WINCHESTER, VA. — When one door closes another one opens. Alamosa High School graduate Joshua Cody, 20, dreamed of a sports career but is now on the cusp of life as an actor.
Cody stars in the new Capital Arts Entertainment film "Santa Girl," which wrapped up filming on Nov. 17, as Jack Frost's son J. R. Directed by Blayne Weaver, the romantic comedy follows Santa's daughter Cassie, played by "Wizards of Waverly Place's" Jennifer Stone, as she leaves the North Pole for college. There she falls for Sam, played by Devon Werkheiser from "Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide."
J.R. is Cassie's other suitor but his bad-boy persona doesn't charm her. That character type is somewhat familiar to Cody since he was first bit by the acting bug during his senior year when he played Danny Zuko in AHS' production of "Grease."
Though he enjoyed his time in choir, Cody never thought of pursuing a career in entertainment. It wasn't until he broke his arm two practices before the first football game of the season that he realized he needed a different path. Cody's mother Marsha then convinced him to try out for the school musical.
"I really wanted to at least play for Adams State University as a redshirt freshman," Cody said in a phone interview. "I was really thinking about pursuing exercise science and engineering and then God had different plans."
"Grease" hooked him and he enrolled at ASU as a theater major. "I just fell in love with it," said Cody. "God just led my steps to it. It's like theater chose me and I went with it."
However, on his very first day of class, a teacher told him to leave the San Luis Valley if he was serious about a performance career. After some soul-searching and a vigorous audition process, Cody was accepted into Shenandoah University's conservatory in Winchester, Virginia.
The sophomore loves the campus and is thrilled with his decision to move across the county, but it wasn't an easy adjustment at first. The hardest thing was for him to be away from his parents and three younger sisters.
"The first couple of months I just wanted to hug my dad and my mom and do something with them. But it gets better. After awhile it's like, you know what? You're here for some reason. You just got to keep going and pushing."
University crams Cody's schedule with an arsenal of classes to hone his chops. A curriculum of jazz dance, tap, ballet, acting, piano, music theory, voice lessons all help him audition for on- and off-campus productions. Before landing the "Santa Girl" gig Cody performed in local ensembles of "Cabaret," "Blue Stockings," "Rocky Horror Picture Show," and "Peter Pan."
When Capital Arts Entertainment, known for direct-to-video sequels like "American Pie Presents: Band Camp" and "Casper: A Spirited Beginning," chose Shenandoah University as the locale for the fictional college, the university asked for something in return. The school requested that seniors be cast and that the institution receive producing credit. The deal led to over 60 of the university’s students involved in the film.
Because of the partnership Cody didn't realize he was signing up for Hollywood film. As an underclassman he thought he was auditioning for a role as an extra in a student production. It wasn't until Weaver told him the names of the cast in a callback that it sunk in.
"Wait, this is like a movie movie!" said Cody. "Shoot, I wasn't expecting that!"
Cody is one of the few in front of the camera alongside his classmates and instructors.
Shortly after that September audition Cody met Stone and Werkheiser along with Barry Bostwick, the original Brad Majors from "Rocky Horror Picture Show" film and Danny Zuko on the Broadway version of "Grease," as Santa himself. With roughly a month of 12-hour daily shoots, Cody got close to his coworkers on set.
"Everybody was there to create something worthwhile and have a blast," said Cody. "No one was there trying to show up anyone. They were there to help each other. It was just wonderful to be a part of."
The down-to-earth actors all had food-related nicknames for each other based on their personalities: Stone was Black Coffee, Werkheiser was Granola, McKayla Witt—who plays Pep—was Chicken McNugget and Cody was Vanilla Latte because he was too nice and sweet.
When the cameras aren't rolling the cast are a regular group of 20-somethings hanging out and discussing topics like normal.
"We have other passions," said Cody. "We're trying to create something that represents life, but if you don't know what life is then there is no point."
One day life got a little too real as a fictional fight led to a physical connection. During a scene where Cody and Werkheiser brawl, the seasoned actor teased Cody about properly throwing a fake, yet realistic looking, punch. Cody managed to execute the choreography fine but when it was Wekheiser's turn things didn't go as well.
"The first punch he throws, he actually makes contact and just totally hits me in the jaw," said Cody. "He was so apologetic about it and everything, but it was hilarious because he was giving me so much crap."
During his senior year at Shenandoah an agent will watch Cody perform and analyze his job projects. Though he already has a movie credit that could give him a leg up, he is staying humble and won't rest on his laurels.
"A lot of people out there have the same thing and there's so many better people out there. I'm just really blessed to get this opportunity and I cannot be more grateful. I just can't believe it. It's wonderful and has an incredible journey."
While hungry and eager for his next audition, all Cody cares about at the moment is reuniting with his parents and siblings.
"I'm so ready to see my family for the holidays," said Cody. "I miss the crap out of them. They've been a huge help during all of this. I've literally called them every single day. They're the best."
"Santa Girl" releases Christmas, 2018.
Photo by Kimberly Toney Needles. Poster courtesy of Capital Arts Entertainment.