Snatching a Glimpse of Gabrielle Elyse
Armed with Sour Patch kids and three shots of espresso, I was as ready as I’d ever be for the midnight premiere of Snatchers, the high school horror-comedy about a teenage pregnancy gone terribly wrong—science fiction wrong! Ordinarily I wouldn’t be caught dead at a midnight screening of anything (early to bed, early to rise here) let alone something remotely scary. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m a total scaredy-cat who has to sleep with the lights on and practically plastered to my partner for protection after seeing something frightening. However, for this occasion I was happy to put on a brave face and support my extremely talented and beautiful client Gabrielle Elyse in her leading role as Hayley Chamberlain.
After finally succumbing to the typical high school pressure of having sex, Sara (Mary Nepi) wakes up the next morning 9 months pregnant in a bit of a pickle—only this pickle has beady little eyes, sharp teeth and claws that have the power to kill and take over people’s bodies. Determined to keep her alien pregnancy a secret, she turns to her geeky ex-best friend Hayley for help. The brainchild of writing/directing team Olde Money Boyz (Scott Yacyshyn, Benji Kleiman, and Stephen Cedars), Snatchers phenomenally serves up high-camp and alien destruction. Snatchers strikes a comfortable balance between hit shows like Stranger Things and Ash vs. Evil Dead. It’s the first series for Warner Bros. digital platform Stage 13 and sure to be a crowd-squealing success as every episode is laugh-out-loud funny and at the same time suspenseful with a healthy dose of blood and gore. I was thoroughly entertained and surprised at my ability to suppress the impulse to cover my eyes every time the music got ominous.
Ms. Elyse is best known for her role as Josie on Nickelodeon’s Nicky, Ricky, Dicky and Dawn although she has performed in several commercials, independent films and voice-over roles since the age of 11. Other notable TV credits include: Austin and Alley, The Thundermans, Rizzoli & Isles, Teen Wolf, The Catch and most recently a guest starring role on the hit ABC series Blackish.
Working with Ms. Elyse was a stylist’s dream. Not only is she drop dead gorgeous, with a perfect figure, she’s also gracious, considerate and extremely professional. When it came to styling her for her press photo shoot, live interviews and red carpet appearances at Sundance, I appreciated her strong point-of-view and overall knowledge of fashion trends as well as her expressed desire to be bold and adventurous. A young woman who knows who she is and aims to celebrate her multiplicity, she welcomed the mix and match of styles ranging from punk rock and urban hip-hop to classic silhouettes and vibrant ethnic prints. She is blessed to be able to wear anything and look amazing in it, which made my job easy and beyond enjoyable. After finding futuristic Mugler and funky A-lined Chanel dresses, she was ready to strut the red carpets of Sundance—her studded Valentino shoes catching the light of the flashing cameras.
Amidst all the craziness, Ms. Elyse and I got a chance to sit down and talk about career, fashion and some important discoveries she’s made about herself and Hollywood over the years.
Who are your favorite fashion designers?
Some of my favorite fashion designers are Alice and Olivia, Michael Kors, Christian Louboutin, Valentino, Versace, and Chanel. All of these designers range from funky, to edgy, to straight up strange but yet they all have a classic feel to their pieces.
How would you describe your personal style?
Eclectic. I’m realizing that I am comfortable in many styles! And trust me—if you knew young teenage me—the first time my mom tried to get me to try on a blouse resulted in me sitting in the dressing room in tears. But now I am in a range of styles. I wear boho chic outfits, to classic and simple dresses, to urban chic outfits as well. I sometimes even blend styles to make my own. I have come a LONG way from t-shirts, jeans, and a pair of converse.
What first attracted you to fashion?
I always found fashion to be an extension of the mood I was in and what I identified with culturally at the time. As a multi-cultural woman growing up in the suburbs of Texas, trying to figure out where I fit in and finding my own way was always a struggle. When I was younger, I started wearing “skater” clothes because my older sister dressed like that and I looked up to her whole-heartedly. As I got older and more confident in who I was, I started experimenting with different things until I found a way that felt authentic to me. (It took years and MANY, MANY awkward phases.)
If you had to chose a woman in your family that you consider to be a fashion influence whom would that be?
My mom! She has her own definition of what she looks good in but what is so wonderful about her is that she never encouraged me to stick with one style. She always encouraged me to be bolder in my fashion because she knew I could pull it off. Fashion is always an extension of how you see yourself and how you want to express yourself. That really didn't sink in for me until my late teens so up until then my mom would gently nudge me to keep exploring. (Even though I felt like it was a forceful loving push.)
We’ve all had our moments of “what was I thinking” when it comes to our wardrobe. For example, when I was younger I went through an awful lime green phase where just about everything I wore was that color. I know, I know, terrible! Looking back on the evolution of your personal style, what would you say was a look you’re glad is behind you.
VESTS! I used to wear vests and fedoras all the time because I discovered the magic of Michael Jackson in middle school. After seeing how cool he looked in them, they instantly became a recurring thing in my wardrobe. I did not look as fly as I thought I did. So I’m so happy that’s behind me. I rather listen to Michael than wear him!
What was the most challenging thing about working on Snatchers and what was the most rewarding? What did you learn about yourself as an actress and a performer while working on the series?
I think it’s the same for the vast majority of actors. It’s pushing yourself to do good work.
I mean literally, that set was such a joy that I could not wait to get to work everyday. So there weren't a lot of “technical challenges” for me as an actress although that couldn't be said about the alien. The real pay off was watching people enjoy it.
I learned that I am enough. I gained more confidence in my skills as an actress because I brought my own originality to the character all while doing what is required to tell the story in the way the directors want it. I learned to really take value in my own worth and talent and be gentle with myself in the process. And of course I learned how to be patient with an animatronic alien.
As a young woman of color in Hollywood, how do you see the role of women and minorities in general evolving in the industry? Have those factors been challenging for you in your career thus far?
They have been challenging. Being multiracial and ethnically ambiguous has been challenging. When I was younger, producers and networks were hard pressed to think outside the box when it came to pairing me with parents. The roles I usually booked were parentless up until recently. ABC’s "The Catch" were forward thinking enough and bold enough to pair me with two dark-skinned parents. Things are changing. Minorities and women are being able to stand on their own. Viola Davis is an example—being a lead in her own series as a well-educated lawyer and professor with her own closet of skeletons she has to battle. Other than Clair Huxtable—especially a dark skinned and unconventional beauty, this was unheard of a decade ago.
You’ve been performing since you were 4-years-old. When you look back at that 4-year-old girl who had a dream of becoming a professional actress, what advice would you give your younger self now that you’re actually living your dream?
I would tell my younger self to embrace all that you are culturally. Because when you do, it will open you up to a plethora of experiences that will not only enrich your personal life, but also give you references to draw from in your art. In this you will find strength and confidence.
What advice would you give to other young actors who look up to you?
Be persistent and always look for something to strive for. Set goals for yourself. If you’re in a class, make sure you’re learning every single possible thing you can in that class. Don’t be afraid of the hard work because it will make you grow. You’ll grow as a person, as an artist, and as a professional. But in the midst of doing all that hard work, make sure you’re doing things just for you. What I mean by that is take some time for yourself. Explore who you are. What you like, what you don’t like. Read something that sparks your interest. Write. Draw. Pick up an instrument. Play a sport. Create. Explore the world around you and how you fit into it. You have to find the balance between working hard for a career (which is more of a business than you would think) and making sure you are happy and in a good state of mind. Lastly, I would say find people who truly love and support you. For me, that is my mom and dad. It could be family for you, or a friend, a teacher—or any combination of people.
What’s your dream role?
My dream roll... That’s difficult, I have several. I would love to be in a “dramedy” opposite Will Smith about how important the role of a father plays in a young woman’s life—especially a young woman of color. Another one of mine would be to star as Lt. Uhura and Spock’s daughter in the new "Star Trek" series. I mean, take a second and imagine what their kid would look like... I TOTALLY FIT, RIGHT?! And how awesome would I look in Spock ears? The third dream job would be to star along side Maya Rudolph and Keegan-Michael Key as my parents. They are on my list of favorite comedians and I would love to just be in a movie with them. Lastly, I’d want to be on a show that showcases the experiences of a family that is multi-ethnic but does not identify with just one race, but rather picks and chooses each culture and navigates the family with the backdrop of fitting into American culture. And who knows, I may want to write, direct, and produce that series! Just how Mindy Kaling did with her series, "The Mindy Project."
You’ve worked on a variety of TV shows both dramatic and comedic, which do you prefer?
I have great respect for both. I like drama because I like opening myself up to be a vessel to someone else’s truth and story. Being raw and vulnerable can be a courageous act because I am willing to feel and experience these painful and or insightful moments when most of society is not willing to go there. Comedy is similar. I can show some one the truth but in a roundabout way that will make them laugh but also make them uncomfortable and make them think. Comedy is very intelligent that way.
What are you most proud of?
I’m proud of who I am. It took a lot for me to embrace all that I am—the beautiful and the unconventional. I take so much pride in seeing where I am now. I can say that I am proud to see whom I’m growing into as a person and as an artist. As a multicultural woman, I have a lot of backgrounds and history in my family. I am a product of love transcending boundaries. I am a product of unity. Although growing up, I was killing myself trying to fit in somewhere, I realized in my older years that I was put on this Earth to create a new box for people. Better yet, break the box completely and redefine what it means to be a person in America. I am a human. I am a soul. And just like you, my background and what I’ve gone through can be something you can learn from so we can create a brand new meaning for what it’s really like not only to be an American but be part of a unified human race.
Tell us something about yourself that your fans would be surprised to learn about you
Even though I’m such a people lover, I really do like to be by myself. I eat by myself, see movies by myself, and shop by myself. I like being with me. Being able to do things on your own is good. Being able to have quiet time by yourself is good. I get that from my dad, I think.
A little fun note though: I am so into having little artsy, simple, and dainty tattoos. I have two right now but I want at least 3 more. At first glance, I think people are surprised to learn that I have tattoos and actually want more. It was definitely a surprise to my family! [She laughs] I think they’re used to it now. I just convinced my dad to get a tattoo with me so it’s progress! I also want to create my own fashion line. I’ve discovered that I really do love clothes and how you can express yourself fully with them! It is such a fun extension of yourself.