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  • Writer's pictureAugust Sorenson

Hollywood Heiress

Updated: Mar 11

Hayley Marie Norman was destined for a career in entertainment. Dreaming of Hollywood at a young age, she saw inspiration in glamorous stars: John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands (both Academy graduates), Pam Grier, Lucille Ball, and, as she puts it; “The entire cast of ‘Living Single.’” But these aspirations are also in her blood, with multiple Hollywood icons in her family lineage. Gene Anderson and Gene Anderson Jr. (two behind-the-scenes experts), Bobby Anderson; the actor famous for playing a young George Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful Life”, and William Beaudine; a film director from the silent-era.

At the age of seven, Hayley became the face of the African-American Barbie. Of course, it’s an impressive feat, but she remembers it differently, and with childlike innocence: “It was amazing, because I got all the toys!” At the same time, she found representation with Colleen Cher, a prestigious youth agency, involved herself in numerous performance avenues, and became a member of SAG-AFTRA—all this before the age of ten.

Schoolwork never suffered in favor of childhood stardom, quite the opposite, in fact. Hayley was (and still is), “a blend between a Type-A and free-spirit”. Extremely bright, she dove into academics for several years, while pushing acting to the side. Keen to bury her nose in a book (while her friends became smitten with boys), she transferred to an all-girls school. This worked for its intended purpose, to exercise her wits, but lasted just one year—Hayley wanted to be back onstage.

Shifting her focus back to acting, Hayley found a place at an arts magnet in Simi Valley where she immersed herself in acting and performing on a daily basis, and with other students in search of the same thing. Unable to get her acting fill during the school year, summers were equally rigorous, spending two summers studying dance through a scholarship sponsored by the state of California. This would set a precedent for her career—one of constant learning—but the next step was college. A splendid student, she had countless options. She contemplated a traditional university—if only for a moment—knowing in her heart where to go. “It always made sense that The American Academy of Dramatic Arts was where I was meant to be,” she told me, “It was always going to be acting.”

Learning the dramatic arts—it’s in the name, after all—Hayley cultivated an already deep passion for acting. At first, drawn strictly to high-art, she wouldn’t bother with frivolous comedies. “Even if it was to an audience of ten,” she said, “I would be there.” She was a serious actress, ready to join the ranks of the Hollywood legends she admired, and by all accounts was well on her way. (It wasn’t so simple.) Recalling uproarious laughter from classmates and teachers alike, Hayley was “always finding the comedy.” This knack for the funnies surprised her, and paid off big time later on in her career.

Just before graduation Hayley inquired of her childhood agency, Colleen Cher, for work. They jumped on this, picking up their star from way back when, and booking her on “Boston Public”, the series featuring Rashida Jones. This brought a mixed bag of emotions. Hayley was offered a role in a series, a leap forward for a young career, but it might interfere with schoolwork. A once-in-a-decade student, Hayley couldn’t leave her school before finishing strong, then again, The Academy couldn’t leave Hayley. Sequestered to her VW Beetle, she shook, wept, prayed, Hailed Mary, anything to get an answer on what to do. She called her mother and inquired about what she might do. This way of dealing with post-audition blues is a staple of hers.

After “Boston Public" came an opportunity with “Deal or no Deal”, NBC’s hit game-show from the 2000’s. Not necessarily the acting she was looking for—there was plenty of time for that later—Hayley joined the team as the #25 girl. Statistically, Hayley held the million dollar case more than any other model. She would meet and befriend a young Meghan Markle (Yes, THAT Meghan Markle) during her tenure with the show. Surrounded by a sea of models, the pair bonded over their acting aspirations.

While auditioning for “Deal or No Deal”, Hayley made an offer to straighten her natural hair. The reason for this is complex. For many years, the casting process has been deeply biased, often whitewashing shows and cutting out BIPOC actors and actresses. (It’s more common than not to see Black actors and actresses with straightened hair, thereby becoming more “cast-able.”) To her surprise, the producers rejected this immediately. A monumental choice, Hayley’s head of hair became a staple for the show (even today, her twitter bio reads “The girl with the hair from those movies and that tv show”). Inspired fans wrote letter upon letter to Hayley. One particular fan, Anteia Greer, wrote a letter so touching, the producers invited her as a contestant. The episode honored the pair with it’s special title, “The Fro-Show”. Ms. Grier would win $402,000 on the show (fainting after hearing such offers), and ended up running mayor in her hometown.

This anecdote represents something reverberated throughout her entire life; keeping her natural hair as a symbol of herself. Hayley’s parents encouraged this, reminding her that before all else, she is loved for who she is. They loathed hair straightening products, and at one point, a family member gave them to her for a birthday. These were thrown away without hesitation.

Speaking on her mother and father, Hayley says, “Having that sense of family is the most important thing, especially in LA and Hollywood,” she went on, “I’m lucky that I’m born and raised here so my family is just, you know, a 45 minute drive on the 101.” They remain a large part of her life, and without them, there is no doubt she wouldn’t be in this industry. “I got my work ethic and my tenacity to not only pursue but to persist [a career in entertainment],” she said of her father, citing his push for her to do what she believed in. Her mother holds a different, albeit equally important, role as keeper-of-the-flame for those Hollywood ancestors.

Never meeting them, they act as a symbolic, almost mythical presence in her life, maintained by her mother. When I asked her about William Beaudine, she said, “He might be known as the worst director of all time.” (I chuckled at this, but secretly wondered if I could print it.) To get some sort of verification on this, she texted her mother, who, naturally, had an anecdote ready.

In 1915, Beaudine assistant directed “The Birth of a Nation”, the film notorious for its promotion of antebellum ideals. The film became the highest grossing production of the silent-film era, exposing a harsh reality about American culture. President Woodrow Wilson received a private viewing, a first for the White House, and praised the film calling it “Like writing history with lightning.” To Beaudine, Hayley says “Little did he know he was gonna get some black in his bloodline!” she continued, “you have to write that—that’s funny!”

In one way or another, Hayley gets to stick it to Beaudine on a regular basis. Back in 2011, she went across the country with Black History 101 Mobile Museum, a black-founded and run collection of more than 10,000 artifacts of Black history. Hayley was able to talk directly to students about her experiences as a Black actress in Hollywood, something she hoped for as a kid. “I wish I’d had a black person share their experience with me,” she said. Now, Hayley is that person.

In summer of 2007, Hayley booked an audition for Hancock, the Peter Berg directed, Will Smith starring action blockbuster of the following year. After a seemingly typical (albeit high-pressure) audition process, she proceeded a final audition. Arriving at a gated studio—not a strange occurrence for a feature film—she was instructed to continue into the lot. Going past soundstage after soundstage, Hayley realized she was not on any old studio lot. She was on a live set, and the audition was happening here with director Peter Berg and actor Will Smith.

In the audition, Berg directed her to put down the script and “really go for it.” The scene had her rummaging through Hancock’s drawers, except this wasn’t a proper set, it was Will Smith’s trailer (one of the nicest in the business). Hayley went for it without hesitation. “I started opening up the drawers in his trailer, I was so committed to the scene!”

After the audition, Hayley doubted herself. “When I left I was shaking… I couldn’t drive my car,” she continued, “Everything else I had to do that day, I didn’t do.” Much like after “Boston Public”, those post-audition blues kicked in. She got the part, and would make it to the final cut of the film. Hayley has called working with Will Smith a “Master Class in acting.”

Hayley’s comedy skills led her to the role of Angela on “Fired Up!”, the 2009 comedy featuring Eric Christian Olsen (“NCIS: Los Angeles”, “Community”). For this role, Roger Ebert called her “The most interesting member of the cast.” Her career in comedy broadened tremendously after this, as Hayley found numerous opportunities with CollegeHumor. Hayley would write and star in numerous CollegeHumor originals during its peak in the mid 2010’s, while at the same time, featuring in several episodes of “Adam Ruins Everything”, the observational comedy sketch created by Adam Conover, former member of the CollegeHumor tribe.

Her broadening career is one many Academy grads have seen. Take note: it’s an easy thing to find Academy alumni in Hollywood (just look at the 46 stars on the Walk of Fame). Auditioning yields similar results—if only to a less trampled degree—where Academy actors find each other everywhere, onset and behind-the-scenes (see: Alumni Collaborations). Hayley is no stranger to this, and keeps in close contact with friend and fellow alumna Chelsey Crisp. Each year, as per Hollywood tradition, actors await pilot season with a certain cult-like fanaticism, and, in the past, the pair have shared a binge of rehearsal and refinement of material in preparation for pilot season.

Her personal life is something very close to her, and, in 2016, Hayley met her husband, Sam, during an Earth Day festival in California. Both artists and activists, Hayley was filming for an activist group, while Sam worked with numerous nonprofits and maintained a booth on the site. Hayley drifted toward Sam’s booth, unknowingly followed by her camera crew. The pair connected immediately, with their first conversation caught on camera. “Sam realized what it would be like to be married to an actress,” Hayley said. The duo recently spent their wedding anniversary in a similar Earth Day fashion, befit with gorgeous scenery and stunning vistas, albeit COVID friendly.

Said virus has upended all aspects of our lives, with the arts taking an especially strong hit. After almost a year, theaters remain dark and film sets have slowed to a near halt (save a few lucky productions). During all this, Hayley has developed her own sense of a routine, one that has been largely very peaceful. Days start with writing—something she’s been mastering lately—followed by meditation and “light stuff”. Hayley is always certain to make time for spiritual practice, a cornerstone of her life. In many ways, quarantine allowed greater freedom for this, and as auditions move increasingly online, Hayley takes them at her leisure, and can now invest in more self-produced content. These are shrouded in mystery: a Netflix series in the works and several self-written pieces in the making, and so much more.

Early in her career, Hayley released a mixtape. When I asked her about this she said “Oh, I haven’t thought about that in a decade.”

You can find more about Hayley’s remarkable life and career here.


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