Katie Burton had booked a number of supporting roles, including one in an episode of Criminal Minds, before she landed the lead in Lorena Gordon’s At Last. The short film boasts some big names like George Lopez and Zack Gottsagen (The Peanut Butter Falcon) and can currently be found streaming on HBO Max. Burton sat down with Casting Networks to share her casting story for the breakthrough booking, as well as how it’s impacted her career since.
It’s great to meet you, Katie, and what can you tell us about your role in At Last?
I play a high school teen named Lauren who is struggling to determine who she is as a person. On one of the most important nights of her life, prom, she is able to resolve a really important question surrounding her identity and her family’s acceptance of it.
It sounds like a meaty role! What was the process of booking it like?
I had actually worked with the writer/director of At Last, Lorena Gordon, on a previous short film called My Inspired World. So she actually already had me in mind for this role when the time came to cast it. We had a long conversation on the phone going through her inspiration for the story and what it meant to her. That was really helpful to have in mind when I was reading the script, and I felt well-prepared to put myself on tape for the audition. They ended up really liking my read, and a month later, I did a screen test with Zack. Right after that, I found out I was going to play Lauren.
How exciting! And I’m a huge fan of Zack Gottsagen and his work in The Peanut Butter Falcon. What was it like getting to work with him?
I also love the film, and I remember that after watching it, I had the thought that I just wanted to be best friends with Zack. I mean, the way he played his role in The Peanut Butter Falcon left me feeling like he was a person I’d enjoy being friends with in real life. And little did I know that four months later, I’d be in a room with him, reading for a role in which he was playing my best friend. We just had this instant connection, and now I can say that he is one of my favorite people ever. There’s a special handshake between his character, James, and Lauren in At Last, and Zack and I actually came up with it the first time we met at the screen test. It was just such a great experience getting to know Zack and working with him. He’s very talented.
That’s great to hear that you connected as friends on and off the screen. And George Lopez plays your father in At Last. How was it working with such a big name?
I mean, I grew up watching the George Lopez show on Nick at Nite, so I was a fan of his from an early age. I’d actually met him about 10 years ago, and when I showed him the picture we’d snapped way back then, he recognized it. George was like, “Oh yeah, I remember taking that when I was filming Valentine’s Day.” So it was just such a crazy, small world moment to then be playing his daughter in At Last so many years later. And working with George was incredible. He played the father role so well that even when I was just reading to him off-camera, feeding him my lines, it was hard not to get too emotional and just completely break down. He’s that good.
Wow. It sounds like it! And I’m also curious if you felt any additional pressure to “get it right” with your role since, to my understanding, Lauren’s story was in some ways inspired by the life experience of your writer/director.
I knew how important this piece was, so I definitely felt the pressure of wanting to do it justice. But after I finished reading the script, I experienced this instant connection to the character because I saw myself in parts of her. I didn’t always have a lot of confidence in high school, either, and I remember this one time when I found the courage to stand up to a bully. I’ll never forget that moment, and from then on, I pledged to always stick up for myself and for others. So that, in a way, carried over to the character. By the end of At Last, I wanted to leave Lauren with the confidence she’d been looking for all along. It almost felt like the character became a little sister to me in the sense that I wanted to protect her from harm and make sure she came out of everything okay.
Thanks for sharing that. I love how you felt so personally attached to the role. And how has starring in a project currently streaming on HBO Max, alongside some big names, impacted your career as an actor?
It’s opened up a lot of doors for me and led to the type of momentum in my career that I’d been waiting on for a while. The short film has taken home a lot of awards from various festivals, and I’ve won three best actress accolades for it. I’ve been introduced to a lot of filmmakers because of At Last, and it’s led to a couple of projects I’m doing that are currently in the works. The whole thing has been a crazy ride. It was the first time I’d actually led something, and the fact that it landed on HBO Max where anyone can stream it is just incredible.
Before we wrapped, the actor shared one final thing about her casting story. “One of my favorite words in the English language is ‘serendipity,’” she noted. “And it so perfectly sums up how I feel about booking At Last.” Those who want to know more about Burton’s experience with shooting the short film can check out her Instagram page, which includes a story highlight of behind-the-scenes footage.
This interview has been edited and condensed.