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Real & Reel

Real Charlotte: Charlotte locals and locales take their talents and charm to the big screen.

By Michael J. Solender

From small-screen, big-drama reality shows like “The Bachelorette” and “Black Ink Crew” to blockbuster feature films that span “Days of Thunder” to “Shallow Hal,” Charlotte has ushered its own scenic backdrops and local talent to the silver stage. Here’s a backstage pass to some of our favorite Charlotte screen gems.

Local Stars Shine

  • “Top Chef” – Season 14 of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” which filmed in Charleston, South Carolina, featured Charlotte culinary whiz Jamie Lynch. Lynch made history on the show by voluntarily giving up his immunity, ultimately leading to his elimination, but also an impressive run on the web-only “Last Chance Kitchen.” In the show, chef-testants battle to impress celebrity judges Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio and newcomer Graham Elliot. Lynch, executive chef and partner at Uptown hot spot 5Church is no stranger to the bright lights. He’s performed in some of New York City’s top kitchens, including Le Cirque, Aureole and Café Boulud. At 5Church, the New England Culinary Institute grad wows Queen City locals with innovative dishes like wasabi-crusted Yellowfin tuna and shitake mushroom and leek agnolotti.
  • “I Am Homicide” – Investigation Discovery’s series debuted in June 2016. Each hour-long show spotlights the unorthodox investigative techniques of Garry McFadden, former homicide detective for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. The super sleuth came to the attention of producers after his 21 years on the force, as more than 800 of his cases resulted in a 90 percent success rate. Nicknamed “The Mayor” for his people skills, McFadden takes viewers for a retrospective view of significant Charlotte-area cases he’s solved. The show features interviews with involved locals and follows McFadden as he revisits area crime scenes. Recently retired from the force, McFadden continues to consult part time with CMPD.
  • “The Bachelorette” – Lifestyle maven and Charlotte sweetheart Emily Maynard Johnson is best known for her appearances on “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette.” Twice engaged on national TV, Johnson’s reality show-based nuptials never made it to the altar. She did go on to get hitched, however, and wrote a book chronicling her TV experience titled, “I Said Yes.” She currently lives in South Park. Observant viewers will spy many Charlotte venues when watching Johnson’s “Bachelorette” episodes, including Neiman Marcus at SouthPark Mall, Spectrum Center, where a feisty Charlotte Hornets game breaks out, and a local Bojangles’, where Johnson and her date stop for eats. Johnson is also seen taking in the nightlife scenes at Stonecrest, Blakeney and Ballantyne Village. 
  • “Extreme Chef” – Susanne Dillingham may be small in stature, but she made a big impression as one of seven competitors on Food Network’s “Extreme Chef.” Dillingham studied Italian cuisine and wine in Florence, Italy, at the prestigious Apicius, the International School of Hospitality. She holds an advanced diploma with the Wine and Spirits Education Trust and a sommelier diploma from the International Sommelier Guild. The former private chef for NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon and actress and model wife, Ingrid Vandebosch, Dillingham owns and operates the Tiny Chef, which offers Charlotte clients hands-on cooking demonstrations, culinary team-building experiences, corporate dinners and private events.
  • “Beat Bobby Flay” – When Chef Alyssa Wilen’s (formerly Gorelick) husband and business partner Andrew Wilen secretly applied for her to compete against Iron Chef Bobby Flay, he had no idea Food Network’s producers would call her back the very same day. Chef Alyssa handled her interview with confidence and was soon off to New York City for filming. Though she was eliminated in a preliminary round and didn’t get to battle Flay, Chef Alyssa was seen nationwide this past spring preparing seared mackerel over caramelized cauliflower and fennel salad for celebrity judges Katie Couric and Michael Symon. Locals can enjoy hands-on cooking experiences and sample from a line of condiments created by the talented chef at Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen in Charlotte’s South End.
  • “Chopped” – Clark Barlowe, owner and executive chef of Heirloom Restaurant here in Charlotte, has made himself famous to locals and visiting culinary connoisseurs who crave his phenomenal farm-to-table fare. But he’s also done it on the big screen—twice. Barlowe began cooking in his hometown of nearby Lenoir and then graduated from the esteemed Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte. Since then, Barlowe has been at the helm of a handful of celebrated restaurants, including The French Laundry in California. His talents have taken him to battle as a contestant on season 10 of Food Network’s “Chopped” and against Iron Chef Bobby Flay on “Beat Bobby Flay.”
  • “Black Ink Crew” – Tattoo artist and model Crystana “Dutchess” Lattimore originally hails from the nearby town of Lincolnton. The top prize winner of the 2010 Boston Tattoo Convention Beauty Pageant starred in the drama-infused VH1 reality series “Black Ink Crew.” The only female tattoo artist at the Harlem tattoo shop where the show is set, Lattimore was one of the most popular cast members during the 2013-14 season. She also appeared as a guest on “Love & Hip Hop.” Reclaiming her Charlotte-area roots, the “Dutchess of Ink” recently opened the Pretty-N-Ink tattoo parlor on South Tryon Street, where appointment-only tattoos by her highness and her “Black Ink Crew” co-star and pal, Ceasar Emanuel, go for $200 per hour. 
  • “All in with Cam Newton” – When news broke that NFL 2016 MVP, Carolina Panthers player Cam Newton, would head up this inspirational kid’s show for Nickelodeon, it wasn’t a huge surprise. Anyone familiar with Newton knows he’s just a big kid himself, always joking around and enjoying life, especially in Charlotte. When the production crew came to the Queen City, Newton was seen around town, notably at Bank of America Stadium and a few local parks. He made a surprise, caught-on-camera appearance at a middle school in Davidson, where Newton was seen clowning around with the kids. Charlotte’s number one quarterback is also featured in “Miracle on the Plains,” a football documentary chronicling Auburn University’s (Newton’s alma mater) historic 2010 championship season.
  • “Project Runway” / “Project Runway All-stars” – Mooresville native and Lake Norman High school graduate April Johnston brought her design talents to both “Project Runway” and “Project Runway All-stars.” Johnston is now fashioning threads for Urban Outfitters in Philadelphia. Additionally, Star Ilzhoefer showed off her style on the inaugural season of “Project Runway.” The former corporate attorney now owns her own real estate firm in Charlotte and lives in Uptown.
  • “Wild ‘N Out” and “America’s Got Talent” – Actor, rapper and comedian Nick Cannon grew up splitting time between California and Charlotte, where he attended both Quail Hollow Middle School and South Mecklenburg High. He starred as a teen on MTV’s “All That,” hosted the “Nick Cannon Show,” and shared his chops on “Wild ‘N Out” and “America’s Got Talent.” He’s currently on tour and returning to “Wild ‘N Out” for season eight.
  • “K-Ci & JoJo: Come Clean” – This nine-episode TV One docu-series features the Union County brothers from Monroe, Cedric “K-Ci” and Joel “JoJo” Hailey. The international R&B superstars have not forgotten their Carolina roots as they continue their successful and chart-topping careers.
  • “Big Brother” and The Amazing Race” – Charlotte local Jordan Lloyd must have reality TV in her blood. The Raleigh-born, former Waxhaw homeowner made memorable drama on both “Big Brother” and “The Amazing Race.” Lloyd left the Queen City for California, where she’s planning her next big move.

 Made for TV

  • “Shots Fired” – The “who-done-it” FOX drama series, featuring mega-stars Richard Dreyfuss and Helen Hunt, filmed extensively in and around Charlotte, using locations such as the Charlotte Convention Center for backdrops. The cameras were also seen shooting in Mooresville, catching street scenes on Broad Street and West Center Avenue. Other Mooresville locales included Phil’s BP Station and Miles Diner. The show, which aired in March 2017, also stages one of its character’s residences in a home in the Cedar Croft neighborhood. 
  • “Big Little Lies” – Mooresville-based 10-year-old Darby Camp plays Chloe MacKenzie in this HBO mini-series featuring Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon as Camp’s mom. Camp is an old hat with the bright camera lights, as she also appeared in HBO’s Leftovers and even starred alongside Carolina Panthers player Cam Newton in a TV commercial. Her latest gig is a twisted comedy about a group of mom pals and their less-than-perfect lives.

Recently Released

  • “Sully” – Charlotte played a starring role in “Sully,” the film starring Tom Hanks as Miracle on the Hudson pilot Chesley Sullenberger. The true story of US Airways flight #1549, bound to Charlotte from New York City, is legendary. The flight was forced to land on the Hudson River after experiencing multiple bird strikes to its engines upon takeoff. Many of the passengers were Charlotte residents, including Red Ventures CEO, Ric Elias. The actual plane seen in the film was shot on-site at its permanent resting place, Charlotte’s Carolinas Aviation Museum. The film will be released in both IMAX and conventional formats on Sept. 9.
  • The Hunger Games”– Charlotte played a starring role in the first installment of “The Hunger Games,’’ as the majority of the shooting for the fictional Capitol was conducted here in 2012. Box office pals Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth were sighted all around the Queen City, as scenes filmed here included takes at the Knight Theater and Charlotte Convention Center’s loading dock, where Katniss (Lawrence) became “the girl on fire.” Concord’s vacant Philip Morris facility was fashioned into a sound stage for shooting, and the crew also filmed scenes at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Here, Woody Harrelson’s character, Haymitch, dines at the River’s Edge Bar & Grill. Set designers bought tens of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise at The Depot at Gibson Mill Antiques Mall, landing just the right props for the crew to set the scene for the fictional coal mining town.
  • “Homeland” – Three full seasons of the Showtime favorite were filmed in Charlotte, as Crown Town was lovingly adopted by cast members Claire Danes, Damian Lewis and Mandy Patinkin. The cast was spotted in and out of character at the likes of SouthPark Mall, where Brody (Lewis) visited after years of captivity, and the AvidXchange Music Factory, where Brody waited for Carrie (Danes) in season one. Uptown Charlotte makes appearances in the way of The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte’s lobby bar, where Carrie ponders what Brody is hiding, and Freedom Park, seen in multiple shots during season one. Other recognizable Charlotte haunts include Phillips Place, the Specialty Shops SouthPark and The Duke Mansion, which all make cameos.
  • “Vacation” – This family road trip flick stars Ed Helms and Christina Applegate, who take over where National Lampoon Vacation’s Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo left off in this sequel film to the comedy classic. The U.S. National Whitewater Center plays a starring role as the Griswold family goes for a spin in the Class IV rapids (which double as the Grand Canyon), creating big laughs. 
  • “Ashby” – This 2015 comedy-drama starring Mickey Rourke, Nat Wolff, Emma Roberts, and Sarah Silverman follows the story of a high-school student who befriends a retired CIA assassin with a terminal diagnosis.  Rourke and Wolff could be spotted filming scenes at The Diamond Restaurant, and over 500 people flocked to South Mecklenburg High School to help fill the stands for a scene portraying a football game at Varga Prep High School.

Fan Favorites

  • “Shallow Hal” – This 2001 rom-com starring Gwenyth Paltrow and Jack Black showcased Charlotte in its spring seasonal glory, with dogwoods and azaleas ablaze. Bank of America Corporate Center served as the fictional JP Funds Building, where Hal (Black) worked with Rosemary’s (Paltrow) father, Mr. Shanahan (played by Joe Viterelli). Hal and Rosemary shared a super-thick chocolate milkshake at Pike’s Old Fashioned Soda Shop in Dilworth, where the pair made goo-goo eyes at one another. The 98-acre Freedom Park shined in the flick, serving as the setting where Hal introduced Rosemary to his pal Mauricio (played by Jason Alexander). And Uptown’s Capital Grille played the swanky restaurant where Rosemary spots Hal and neighborhood cutie Jill having dinner.
  • “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” – The 2006 NASCAR spoof filmed many scenes in and around Charlotte, with stars Will Ferrell and John C. Riley enjoying their time here immensely. The crew used the 1.5-mile oval at Charlotte Motor Speedway to double as Texas Motor Speedway, where the story is set. Nearby Lake Norman’s shores were the site of Ricky Bobby’s dream home. In the movie, Bobby’s No. 2 car can be seen parked outside of the lakefront mansion.                                                               
  • Days of Thunder” – Charlotte race fans score big time with this blockbuster featuring then-power pair Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Charlotte Motor Speedway is the track where Cruise’s character, Cole, makes his mark. Rick Hendrick’s Chevrolet dealership, City Chevrolet, makes a cameo in the film as does NASCAR legend Junior Johnson’s former Yadkin Valley farm. It’s here that Tim (played by Randy Quaid) rides a tractor to approach Harry (played by Robert Duvall).

More Big & Small Screen Faces and Places with Queen City Ties

  • “American Animals” – Charlotte was a buzz in spring 2017 with sightings of “American Animals,” an independently financed crime-drama starring Blake Jenner and Evan Peters, in and around the Charlotte area. Crews and stars were spotted in Plaza Midwood, Uptown, on the Queens University of Charlotte campus and more. According to Variety, the film will focus on the “unbelievable but mostly true story” of four young men who mistook their lives for a movie and attempted one of the most audacious heists in U.S. history.
  • “Banshee” – Charlotte subs for the Amish community of Banshee, Pennsylvania, in this Cinemax action and crime comedy starring Antony Starr and Ivana Milicevic. Various Charlotte settings, including McGee Lumber Company on North Graham Street, Miles Diner in Mooresville and various streets in Waxhaw, find their way into the show’s scenes.
  • “Sleepy Hollow” – Locations in nearby Lincolnton, including The Laboratory Mill, set the scene as the town of Sleepy Hollow in Revolutionary War-era New York.  The series, which was renewed for a fourth season in 2017, follows the present day and past adventures of Ichabod Crane and is loosely based on Washington Irving’s  "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."
  • “Logan Lucky” – This heist film is set at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where a major theft takes place at the track. Crews filmed during the running of the actual Coca-Cola 600. Daniel Craig and Katherine Heigl star alongside Channing Tatum and Hillary Swank.
  • “The Patriot”Historic Brattonsville, an 800-acre living history plantation an hour south of Charlotte in York County, SC, set the stage for Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger to battle it out against the Brits in this Revolutionary War-era blockbuster.
  • “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” – Several Charlotte locations and locals helped set the stage for this partially-scripted comedy, including the former Charlotte dining staple, The Penguin and the Wells Fargo Plaza in Uptown.
  • “Just Go with It” – Former Matthews resident and supermodel/actress Brooklyn Decker stars in this goofy comedy with Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. The actress, who was discovered while shopping in SouthPark Mall as a teen, is now married to tennis star Andy Roddick. She also appears in several other flicks, including “Battleship,” “Lovesong,” “Stretch,” “Results” and “Casual Encounters.” She’s also a recurring cast member in the Netflix series “Grace and Frankie.”
  • “The Wrestler” – Charlotte pro wrestler and actor Ronnie Killings appears in this sports drama film starring Mickey Rourke. Billed as “The Truth,” Killings presents himself as one hulking figure in this flick, showcasing the build that earned him the WWE World Heavyweight Crown.
  • “Goodfellas” – Charlotte-born actress Berlinda Tolbert played Stack’s girlfriend in this 1990 mega-hit featuring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta. Tolbert is also known for her role of Jenny on the 1970s TV sitcom “The Jeffersons” and in the movie “Patriot Games” as Sissy.
  • “The Walking Dead” – Charlotte actor Tim Parati had a brief but memorable role in Season 7 of AMC’s hit zombie horror drama. Parati played Dr. Emmett Carson, who meets a horrific end at the hands of one of the series most notorious and ruthless villains, Negan.


 This article ran in the September 2016 issue of Charlotte Happenings and was updated in May 2017.


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