An interview with Chrystee Pharris
Chrystee Pharris is an actor known for her work on Goliath, Scrubs, Monogamy, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and Passions. I spoke with Chrystee about landing her first acting role, portraying Kylie in Scrubs, and her work as a voice-over artist.
Did you always want to pursue a career in acting, and how did you land your first role?
I knew I wanted to be an actress when I was four. There were no other options. I just knew at four, I wanted to be a performer, actress, singer, model and teacher. Of course, teaching is not performing but I knew inspiring others was important to me and so I became a mentor. It started when I was ten years old when I saw the black kids and the poor white kids put in the corner along with their desks. It made me cry, because I knew they were good kids… smart kids- if only the teachers would encourage them. So, I encouraged them. The teachers allowed me to teach and mentor them during my break time. As I got older my themes would be - staying focused, how to not allow our living circumstances define who we will become, goal setting, manifesting your dreams and now - I teach The Business of Acting to actors who are just starting in the business. I think actors just don’t know the HOW to get into acting. Everyone who has worked with me who has taken it seriously, booked their first job or got an agent within the first six months of working with me.
My first acting role… It depends on which one you think is important. My first acting role was in the 5th grade in Mr. Reese’s class. I still keep in touch with him to this day. He always told me I was talented and special and that I was the only student he gave a solo song to (at the time). How he knew I could sing- I still don’t know.
My first paying acting role that got me my SAG union card was a commercial in Boston, for a department store called Filenes Basement. That commercial ran for two years and helped me stay afloat during my last year of college when I moved to LA.
My first on camera TV show was City Guys on NBC. I had like five lines and I was so nervous but you can’t tell. I was so excited to be on there. I booked that show a week before graduating from Emerson College. It was the start of my amazing career.
Is there anyone in the industry who has particularly influenced you?
Steve Harvey had the biggest influence on me. I was an intern on Young and the Restless and a show called Vibe, my last year in college. Steve Harvey was also on the CBS lot and he would sit me down and tell me about the business. His wisdom, and I have sooo many nuggets he gave me- kept me from getting caught up in the manipulation game from men trying to sleep with me, to just looking like an actress every time I stepped out of the house. That advice got me a job. A few jobs actually.
You portrayed Kylie in Scrubs. Could you tell me about your experience working on the series?
Kylie was fun. I was told they wanted someone else, so I went in with an attitude of… nope, you are going to hire me. I got my comedy friends together and they helped me make the script funny. My goal in the audition was to make Bill Lawrence the EP of Scrubs and Zach Braff laugh and say to me “Wow, you are funny.” But when I walked in Bill immediately said: “If I don’t laugh, don’t take it personal. I don’t like the script.” I said, “ok….” In my mind though, I was thinking ‘ugh, that is not what I envisioned. But I didn’t let it throw me off. I had to just do what I planned. And when I was doing the scene for the audition- Bill laughed out loud and when I finished he said: “Wow, you are really funny.” And before I got to my car after the audition- my agent called and said I got the role. The cast was super cool to work with.
What was the biggest challenge taking on the role of Diandra in Monogamy?
Diandra on Craig Ross Jr.’s Monogamy is my most challenging character so far. She is complex. She has been through a lot. And it shows you that money doesn’t keep you from pain. Playing Diandra was not easy in the first season. I really had to learn how to not let things get to me. Diandra was always calm, and laughed at herself and she is not loud. Well, I, Chrystee, I’m all of that… accept… I am loud lol. My whole family is loud. We love to tell stories and top each other so I really had to learn to calm it down. 2nd season though, Diandra loses her cool. Things get challenging for her. And by the 3rd season- she is just lost. The person who had it all together can’t find her grounding. The writers of Monogamy are incredible. They write characters that are complex - like we all are in real life, but writers on network shows didn’t always write characters like that for black actors. So this was a breath of fresh air and definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. That part was not easy. I really had to be vulnerable on camera and just go for it. It’s funny to see the fans love me, then hate me, then have compassion for me, back to hating me, and then pulling for me. Diandra definitely goes on a roller coaster ride and I’m thankful that the fans are riding with her/me.
What’s the best advice a director has given you on set?
The best advice a director has given me was Ted Lange (Isaac from The Love Boat)- told me after a theater performance- to allow others to celebrate me. If they said I did a great job- receive that. Don’t tell them how bad I did. Take it in and receive it. You are a great actress. Accept their praise.
Are you currently working on any projects?
I am currently screening a short film that I directed around the world at film festivals. It’s currently in over 20 film festivals and has won two awards so far for best director and best covid short film. It’s called Aimee Victoria and it’s about two deaf women in love facing a relationship crisis. It was shot completely under the restrictive guidelines necessary during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, which meant working with a cast and crew completely over Zoom! Which was a challenge when I didn’t know sign language and had to figure out how to communicate over a screen and not in person. It was definitely a challenge. But it was worth it.
What are you currently watching?
I am watching soooo many things! Insecure, Ordinary Joe, The Morning Show, Our Kind of People, Wonder Years, just finished Maid, and Squid Game… that is just to name a few. I love watching and supporting my friends who are directors, producers, show runners, actors, costumers etc. I try to support and watch as much as I can. How can you say you’re an actor and not watch TV shows?!?
You've also worked as a voice-over artist. Could you tell me more about this?
I fell into voice-over work. I just love it and since the pandemic, I built a studio in my place to keep working over the pandemic. From voice matching, to animation to commercials and radio spots. It’s so much fun to do what I do and get paid to do it. It’s a lot of hard work but when you prepare yourself and study- you can really make a living doing what I do.