HOW, IN JUST A FEW SHORT YEARS, THIS FLORIDA BORN MODEL TURNED ACTRESS TOOK THE FASHION AND FILM SCENES BY STORM
BY AMANDA McCOY • PHOTOS BY DEREK KETTELA
With more than a million followers on social media, a fast growing IMDB page, and a catalogue of coveted titles under her belt (in 2016 alone, she was named GQ’s International Model of the Year and landed on Maxim magazine’s Hot 100 List), Charlotte McKinney has quickly become a force in the entertainment industry since moving to Los Angeles six years ago. And while it was a racy Super Bowl ad in 2015 that really put her on the map, she has since proven her acting chops alongside such Hollywood heavyweights as Charlie Sheen, Justin Long, Dwayne Johnson, and Denise Richards, on both the silver and small screens. With her sights set on film production and more dramatic roles, the Florida native has no intention of losing any steam in an accelerating career.
Although the almost 25 year old has already built an impressive resume in a short time, the road to success wasn’t without bumps. Born in Orlando, McKinney grew up an island baby, spending most of her summers in the Bahamas, where her parents met. When she got to high school, she experienced firsthand the cruelty of bullying from classmates, which caused her to drop out and pursue a modeling career. McKinney moved three hours south to Miami, in search of greater opportunity. Although she would land the role of lead model for GUESS before she was even old enough to vote, she remembers being met with a long streak of rejections in early days.
“It wasn’t easy. I was short and curvier, and in Miami, everyone was Brazilian and six feet tall. I was told they couldn’t put me in the clothes…they wouldn’t fit.”
It wasn’t just a lack of height that the budding model had working against her. The casting rooms were stern, rigid places, and the lighthearted McKinney tried to change them with her sense of humor.
“I would walk into these castings and everyone would be so serious,” she recalled with a laugh. “I would crack a joke and try to say something funny to lighten up the room, and no one got it. I wanted to poke fun at the situation. That’s why I wanted to get into acting and comedy.”
After deciding that Miami was not a fertile market, McKinney tried her hand in New York before eventually ending up in Southern California. With the support of her older sister, Garland, who had already settled there, she tackled Los Angeles.
Since then, she’s hit her stride, and would go on to garner 4.5 billion impressions as the face of the 2015 Carl’s Jr. All Natural Super Bowl commercial, become the face of GUESS for a second time (alongside Joe Jonas), and show off her moves on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars.
When I began my career, I really wanted to get into film, but I felt like modeling was where I should start,” she said, adding that once the latter resume was secure, there was room to add acting gigs.
2017 would prove to be an eventful year, with credits that included A Girl Is a Girl, starring opposite Denise Richards; Baywatch, alongside Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron; Literally, Right Before Aaron, starring Justin Long and Cobie Smulders; and Mad Families, a comedy co-written by David Spade, where she played opposite Charlie Sheen. This year, she’s taken on more dramatic projects, guest starring in the television action drama MacGyver as the daughter in law of a Serbian war criminal, and in the indie crime film First We Take Brooklyn, where she played a gangster’s wife. Comedy comes easily to her, McKinney said. And, though it was commercial work that catapulted stardom, she now has her sights set on darker, more challenging roles.
“I feel like what I’ve done so far is mostly commercial,” she explained. “What comes naturally is the comedy, but I want something a little grittier. I want people to see me in a rawer way. I’ve also become more hands on as I’ve gotten older, especially when it comes to shooting. It’s been really fun for me. I’m finding my way creatively, much more than I did at a young age. I would go to a shoot and just hope for the best. Now I’m cleaning up my images and making them more my style. I want to create more.”
Beyond the sets and photo shoots, McKinney has philanthropic aspirations as large as her career goals. She’s vocal about her experience as a bullied teen, and has frequently offered her story as a platform for the No Bullying movement. She’s also actively involved with Best Buddies International, a nonprofit organization that seeks to create opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“I first got involved with Best Buddies during my freshman year of high school,” she said. “I just gravitated toward the kids, and I got really into it. When I moved to California, I wanted to continue being involved, especially to help get the word out.”
In addition to helping to raise the organization’s profile, McKinney has hosted various events for the group throughout the country. She participated in the Cape Cod Challenge alongside Tom Brady, hosted a gala event in Miami, and even surprised a California teen as his date at his junior prom. “We do so many great events,” she said. “This has been a really big year for them, and I’m so lucky to be involved.”
Another passion is advocating for an active, healthy lifestyle. While she’s dedicated to yoga today, McKinney admits that in younger days, her diet and other lifestyle choices were not always the healthiest. She remembers, for example, going through periods of rapid crash diets to prepare for castings and photo shoots.
“It was not a healthy diet. Now, it’s a balance. No more crash dieting; I’ve done that for too long. I don’t let myself get crazy anymore. Everything I eat is fresh and organic. I avoid anything that comes in a package. I’m vegan, well…mostly [laughs], because I’m obsessed with sushi.”
The star hasn’t just found balance in her diet, but also in mental and emotional well being. In a notoriously cutthroat and highly competitive industry, McKinney has learned the importance of not getting caught up in the craziness.
“It’s a hard business, and it’s important to try to stay sane through it all, because you can get wrapped up in it. In terms of social media, I try to stay away from my phone as much as I can. I know it’s a big part of my career and I need to do it for work, but when I can, I stay away from it all. I’m pretty old school.”
Asked what’s cooking for the next career phase, McKinney replied quickly that she “hasn’t even gotten started.” She plans to continue challenging herself as a creator and actor, proving that she’s “more than a pretty face.”
“I’m really grateful for all the work that I’ve been able to do, but I still think I’m a work in progress,” she said. “I haven’t hit that defining moment … yet.”