IN CONVERSATION WITH CASIMERE
Casimere Jollette is an incredible talent who was last seen as a series regular in the Netflix original series ‘Tiny Pretty Things’. She is just now getting more and more involved in the fashion world, which is just another one of her many passions. This year she is starting her own jewelry design company out of NY.
Casimere, you were born and raised in Chicago where you found yourself involved in the arts at the early age of three. How did starting your career at such an early age impact you as a person?
I can’t even remember a time in my life that I wasn’t involved in the arts because by the time I knew what life was and I could walk and speak, I was already involved in dancing. Thanks to my mom for putting me into baby ballet. I loved it so much that I never stopped and I’m still doing it today, so I never really knew a life without that. But it definitely elevated me as a person culturally and how I hold myself. Being a ballet dancer you do hold yourself differently, you have a certain poise and there’s a discipline to it. So you become very disciplined as a person and independent in a way.
Also, since I was five years old I was on stage performing around the country. So that developed a big confidence in me that I don’t think a normal kid would have at such an early age. Being involved in the arts and performing, you’re creating yourself. You’re not having anyone else telling you what to do, you’re dancing. It’s an art form, you’re expressing yourself. So I feel like that was very important making me who I am today.
You were a competitive dancer and national championship winner throughout your childhood, studying every style of dance. At the age of 12 you realized your true passion was ballet and began intense training under the guidance of Ballet Mistress, Sherry Moray, and also spending summers with Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet and American Ballet Theatre in New York City.
I did competitive dancing from the time I was five years old. I started in baby ballet and then kind of tried out every style of dance. I was very technical, so I always loved ballet. Technique was a big thing to me. And I transitioned more into contemporary, as contemporary involves a lot of technique and I loved contemporary ballet. When I was around 12 or 13, I went to a ballet studio and studied under Ballet Mistress Sherry Moray in Chicago. She made me into the dancer I am and that’s when I got even more disciplined and I stopped the competitive dancing. I basically competed in ballet competitions for a majority of my later teen years. And that’s what I’ve been following through with ever since, just my strict ballet and contemporary background.
What was it about ballet that it became your biggest passion and your favorite among other dance styles?
I think it’s the most challenging style of dance. And I feel like everybody would agree because there’s a certain form of perfectionism to it. It’s kind of like the core of all dance. I feel like even if you’re a hip hop dancer, even if you’re a football player, they make you take ballet because there’s such a core and foundation to it that no other style of dancing has. Growing up I would have to take a ballet class every day and then do all my other technique classes – jazz, musical theater, tap, etc. That’s what I loved about it, mastering the foundation of dance was super liberating and just empowering to me. I also love the technique itself, there is room for creating yourself in it. But it’s more of like a yes and no, like either you’re doing it or you’re not doing it. And that was very challenging to me. Again, in ballet, you hold yourself differently. It’s different poise and just the beauty and grace of it. Besides that I also love classical music. So stepping into a ballet class where you have a live pianist playing for you is such a form of meditation and therapy for me.
During the last year of competing in dance, you won first place overall in the contemporary division at the prestigious Youth America Grand Prix in Chicago. How did it feel to win such a prestigious award?
It was amazing that I was able to win that in my hometown, in Chicago. I hold that close to my heart and it was also my last year that I was able to compete. I was 17 years old at that point, so then my life was starting in my dance career and wherever I was going from there from then on. This was the last time that I was gonna be performing on stage since I was five years old, so it was a super special moment for me. And I put my all into it. Actually receiving something for all the hard work that I put in through all my years of training and competing was really wonderful and I looked up to that Youth America Grand Prix and everybody who competed there a lot. It was very uplifting and motivated me to keep trying and gave me confidence that I can do this for my life.
At 19 you moved to LA to continue your work in the acting and dance industry. You’ve appeared in numerous commercials before your first acting role. Can you tell us more about the beginnings of your acting career. How did you land your first role?
I was never planning on being an actor around the time that I was 14 years old. My mom had her own dance studio in Chicago and she rented space to different dance companies that needed extra space and I would use it to dance. At that time a manager, an acting coach from LA moved back to Chicago and was looking for a place to rent to start up her management company. She got in contact with my mom somehow and started renting my mom’s studio and dragged me into it. I was like “I don’t wanna be an actor, I wanna be a ballet dancer”. She kind of forced me to get into it, thank God. She’s still my manager today, like my second mother.
Lisa Morgan and Joe Borrasso, they’re the best. They have stuck with me through thick and thin, but basically got me my first agent out in LA. As soon as I did my first self tape, I got my first agent and since I was 14, I’ve been traveling back and forth to LA for auditions and from then on took acting under my wings. I was dancing and doing acting and I did online schooling throughout high school. I dropped out of high school on my own will. I said “I don’t need this. I wanna travel. And I wanna be the best that I can be in the crafts that I’m trying to make my career”. So that’s what I did.
Lisa’s son, Trevor Morgan, was actually in Chicago around the same time that I started acting at 14. He was a child actor, he was in ‘Jurassic Park’, ‘The Sixth Sense’ and he’s done a bunch since, but now he is transitioning more into writing, directing and filming. He made his first ever short film in Chicago and that was technically my first job. The first thing I did was called ‘Sweet 16’ and I was the lead in that. And what was so funny is we filmed that in my junior high that I went to in Chicago. It was really a great start to my acting career, doing something in my hometown, in a school that I went to. From then on, once I moved to LA, I started booking little guest star roles, different shows here and there. And I had a dance agent out there as well. So I was doing dance jobs and different shows and music videos. I got my first commercial, which was a T-Mobile thing. I was trying to get work everywhere I could and stay busy with my crafts. And then I ended up booking ‘Tiny Pretty Things’ at 23, maybe 22. That was probably my biggest job since everything was leading up to that.
We were able to see you in Netflix ‘Tiny Pretty Things’ as Bette, a ruthlessly perfect, supremely confident, ambitious ‘music box ballerina’. This role was basically written for you, as it involves two of your passions. What did you love the most about working on this series?
It seems like it was written for me. I mean, there was obviously aspects to it where Bette was her own character and I’m a much different person, but that’s just how it is acting and creating a character. But having it be about a prestigious ballet company or school in Chicago and it delevoping into this whole world, that’s what I was doing in Chicago and I lived in the world of ballet. So a lot of the storyline played through to my old life, which was very interesting. And it did seem like for all of us on the show, this was made for us. But especially me being from Chicago, it taking place in Chicago. I remember when I got the audition, I was like “There’s no way, I have to get this”. And somehow it happened.
I made the best friends of my life working on that show. And I think no matter where my acting career takes me, that is definitely gonna be the one that I hold closest to my heart. I’ve never had to work on an acting job and had to dance just as much as I am acting, so it was such an emotional journey going through that. Then not getting renewed was the worst heartbreak, breakup that you could ever imagine, but everything happens for a reason. Moving onto the next, growing as a person and growing as an artist and finding the next role where not everything’s going to be a ballet inspired Chicago TV drama that I’ve always wished for, I can say that I experienced that in my life and it was great and it was wonderful and I can’t wait to see where else it takes me.
At the age of 7 you also started modeling with Ford. Why is fashion so dear to you? What is in your opinion the hardest thing about modeling?
I started modeling with Ford when I was a little baby. I did American Girl stuff, a bunch of random magazines around Chicago. So that was kind of my foot in the industry, which was funny, thanks to my mom. She had all the connections and just helps me with everything. And I was a little kid not knowing what the heck I’m doing, but I also did one of my first modeling jobs for a dance wear company called Leo’s Dancewear. I was seven when I started that and it was a nice intro to it because it didn’t really feel like modeling to me. I was dancing, I was doing all different styles of dance, taking photos and that was fun for me.
I had a fun time doing that, even though I don’t really consider myself a model at all. I stopped that when I was in my early teens, I stopped growing at a whopping 5’4, so I’m a little munchkin over here, but I still don’t think that holds me back from my love for fashion. My mom has always made and designed. She is an interior designer, but she was gonna go to school for fashion design. She has so many clothes that she has sewn and designed and created herself. So when I was born and when I started dancing, she did the same for me. She started designing and creating and hand sewing all my dance costumes and she taught me how to do that and I helped her design. She always had big drawing boards for designing stuff and next to her big adult drawing board, I had a mini table drawing board and I was a little kid designing my own stuff next to her.
I feel like that kind of started my interest in the fashion world and just looking up to my mom and wanting to do what she does was a big part of it. But I think fashion is all about risk and I love being individual. Obviously I don’t like going with the crowd and having another outlet to put myself into, is a big part of my life. I think fashion and my style helps with that.
From working with Chanel, you’re now starting your own jewelry design company this year. How was the idea of your own jewelry design company born?
I’ve always wanted to start my own jewelry company. It’s always been a dream of mine to have some sort of clothing line or just something that I could create and make my own input, my name on and share with other people that love it. I just didn’t know when that would pop up or when I’d be inspired. Over quarantine I was living at home in Chicago. I moved back from LA cause I was not about to be stuck in lockdown by myself in Los Angeles. So I moved back home and I remember it was all the BLM movements and I was super down and I didn’t know how to help. Instead of just donating to all these organizations and telling other people “Hey, donate, I’m donating”, I decided to make jewelry and I put my own money into it. A hundred percent of the proceeds went to local BLM movements in Chicago. I made thousands and thousands of dollars worth of donations from people. I posted on my Instagram and a bunch of fans were buying, I was sending them around the world. So that was what kind of sparked my interest and then people were wanting more. Then I just started going online, buying a bunch of vintage beads and fresh water pearls. I absolutely love working with different and unique materials, like hand blown glass and different beads from around the world.
When I was in LA, I’d go to bead shops, get stuff in New York and Chicago, I’d travel all over and just collect for my own happiness. Then I started making for friends and family, just making them jewelry. And that’s still kind of how it’s going, but I am planning to launch my line finally, once I get back to New York. Starting everything up, putting it together and finally getting it out because people have been anxious. I kind of hinted at this before, but I have designs that I wanna make and I’m gonna have a handful of designs and put them out there. I mainly do lots of beads and making it my own, but also looking at doing some other stuff. I’m interested in creating my own metals, so we’ll see about that. Just to incorporate it and make it even more unique and my own style.
You mentioned a bit of this in your previous answer, but what is the creative idea behind your jewelry designs? What style and story can we expect to see when the jewelry will be launched?
I incorporate a lot of fresh water pearls and recently I’m loving a lot of sterling silver accents. I don’t like symmetry, so asymmetric, anything curvy, wavy and I use different mediums. As I was saying, like pearls, crystals, different colored wires, cord, metal, shells, hand blown glass and unique and vintage pendants and beads that I’ve found around the world and picked up. I will have a set design of some pieces, but for a lot of them, I will be making one of a kind pieces for people to purchase. So that it’s special to them, that they know it’s only one. A big part of my line will be the uniqueness to each piece, as I will be using a lot of vintage and repurposed beads and segments on them. I’m just excited to make my brand and pieces unique to me and to share them with the world.
From being born and raised in Chicago to then moving to LA and now living in New York, you’ve been able to experience three very different big cities. Which of the three do you believe presents the most opportunities for your career? And which one of the three do you like the most?
Chicago, since it’s my hometown, will always be close to my heart and I feel like it keeps me grounded. I love saying I’m from the Midwest and it’s just a big part of me. Experiencing these three different cities, Los Angeles is so different and New York is so different. I’m obviously I’m a big city girl. So I love the city and I’m coming to love New York even more.
It’s just the most raw and pure place that I’ve found myself loving. There’s no faking it, you take it for what it is. Everybody’s just as real as they can be. There’s so many different people, you can meet someone new every day. You don’t know who you’re gonna run into. And I feel like there’s just so much life there. Not only as a person to learn about, but I feel it’s important as an actor to experience life in that way. There’s just so much going on and there’s so much to see and learn about. I also love it reminds me of Chicago, it has more weather changes.
Getting the taste of all three cities is really interesting. It puts you in a different mindset, a different zone and it’s quite interesting to see that part of yourself. And another thing, coming from Chicago my mom would always make me come back home and visit Chicago just to get grounded again. She’d tell me “If you don’t stay on the ground, I’m gonna send you to Tennessee. She’s like, do you know what 10 IC is? She’s like “You’re gonna go live on a farm in Tennessee for six months. And then you can go back to LA.”
I’ve just been watching Kanye’s documentary. He’s from Chicago obviously and his mom truly reminds me of my mom a lot. She’s very supportive, but she would always be there to pull me down and tell me how it is. And I remember Kanye’s mom in the documentary said “You can be on the ground and be in the air at the same time”. That’s something that I keep saying to myself every day now, you can be as big as you wanna be, but you always have to stay true to yourself and where you’re from and be on the ground. So I feel like that always roots me back to my hometown, back to Chicago.
You’re of French, Lithuanian and Italian descent – an interesting European combination. Have you been to Europe yet? Which European places would you like to visit and explore the most?
I’ve only ever been to London, which is crazy. Right before the pandemic happened, I was visiting a friend from ‘Tiny Pretty Things’, Daniela Norman. She lives in London and she’s one of my best friends. So I went to visit her and basically almost got stuck there. While we were there, Covid was happening. I remember we were walking around and were wondering why is nobody out. And then reading about it on the news. I got out one day before I would’ve been stuck there a month. Now I wish I was stuck there a month and that I didn’t leave the day that I did and left a day later.
I was planning on traveling, going to Europe and seeing more. I’ve never been to Lithuania, I probably have a lot of distant family there. I also wanna go to Paris and I wanna go to Italy. So that was my plan and then Covid happened and two years later I still haven’t, but I’m planning on getting more involved in the fashion world and hopefully in this next year I’ll be going to Milan and Paris. So that’s when it’s all gonna happen and I’m excited for that.
Besides starting your own jewelry design company, what is in your plans for 2022?
I’ve been in New York almost a year now and am going to continue on experiencing it to my fullest. I just fostered and adopted a puppy. Yup, I’m officially a foster failure. So I’ll be spending a lot of my time in full mom mode while I get my pup adjusted to the NYC life. I am getting more and more involved in the art world, more than just acting and dancing. Doing as much as I can and really enveloping myself and the New York life. And traveling to Europe. That’s what you can expect for 2022.
Now that classes and stuff have opened up more, I got back into that. I haven’t taken acting classes in five years. And since September, I’ve been studying at The Lee Strasberg Institute in New York. That was a goal of mine in 2021, basically to be in an acting class every day and go dance every day, as much as I can. So I still think that’s gonna be in my routine right now. I’m studying with another teacher who teaches the method and who studied directly under Lee Strasberg. I still feel like I’m striving for that goal of constantly learning and being enveloped in an acting class. And that’s definitely something that I’m gonna continue with.
Do you have any acting projects lining up, for TV or in film this year?
I actually just finished filming a horror movie in Chicago called ‘Perpetrator’, directed by Jennifer Reeder. I worked alongside the iconic Alicia Silverstone in the film, which was pretty cool. Besides that, I’m just actively auditioning to book another acting job that I believe in and can learn and grow from.
Interview by JANA LETONJA
Styling: Raz Martinez
Editor: Hunter Amos
Make-up: Alex Levy
Hair: Davey Matthew
Styling assistant: Diamond Buchanan
Market assistants: Aja Gilles, Celine Azena
Casting: Timi Letonja