HELLO AMERICA!—Those of us who take the arts quite seriously, especially motion pictures are recognized critics of any new face or personality projected from the silver screen. Greta Garbo, Mae West, Kate Hepburn, Lucille Ball, Lauren Bacall, Judy Garland, the iconic list goes on; all of those marvelous, extremely talented actors were different in beauty, voice, attitude and character projection which connected with millions around the globe.
They were the memorable faces that made a difference as to how we spent many nights at home or at a theater watching black and white images with utter fascination or at home sitting in front of a small box called television. Because I have spent nearly my entire life in front of or behind a camera, it is always exciting when it is possible to introduce a new personality into the ring of potential stars who I believe will be added to the group of actors, allowing us to be proud that we are a part of the motion picture industry.
Her name is Charisse Mannolini. She is wickedly and teasingly, an extremely wise young actress from the East Coast. The interview with her was not only riveting but emotionally connectible. After meeting her mom recently, none of this is a surprise. Ladies and gents, Miss Charisse Mannolini, if you please!
MSJ: What kind of young girl were you growing up in NY?
CM: Growing up I had so many interests that it was hard to narrow them down. From a young age, I had an extremely vivid imagination and a perfectionist mentality, paying very close attention to detail. For instance, as a preschooler, I would throw tea parties with every last one of my stuffed animals. Though I knew this was imaginary, it had to be authentic. Each one had a name, age, background story, voice and personality that never shifted. They each had their own seat at the table. Even the tea, sugar and cream had to be real. If my mom, who was typically my only real guest, ever tried hiding any of them to speed up my tea party process, I would immediately know and start searching for them.
In dance class, I would sometimes pretend I was different characters to make my peers laugh. For example, I used my long blonde ponytail as a mustache and lowered my voice to play a man I made up, named Uncle Joe. I would act like him as we practiced our dance combinations across the floor. Overall, I was a fun and affable kid, but mainly, I never wanted to stop dancing. I would even tap dance down the aisles of the grocery store when my mom took me with her.
I also sang and wrote my first song on piano when I was four. I imagined that I was going to be in a band that sang “Psycho Killer” by The Talking Heads, my first cassette tape. At nine, I started playing the flute. In high school, I was selected to take private lessons from the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra first chair flutist.
Being in the top 10 percent of my class and student council president with various foreign language skills, I likely could have gone to any college in the nation. However, I chose the arts over the traditional route. Deciding to turn down a scholarship to Cornell, I attended University of the Arts on the Promising Artist Scholarship instead. Some people seem to assume an individual can’t pursue the arts and also be intelligent. This is honestly an area where I have often felt misunderstood.
MSJ: How did you see the world, especially living in the Big Apple?
CM: I actually grew up just outside Syracuse, NY, which is about a five-hour drive from The Big Apple. We didn’t have much financial means, so I didn’t even go to Manhattan for the first time, until I was in 10th grade. Growing up, I always dreamed of living in a big city like New York. I envied the girls who could easily access the dance classes there, but I was determined not to let it hold me back or stop me from being successful. It was challenging at times because a lot of girls I danced with came from wealthier families. They were able to go to highly accredited ballet camps each summer to perfect their technique. By immersing myself in everything dance related, I made up for it the best I could. My mom jokes the best present she ever got me was the full-length mirror she put at the end of our hallway.
I’d spend hours singing, rapping and dancing in front of it, to make my mom laugh. Every day I would race home from school to watch music videos on TV. I’d mimic and practice each move in front of the mirror. I owned every dance move, so I could copy those as well. My wonderful mom, who worked full-time, would drive me all over town to get the best dance training in all forms from ballet, contemporary and modern to hip-hop and belly dance. She was definitely thankful when I got my license at 16 so I could start driving myself to the classes that were 5-6 days a week. One night, I made friends with some Latinos. They began to sneak me in the back door of a bar that had Latin Dance Night every Friday. I learned to salsa, merengue and bachata this way. Most kids were probably trying to sneak into bars to drink, but I never even had a stitch of alcohol there. Dancing kept me out of trouble. I would just dance the night away, nonstop from 9 p.m.-2 a.m. because I was determined to learn as much as possible with the means I had.
MSJ: What was the first film or stage play you ever saw – and what was the effect of that experience. Did it make you consider becoming a part of that magical world?
CM:The first film I saw was Grease. By the age of four, I knew all the lines and songs by heart. I always had an affinity for figuring out every last lyric to a song. I didn’t realize until much later that this was the start of my interest in acting. I sincerely believed that when I grew up I was going to be Bad Sandy. I thought life was really this way, with people singing and dancing all over the place. Later, I learned this was just wishful thinking. Yet, to this day, I continue to imagine many aspects of life as music video scenes inside my head.
MSJ: What was your first experience as a dancer or actress? How did it make you feel?
CM: My Grammy had always wanted to be a dancer herself, but her mother made her play the piano instead. She enrolled me in dance classes at the age of three thinking I may enjoy it. Man was she right! Dancing made me feel alive. Though I love them both, growing up in a household with a brother who is mentally ill and a father who didn’t show affection was sometimes tough. No matter what I was dealing with in my day to day life, I was able to express myself through movement. Music and dancing gave me purpose.
MSJ: Who were some of the artists that excited you most as a youngster in the early days of discovery?
CM: I have eclectic tastes and admire many musicians and choreographers, but my dance teacher, David Slocum, was definitely my biggest idol growing up. He was quite strict and provided a generous amount of constructive criticism. Many students thought he was being mean; however, I was thankful for every single correction. Calling him an unbelievably amazing and talented dancer, performer and choreographer doesn’t even do him justice, so I saw this as a huge opportunity to grow as an artist and improve my technique. From my perspective, dancing wasn’t just an extracurricular activity; it was an escape and something I wanted to do long term. Dave will always be much more than a dance teacher to me. He believed in me before anyone else did and has furthermore become a great friend.
MSJ: What kind of performer did you dream of becoming and why?
CM: I dreamed of becoming a professional dancer. I loved every type of dance, so I could never choose just one. What attracted me to this art form most was that I could get lost in the rehearsals and performances. All my concerns were swept away, and in those moments, nothing else mattered.
MSJ: When you first arrived in Hollywood, were you surprised with what you discovered? Did it lend itself to a different level of reality which made you more determined to meet whatever challenge it might take?
CM: When I first arrived in Hollywood, I was surprised to see how quickly I booked work. Though they weren’t groundbreaking roles, this definitely motivated me because I began to learn that people don’t need to be famous celebrities to make a living in LA.
I consistently had a strange feeling that something was missing in my life, but could never figure out what it was. To my surprise, that feeling dissipated when I moved here. Previously, I had lived in Syracuse, Philadelphia, Virginia Beach and briefly in Manhattan. I had been mysteriously drawn to the City of Angels since my family and I visited on spring break in middle school. Therefore, it was a huge accomplishment for me to move here in general.
MSJ: What has been the biggest surprise or disappointment concerning the business?
CM: The biggest surprise to me is how disingenuous people can be here, with all aspects of life, from personal to professional. Where I come from, people tend to be more honest and upfront. I’ve worked jobs where people never gave me my footage or photographs or were severely inappropriate in various ways. I’ve learned to be very discriminatory about who I work with and what projects I take on.
MSJ: Are you slowly beginning to see a different “Charisse Mannolini” in the mirror? And if you do…How does it make you feel?
CM: Accomplishing goals that once felt like far away dreams in a fairy tale land, can be quite an invigorating yet confusing experience. When I achieve a goal that once seemed impossible and like the only thing that mattered, it often leads me to chase a brand-new goal I maybe never even knew existed. For instance, I moved here to be a dancer and model. It wasn’t until I first played a Walking Dead Zombie at Comic Con, that I had the epiphany that I genuinely love acting. It gave me a similar freeing feeling that dancing had always given me.
This is refreshing because I know I may not be able to dance professionally for the rest of my life, but I can always act. I was very bright in school, but could never decide on one career path. I wanted to have numerous lives, so I could try a myriad of careers and always continue learning. I discovered that acting allows me to play a lot of these roles temporarily, and without all of the student loans and time needed to get multiple degrees. I don’t want to have to choose one thing, and if I act, I can be everything. As a result, I came to the realization that I had been doing what I wanted all along, from the tea parties to the characters I invented in dance class to what I do now. We as people are constantly growing and learning new things about ourselves. We just have to be patient and trust the process.
MSJ: What is your biggest dream and concern as an artist?
CM: My dreams are continuously evolving. My current goal is to backup dance for a Latin artist, especially Daddy Yankee or Pitbull. If you’re reading this – Bailo salsa, merengue, y bachata muy bien y hablo español fluidamente. Pienso que yo era latina en un otra vida. – My main concern as an artist is to do as much as possible for as long as possible and to inspire others to pursue what they love because life is too short.
MSJ: Do you still believe in the things which lead you to your current journey?
CM: Yes, I do still believe in the things which lead me to my current journey. With hard work and perseverance, a person can achieve anything he/she wants to. I have a friend who tragically lost her leg in an accident, yet she still models and dances. This is such an inspiration to me.
One of my favorite quotes says it best , “Talent does not exist. We are all equals as human beings. You can be anyone if you put in the time. You will reach the top and that’s that. I am not talented, I am obsessed.” – Conor McGregor.
Growing up, my dad taught me, “Can’t is not an option.” Saying the words “I can’t” in our household was worse than swearing. Thus, this quote further reiterates to me that hard work really does pay off and you truly can do anything you want to, you just have to try.