When Bethany Brooke Anderson looks at home videos of herself growing up in Lexington, she sees her future.
"I was always putting on a show," Anderson says. "Commercial breaks on family TV night were 'The Bethany Show,' and I would sing or dance, and it was where I found my space."
That's what she did through her years at Tates Creek High School, where she was surprised to be cast in her first musical as Fastrada in Pippin.
"During rehearsals, it quickly became apparent to me what a unique and special talent she was," said Jason Meenach, her high school theater director. "Her tenacity and fearlessness onstage is something I seldom see even among the most experienced high school performers."
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The next year, Anderson was named best actress at the Kentucky High School Speech League Drama Competition for her performance in Molière's The Learned Ladies.
"For her to earn that recognition, and with material as difficult as Molière, was something special," Meenach said.
At the University of Kentucky, Anderson majored in theater and had such heady experiences as being cast in Silas House's first play, The Hurting Part, in 2005.
But she also had a dream: going to Los Angeles and working her way into film. After discussions with several confidants, she made the move before finishing her degree.
"I went with one suitcase of clothes and a box of books, and I didn't know anyone," Anderson says.
Since then, she has built a career with roles in smaller films, working with actors including Kate Beckinsale, and as a producer and director.
This summer, Anderson aims to bring her career back to the commonwealth with her passion project, Burning Kentucky, the Appalachia-set story of star-crossed love between a sheriff's son and a bootlegger's daughter.
Anderson co-wrote an unpublished novel of the story with her now-fiancé, Daniel Marelich. Among the people who got a look at the Burning Kentucky screenplay was Charles Edward Pogue, a Georgetown screenwriter who has penned major motion pictures including The Fly (1986) and D.O.A. (1988).
"He graciously, graciously ripped my script to shreds," Anderson says of Pogue, who is known for not pulling punches. "He wrote on every page and so much detail and so much insight, and it was everything that I needed to hear. It was terrifying and heartbreaking, and at the same time I was so grateful, and I finally felt with the next draft the characters were telling the story themselves."
Pogue says Anderson took the critique better than young writers usually do and observes, "She has the determination, ambition and willpower to make things happen for her in Hollywood."
Talking to potential investors, Anderson says, "I learned that Kentucky is really hip right now. People were saying, 'That's so cool you're doing a woodsy, Appalachian thing,' and I'm thinking, 'I'm not doing it because it's cool and I'm riding the wave. I'm doing it because I'm from Kentucky and it's what I know.'"
Anderson is assembling her cast and crew for a summer shoot, including actor Ronnie Gene Blevins, who has had small roles in films such as The Dark Knight Rises and played a bank robber who gets on Raylan Givens' bad side in season two of the Kentucky-set TV drama Justified.
She's also looking to assemble Kentucky talent to bring her two homes together.
"It took me years, but I found my family there, my little orphaned family," Anderson says of Southern California. "We're all transplants and we have Thanksgiving together, and there are people that have mentored me and taken me under their wing. It's starting to feel like home, but not as much as Kentucky."
Anderson plans to have auditions April 12 and 13 at UK, and shoot in Paducah, Lexington and Eastern Kentucky in August.
To her, the experience is a culmination of the initial chapter of her film work and validates her decision to move to L.A.
"I signed on for 10 years there," Anderson says. "You really need to see it through to see it blossom. I firmly believe that if you're talented and you have a unique voice and you work really hard, L.A. will help your career and boost you up, as far as film goes."
But she says she also has learned not to get sucked into the Hollywood treadmill.
"Hustling and bustling and networking is not the most important thing in life," Anderson says. "It's not fame, it's being an artist, it's doing things that matter. Because it's so extreme, it's made me find myself as a person, just to be safe."
The day the film wraps, she plans to get married, "or maybe we'll pop it in during the production."
"It's going to be a big year."