Actress and Plant City native Charleene Closshey, '03, stars in the latest holiday-flick, "An Evergreen Christmas."
Dec 22, 2014
Actress, singer, musician, composer, yoga enthusiast, and cat lover Charleene Closshey, 33, represents some of the finest qualities that can be expected out of a Florida Southern alum: leadership, intellectualism, compassion, and dedication. To attest to that, just watch her latest lead role in the recently-released holiday flick, An Evergreen Christmas; or skim through her Facebook page and read the quoted thoughts and aphorisms of poets, theologians, and philosophers. Her YouTube channel promotes voting activism and animal rights. She has maintained excellence in her academic and musical accomplishments — from her 4.0 graduating GPA at FSC to her most recent professional projects.
We visited Closshey for a quick chat to catch up and to find out how she’s been doing since her graduation from FSC in 2002. A country girl at heart, her permanent place of residence is in her hometown, Plant City, Florida. With family life being extremely important, her lakeside house is adjacent to that of her parents,’ and is also where she grew up. Inside, the home is cozy and is decorated elegantly and festively with Christmas ornaments – a fine tribute to her recent movie success.
As we walk around the house to admire the decor, we stumble upon Daphne, a black cat, and Closshey’s mature composure is lost only in the few moments she takes to coddle her, pouring unintelligible sweet words upon the gentle creature. Daphne is a rescue cat that came from a desolate home with 23 other felines and Closshey explains later that, actually, one of her passions is “to build a center one day that’s designated for nothing but to rehabilitate cats.”
Her humanitarian spirit is recognizable; many Florida Southern alums go on to pursue an entrepreneurial venture in the service of others and Closshey’s passion outside the entertainment business just happens to be toward the service of the four-legged ones. “A lot of things that motivate me are in trying to find a level of compassion in connecting with a fellow being. I absolutely believe that we’re all here for a very specific purpose and there are different ways to manifest those purposes.”
A sense of purpose is also something that can be seen philosophized over in An Evergreen Christmas, with the protagonist, Evie (played by Closshey, who also scored the film) coming back to her small hometown only to find out that she has to decide between pursuing her dreams or staying there to save her family’s legacy.
What were your colleagues like on the set of your latest film?
On the film set for An Evergreen Christmas, I worked with country music legend, Naomi Judd. She’s a very giving person. She is definitely mama bear without being smothering. She is so loving and all you want to do is sit next to her and lean against her and hold her and love on her because she just gives that unconditional support. Robert Loggia, this big Academy Award, Scarface-y, don’t-want-to-meet-him-in-a-dark-alley kind of guy is actually one of the gentlest spirits that you’ll ever meet. And just a loving, loving grandfather-type. He played my grandfather in the film, so it was perfect.
You’ve also worked with other very renowned artists; how was it like to have worked with Josh Groban and Trans Siberian Orchestra and other top artists?
Every artist is unique and has their own wonderful quirks about them and how they assimilate with other artists, specifically Josh Groban; he’s very quiet and very reserved until you get to a point, then suddenly he’s very free and open and wildly accepting and massively creative. TSO is a rock show, and they’re rockers and it’s all cool, and it’s all good. Everybody has different ways of assimilating.
Speaking of assimilation – let’s go back in time a little bit and talk about your transition from high school to college: You graduated high school as valedictorian, so you probably had so many college options. Why FSC?
The integrity of the staff and the campus in general was really attractive to me. It was a place that was a safe haven in many ways, which cultivated learning and education and things that were important to people – whatever their pursuits were. There is such a varied list of opportunities for people, whether it’s sports or arts. That really appealed to me.
I also enjoyed the fact that it was such a small student-teacher ratio. I was never a number and I was always on a first-name basis with my professors. It made it feel special and made it feel like home, in a lot of ways. The high school I went to, Harrison School of the Arts in Lakeland, had 68 graduates in my senior class. We had our academics in the Lakeland High School campus, so I was already in a familiar area, but I was familiar with the intimacy with the Florida Southern campus, as well. I absolutely loved that and it was one of the biggest draws for me.
Your major was not in theatre or music while you were at FSC. Can you elaborate on that?
Whenever I entered FSC, the first major that I declared was Business, with a concentration in Exercise Science – and that’s what I was going to do. Actually, the reason for Exercise Science is that when I was growing up, I was the fat kid and I was made fun of a lot. And when I was in high school I started changing not only my physical paradigm, but also my mental paradigm and by the time I was a freshman in college, I thought to myself that I want to live in away so that I can have a solid foundation.
Regarding the Business major, I focused on marketing because I love anything creative. To me, it’s being able to create things and express myself in different ways, in different mediums, and that made a lot of sense.
I come from a business-oriented family, where that’s the degree that you get, and that’s the degree that I got. However, I’m very thankful that I did; it’s actually come so handy in so many ways in life.
Being able to understand the principles of not only of marketing and finance, but also of living and organizing something from a business perspective and having that grounded foundation of how things can be better. And absolutely applying that now to the film world and actually producing films now as well. I would never change that.
I did go on to study theatre in New York in smaller conservatories for a while and that was great; but, for me, it was really about how I get the biggest bang for my business buck at Florida Southern – I’m really glad I did.
We’re glad you did too! What role or impact does FSC have on your career today?
The learning and the education that I had at Florida Southern has been “monumentous” to my career today. I think anytime you put yourself in the public eye, you have to understand not only how to connect to others, but also how to connect to yourself. It’s interesting because all of the schooling and preparation that I had – and specifically the personal connections with my teachers at Florida Southern – really helped me to figure out who I am and why that is important to me. From a sense of integrity, learning that very early on has always shaped how I live and what choices I make subsequent to that time at school. My time at FSC meant having teachers who challenged me to be better student, as well as a better person and to have a bigger picture of the world.
Who was your favorite professor?
Wow – I had so many of them. But one of my favorites was Dr. Clements in Accounting. I have a lot of fond memories of her. She has one of the sweetest dispositions of any professors I’ve ever had or worked with. She’s also just very focused. When you need to get things done, she’ll help you understand that, and she was always very balanced and I appreciated her approach. Dr. Clements is very caring and connected to her students. She was very supportive to me during a time when I had a lot on my plate with 22 credit hours, and helped me realize that I didn’t have to be so hard on myself. She’s amazing! I really loved Dr. Clements.
Were you active on campus?
I was a member of Delta Sigma Pi. I did a lot of different fundraising and different events and enjoyed that. I was really focused on academics and in retrospect, I wish I was even more active.
I did play with the orchestra, so artistically, I was fulfilled, but I just wish I let my hair down and had more of the “college experience.”
What are the best three aspects about FSC and what advice do you have for prospective students?
In my experience at Florida Southern? Well, number one would be the opportunity. There is such an incredible amount of wisdom and knowledge on campus that a student has the potential to tap into. Use it! Really lock in, dig and learn as much as you can. It doesn’t matter what you’re learning and ten years from now, you might be in a completely different field – that’s okay! There is such a huge pocket of this untapped knowledge and wisdom that sits atop of Lake Hollingsworth which a lot of people don’t really realize the depth of, and I would say, absolutely, to tap into that.
I think the second thing would be to ask questions. Ask questions of yourself and of others and you can do that at FSC because it’s such a supportive environment. There are so many opportunities for students to find balance. You have lots of outlets – social and academic. Asking questions helps you figure out who you are in a really safe and fun environment.
And the third best thing about FSC is you can just be you! There is an acceptance and freedom of whatever it is you’re choosing in that moment to be – that’s fantastic! When I was there, as well as right now, there are a lot of people who champion exploration, independence, forward-thinking, free thought, creativity – what better environment is there to really figure out what it is that your saying and/or empower yourself to really say what it is that you want to say, even louder? FSC absolutely affords you all of those opportunities.
With so much competition in the entertainment industry and the unpredictable aspect of the profession, do you ever get scared or have any fear?
I think in every area of life, there is always uncertainty. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing. It doesn’t matter if it’s entertainment or if its journalism, if it’s being a doctor and asking “Is this is the correct treatment?” I think there’s always an innate level of “is this really right?” So I think fear is absolutely a part of life in general. No matter what it is that you’re communicating or expressing at that moment. I think it’s really easy in the entertainment world to live in a state of fear because there’s a lot of uncertainty.
Tell us a little bit about Broadway.
It was fun! Not at all what I expected. I remember the first day I walked on stage it was a 12.30 on a Tuesday, and I remember thinking this is going to be the most life changing experience of my life…. Not at all. Entertainment in general, I think, we like to operate in a façade because it separates the men from the boys, metaphorically. But when having the opportunity to work with really top-notch professional, seasoned, creative artists every day … that for me was the embodiment of Broadway. It was less what I had formed in my mind but more about that reality of connecting with the fellow actor on stage that made it real and special.
So of the things you do, what do you enjoy the most?
If I had to choose between film and stage for the rest of my life, I would probably pick film. I like the intimacy of the medium. I like being able to connect with my fellow actors in a very real, and grounded and normal way. Where there’s always a little element of push when you’re on stage just because in a small Broadway house, there are 1400 people watching you and you have to connect with the person in the back as well. And I like being able to reach someone very close to me, and film affords that opportunity.
Musically, I don’t know, I think just music in general – If I didn’t have music I’m not sure I could breathe. Music is how I assimilate the world around me.
What’s next for you? Is the sky the limit?
I’m a firm believer that I need to speak it to manifest it. So recently I find myself speaking about having a television series next. I would love to manifest that. I would love to have a series where I’m also able to incorporate music into it as well. I also recognize that it can be very easy to set a very specific goal but suddenly I lose sight of all the other infinite possibilities around it as well. So I try to put myself in a certain direction and just let the universe work it out. So far it’s worked pretty well. I’d like to do television. Totally different medium, very different set of muscles to stretch and work and exercise. All mediums are fun and I’m just excited for the future and feel really blessed for what’s already happened… Looking forward to where we’re heading next.
What advice can you give to FSC students who want to go into entertainment?
If this is something that you want to do with all of your heart, all of your mind and all of your being then go for it. Be patient, continue to pursue other interests as well, not because you need another interest, but because it makes you more rounded and connected to who you are as an artist. It informs your art in a lot of ways. For me music has informed my acting. My meditation has informed my acting. Shopping has informed my acting! Everything we do informs whatever your specific craft is.
So, I would say, explore, play, have fun and … be nice. You never know who you’re talking to, and it’s really amazing when you realize that we’re all in this together and we all have the potential to make a difference. Ask yourself, how can I make a difference and how can I help this other person make a difference?
And suddenly life becomes magical.
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