Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut, like many actors, was inspired by the shows of her childhood. Unlike most actors, her primary muse was Barney. “Something about watching that purple dinosaur interact with those kids really spoke to me,” she laughs. “But I was also just a very lively kid, always doing random voices and playing dress up. I guess I innately had the acting bug.” Her environment enabled her to become the complex performer we are blessed with today. “I was really fortunate to go to a performing arts school growing up, so I was introduced to Shakespeare and other prolific playwrights at a young age. On top of that, just learning several different acting styles and methods really allowed me to grow. My collection of acting books is insane. Any acting book you can think of, I probably have it (well, technically my mom still has them…the bulk of them are at her house!). She has fully seized the chance to work with those she admires and thank role models in person. “Meeting and working with really cool people that I have looked up to is wonderful. Not only having the opportunity for these people to become my peers and co-workers, but being able to give these people their flowers while they’re still here, and telling them how much their work has either inspired me or affected my life is really rewarding. We don’t always get a chance to tell people face to face how much their work has meant to us, and continuously getting the opportunity to do so feels really gratifying. And I think having my friends and family watch my work on TV from around the world is also rewarding. Especially for my family. They’ve invested so much in me, I feel really grateful that they are witnessing the sprouts from the seeds they’ve helped plant.”
Speaking of icons, Ashlei gets to work with plenty of them in Star Trek: Picard. “This third and final season, I play Ensign Sidney La Forge, daughter of the legendary Geordi La Forge (played by LeVar Burton). This season you’re introduced to Sidney as the Helmsman of the USS Titan. She’s a bit of a speed demon, and has crashed some shuttles in her past. But aside from her job, she’s really this intelligent, brave character who is full of heart, and you’ll see throughout the season how much she cares immensely for not only her family, but her crew.” Perhaps it was written in the stars, as Ashlei has more than a few uncanny connections with the franchise. “I was definitely familiar with Star Trek as a whole by default because my mom is a fan. Nichelle Nichols was my first introduction. And what’s really funny is, Geordi La Forge was – or is – my Instagram profile picture, and has been for years. Which is crazy! I feel like I low-key manifested this role. I’ve also watched the newer movies with Zoe Saldaña and Chris Pine.” Her cast mates are every actor’s fantasy come to life. “It’s wild! I mean, Patrick Stewart is Professor X. I remember seeing him in Robin Hood: Men in Tights too. The list goes on. I don’t want to list the man’s whole resume, but along with LeVar Burton, these guys were a huge part of my childhood. Reading Rainbow especially was a staple growing up. I can’t even count how many times my friends and I have quoted, ‘But you don’t have to take my word for it.’ I’m just really thankful to have had the chance to work alongside these legends, and soak it all up. And to also have LeVar and Mica Burton, who plays my sister on the show, both welcome me into their own family outside of work was lovely and really a testament to how kind these people are.” Sidney is equally driven by her affection for those around her. “She’s the pilot. She knows the ins and outs of the Titan down to minute details, which you’ll see later on in the season. Sidney has a lot of her dad’s intelligence and knowledge, particularly when it comes to spaceships, starships, literally anything that flies. She is very much her own individual, but I think fans will see a lot of Geordi reflected in her. But at the end of the day, Sidney’s relationship with the Titan boils down to those on it. She loves working with her crew. They’re her family.”
You can also see Ashlei as Fatima on Rap Sh*t. And, as you can probably guess, she stars with yet another “titan” of the industry. “I’m not sure where they’re planning on going with Fatima’s story line next season. But it was so cool to checkmark working with Issa Rae off of my bucket list. I’ve looked up to her since watching her ‘Awkward Black Girl’ YouTube series in my dorm room over a decade ago.” She is ready to delve into fandom as well. “I’m embracing this Star Trek ride, and can’t wait to meet the fans at Cons! I’m in conversations right now for other projects which I’m also really excited for. A lot of great things are coming on the horizon!” Ashlei’s career is advancing into a whole new galaxy. The third season of Star Trek: Picard is now streaming on Paramount+.
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Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut Helms the Final Season of “Star Trek: Picard.” Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut.