Island girl goes Hollywood

Three years ago and what seemed like only moments after her high school graduation, Oak Harbor resident Torey Massey packed up her clothes, hopped in her truck, and drove to California. She had little more than $1,000 in her pockets and Hollywood in her eyes.

“I knew that I would run off to Hollywood after graduation,” Massey said. “My mom said she knew that since I was 3.”

Flash forward to today and Torey has a day job that’s not too shabby — she’s a stand-in, an understudy of sorts, for teen phenom Miley Cyrus on the hit Disney show “Hannah Montana.” (Insert the high-pitched shrieking of millions of jealous teeny bopper fans here).

What exactly does the job entail?

“When Miley is in school or unavailable I stand in and read her lines for her,” Massey said.

These rehearsals help the cameramen spot their angles, and Massey takes direction notes, which she then passes on to Cyrus.

Three years and more than a 1,000 miles after taking a leap of faith and leaving Oak Harbor, Massey is living the surreal life, “making it” as an actress in Hollywood.

“It’s weird,” she said. “I never imagined what it would be like to be on a television set or walk outside and have paparazzi swarming everywhere.”

Because of the Hollywood writers’ strike, Massey’s been back in Oak Harbor, waitressing at Mitzel’s and saving up some money for when she heads back to Los Angeles. She’s due back April 1 when shooting resumes on Hannah Montana, but before she does, the Whidbey News-Times tracked her down to check in on what happens when Oak Harbor goes Hollywood.

“When I got there I ended up living in the worst part of town in a small studio for $800 a month,” she said. “I definitely lived on Top Ramen for a long time.”

Massey immediately began shopping for acting gigs due to the sticker shock of her new digs and surroundings.

“It’s so expensive to live in Los Angeles,” she said.

She linked up with Central Casting, an agency that books gigs for background actors.

“It could break a lot of people,” she said. “You have to go in with confidence and have ambition.”

After a month in Hollywood she found work as an extra on shows such as Desperate Housewives, the CSI shows, Gilmore Girls, ER, the OC and a number of Disney shows.

“I love acting because you get to pretend to be someone else,” she said.

When she wasn’t acting she was auditioning for parts and when she wasn’t doing either she was living the cliché life of waitressing in L.A.

“When I got to Los Angeles I told everyone I was an actress and they said, ‘Oh, you’re a waitress,’ even though I told them I wasn’t,” Massey said.

But pretty soon she was.

“I had to waitress to afford living there,” she said. “And everyone I worked with was an actor, practicing their lines on their breaks.”

Every day she was on set as a background actor was eight to 15 hours of work that turned into a valuable acting education and a way to pay the bills.

“On set I tried to pay attention to the director and the way the actors had to work with the cameras. Film acting was completely different than anything I did at the playhouse,” she said, referring to Whidbey Playhouse. “When we weren’t shooting it was fun to be able to bond with the other extras.”

Long hours on set were whittled away with decks of cards and cell phones busily calling agencies looking for and booking auditions.

Mid 2006, after a year of extra work, she heard that the Disney show Hannah Montana was looking for regular extras.

“At that time I hadn’t heard of the show because it was just starting out,” she said. “I had no idea how big it was going to get.”

Regardless of the outcome of this fledgling show, Massey was excited at the possibility.

“Disney shows are the best to work for because they treat extras so well,” she said.

That extra work opened the door to the stand-in gig, and while it’s not her ideal acting job, right now Massey’s happy working five-days a week on Hannah Montana. And she’s become good friends with the cast and crew, too. Cyrus has even given Massey a nickname — Toto.

“She’s one of the nicest, down-to-Earth people I’ve met,” Massey said.

Recently, Massey had the opportunity to spend a week and a half on the Hannah Montana “Best of Both Worlds” tour thanks to an invite from a friend who’s a part of the stage crew.

“It was really cool to see how it was all put together, especially since I know Miley and a bunch of the people working on the show,” she said.

Massey first stretched her acting legs in a Whidbey Playhouse show at the age of 5.

“I was a munchkin in the Wizard of Oz,” she said.

After that she acted in more than a dozen other playhouse shows. Her favorite role was that of Louisa, the second-oldest Von Trapp child in “The Sound of Music.”

Playhouse veteran actor and director Sue Riney remembers Massey fondly — working with her in “The Sound of Music” in 1998, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” in 1999, and “Big” in 2001.

“Torey has a great presence on the stage,” Riney said. “She was always a cute kid who had this voice that could knock your socks off.”

Massey was active with choir throughout her schooling and would often perform the national anthem at sporting events. She grew up attending the Oak Harbor Church of the Nazarene, where she sang in the choir, and aside from visiting a few agencies in Seattle, she didn’t push acting too much while in school.

Off stage, Riney said Massey was always approachable despite any popularity she gained.

“It didn’t seem to faze her,” Riney said. “She was always personable and genuine.”

Massey said she’d like to consider herself a Los Angeles local, no longer a tourist.

“I know places and where I’m going,” she said. “But when I go out and see famous people it definitely still is interesting.”

Oh, you mean not everyone gets the chance for photo-ops with Johnny Depp backstage at a Hannah Montana concert? And not everyone gets to be a seat-filler at the Teen Choice Awards and say “hi” to the likes of comedian Steve Carrell?

“Yeah, I guess it is pretty cool, isn’t it?” she said.

Even though she turns 21 next month, Massey said she’s in no rush to go out and party it up. She’s staying true to her Christian roots and grounded Oak Harbor upbringing.

“It’s fine to go out with your friends,” she advises other young, aspiring stars. “But don’t get caught up in things and lose your focus of what you’re really there for.”

She continues to love coming back to Whidbey and visiting friends and family. Torey’s mom Tina Melum and 14-year-old sister, Taylor Melum, are still here in town, as are her grandparents, Majken and Fred Warns.

“It’s fun coming back and running into people I know,” she said. “This is always going to be my home because it’s so comfortable.”

Massey said the bustle and barren nature of the City of Angels will keep her longing for home.

“I miss the nature of the Northwest when I’m back in California,” she said. “And the music in Seattle is the best thing in the world.”

How long Massey will continue to work on Hannah Montana is still up in the air, as her future is dependent on the success of the show’s young star.

“She’s hugely popular right now,” Massey said. “She’s definitely going to do big things and hopefully so will I.”

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