By: Dustin Fitzharris
On Nickelodeon’s hit musical comedy Big Time Rush, Challen Cates plays Jennifer Knight, the mother of a famous boy-band member. Cates describes her character as a great mom who loves her kids, but who sometimes gets carried away when trying to do the right thing. “That’s where the comedy comes from,” she says. “I love it when they have her go just a little too far, and she has to rein it in and be a mom.”
Growing up on a farm in Roanoke, Virginia, Cates was surrounded by animals—including dogs, cats, horses, chickens, rabbits, ducks, and a goat. “Everyone chipped in and took care of all the animals. It was just something you did; you looked after everything and everyone,” Cates says.
Cates knew she wanted to be an actress after performing in a school play. With credits that include In the Heat of the Night, Desperate Housewives, and CSI: NY, it’s clear that her dream came true. When the day is through and the cameras have stopped rolling, Cates loves coming home to her children, her husband, and her two dogs: Greta and Judy.
TAILS caught up with Cates to talk about her four-legged children.
TAILS: Greta is 13 years old. How did you choose her name?
Challen Cates: Well, she’s a German Shepherd. Greta. Like Greta Garbo.
You lovingly refer to her as “Greta Guard Dog.” How did you come up with that?
She looks very scary, even though she is just a big love muffin. When I take her for a walk, people will cross the street to get away from her. She’s a very big girl—tall and thin, like a supermodel.
Judy, or “Jackpot” as you call her, is “12-ish.” Why that nickname?
She was a rescue. She’s mostly Golden, maybe Chow, a little Shepherd, and a little Collie. She’s just this big fluffy ball of fur. When I went to rescue her, the woman who ran the shelter came over to check out where Judy would be living, and she said, “Judy, I think you hit the jackpot!”
When it comes time for bed, what kinds of rituals do you go through?
They both used to sleep in bed with me—they would just jump in and we’d cuddle. Then came my husband and my two kids, and suddenly the dogs were sleeping on the floor.
Do they hog the pillow?
Not really. They actually prefer to be the pillow, especially Judy—she’s big, but in her mind, she’s a lap dog. She’s a huge fan of cuddling. The kids will just lie on her, and she loves it.
Do they like to be under or over the covers?
They like to be over. They just want to snuggle.
Do they snore?
Oh my goodness! They both snore. The whole house shakes. And we have hardwood floors, so when we’re not hearing their snores, we’re hearing the clickety-clicks of their nails as they move around.
Are they early risers?
Now that they are getting older, they sleep like cats. It’s unbelievable. I actually have to wake them up sometimes.
They are older dogs, but are they still playful?
Greta is all about her tennis ball; she’ll never outgrow it. Judy can’t catch a ball to save her life, but she sure can catch a snack!
Do you think they dream?
Oh yes, totally. They definitely dream about running and chasing things. Greta runs in her sleep. I always like to think that they are chasing squirrels. Greta caught one, once. I was pretty surprised because squirrels are so fast.
What do you still have dreams of doing?
I just dream of doing more and more interesting roles. I want to be taken on a journey. That’s what makes this business fun—getting lost in unique characters.
What would be your ideal role?
I’ve always wanted to work on period pieces. I would love to play a character from a different time and wear all the different costumes.
Do you have any advice for people who want to adopt a dog?
If someone is thinking of getting a dog, I hope they realize how much time they have to devote. It is so rewarding, but you have to be prepared to spend a lot of time with them.
For more on Challen Cates, visit ChallenCates.com or follow her on Twitter at @FollowChallen.
Photo: Jeff Katz Photography