Earlier this year, Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut ‘15 flew to Los Angeles on her birthday. She didn’t know it then, but she was about to receive the best birthday present she could ask for: A lead role in the Amazon Studios young adult series pilot, “Panic.” 

So far, Chestnut said, it’s her favorite role. It’s also her very first as a series regular, despite an already impressive resume with guest spots on the hit Showtime thriller “Homeland” and political drama “The Good Fight” (CBS All Access) – roles she landed soon after graduating from UNC Greensboro with a bachelor of fine arts in acting.

Chestnut also appeared in an episode of the Fox crime drama “Gotham,” alongside fellow UNCG alum Chris Chalk ‘01. And the two just wrapped filming the new movie, “Farewell.” She remembered Chalk’s name from her classes and reached out to him on Facebook. The two kindled a friendship, and his support has helped Chestnut navigate the industry as a “newbie.”  

Given the Charlotte-native’s talent and moxie, it’s no surprise that just a few years out of school she’s racking up credits on major TV series. Chestnut actually didn’t make the cut when she first auditioned for the BFA program, but she was determined to do everything in her power to make it the following year.   

“I’m a very hungry person – I don’t give up easily,” said Chestnut, who lives in New York City. “If you want something, you have to fight for it.”

She met with faculty, got an idea of what she needed to work on, attended workshops to hone her skills and nailed her audition the following year.

Chestnut said those faculty taught her techniques she still carries with her – from vocal warm-ups and Shakespearean diction to movement techniques and mindfulness.  

“It’s nice knowing the work I did in school is still being applied in the real world.”

If “Panic” gets the green light from Amazon Studios, Chestnut said, it could be the “next big thing.” The plot line is reminiscent of the wildly popular “Hunger Games” books and films and is based on Lauren Oliver’s best-selling young adult novel of the same name. 

Chestnut plans to keep her hands in film and theatre, and one day add writing to her repertoire. And while she has her sights set on an Emmy, she knows how to stay grounded.

“My mother taught me that I’m no better than anyone else, and no one’s better than me,” Chestnut said. “I always take every job, every opportunity as a blessing.”

 

Story by Elizabeth L. Harrison
Photography provided by Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut