Crystal Lee Brown on Acting and Her Role on Starz’s ‘Hightown’

Photo: The Velvet Runway

( ENSPIRE She Did That ) Daytime Emmy Award-Nominated Actress Crystal Lee Brown Shares Where Her Love for Acting Comes From and How She Prepares for Her Roles

ENSPIRE Contributors: Aricka Croxton and Sophia Kang

Crystal Lee Brown grew up watching films and television that inspired her and now she’s starring in them. The Daytime Emmy-nominated actress from Philadelphia hopes to be “a positive representation of Black female talent” on screen, all while telling empowering stories.

Crystal currently stars as Janelle, a physical therapist at a correctional facility who falls in love with an inmate, on Starz’s crime drama Hightown. Crystal has also appeared as Bernie in Hidden Figures alongside Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer, as Tamara in Giants (for which she was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Digital Drama Series), and most recently, as Darlene in Judas and the Black Messiah. She earned a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and theater at Temple University.

Photo: Bobby Quillard Photography

ENSPIRE spoke with Crystal about how she fell in love with acting and how she prepares for her roles. 

How did you get into acting? 

I’ve been acting for over 30 years. As a child, my mother and I would watch Sunday matinee movies. This is where I was introduced to classic movies, such as Imitation of Life; It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; The Bad Seed; Silkwood, starring Meryl Streep; and The George McKenna Story, starring Denzel Washington. Watching these films ignited a love of the craft of acting. I would watch television and immerse myself in the world of imagination. This was the beginning of my journey. 

How do you prepare for roles, and what is your acting style?

Preparation is an actor’s gym and is what we call “the work.” I like to start by researching the project and everyone involved. I then read the script many times, each time with a new perspective on the story and how my character lives in the world the writer created. From there, I allow my imagination to flow, coupled with my training to build my character. The only style of acting I am prescribed to is truthful acting.

What is it like playing Janelle on Hightown?

On Starz’s Hightown, I play Janelle, a smart, no-nonsense physical therapist in a correctional facility that gains trust with her patients, one of which she forms a romantic relationship with (Osito played by Atkins Estimond). I absolutely love my role! When I received the script, I was immediately drawn to Janelle because she was tough, confident, and assertive—just like me! I connected with the story and knew I had to bring her to life. 

Photo: IMDb

How did you prepare for your role on Hightown

I was instantly attracted to this role because of the writing. Creator and writer, Rebecca Cutter, laid the foundation for Janelle as a character. Once I had a handle on who she was, I immediately binge-watched Season 1 of Hightown to dive into the world and understand how the other characters operated in it. I was hooked after watching the first episode and did my best work on my interpretation of Janelle to land the role. 

Which do you consider your top five roles, and which one was your favorite? 

In no particular order, my top five roles that I’ve had the opportunity to portray are Tamera in Giants (for which I was nominated for a Daytime Emmy), Janelle in Hightown, Bernie in Hidden Figures, and Darlene in Judas and the Black Messiah. But my favorite role has been Sibonia in Showtime’s The Good Lord Bird  (Episode 2, “A Wicked Plot”), starring Academy Award Nominee Ethan Hawke as Abolitionist John Brown.

Sibonia is a wise and courageous enslaved leader organizing a slave insurrection but remains calm and resolved when confronted with torture and death. Playing Sibonia allowed me to tell the story of one of my beloved ancestors, to give a voice to the voiceless, and authentically portray her grace and humanity. I’m grateful to have been the vessel that brought her story to the screen. She will forever live in my heart.

Photo: IMDb

What does acting mean to you? 

For me, acting is giving yourself fully without ego, letting go of control, and allowing the work to show up for you. It’s purposeful to me because it allows me the ability to be free, free in my life and in my work. It’s my purpose. 

What’s next in your career? What is your dream gig? 

I’ve been riding the momentum of booking incredible roles these last few years and look forward to more opportunities that allow me to showcase my talent. I’m inspired to achieve greatness in my career, which boils down to what makes me happy and take on roles that push the narrative and showcase the human experience. My dream gig is to ultimately play a superhero, but most importantly, my mission is to continue to tell powerful stories. It’s important to me to be a positive representation of Black female talent as the ongoing conversation of diversity and inclusion continues in the world of show business. 

Photo: IMDb

Keep up with Crystal’s acting journey on Instagram.

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