While up and coming starlet, Casimere Jollette, was demonstrating grand pliés and pirouettes in her mothers’ dance studio, she had faint dreams of the day she would combine her infinite love for dance with her fascination of embodying a complex, on-screen character. As fate would have it, the stars aligned for Casimere, as she implemented her tulle-filled leotards into her on-screen dramatics, while, simultaneously maintaining her devotion to storytelling. Now, the multi-talented star-to-watch can be seen in the new Netflix series, Tiny Pretty Things, along with her role in the late Tom Petty’s music video, Leave Virginia Alone. In this exclusive interview, we had the opportunity to chat with Casimere to discuss the beautiful and, equally, dark parts of the world of dance, her breakout role in Tiny Pretty Things, and how she turned her wildest dreams into her reality.
Megan Morgante: Did anything/anyone, in particular, inspire you to enter the entertainment industry, or, more specifically, the world of dance?
Casimere Jollette: I started dancing when I was two-years-old, so I was brought up in it. My mother was a dancer in Chicago, she studied in the city. She was a Chicago Bear cheerleader and did more Jazz style of dance. When I was two-years-old she just threw me into it to see if I would like it and I fell in love with it. I began competitively dancing when I was five up until I was fourteen, and from there I strictly did ballet. When I was fourteen a talent manager and acting coach from Los Angeles moved back to Chicago and was looking for a place to start her new business up. She got in contact with my mom and started renting out my mom's dance studio, so that's how I got into acting. Initially, I didn’t want to act, I just wanted to stick to ballet. The manager convinced me to do an audition tape for the ABC show Bunheads ten years ago, and that was my first ever audition. From that audition, I got an agent and I flew out to LA to audition for the role in person. I obviously didn't get that role, but I just stuck with acting from there, I liked that I was able to incorporate both of the arts that I loved. I would watch Center Stage all of the time as a kid and I was obsessed with Zoe Saldana. Knowing that she started off as a ballet dancer and now she's an actress was the coolest thing to me, and that's what I always wanted to be known as.
MM: Well, congratulations on all of your success! Can you give some insight into the new Netflix series, Tiny Pretty Things, and your overall experience filming the project?
CJ: It was such a dream filming Tiny Pretty Things because I’ve been in LA for about six years now, but obviously this is my first breakthrough role. Again, like Zoe Saldana, I wanted my breakthrough role to be dance-related, so to be able to get this role is just a dream come true. I remember the first time that I got the audition, everyone and their mother was auditioning for it. Every single blonde dancer that you can imagine was going for it, but I knew the project could not be more perfect and more exact to my life. The show takes place in Chicago and it's about all of these students at a ballet academy. I'm from Chicago, I’ve been doing this my entire life, so it just was such a perfect role and I felt the character is me. I wanted to get it so bad, so it was a dream come true. Essentially, the show is set in this world of an elite ballet academy called the Archer School of Ballet, which serves as the company school for the city of Chicago’s renowned professional company. My character is Bette Whitlaw, and she is in the shadows of her sister, who is the principal ballerina at this professional school. Bette doesn’t get the attention of her mom and family, so she kind of has an edge. She presents herself as perfect and people would say she’s a music box ballerina. I'm so excited about it!
MM: Now, what was your experience like filming Tom Petty’s music video for Leave Virginia Alone, and working with the crew?
CJ: Oh my God, it was incredible. I hadn't worked in over ten months, because of Covid, so it was my first Covid set and everything was very safe and we all got tested beforehand. We shot in New York, which was a dream come true and I absolutely love the city. We shot at Mark Seliger’s studio for a day, which was beautiful, his studio is incredible. We also shot at Adria Petty’s farm in Connecticut, which was so much fun. Adria wanted to create this amazing piece of art for her father and make him proud, so I'm so happy I was able to be a part of that. Many people have said to me that I’m probably the last person to say that they were in a Tom Petty music video, so it was such an honor to have been a part of it. The team asked me to send a short video clip on my phone so that they could see two different emotions for my audition tape. The next day one of my friends and I spent eight hours putting together an entire music video on a DSLR camera, I had costume changes and everything [laughs]. I ended up booking it, but I incorporated my dancing into my audition tape, so they really loved that. They threw a punch at me and had me do silks, which I've never done before. They got me a silk instructor on set, so that was fun. Mark Seliger also taught me how to drive stick shift for the first time [laughs].
MM: If you could give a piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
CJ: Well, I never thought I would be here. Let me tell you, life just takes unexpected turns and you really have no control of where it's going to go or where you're going to be in the future. I would just tell myself to just stick to what you love. I would not only tell my younger self that, but to all young people who are trying to follow their passions. If you love something, stick with it. I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing. When I was eighteen, I was auditioning for Juilliard and I ended up getting ankle surgery. At that point, I was eighteen, so I couldn't do ballet company and I couldn't go to college for dance, so I didn't know what to do. I ended up booking an acting job in LA, so I went out there for a few months, and I never ended up leaving. I just knew this is where I was meant to be.
MM: And look at you now! Besides your ankle surgery, have you ever experienced any notable challenges throughout your career?
CJ: Something that people may not know is that during my time filming, I tore my psoas in the middle of filming, which is the largest hip flexor muscle and does all of the work. That was a challenge because between being on this huge show that I wanted to be my best on, I had to dance and be perfect. I had to find my way around recovering, so it took me five weeks to recover, so I had to be cut out of some dancing. Physically and emotionally that was a challenge that I had to overcome because I had to fulfill my role and my duty on this show. But, I got through it and I think it made me stronger in the end. Netflix also handled the situation really well and within five weeks, I was back up and dancing.
MM: Are there any pressures that a young dancer may face in the dance industry, whether that be in terms of body image or obtaining a particular image?
CJ: Oh, definitely. I know a lot of people out there who say they would never put their kid in dance for that particular reason. I myself have gone through things like that. You're stuck in a studio being compared to people, trying to be the best that you can be, with a wall of mirrors surrounding you all day. You're there Monday through Sunday trying to fit this perfect mold. Ballet is very tough and demanding, and what I love about our show is it touches base on that, but in a different aspect than what people would expect in the real ballet world. You'll get to see more of these things that would typically affect women, happening to males. Body image issues don’t happen to just one sex and that's what I love about our show, it really dives into the deep and dark subjects that people wouldn't talk about.
MM: Do you have any exciting upcoming projects for the new year?
CJ: The only thing right now is Tiny Pretty Things and the Tom Petty music video. I haven't been working much this year for safety reasons. However, we are hoping for a season 2.
MM: Aside from dancing and acting, what would you say your other passions are?
CJ: I love fashion, that's something that I've always wanted to do. I always say if all else fails, I'm going to go to fashion school in New York. My mom's an interior designer, so she was going to go to school for design. She's always sewn her own costumes growing up as a competitive dancer and she’s made all of my costumes by hand. She taught me how to sew and I just really look up to her. She does absolutely everything and anything, she's also a book author. I'm like, if she can do it, I can do it. I also love making my own jewelry. I have my own little jewelry line, so I'm going to start selling my own jewelry soon. Especially during these times, I usually have a dance studio to go to every day, so that's my therapy. It’s what helps me cope with daily life.
MM: Speaking of fashion, what would you say your personal style consists of?
CJ: I love 90s' vintage retro and I love vintage shopping. When I was in New York in Brooklyn, I was constantly at different stores for vintage shopping. I love the trendy blazer look with my Nike Jordans and some plaid pants. Anything vintage, cool, and unique.
Photography by: Francesco Bondi