It takes a more than just talent to make it in the entertainment industry. The recipe for success calls for hard work, determination, unrelenting drive and a little sprinkle of luck. Top it all off with a vivacious personality and you have the amazing Chelsey Reist. After graduating from Capilano University with a degree in acting for the stage and screen, Reist got her start as the host of the internationally broadcast travel series: ‘Discovering Great Towns.’ Since then, Chelsey has gone on to work on national commercial campaigns, appear in series television shows landing from the CW’s ‘The 100,’ ‘The Tomorrow People’ and ‘Psych.’ Additionally, she cut her teeth in memorable horror feature films, including ‘No Tell Motel’ which appeared in the Cannes Film Festival. As her career blossoms, she pursues her passion for acting and continues to turn the heads of critics and fans alike with her spellbinding performances.
Currently, fans can get a weekly dose of Chelsey as she stars as ‘Harper’ on CW’s “The 100”. A powerful blend of sci-fi and drama, the show is set 97 years after a devastating nuclear war wiped out most life on Earth. 100 juvenile prisoners are declared “expendable” and sent to the surface in a last attempt to determine if Earth is habitable again. Chelsey’s character is one of “The 100” who is being held at Mount Weather in the series. The midseason finale left viewers wondering what will happen after ‘Harper’s’ bone marrow is harvested as episode 7 ended with her screams of torture. “The 100” returns with new episodes on January 21st.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Chelsey Reist for a candid interview; which gives you an inside look at this multi-faceted performer in her own words. The two discuss her blossoming career, breakout role on the CW’s ‘The 100,’ her evolution as an actor, upcoming role in the thriller, ‘Dark Harvest,’ and much more! Check it out and be sure to keep an eye out for this star on the rise.
How did your journey into the entertainment industry get its start?
How did I get started? Originally, I took drama in high school. I hate to admit it now because I have put so much hard work in but, at the time, it was a class I took because it seemed so easy! [laughs] I seemed to get a lot of praise from my teachers and sort of left it there. After graduation, I moved in with my brother and my best friend, who was his wife, and I fell in love with “The Sopranos.” We would watch it all of the time and I just became addicted to how dark it was. One of the actresses, Drea De Matteo, she was a young woman and I could really see myself playing the role that she did. I found it so captivating to see someone play such a strong but brittle woman. I fell in love with all of the characters on the show. I had never really thought about acting as a career but, at that moment, I wanted to know what it was like to have a script and fill it out in your own personal way and make people feel the dark and scary emotions that “The Sopranos” was making me feel. At the time, I had personally gone through my first big heartbreak. I was working at a law firm and it was really stifling creatively. I just decided to make a change! I applied for University for acting at Capilano University where I was accepted and I moved there!
Who were some of the people who impacted you along the way?
The person who comes to mind, first and foremost, is my mother. I am very family oriented and I have such an amazing family! My dreams and goals often reach far behind reality and this industry can be quite harsh but my family has always believed in me and supported me! They have been my biggest mentors and inspiration for sure! When I moved to Vancouver for university, one of my professors is an actor named Kaylin Johnson. She was recently in “Godzilla,” was in “Final Destination” and “50/50” with Seth Rogen. She has been in a bunch of stuff. She has been a huge inspiration to me. In her adult life, she got married and was working in the stock market after her husband was trying to buy Apple shares and she helped him through her father’s connections. But she decided she wanted to quit and start acting. She has done amazingly at it! In her classes, she would always push us outside of what was comfortable and to be a more guttural actor. I have always appreciated her pushing me in that way and we have been friends ever since! To this day, she is one of my biggest mentors and a huge inspiration to me!
You got your start on a show called “Discovering Great Towns.” That seems like a really cool way to break into the industry. What did you learn from the experience and what were some of the highlights for you?
“Discovering Great Towns” was a television show that ended up airing in over 65 countries internationally, which is something that still blows me away! I had graduated from university and I was hesitant to find an agent. I don’t know if I thought my dreams were so big that I feared being devastated if I couldn’t get an agent but it is something I stayed away from. For the first two years, I found my own projects. I stumbled upon the project in Craigslist. At that point in my career, I had really made a point to do something every day to try and forward myself. I applied and they brought me in for an audition. That led to several callbacks and eventually I booked it! It was a show where we would travel internationally to small towns and discover what the locals love about them. It was a really interesting gig because I had come from the world of stage and screen training to having to do a lot of thinking on my feet! I really enjoyed it! I have always enjoyed traveling, since I was a young girl, so to be able to combine my film training with traveling and being myself, it was something I really enjoyed! My biggest highlight is that I did it myself! I accomplished such a big show all by myself with no agent, straight out of university. It taught me a lot of confidence in front of the camera. I learned I can exist in front of the camera and trust myself in front of camera, along with whatever might fall out of my mouth! [laughs]
Another interesting facet of your career is how you cut your teeth earlier on in the horror genre. So many great actors have sprung from that realm. What appealed to you about the genre and were you a fan before diving in?
Yeah! I have always been a horror buff! Like I said, when I first started watching “The Sopranos,” what drew me to it was how dark it was. I was surprised they could get so dark on TV with the murders, blood and blatant sex! Wow! I guess I should look into why that is something that has always been attractive to me! [laughs] It is something I really, really dig. Once again, after I finished university, I got an audition for a movie called “Mon Ami” and magically I booked the role. It has gone on to do very well, airing in dozens of film festivals internationally and has won dozens of awards. That was really my first immersion into very, very dark scenes. Spoiler alert! By the end of the movie I had been kidnapped and had limbs dismembered but it is still a comedy, so it’s pretty interesting! [laughs] I Iike to equate it to something like Tarantino/Fargo, in that it is funny but it is also violent! It gave me my first chance to beg for my life! I remember the day of one of the darkest scenes we broke for lunch and the director had whiskey for lunch! [laughs] He said, “I’m so sorry I am doing this to you! It’s horrendous!” Something in that was so delicious for me! I like taking people outside of their comfort zone. Since then, I have learned that I have the ability to do so and it is very freeing for me to be able to delve into a spot emotionally that is usually taboo in our culture. Now, if you give me a chance to bleed out or beg for my life, I’m all over it! [laughs]
Your latest project is a little further away from that realm! How did you get involved with the CW’s ‘”The 100” and what appealed to you about the project?
First of all, when I heard The CW Network, I was all over it. I have been interested in working on any of their shows for years because they have such strong followings, strong characters and amazing writing. I was originally asked to audition for Harper and the role was supposed to be only one episode. I was supposed to die. I thought, “Well, it is a short role but it is on the CW and I love to die, so why not!” [laughs] I went in and did the audition and it didn’t go as well as I had planned! I didn’t hear from them for weeks, so I was sure that the role was gone because of this embarrassing audition. I thought there was no way I would get the call back but my mother kept saying she knew I was going to get the role and it would be bigger than it was intended. One day, weeks later, they called and said I had landed the role. I rushed to the set to immediately start gun training, which was awesome! We created the look of Harper as I worked on the gun thing and then we came back to shoot the episode which was episode 7 on season one. By the end of filming, I just didn’t die! [laughs] The whole thing about Harper dying just didn’t happen! No one approached me to tell me why and I was a little confused as the day ended and I just went home! I didn’t really know what it meant and I never could have imagined the character would turn into what it has now! A week later, I was called back for the next episode, the next and then the season finale. Now, I have even been in several episodes of season two and three! The role has really grown into something I never really expected! So, what originally drew me to the role was working with The CW and a chance to die, which hasn’t happened yet!
Well, I suppose there is still time for that to happen! [laughs]
Oh, yes! [laughs] Harper has been left in a very, very scary situation for sure! The thing about “The 100” is that they are not afraid to kill off anybody! Just recently, they killed off one of the lead actors and I noticed tons of fans are blowing up about it on Twitter! That is what I love! They can kill anybody at any time! Every week, I was getting scripts and I never knew what was coming. I would skip to the last page to scan for Harper and see if she was still alive and then go back to the beginning! It has been pretty intense! [laughs]
For people who are just getting to know you through this great character, what elements of your own personality might shine through in Harper?
That is an interesting question. I try to find correlations between myself and any character as an acting tactic. You look to real life situations and see if there is any relation to what the character is going through. Then you try to match your original emotion to what the character is going through and bring it to the screen. I have had to, through my artistic process, find myself and bits of my personality in Harper. Both of us, Harper and I, have definitely gone through rejection. Harper starts off season one with a love interest with Devon Bostick, who plays the character of Jasper. She really, really likes him but he keeps turning her down. Then, in the season finale of season one, I filmed a romantic scene! No one knows this but I filmed a romantic scene where Harper and Jasper kiss! I was really excited to watch that but they cut the scene! So, there was Chelsey having a bit of rejection because they cut the scene and along with Harper! [laughs] I definitely carried that into season two! Harper has a lot of strengths. She is a guard, she carries a gun and defends her people. I think, for me, having a lot of rejection in my life both personally and professionally has led to a hardened sense of strength for myself. That is definitely a trait that we share, along with a sense of independence. I moved to a city I had never been to before to study acting and lived alone for a decade when all of my friends and family were back at home but I kept pushing. It is the same with Harper, she is on Earth and all of her friends and family are still up in the sky but she keeps pushing for survival and to thrive, so I think Harper and I are similar in many ways.
As you mentioned, the part has grown exponentially as the series has moved forward. What do you consider some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as an actor along the way?
I would say the biggest challenge, emotionally, would be never knowing if I am going to live! [laughs] The first episode I went in thinking I was going to die and, since then, all these episodes later, I still don’t know if I’m going to die! They don’t tell us anything! All of the cast, we get our scripts the day before filming to keep everything a secret. Then, the day of, we have a million script rewrites. The most challenging thing has definitely been not knowing when this amazing ride is going to end! It has taught me a lot! For example, it has taught me a deep sense of gratitude. I am just so grateful now. When I thought I was going to die the first episode and so many have gone by, I am so grateful that I have been able to live to see another day!
Looking back on your career, what is your biggest evolution as an actor?
An evolution as an actor, simplistically, is an evolution as a person. I have gone through a vast amount of changes and a vast amount of roles. I am constantly learning and I am constantly looking to grow better. Straight out of university, I was an eager student and ready to use all of my training. I would get a script and immediately break down every aspect of the character, what it meant, why and where. Now, when I get a script or a character, I try to take it from the exterior, my initial reaction of who she is and work from the outside in. I like to work with what she looks like and with what is she wearing, her posture and how she walks and talks. Then I really bring it down to the inner questions. As a younger actor, I used to think I had to immediately jump on those inner questions. I guess I have learned to give myself some more space and really trust myself to let the character evolve.
What other projects are on the horizon that have you excited?
I just finished a movie called “Dark Harvest,” which will premiere later this year. It’s going to be pretty unforgettable. It follows a marijuana grower who is forced to partner up with a suspended narcotics investigator to solve a murder. I play Alexis Caine who is the wife of the marijuana grower and an absolute manipulator. It is a fun role for me because marijuana, especially here in Vancouver where I live, is a really hot topic. Legalizing marijuana is in the newspaper every day and a creator brought this topic to the scene. The role, for me, is seemingly an innocent character but actually is a very strong woman. She also has diabetes and in part of the movie I go into convulsions and insulin shock. The creator of the movie, his father, actually died from that sort of attack. It was a really interesting role for me and I really enjoyed doing the research. I was very nervous to try to do the role justice since it was so close to his heart. The whole script plays out close to his heart and he is also the lead actor, so I think it is going to be a pretty dark movie and a really interesting watch. That is a big one for me for 2015, apart from “The 100.” I am really excited to see how the show develops and I am excited for everyone to see the resolution of Harper’s pain and if she gets a chance at redemption.
Is there a particular genre or role you are anxious to tackle in the short term?
Of course! The ultimate project for me is constantly changing but I really want to do every genre! Lately, I have been really wanting to embody an extremely physical role like Zoe Saldana in “Colombiana.” I want to take on a role that involves intense stunt training and lots of intricate fight choreography, which gives you really ripped arms! [laughs] I just want an intense battle where I can commit myself physically and perhaps play a female assassin. I think that would be a lot of fun for sure! That is on the top of my list and something I definitely want to do!
While you are honing your skills as an actor, do you aspire to explore the world behind the camera at some point?
Writing is something that has always intrigued me. Before I knew acting was a thing, as a very young girl, I used to have hundreds of poems laying around that I had written. I remember my mother secretly submitting them to see if she could get them published. Writing is something that has always been pumping in my artistic veins, so I would definitely be interested in writing. I have been working on a script for years but it has come along slowly as it is something I don’t know much about developing. It is something I will definitely explore doing and honing that skill is on my list for 2015! When we were doing “Discovering Great Towns,” it was a bare bones crew and I really had a chance to see what it took to operate the camera and sound. It gave me huge respect for that role and I think it would be phenomenal to run the camera as well. I always want to learn! I am just so passionate about film as a craft that I would love to get my hands on any aspect of it!
As someone who can serve as a tremendous inspiration to other young actors looking to make their way in the industry, what is the best lesson we can take from your experience?
To be honest, I don’t feel like I am in the place to give advice yet. I am still looking to focus on all of the advice that I can get! [laughs] However, what I would be able to share is to try your best to be genuine and to be vulnerable. Always risk, choose the harder option and put in the hard work. That is what has worked for me.
When you aren’t hard at work with your career, are you involved in any charity work?
It’s interesting because one of the reasons I originally got into acting is because I was drawn to helping. I used to see commercials where Sarah McLachlan was helping children in some far off country. I always wanted to be the woman in those commercials! I thought no one would listen to me or want to help unless I was some big actress! [laughs] This is kind of a weird, roundabout way to get to that goal but helping is still a passion of mine! Currently, I volunteer in the emergency ward of a hospital and it is my job to help direct visitors with emergencies and get them connected with the medical help they need. That is something that has always been a passion of mine. I know that if this career doesn’t work out for me, I will be headed to medical school. My grandfather was a coroner and a surgeon. Once again, it follows the horror vein of blood and guts! [laughs] I love it! I was at a point, before I booked “The 100,” where I finished all of my pre-med courses and was ready to apply to take my MCAT and go to medical school. Then I booked “The 100” and it has been a roller coaster ride ever since!
Is there anything you want to add before I let you go?
I just want to express my sheer gratitude for where I am at. I am so grateful to be having a chance to be a part of such an amazing show that gives women such strong roles and pushes the limits of violence on TV. I am so proud of the show, grateful to be a part of it and excited to see where it goes in the future!
Thanks so much for your time today, Chelsey! You have been terrific!
Thank you, Jason! Talk to you soon!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.