Don’t be afraid to have a “real job” when you’re first starting out as a creative. I used to sell wedding gowns at a high-end boutique, was a freelance event coordinator and was an onstage corporate presenter for Fiat Chrysler at auto shows nationwide. Exploring the facets of life builds character.
As a part of our series about Inspirational Women In Hollywood, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Chelsea Harris.
Chelsea Harris is an actress gaining prominence, who can be seen playing the role of ‘Sykes’ opposite Jennifer Connelly, Daveed Diggs, and Sean Bean in season three of the TNT sci-fi hit series, “Snowpiercer,” which returned with all-new episodes on January 24, 2022. Chelsea is also heavily recurring on CBS’ hit comedy, “The Neighborhood” starring Cedric the Entertainer. On the show Chelsea ‘Necie’ who is the love interest of one of Cedric’s sons, “Marty,” played by Marcel Spears. “The Neighborhood” also stars Max Greenfield, Tichina Arnold, and Beth Behrs. She also makes her first studio feature debut, with a strong supporting role opposite Tom Cruise and Jon Hamm in Paramount Pictures’ highly anticipated Top Gun sequel, Top Gun: Maverick.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
My pleasure! I had a rather simple, Southern upbringing. My father worked for our local YMCA in Columbus, GA and my mother was a physician. I was a bit of a reserved kid who’d come alive when given the chance to perform so my parents encouraged me to go in that direction.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
In my early teens I would often copy my brother. One summer he decided to go to a local theater camp, so I asked to sign up too. I’ll never forget the feeling of doing my first monologue onstage…there was no greater feeling than channeling my teen angst into a performance and captivating an audience. I couldn’t get enough and have been hooked ever since.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I once kissed Kevin Hart during a chemistry test not knowing I wasn’t supposed to! I’d just been given a new script minutes before doing the audition and read that a kiss had been written into the scene. Back then I didn’t understand that I should talk to my co-star first and ask what they’re comfortable with. Being the committed actor I am, I planted one on him as was written. He asked to do the scene again, this time sans lip lock. I was mortified! I learned that sometimes the boldest choice you can make is to ask a clarifying question. Asking a question about expectations isn’t weak. It’s daring.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Maybe this is cliche, but I’m grateful for my parents’ support. Neither of them have worked in the arts though have always, always been encouraging of my choice to pursue a creative career. They allowed me to move to Los Angeles at fifteen to begin working professionally. I know that’s rare. I’m indebted to them for it.
You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
Fail up. As long as you utilize each disappointment or upset as a teachable moment, you’re succeeding.
What drives you to get up every day and work in TV and Film? What change do you want to see in the industry going forward?
Upgrading the way Black women are seen and valued drives me forward on this career path. Ultimately the biggest change I’d like to see in the industry is having more women of color in the power seats. More heads of networks, more executive producers, more showrunners. To sustain change onscreen we need to diversify the people making the decisions behind the scenes.
You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?
The most exciting project I’m working on now is the CBS sitcom The Neighborhood. I’ve always wanted to work on a multi-cam sitcom because there’s nothing else like it in television. Plus I grew up watching Martin, My Wife & Kids and Spin City. It’s also a huge challenge, which I welcome. From here I see myself writing and producing. I have some ideas I’m currently flushing out that I’m excited to share with the world soon. I’ll also have season 4 of TNT’s Snowpiercer coming out early 2023.
We are very interested in looking at diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture and our youth growing up today?
Diversity is important onscreen and in storytelling because images have a powerful effect on the subconscious mind. To see life through the eyes of someone whose shoes you’ll never walk in builds empathy. It breaks down barriers to understanding.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- I wish someone told me it can take years to build a true career, no matter how quickly work happens for you initially.
- You’ll receive a number of disappointments; that’s the way it is. Don’t take it personally if you’re cut from a film or TV show. Great work is often left on the cutting room floor.
- Make sure to find other forms of expression that satisfy you outside of your creative field. I love to dance, cook and travel. I can turn to those little joys no matter what is happening in my career.
- Don’t be afraid to have a “real job” when you’re first starting out as a creative. I used to sell wedding gowns at a high-end boutique, was a freelance event coordinator and was an onstage corporate presenter for Fiat Chrysler at auto shows nationwide. Exploring the facets of life builds character.
- Live your life! Travel, fall in love, have a family…do all the so-called normal things outside of pursuing being an actor. The most captivating actors are the ones who have a full life offscreen.
Can you share with our readers any self-care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.
Sleep. I used to be part of the “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” club. Not anymore. Napping, resting, relaxing is so important to me now. Years ago, I got myself into a precarious state of health because I was only sleeping 3–5 hours a night. I’m no longer willing to jeopardize my health for productivity.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes is “I shall allow no man to belittle my soul by making me hate him,” by Booker T. Washington. Hatred takes a lot of mental energy. It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of throwing psychic punches at a person. I’d rather use my time and attention differently.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I’d love to have lunch with Denzel Washington. The man is brilliant — I’d like to know what goes on in his head; what his creative process is like. What inspires him. What books are on his nightstand. Yes, please tag him and let’s find out!
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?
Readers can follow me on Instagram and twitter at @MsChelseaHarris.
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
It was a true pleasure! xx