For All Mankind to Rise Above
“I never thought of acting as a viable career option. I think when we’re raised in certain cultures and ways of thinking, we only know what we’re exposed to. I didn’t really grow up watching TV and movies, but now I feel really lucky to be able to do it,” says actress Shantel VanSanten, 34. The charismatic star, born in Minnesota and raised in Texas, didn’t know any actors or actresses growing up. Originally starting out as a model in “Seventeen and JCPenney catalogs,” she slowly made a transition to acting after being persuaded by her agent. Eventually moving to Los Angeles, VanSanten realized her passion for acting and has found immense success in her acting career. “It still feels like such a shock that I get to do something that just used to be a hobby and is something that I love,” she adds. The model-turned-actress has had an array of roles, and has starred in a number of shows, such as One Tree Hill, The Flash and Shooter. More currently, she has been in the role of Karen Baldwin on the new Apple TV+ drama series For All Mankind, set in an alternate reality exploring if it had been the Soviet Union that had landed the first human to walk on the moon 50 years ago.
VanSanten is not only a hard-working actress, but she’s also a philanthropist and impassioned advocate for lung-disease awareness. She first got involved with the American Lung Association’s LUNG FORCE initiative, after the untimely passing of her beloved grandmother. “My grandmother was diagnosed with lung cancer, and we didn’t understand why. In my mind, we associate lung cancer with smoking, and she was a non-smoker. That was an ignorant thought,” she recalls. “After doing much research, I found out it’s the number-one cancer killer, not only because of smoking, but of pollution, radon, and so many other causes, and anybody can get it.”
After the initial shock and anger of her grandmother’s passing, VanSanten and her family decided to dig deeper to make sense of the tragedy. They ultimately discovered that her grandmother passed away due to radon poisoning. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports radon as being responsible for about 21,000 lung-cancer deaths every year, and 2,900 of those deaths are of people who have never smoked.
However, VanSanten has decided to persevere and use this personal tragedy as a way to bring awareness to others. Through her work, she has certainly inspired others and has even saved the life of one of her former co-workers. “I was telling him the story of how I got involved with the organization and encouraged him to get a radon detector. They tested their house, and they were living in toxic, toxic levels,” she says. “He said to me, ‘I feel like you saved our life.’ We have small simple conversations that plant seeds, and now we’re educating people about things existing around us that they wouldn’t really know about.” VanSanten has also spoken at many events and worked to raise funds for education and research. Not only does she find comfort in making an impact and educating others, but she also knows how proud her grandmother would be: “For me, being a part of that kind of organization matters. It’s the way I make sense of loss and know the work I’m doing and money we’re raising are honoring my grandmother. I just think about how much she would giggle and laugh, and how she would be astounded by the work we’re doing in her absence,” she affirms.
Writer: Gavy Contreras
Photographer & Videographer: Catherine Asanov (@catherineasanov)
Stylist: Neal St Onge
Stylist Assistant: Cecilia Ortega
Hair: Michael Dueñas
Makeup: Jessica Anderson Crocker
Editor: Eiko Watanabe
Special thanks to Dagwoods (@dagwoodspizza - www.dagwoods.com) & EPK Media (@myepk & @epkmedia - epkmedia.com)