Karen Ceesay is an actor, writer, wife and mom. She may be seen in the films, “The Internship” & “Last Vegas” and has had recurring roles on ABC’s “Resurrection” and USA’s “Satisfaction.” In 2008, she was a guest on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” after a ratings busting appearance on ABC’s controversial “Primetime Live: What Would You Do?”
Twitter & IG: @karenceesay
Where are you from?
When did you know you wanted to become an actor?
Out the womb. It found me.
How did you go about starting your acting career? Was your family supportive?
I started taking classes and performing when I was 10-years-old. My family has always been very supportive.
What was your training like? Do you have a formal degree in theater?
As a kid I studied all forms of acting as well as dance at Freedom Theatre. Throughout high school, I took on-camera classes at Weist Barron. Went to Spelman College to get my degree in engineering, but the theater department pulled me into its web and I graduated with my BA in theater… and a minor in math.
What made you choose Atlanta?
How did you get your first agent?
Traditional way – submitted headshot and resume, got called in for an interview. That was about 1999/2000-ish.
How did you support yourself when you started out? What were your survival jobs? Do you do anything else to supplement your income today?
In the early days it didn’t get in the way of my hotel audio visual job as bookings were few and far between. It also helps to be married to someone with a “real” job. Coaching/teaching has been a good outlet. But I just started back at my old job in audio-visual – they’re very supportive at my day job.
What do you do for marketing and networking?
I have a publicist, Christa Shreck, who is in LA. We work together as needed when I have something coming up. She also gets me in on various events around town where I take pretty pictures with pretty people that end up online. Social media is essential though. I’ve built up more fans/followers live tweeting while shows air. People want more access these days.
How do you stay aware of industry news? Read any specific websites/newsletters?
I read the online versions of the trade magazines – Variety, Backstage, Entertainment Weekly, plus anything I find on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, especially as they relate to Georgia specifically.
What do you see the future of acting being in Atlanta? Do you see series regular roles coming here?
The series regular roles are already here. A number of local actors are now booking jobs we never would’ve been up for just a few years ago. We are experiencing a time of great opportunity. Finally.
What can actors in Atlanta do to step up their game, to be worthy of the bigger roles and to stand out from the increasing competition?
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. You need the training and techniques from an on-camera class (and to actually see yourself) but you have to be able to stay open and take direction easily. Nothing helps more with that than improv. Plus people need to be better prepared for auditions. Have those lines memorized, have different creative options to work with. We need to own our accomplishments and not look at ourselves as some sort of step child of Hollywood. Be proud of where we are and not where we think we should be.
What would you like to see happen in Atlanta to grow the film business/opportunities for actors?
It’s going to take time. LA casting directors don’t know us yet. As more of the local folks get hired and do great work, the opportunities will increase.
What about roles for your ethnicity? Is it a limiting factor?
Yes and no. There are limits to the number of roles offered to people of color in general. The friends who are in my category and I joke about how we probably won’t ever get to work together because two black women won’t be cast in the same scene. But we’re allowed to audition for a wider variety of roles and not stuck in just one category.
Are you SAG? If not, why?
Not yet but that won’t be for much longer. Early on the work here didn’t justify joining. And then it was just financial.
Do you have representation outside Atlanta?
I did years ago, but wasn’t able to stay with them. Now, to regularly go up for the bigger stuff, outside representation is essential. It is an immediate goal for me.
Do you plan to move to LA/NY in the future?
I’ve done the pilot season thing a few times, but no interest to move. There’s no need now. Here I’m big fish in a small pond. There I’d be a piece of plankton on the back of the tiniest fish.
How do you handle rejection? Do you ever feel like giving up?
I’ve felt like giving up plenty of times. To get through this long term, you need to surround yourself with good people who support you. The absolute best thing about working in this market is the support we give each other. People who are my “competition” are also my very good friends. The mindset as a whole is, “What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours.” No one can take anyone else’s job. Also, I look at bookings as a numbers game. It takes ten No’s to get to a Yes. Another No just gets you to your Yes faster. As you get better, your booking ratio will improve.
If you had to redo something in your career again, would you do anything differently?
Not to wait to have a family. I have one son who showed up just as we were getting ready to move to LA ten years ago. You can’t put your life on hold for this business. It will always be here. Always. Regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or body type, there will be some place for you to fit into someone’s project at some point in time.