After years of striving to reach her dream, Chelsey Crisp has finally found herself in a really good place – as the lead of the new movie In-Lawfully Yours while starring in ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat. This actress has been through it all and paved the way for a longstanding career. Crisp’s insider perspective into LA and the industry are really thought provoking and sure to have you inspired to work as hard as ever to make it. She is so much more than meets the eye; a woman of integrity, intelligence and class.
There is a big perception of what LA is really like and what the fantasy of LA is. How do you see reality versus fantasy here?
Oh, man. Where to start? (laughs) For me, a big part of the fantasy was how long it would take to “make it.” I had no idea what that meant or what it would entail. All I knew was I loved acting. I studied at a conservatory and there was a huge learning curve after I graduated, when I realized how little I knew about Hollywood itself. It took me years to understand how movies and TV shows are made; how projects are pitched, sold, cast, produced, filmed, edited and distributed. Knowing that helps an actor figure out their place in the system and learn how to go after their personal career goals.
Now, when someone says to me they’re coming out and they have six months to land an agent or get on a show, I almost don’t know how to respond. I don’t want to be discouraging and certainly, it can happen in six months if you get lucky. But it didn’t for me, nor any of my friends who have been pounding the pavement for years. I will say this unequivocally – some of the best actors I know do not have steady jobs. So the idea that you can do it in six months or two years is part of the fantasy. The reality is – it’s a lot of hard work. It’s a boatload of determination, educating yourself, withstanding rejection and getting up every day finding a better way to do it.
Was there a moment for you when you thought, okay I either keep pushing forward with this or find something else?
I don’t think there was one specific moment when I was packing my bags, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it. I fantasized about having a job with a more linear path. Where the degree leads to an entry-level job and a ladder to climb. Where success and financial security were tied directly to my skill set. This isn’t like that. Being a good actor doesn’t guarantee anything. There’s a lot more to it. Fortunately, I think the artist mentality is built to go after a challenge and that’s served me well over the years. When I felt discouraged, I’d remind myself that I wouldn’t be happy with a desk job. The 9-to-5 life wasn’t for me, so I braced myself in the knowledge that I chose something less stable. I chose it. No one made me do it, so I’d better be ready for the challenges.
What is your definition of success? Have you reached your level yet?
It’s funny, I rarely meet actors who say they’re where they want to be in this business, even if they’re at the top. It’s easy in this line of work to look at the next rung on the ladder and want that. But I try to enjoy the moment at hand and for me, being on a great sitcom is what I really wanted. So, yes, this is success for me. Going to work everyday on a show I love is soul food.
How do you harness your energies in this industry? Who do you know who to give it to and not to give so much to?
I’d say I’m still learning how to find the balance on this one. I love helping other actors and one of the things I didn’t see coming is how many requests I get to do that now! I wish I could help every actor who reaches out to me, because I know how hard it is to figure out the business. But there are only so many hours in a day and I am really struggling to answer everyone. My hours are eaten up by a demanding schedule and I feel like I’m letting people down. I end up wanting to tighten my circle a bit because I can’t give everything to everyone. So, the answer to your question is that I don’t have an answer yet. (laughs)
Given your journey to success, do you hope to use your platform for something? Are there things you’re particularly passionate about?
I’m passionate about making people laugh. I know that doesn’t sound like a specific platform, but it’s very important to me. To be honest, I got into acting seriously when my parents were divorcing. It was a tough time for my family and I dove into local theatre. On opening night of my plays, my family would be under one roof, sharing an experience together. It was magic to me. I would sneak looks into the audience so I could see my mum, dad and sister laughing. Together. That’s the power of entertainment. It lifts the human spirit and transports it to another place.
That momentary escape can really help us connect to who we are and what we want in life. I love my job because of that. Sometimes with my comedy troupe, we can see that transformation happen right before our eyes. In improv, we talk to the audience and feel out their mood. Sometimes, there’s collective exhaustion when they walk in. They had a long day, got stuck in traffic, had to deal with LA parking, etc. As I ask for the first suggestion from the crowd, what I’m thinking to myself is “you came to the right place. We’re going to take care of you. We’ve got your back.” As the show gets going, I see them laughing together and that day melting away. I feel like we’re doing something special.
Duchess Riot is your baby. You’ve been doing it for years and there’s so much like-mindedness that comes from this platform. Is female empowerment something that is close to you?
Yeah, it is our baby. We’ve put so much into it and it’s given us endless joy. We run the group like a business and every member has a piece they are responsible for. Everyone is a part of its success and everyone dives in when we encounter failure. It’s been the most rewarding creative endeavour of my life and when you ask where I want to put my energy, I would do anything for those seven women. I want so badly for us to go to work together every day.
I’d love to know your opinion on plastic surgery versus natural beauty. Is it something you feel pressured to do? Do you think women feel pressured to look a certain way to book jobs?
I do think women feel immense pressure to look a certain way, in this business and many others. My opinion is that beauty is subjective; there’s no right or wrong to it. What’s beautiful to me is a woman who feels good about herself. I don’t care if she got there by aging naturally or having some work done. I don’t care if she’s tall or short, tan or pale, large or small chested. I care that she feels good about herself. Since we all know how much of a challenge that is in and of itself, why do we keep putting women (and men) through constant judgment? As far as me feeling pressure, sure. Who doesn’t? But I don’t let other people’s opinions of me or my body influence how I feel about myself. I try to block that part out and do my job.
How important is it in this city, in this industry, to have a support network in your family, friends and loved ones? This journey is not just yours, it includes everyone.
You nailed it – your whole family takes this journey with you and you want it to work out for their sake, as much as yours. I think that support network is everything; it’s been vital to my security and self-esteem to have a solid home base, so I don’t suffer the highs and lows of the business too badly. I include the highs because they’re just a different kind of challenge. This is just my take on it, but if success and attention go to your head, you’re in trouble. It’s fleeting and intangible. What’s real is your family, your friends and your creative point of view. Our point of view is our real value as storytellers, so I want to hold onto that as much as I can, during both success and rejection.
What projects do have you coming up?
I have a romantic comedy called In-Lawfully Yours that just released on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon and a lot of other places. It’s been so much fun having this movie come out, because it’s one of my favourite characters I’ve played yet. I play Jesse, an atheist going through a divorce who moves to a small town to look after her mother-in-law. Their bond turns out to be stronger than the bond with the son and a love story develops between my character and the town’s pastor. There are all of these deep themes we explore – from faith to love to loss – and it’s all done in a beautiful way with a lot of laughs. It’s not formulaic; it explores the characters in the way they would actually behave and doesn’t aim to hit these benchmarks that you’re used to in romantic comedies.
We’ve also just started filming season three of Fresh Off The Boat, which is so exciting. I actually just heard from our show runner last night about what’s coming up for season three and I was giddy.
Just to finish off, I’ve got a bit of a game. It’s a play on words with titles of things you’ve been in. Here we go.
Fresh Off The Boat: When was the last time you went on a cruise ship? I was on a cruise around the Caribbean at Christmas 2014 with my fiancé and his family.
The League: Which baseball team do you follow? [bursts out laughing] The Diamondbacks from Arizona.
Rake: How are you at gardening? I’m reminiscent because I don’t have a garden and I’d love to. I think it’s such a nice normal thing that people don’t do in LA.
New Girl: What’s it like being the new girl on the set of a long running TV show? It’s like the first day of school over and over again but without getting to the point of your tenth day of school. And who the lead is of the show makes such a difference. In my experience, the general vibe of the show was always set by the lead actors.
Nice Guys: Who’s the nicest person in the biz you’ve ever met? My fiancé, Rhett Reese. I remember meeting him for the first time at a wrap party for a show he was Executive Producer of. I specifically remember thinking he was extremely kind for someone who was running the show. He’s a very good egg.
Happy Endings: Is Rhett your happy ending? To my long, storied love life? (laughs) He is, yeah. I’m a very lucky girl.
Fresh Off The Boat airs in Australia on Channel Eleven and FOX8. In-Lawfully Yours is now available in Australia on Netflix.
Photo Credit: Dana Patrick.