Playing dead in 'Neon Demon' gave IMSA grad her biggest role yet

  • Cody Renee Cameron, a graduate of Aurora's Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, is now a struggling actress, model and stuntwoman in films and TV.

    Cody Renee Cameron, a graduate of Aurora's Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, is now a struggling actress, model and stuntwoman in films and TV.

 
 
Updated 8/1/2017 5:59 AM

"I like to think I'm the best dead girl in Hollywood," Cody Renee Cameron said.

She could be right.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In Nicolas Winding Refn's controversial 2016 horror film "The Neon Demon," the actress/model/stuntwoman plays a convincing character identified in the credits as "Embalmed Female Corpse."

Cameron, a 2007 graduate of Aurora's Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, remembered her audition.

"They asked me to come in a bikini," she reported. "They had me lay down on the floor. Then they made noises. They blew in my face, little things just to see if I could remain absolutely still."

She stayed still enough to be cast in "The Neon Demon," the biggest movie she's ever made -- so far.

Cameron earned a communications degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, then promptly packed up her car (with her little dog Cheetoh) and headed to Los Angeles.

"I've always loved being at the center of attention," she explained. "I love to entertain. I love to make people laugh. That's my passion! Anytime I can get in front of a camera or on a stage, I just love it!"

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Her impulsive move to L.A. became a quantum leap of faith.

"I didn't know anybody," she confessed. "I didn't have a plan. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. I wanted to do something bigger, but I didn't know what that was."

For six months, Cameron "couch-hopped" at the homes of people she had just met. She had no idea what she was doing but continued to do it, even after being robbed at knife point.

"I was at a South Central gas station in broad daylight," she recalled. "I was in a little sundress. A guy comes up with a knife and says 'Give me the purse!' This was one of those moments when I thought, 'What am I doing here? I don't belong here.'"

It didn't help Cameron's confidence that she didn't have much experience or useful credentials.

Well, one. Playboy magazine tapped her as a model to represent the Fighting Illini in a College Girls edition.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"That was really cool," Cameron said. "It was also a big help in moving out to L.A. It was good to have at least one credit under my belt!"

She parlayed that credit into appearing on five episodes of "The Playboy Morning Show."

Since 2015, the model and struggling performer has built a growing resume from a series of small roles in such movies as "Euro Club" (Bar Wench), "The Sex Trip" (Hot Locker Room Girl), "Officer Downe" (Naked Woman) and "Hollyweird" (Voluptuous Blonde). Her TV appearances include "Tosh. 0" (Hooker in Tree No. 2).

"My whole family thinks I do porn, that's for sure," she said. "But I don't do that. I have no objections to it, but I don't."

She added, "But a lot of things I do are very sexual."

Cameron actually grew up in Marion, way down in southern Illinois. That's why she moved to Aurora to attend the competitive Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, a boarding school.

"Honestly, I just wanted to get out of southern Illinois and its conservative Christian Bible belt," she confessed. "I never felt like I fit in. Aurora offered me this amazing new opportunity to be with people who are really driven. For me, it was like finding my tribe, looking for where I fit in."

At first, Cameron thought her tribe might be models. She loved modeling.

Then she entered the acting arena. Even better.

Until she fell into performing her own stunts, especially with motorcycles.

"This is probably my favorite thing of all," she said. "I get such an adrenaline rush! There aren't a lot of girls who ride motorcycles, or a least not a lot of ditsy blonde girls. If someone needs a girl riding a motorcycle, they call me directly now." (FYI: She owns a Harley-Davidson XG750 street bike.)

The secret to doing stunts, she advised, is fearlessness.

"You can't be afraid of being hit, or of falling or breaking something," she said. "And you can't be afraid of hurting someone else, either, for the sake of the camera."

Cameron's dream is to be a series regular on a TV show.

"Just having regular work all the time would be amazing," she said. "This kind of life has a lot of highs, so I really try to live out those highs and enjoy them while I can."

Her biggest high so far?

She once stood behind Keanu Reeves at a red carpet movie premiere.

"This is the sort of thing I will tell my grandchildren about on my deathbed, you know?"

• Jamie Sotonoff and Dann Gire are on the hunt for suburbanites in showbiz. Know someone with a good story to share? Let them know at jsotonoff@dailyherald.com and dgire@dailyherald.com.

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