets

  • Make and embrace necessary changes.

It can take a little time to get a handle on how any industry really works and who the reliable professionals are at each rung of the ladder but you have to find the right people to advise and mentor you and you will make mistakes along the way. Just don’t fall for the idea that one connection, one agent, one gig, one chance will put your acting career where you want it to be. It’s all a building process so make sure your foundation is solid.

Next, get professional performance level coaching - this is what establishes your artistic credibility. This is absolutely crucial. This is not where you skimp in terms of your time or your financial investment:

  • Private Coaching is more intense and demanding but yields the best results.

  • Understand that College and Conservatory training rarely translates to performance level work when you’re out in the real world.

  • Learn how to audition, ace callbacks and interviews - that means learning how to break down a scene or commercial copy on the spot and then apply your deeper work, through those choices, to the script at hand. It means learning how to improvise and incorporate adjustments and make clear choices on a dime that bring you and what’s uniquely you to the fore. It means doing Performance Level work. The work done in class isn’t usually at that level. It means knowing what a successful agency interview or go see is like and practicing those as well. Yes, you can actually practice for interviews! (It took me forever to learn to interview -  here’s a secret, shorter is better

DIlligently and consistently put in the required capital (time, effort and money) consistently on a continuing basis its the only way to sustain a professional career:

  • To achieve performance level work, you must practice four to five times a week as well as read and view. This is your investment of time

  • Marketing your talent requires creation of a plan of action and the time commitment to see it through. This is your investment of effort

  • This is a career not a crash diet. It isn’t going to happen in six weeks or six months. You must learn how to finance your career costs. This is your investment of money

There really are no short cuts to building a sustainingand fulfilling acting career. What may seem like a lucky break is usually the sum total of all the work done before. As Actors, we have to live Shakespeare’s words from Troilus and Cressida, joy’s soul lies in the doing.

Wow, that was fun! My "Get Behind Me, Now Stay There" Experience

The hosts of Get Behind Me, Know Stay There. Image: Maya Seligman

The hosts of Get Behind Me, Know Stay There. Image: Maya Seligman

I had the most fun radio interview evah on the show, Get Behind Me, Now Stay There which can be heard on the Public Radio Exchange. If you've never listened to this fresh, fun radio show, tune in and give it a go. It's one of the hottest and fastest growing shows on the Public Radio Exchange. The conversation ranged from theatre, film, arts, culture, my book, Your Castable Types and entertainment out of hipster Ashland, Oregon, give a listen to Episode 51, on which I was a guest. You can listen here, starting at the :50 minute mark:

The Bright Side With Teknishia Interview

Smart, savvy radio host Tekneshia Day invited me to appear on her popular daily talk show, The Bright Side With Tekneshia to discuss a topic so many of her Atlanta area listeners want to know all about: how to launch, grow and sustain an Acting career. You can listen to our interview here: 

My Interview on the Top Rated Singapore Radio Show CarryOnHarry

Harry Johal, host of one of Singapore's top rated radio shows, CarryOnHarry, interviewed me about my unique approach to Acting training and my book, Your Castable Types, which lays out the entire program. Harry's listening audience extends all the way to the United Kingdom on BalleBalle Radio. Acting is an incredibly popular topic with his listeners and we spent the entire show talking at great length about acting technique, the joys and challenges of performance and how to take your Acting career to a professional level. I think you'll enjoy listening to this in depth conversation: 

Ta Da!

Website redesign approved by Emma the Westie. Phew!

Website redesign approved by Emma the Westie. Phew!

Presenting the freshly redesigned IndependentActor website! It's been a long process to create a user-friendly site, uncluttered by advertising, to serve the needs of all the IndependentActors out there but I believe the job is complete and Emma-approved. In the next few weeks I'll be introducing you to a wonderful series of webinars to help you launch, grow and sustain your acting career. If you're already on my email list you'll receive invitations to listen in for free and get career essential bonuses. If you aren't yet on the mailing list, do sign up today to get those freebies. 

You'll also see this blog take off with posts on acting, film, theatre, reviews and interviews. I hope you'll enjoy all that's coming to the new IndependentActor site and join in the conversation in the comment section. The dog and I would love to hear from you.

My Interview on Los Angeles Talk Show, State of the Arts

Listen to my interview with Paul Stroili and Michael Sterling, hosts of the Los Angeles based radio show, State of the Arts. We had a great conversation about Acting, my book, Your Castable Types and the casting and audition process for Actors. This was a fun interview that starts at the :30 minute mark: