Actress Sharon Pierre-Louis On Mean Girl Acting Roles And The Hollywood Life
If actress Sharon Pierre-Louis is a dream chaser, it’s a trait passed on from her parents. They—starting with her father—arrived to Miami from Haiti during one of the influx of Haitian immigrants in the 1980s. From them, she learned the value of putting in hard work towards achieving short-term and long-term goals. To Sharon, this meant attending a performing arts school with a rigid curriculum and moving to Los Angeles from her birth city West Palm Beach, following college graduation.
Moving out of her comfort zone paid off. Sharon Pierre-Louis has since had roles on the remake of the 1980s dance musical Fame, the ground-breaking teen series “Lincoln Heights”, and in film director Quentin Tarantino’s film Django Unchained—not to mention “CSI Miami” and on the TV series “Suburgatory”. If you are a fan of ABC Family’s “The Lying Game”, you should know that’s her playing Nisha Randall.
Seems like it was only yesterday that little Sharon was playing the role of Tiger Lily in her school’s production of “Peter Pan”. Now she’s got bigger snappers and salmons to grill. In the meantime, Kreyolicious.com got the scoop on her journey and life in Hollywood.
As a little girl, did you dream about having a career in the film industry?
As a little girl, I used to say that I wanted to be a teacher or a lawyer. However, being a middle child, I found myself having to play alone a lot and it was through that in which I was able to dive into a world of imagination. I used to pretend to be many different characters in the kitchen in front of the mirror for hours and my big sister would walk by and say, “You’re crazy!” But I just didn’t care, because it was fun for me and all I could think was, “She’s missing out!” Well, a few years later when I was around ten or eleven years old in the sixth grade, I got involved with my middle school’s drama club because I had a crush on this boy who my friend told me was in it. Needless to say, I never ended up talking to him, but it was our individual onstage performance of poems for Black History Month where I got bit by the acting bug. It was my first time on stage in front of my peers and not only did I have a fun time, I got a great response from many of the students. That year, I decided to audition for the Alexander W. Dreyfoos Jr. School of the Arts and got accepted. From seventh to twelfth grade, I was involved in theater and musical theater both in education and at church. I thought I’d go to New York and be on Broadway. It wasn’t until after a couple years of doing student films in college that I decided on Los Angeles. So as a little girl, I just loved people, and acting was a game I played for fun before I even knew it was called “acting.” It’s funny now to think that I’ve gotten paid to do what was a personal game for me as a child. My family laughs about that now because it’s like I knew subconsciously what I was meant to be—even then—and didn’t let the fact that my big sister thinking I was weird—stop me.
So you’re also a trained opera singer?
I did musical theater in middle and high school as well as took voice lessons in college at FSU—Florida State University. I just got back into singing again after having been focusing on my acting career and have taken lessons here in LA. I’ve been offered some opportunities to share my voice at charity events mostly to empower youth as well as some onstage performances. Opera singing is another passion of mine. I feel like it’s my soul purely expressing itself. Although I have a slight build, my voice is big which feels more like the true me.
How was it working as part of the cast of the film Django Unchained?
It was incredible! I had the best time on set. We shot my part on a real historical plantation in Louisiana. Although the film was pretty intense, the energy in the air between takes was joyful. I felt like I was that little girl again diving into a world of imagination, but this time with a whole bunch of other people who were in the game with me. I also didn’t experience any egos, we were all in it together. Working with Quentin Tarantino was a dream come true, of course. I remember being on the edge of my seat watching his films when I was younger and thinking, “God, I’d love to work with him one day and be in his films!” It was surreal when that day finally came and I wasn’t disappointed at all because he truly is a genius, an actor’s director—and his passion is contagious.
You were born in a family of eight, with some of your siblings born in Haiti, and others born in the USA. What was it like growing up with some of you having had that experience of living in Haiti and then assimilating in the USA, and with you and your younger siblings having a whole different experience?
It all feels normal to me. We had a number of guests in our home whose first stop after getting off the plane was our house where they stayed before moving onto making their own life for themselves. I actually remember—when I was around two or three—my parents telling me that I had a big sister and that she was coming “tomorrow.” [Laughs] I remember meeting her when she was about seven and all of a sudden the dynamics of our family changed. I went from being the only child to a little sister who wanted to be cool like my big sis. I remember I used to stand there staring at her while grinding my teeth hard when she commanded, “Sere dan’w!” [Grit your teeth] Only to find out years later from my mother that she was in fact speaking English, not Kreyol, and exclaiming through her thick accent that I “sit down!” I remember being so confused because the angrier she got, the more I’d clench my teeth. No wonder why she thought I was weird! [Laughs]
A few years after my sister came to the United States, I was informed by my parents that I had two brothers, one of them being deaf, who were coming within the week to live with us. I remember being excited about all of a sudden having big brothers. That was the beginning of what I feel was one of my greatest gifts. I would run around the house asking my brother how to sign things and as the years went by, went with him to many Deaf events. Another world opened up for me and, to this day, I am still involved within the Deaf community mainly as a sign language interpreter. With my older siblings all coming from Haiti, they had to adjust to the culture and the most important was learning the English language along with making friends. They assimilated pretty quickly because there’s a large community of Haitians in South Florida—where I’m from. As for my little sisters and I who were all born in the US, we’re all at least bilingual because Kreyol had to be spoken in the home. We did have an advantage of doing better in school with honors because we started with the English language earlier…Although English was my second language, because we only spoke Kreyol in the home and by the time my little sisters were born, they had older siblings—who all spoke English to each other. Although my older siblings had to go through more in order to obtain their citizenship, they had each other and were close in age so there was support there. There was some of the standard sibling rivalry, but we’re all so different that we kept busy in our own ways.
Do you remember the first time you went to Haiti?
Yes, very little. I was about five or so…I remember the exciting plane ride where I got to sit by the window, running in the fields of Haiti with my cousins and even being on a rooftop of a house enjoying the night air. I remember eating a lot of fruit loops there, too, which my parents brought because they knew how much I loved cereal. The only scary part for me were the outhouses. I remember being terrified going alone to the bathroom and needing someone to accompany me because I felt like I could just fall into the scary hole with large roaches running around. [Laughs]
When was the last time you visited?
Sadly, that was the last time I visited. I definitely plan on changing that sooner than later. I yearn to go back and look forward to the day. You’re actually fluent in American Sign Language. Any tips on how to learn that language?
The best way is to take a class because the pictures in the books are not 3-D and it’s best to see the correct positioning of the hands in person. Also, grammatically, ASL is different from English. In a class, it’s more effective to learn the correct usage of a sign. Some words in English have the same spelling and sound but different meanings like “running from a dog,” “running for presidency,” or “running out of time.” “Running” would be signed differently in each context. Last, but not least, go out and mingle with Deaf people! Finding out where Deaf events are in your area, is a great way to start in meeting other people who sign. It forces you to use your hands to communicate which helps to accelerate the learning process. I actually got a degree in interpreting after moving out to Los Angeles, and used to go to Starbucks along with other students to meet Deaf people and sign.
Are your parents proud that their “pitit fi” is in Hollywood?
My parents would definitely be more comfortable if I was in Florida living closer to them [Laughs.] My mother has expressed to me that it is hard for her knowing I’m out in LA on my own “nan peyi lwen sa,” [in no man’s land], but in the end, they know how driven I am and that I’m happy. I have an amazing network of friends out here who are like family and I am where there’s opportunity. Plus, it also brings them joy to at least see me on their TV screen when I’m so far away.
You’ve had lots of mean girl roles. Were you ever a mean girl?
In high school, I made sure to separate myself from other mean girls because it broke my heart to see anyone getting bullied, especially when it was isolating one person from a group. I even told one of the girls who led the pack that I found her making fun of others to be mean-spirited and that I wanted no part. That was the last time we spoke to each other until years later. I remember in 7th grade one time getting into a short spat with another girl who many people made fun of and afterwards feeling awful because I felt I only added more negativity towards someone who already had enough of that. I’m more of a peacemaker than anything else, I was usually the one in the middle trying to make peace between people who had a falling out. I kept the drama for the stage. Although I’m not into “zin” [vicious gossip], I love roles where I don’t play nice because it’s just so much fun and I always learn from it in a way that helps me to become even more empowered in my life without having to step on people.
How do you usually prepare for your roles?
I usually sit with it in silence and go into my imagination using the text as a map. I also leave judgments and comparisons to my life out of it. I come in as a blank slate and allow the story to be my teacher. I step into the shoes of the role and see how it fits. Where I feel discomfort is the place I know to begin my empathy work because I know that’s where I’ll learn the most. If I’m given a script, I like to read it several times and not always in order after the first read. My process has evolved since I first started acting, especially in the last year, and I’m sure that it will continue to grow. I still take classes, because it’s like going to the gym and one of my favorite things to do is improv—which is like my playground.
Your first screen appearance was in a project called Little Miss CEO.
It was actually a pilot that was then pitched to networks, but with no pick up. I went in for the role and just had a good time with it. After I was cast, I was a little nervous because this was one of the first acting gigs I booked in LA, but it wasn’t too scary because I had already started shooting a recurring role right around that time on another network.
What’s it like living in Los Angeles?
Amazing and tough. I love the weather, mountains, beaches, and the opportunity to do what I love. LA has a lot to offer, and there are many interesting people from different walks of life who are artists. It’s also tough because it’s hard work pursuing my dream. It takes patience, having a vision, good work ethic, and perseverance. Nothing is guaranteed. But that’s life. I’ve been able to grow tremendously out here spiritually, emotionally, mentally…Many people come out here and get so discouraged or even lost. It’s important to have a strong sense of self and purpose. What advice do you have for those who are hoping to make it in Hollywood?
It’s about the work, not about you. Do not take rejection personally because many factors go into casting that usually are beyond your control. The only thing that can be controlled is the quality of your work and showing up with confidence because you’re prepared. The most important skill is to be able to rejuvenate oneself, being able to pick yourself up every time and coming back stronger than the last while continuing to learn. Also gratitude. Everyday nurturing your creativity, doing something towards your career, and balancing it all out with acknowledging the ways in which you’re grateful.
What plans do you have for your career?
My vision is to continue work in film, TV and even on stage. I’d love to play an opera singer on screen—and/or do an opera on stage. I’d also love to be able to get involved with a film or TV project where I work & sign with other Deaf actors. I definitely want to do a movie that is focused on our Haitian people & our unique experiences. Any role that elevates humanity or shows what is possible through our spirit and determination excites me. I’d also love to work with Quentin Tarantino again and Tim Burton is another director who’s work draws me. People and the choices they make fascinate me. I love learning and having heart to heart connection with others. I hope to have a long line of opportunities where I am able to express many different facets of a human being artfully on stage & on screen. I look forward to the day when I am able to play a grandmother—that’ll be the day!
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