Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut
With her career in bloom, Picard’s Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut shows how manifestation, hard work and the power of positivity can open doors.
The weight of legacy can be a heavy burden for anyone to bear. Especially the legacy of a show as long-running as Star Trek or as critically acclaimed as Paramount +’s Picard. Both come with a history and expectations some would find overwhelming, but Ashlei embraces them with fervour. Having grown up with her mother occasionally watching Star Trek the original series, Ashlei was already familiar with the world. So, when she ultimately got the call that she not only booked Picard but was playing the daughter of LaVar Burton’s Geordi La Forge? ‘Excited’ didn’t seem to cover it. And it was only her second day in LA.
Acting from a young age to where she is today, Ashlei is now beginning to see the fruits of her labour. Grateful for her ability to make mistakes away from the spotlight, she’s learned incredible lessons about herself along the way. Growing with each role, her flower has only just started to bloom – and people are taking notice. From her numerous on-screen roles dating back to 2015 to her Broadway debut in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible in 2016, Ashlei has proven repeatedly to be incredibly in love with what she does.
Truly in her element when speaking about her hopes and dreams for the future, you simply can’t help but be drawn in by the grace she radiates. Staggeringly humble and thankful for the opportunities she’s been given, the Star Trek community has welcomed her with open arms. It can be daunting to be a newcomer on an established show with a steeped background, but Ashlei is a class act. The definition of grace under pressure. In conversation with 1883 Magazine’s Dana Reboe, Ashlei discusses the power of manifestation, when she got the acting bug, her hopes for Sidney La Forge and more.
Let’s go back to the beginning. When did you realize you wanted to be an actor?
I was three years old, watching Barney and Friends. I scooted up to the screen and told my mom that I wanted to be inside the TV.
I love that so much. What about Barney’s world captivated you, do you think?
I think it was the mixture of the purple dinosaur interacting with these kids. They’re singing and dancing. You know, I was a lively kid. So, singing and dancing have always been a part of my childhood. And that just really spoke to me.
So, from watching Barney as a kid to where you are now, what have you learned about yourself?
It’s funny that we’re talking about Barney and Friends and these child actors. I’m so grateful my journey is starting to blossom now because I’ve had the opportunity to get to know myself outside the public spotlight. I’ve been able to make mistakes that people don’t see. I’ve learned so much. You know, I went to a performing arts middle school, high school, and then went to college to get my degree in acting. I’ve been doing it for a while. But I think now being able to see the fruits of my labour it’s been really rewarding.
Was it ever hard for you to keep going?
What was hard, was the auditioning process. I like auditioning, it keeps you on your toes, but I guess it was waiting on someone to say ‘yes’ versus making my things. I’ve started to make my things and started writing more and not relying solely on someone saying ‘Yes, we’ll pick you,’ you know?
Is there anything you’re working on now that you can share with us?
I’m a screenwriter! There’s a series I’m writing right now that I’m getting ready to shop around! I won’t give away too many details, but I’m excited about it!
Good luck with it! I can’t wait to hear what it’s all about. So, jumping into the Picard. I read that your mum was a fan of the original series, can you describe the moment you got the role of Sidney and what it was like when you told her?
When I got the call, I had just moved to LA. It was my second day here and I was in my mom’s hotel room when I got a call from my agent. And they were like, ‘Hey, not only did you book Star Trek Picard but you’re going to be playing Geordi La Forge’s daughter’ Mind you I had my agent on speaker, so my mom was able to hear the whole conversation and she was losing it!
Amazing! Did you grow up watching a classic Star Trek as well?
Yes and no, I would occasionally when my mom watched it. I’d peek in a little bit. I was always knowledgeable of the universe, but since booking Picard I’ve done more research, too.
What did that research look like? Did you go back and watch The Next Generation to familiarize yourself?
Yeah, I watched TNG. I watched the very first season of Picard when we started shooting since the second season wasn’t out yet. I also watched the movies with Chris Pine and Zoe Saldana, along with Classic Trek, too.
You said in an interview with Cliché Magazine that you felt as though you manifested the role of Sidney. What is something you’d like to manifest for her going forward?
Oh, for Sidney’s character? Oh my God, I would love to manifest a spin-off. Hashtag legacy. I think there’s so much to explore with Sidney’s character, so I’d love to manifest her blossoming relationship with Jack’s character and Alandra’s character. I mean, there are so many adventures we can go on… can I talk about the finale? Since it’s airing this Thursday.
This will be going out after Thursday.
Okay, so in the finale, we find out Seven of Nine is the leader of the ship. It’s Raffi, Seven, Jack, me, Alandra, and then our bridge crew. But you know, it leads us to a potential spin-off. We have everyone you can imagine; everyone you would need, and the fans have been begging for it.
That’d be amazing and if the fans are begging for it, the studio might be obliged to listen.
Let’s hope so!
What’s a piece of advice you’d give Sidney if you could have a sit-down conversation with her?
Honestly, to keep doing what she’s doing. She’s grown so much from when we first met her. You know, in the beginning, she’s eager! Fangirling over Picard and Riker. And then she’s fighting changelings. She’s making changes for herself and she’s starting to possibly find love. There are so many different things that she’s starting to do for herself. I don’t know if I could offer anything wise just yet. But she’s on the right track.
Can you talk a little bit about how you made Sidney your own? From what you read on the page to the screen?
I took a lot from myself. I tried to find ways in my body to differentiate her walk or her mannerisms because I have my only Ashlei-isms but I tried to settle that down because she’s a little more reserved. Me? Not so much. My façade of reserved is very nice [both laugh]. People are sometimes surprised when they see my crazy side, but no, Sidney is very reserved.
How would you describe the La Forge family dynamic?
We all have our family moments. We have our ups, and we have our downs. But at the end of the day, we all love each other. You feel it. You see it and you feel it.
And her relationship with Alandra?
They’re so close. In 3×6 when they first arrive and Jack’s complimenting Sidney and he’s trying to flirt in front of Alandra and she’s like ‘Okay, chill.’ She’s very protective of Sidney. And you can see that and vice versa, she’s protective of Alandra. They have each other’s back. They have that quintessential sisterly bond that people would hope for. It’s lovely to see their sisterhood on screen!
What’s Sidney’s relationship with her father like?
In the beginning, very tense when you first meet them. I think what it boils down to is miscommunication. Sidney thought she was rejected by her father, and he felt rejected by Sidney. At the end of the day, they want what’s best for each other.
Absolutely, it’s so cool to see their relationship strengthen throughout the series. Can you talk a little about you walking out onto the bridge for the first time?
I was talking to another publication about this too. When you step on the bridge for the first time, it’s immediate goosebumps. I took a deep breath. I keep saying it was surreal, but it was. I wish there were a bigger word for surreal so I can truly encapsulate that feeling.
Would you say that’s the moment you were like ‘Wow, I can’t believe this is real?’
That, and then seeing them pull out the cast chairs for Patrick Stewart and the other actors. And I was like ‘Oh wow, I’m here playing this character. Pinch me, please.’
The daughter of a legacy character, too!
Was there a favourite scene that you filmed?
There are a couple of moments, but I love my action scene. That was the first time I did actual stunt work. I’ve worked on stuff before, but this was my first time having stunt rehearsal. And the stamina it takes to do these action sequences – because you have to do it from different angles – cut and reset. It was a learning experience, but I loved it. Emotionally, acting opposite LeVar Burton. I mean, all the characters are phenomenal to act alongside and in front of, but that tense scene we had was very emotional. And just being able to work with a titan. [Laughs] That was kind of a pun, but not really. He’s such a good actor and being able to pay off him and what he was giving me was just amazing. So, I’ll say that was another one of my favourite moments, being able to act with him.
Now that you’ve acted in Star Trek, is there another franchise you’d want to take a crack at?
Oh, honey, I’ve said for years, I’d love to play Ororo Munro. I love the comic book version and her on-screen. I would love to do that. I heard that Kevin Feige watches our show. Listen, I’m ready Kevin just let me know!
We’re long overdue for an MCU X-Men movie!
Let’s bring in Patrick Stewart, too!
You manifested being on Picard, so…
My powers are strong.
[Both laughing] So, circling back… after looking at Instagram, Q1 of this year looked like it was insane. What are you most looking forward to in Q2?
Well, okay, I’m going to be optimistic hoping that we do get a spin-off. But I’m also excited to go to conventions and meet the fans. I’ve been receiving so much love online and I would love to meet these people who have been so welcoming and gracious to me. I think this specific show has opened a lot of doors, career-wise, and networking-wise. I’m excited to see where those relationships go. Also, I can’t wait to travel. I’m going to France next month. I’m catching up on Spanish so I’m looking forward to working on myself.
That’s awesome and so well deserved! You’re going to love conventions. The vibes are immaculate! Is there anything you’re watching right now between projects?
I’m watching everything. Succession. Have you watched it?
It’s on the never-ending list of things to watch. I’ve heard it’s great!
Then I’m not going to say anything. I love Succession. I feel like I binge-watch so many things. My friends actually recommended watching Love is Blind and I was so adamant about not watching it but I started it because of them. What else do I watch? Oh, have you seen The Last of Us? Oh my God.
Yes! Are you familiar with the video game?
I didn’t know this was a video game until the second episode. My friend who played it said ‘Ashlei season two is about to be crazy.’ Have you played it?
I’ve played some of it and watched playthroughs! That first opening sequence was shot for shot from the video game. The attention to detail is so on point. So, you know, good luck with season two!
I heard that someone dies. I’m nervous.
I’m not saying a word.
[Laughs] I feel like HBO or excuse me, Max is killing it.
They definitely are! Can you talk a little bit about working on Broadway versus working on screen? How are they different or alike?
I think with Broadway, you have the same text, the same material to work with, but you’re feeding off the audience’s energy. Because you have more time with the material, you can find more things to pull from. Versus television, you have your script, and you can do a lot of preparation, but you only have one day to shoot that one scene. I mean if you’re blessed you might get reshoots, maybe. But I love them both. I think they provide me with different things creatively. I feel fulfilled being able to do both.
I assume they stretch different creative muscles?
Yeah, for sure. Because you’re with the text for so long in theatre, it’s like ‘How creative can I get with this?’ Versus television, it’s more of ‘How quickly can I do this?’ With theatre, you can talk your time.
Is there a particular play you’d like to take a crack at?
Danai Gurira had a play called Familiar at the Playwrights Horizons years ago. If they ever brought that back, I would love to do it, because it was one of the first shows I’d seen where I was crying with laughter. It was so funny. It’s such a beautiful play. I’d also love to do some Shakespeare. I feel like Romeo and Juliet is overdone and I may have aged out of Juliet’s role [both laugh] but there are so many good plays. It would have to be something that had a profound effect on me.
That’s fair. And lastly, just to wrap up, what is a piece of advice you’d give to your younger self knowing everything that you do now?
Keep going. I think she would anyway. But, keep going. I’ve had a lot of – I don’t want to say enlightenment – but self-awareness and growth that just comes in time. I would tell her to continue to be open to anything, ready for anything. Keeping that same energy will continue to bring amazing opportunities that you can’t even fathom.
Interview Dana E. Reboe
Photography Happy People Studio
Styling Amanda Lim
Photography Assistant Kenli Black
Style assistant Savannah