By: Rashida Ashley
Photography: Bobby Quillard Photography
If you believe that acting is all glitz, glam, and a sassy attitude you’ve got another thing coming! Acting is a beautiful art form that challenges the mind, body, and spirit. Daytime Emmy-nominated actress Crystal Lee Brown can greatly attest to this. Her dedication to the creative arts has led her to be cast in numerous feature films and television productions such as Tamera in Giants, which streams on Issa Rae's YouTube Channel, Sergeant King on the hit CW series Black Lightning, and now currently starring as Janelle, a no-nonsense prison physical therapist who forms a romantic relationship with Osito (Atkins Estimond), on Starz's crime drama Hightown.
Brown’s nomination for Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Digital Drama Series coupled with the substantial growth of her self-tape audition business iTape LA, one can only wonder what fuels this actress to keep moving upwards in this industry and what knowledge she has equipped herself with to gracefully excel in her field.
You can currently be seen on Starz's crime drama Hightown as Janelle, a no-nonsense prison physical therapist who forms a romantic relationship with a patient. As you stepped into this role what were some things that you’ve had to equip yourself with as you learned more about your character and how has that impacted your overall views on what it means to be an actress?
As an actor, with any role, you need to equip yourself with a full sense of who the character is. For Janelle, I started with where she was in life currently, then worked backwards to the beginning of her life. This is essential in character building. As far as Janelle forming a romantic relationship with a patient, I researched hybristophilia—the attraction to criminal offenders in correctional facilities. Apparently, it's a big thing when it comes to female employees who have worked in prisons. This type of intensive research continues to impact my job as an actor. It's the authenticity in the work and the foundation of character building.
Aside from being an actress you also own and operate iTape LA, what are some budget-friendly tips you have for aspiring actors who are auditioning from home?
iTAPE LA specializes in self-tapes and coaching for television and film auditions. Our clients have an increased callback/booking ratio and we are highly recommended by agents and managers. Self-tapes are the new normal when auditioning for a role. I suggest building an in-house studio to save money. Here are some tips for actors auditioning from home:
Film on your iPhone,
Use an 18-inch LED ring light with a stand
Use an external microphone
Use a muslin photography backdrop or paint your
wall a slate gray
Have a small circle of actor friends who can help you
tape and be your off-camera reader
"As an actor, with any role, you need to equip yourself with a full sense of who the character is."
As an actress, educating yourself on each and every role you portray is such a vital step in honing into the characters you’ve played. As you have done your research for these characters and films, what are some things that have culturally impacted your knowledge
Something that culturally impacted my knowledge and education when researching is that there are so many stories of our lineage that we don't know. Historically, stories such as NASA's Katherine Johnson (Hidden Figures) and Chairman Fred Hampton (Judas and The
Black Messiah) aren't being taught in history classes. So I'm grateful to do the deep dive into the work, to authentically tell our stories, educating the masses of our accomplishments via the lens of television and film.
Through time, we have seen the transformation of the female superhero. What are some of your takeaways of the evolution of the female superhero in film and how do you think we’ll see that evolution change through time, specifically within the black community?
If I had to sum up in one word the evolution of the female superhero in television and film today, it has to be “domination.” We are taking over in full force. The female superhero has been around for decades but is always in the shadow of her male counterpart. Today,
we have seen an uprising of these powerful badass women, especially black women. From Misty Knight (Simone Missick) in Marvel's Luke Cage and Shuri (Letica Wright) in Marvel's Black Panther to the CW's Batwoman (Javicia Leslie). I think we will continue to see this evolution manifest within the black community as we continue to advocate to see ourselves
represented in these roles.
You have aspirations of being a director and to dive deeper into your craft by working with other actors. When you are able to fully step into the role of being a director, what would be the concept of the first project you would work on, and why? What kind of impact would you want it to have on your viewers?
As a black woman, I look forward to sitting in the director’s chair one day. It's important for me to tell our stories from our perspectives, and there are many concepts I'd like to explore. I'd like to start with our youth: what their ideas of the world are, seeing through their lens, their experiences, and their expectations. As a mother of a 10-year old daughter, I find myself asking her a lot of questions about how she views life and discovering the impact that our youth has on our stories.
As you continue to expand your career in the entertainment industry, what are the things that make you reflect on how far you’ve come? What is the legacy you want to leave?
As I continue to expand in my career, I reflect on my journey often. It's a constant reminder to keep going and never give up. The first movie I saw that planted a seed of purpose in my artistic expression was The George McKenna Story, starring Denzel Washington. So every time I see his work, I'm reminded of why I do this. It's the craft. When I speak to or coach actors just starting out, I remind them that I've also been in their position. I know the passion, determination, hope, and fear they may feel venturing out on this career. I do my
best to encourage them because as long as they stay true to themselves and do the work, they will succeed. What we do isn't easy, but it's rewarding. I’d like to leave the legacy that I created great work that inspired people to go after their dreams. I'm just a black woman who stepped out on faith and went after it!