One thing is for sure when it comes to Crystle Lightning, the sky is the limit when it comes to her drive and talent. It’s also obvious that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree as her mother, Georgina Lightning, is a well-respected director and actress in her own right.
The Canadian Born Lightning is forging her own path in the crazy world of Hollywood. Whether she’s on stage with her partner MC RedCloud and their group LightningCloud, on a television or film set or in the DJ booth working her magic, Crystle is definitely a force to be reckoned with.
She’s appeared in television series such as Southland, Femme Fatales, The Game and Touched by an Angel. On the big screen, she’s appeared in films such as 3 Ninjas Knuckle Up and American Pie’s Band Camp. On stage, she’s performed all over the United States and Canada with her group LightningCloud and released their debut album of the same name in 2012. Let’s not forget, she also has shown the skills to rock a club and a party as she’s DJ’ed all over the country.
We sit down with the multi-talented Lightning to talk about her beginnings, how she stays focused with all the things on her plate and how she sees herself as a role model being a Plains Cree Native American in the entertainment industry.
Pop Culture Principle – Did you know at a young age that you wanted to be in the entertainment industry?
Crystle Lightning – Absolutely! I think I was four years old and I already had a modeling agent. I started out doing fashion shows, bridal shows and commercials. My mom, who is also an actress and in the business, was told by her acting coach that if you wanted to make it, you had to move to either New York or Los Angeles, because we were in Canada at the time. She picked up all three of us and moved all of us to Los Angeles.
My mother got my brothers and I an agent right when we moved there and four months after we moved to Los Angeles, I booked my first movie Three Ninjas. From that experience, I absolutely knew and loved it so much. For me, just being in front of the camera and the whole process was great and I had a blast.
Pop Culture Principle – It’s a great thing to have the support of your mother Georgina Lightning because this business can be very hard.
Crystle Lightning – My mother was very supportive and you don’t find that very often. Usually, your parents want you to go to college and be a nurse or a doctor. She was our coach growing up and our number one supporter. I am really lucky to have her.
Pop Culture Principle – Your first paid, professional job was in the movie Three Ninjas Knuckle Up. What was your experience like being on set?
Crystle Lightning – I was ten years old at the time and being that young and seeing your name on a trailer and having your own dressing room was awesome. Of course, being that young you were at the Kraft table the entire time you weren’t shooting because you had all the candy and Oreos you wanted!
Once I finished that movie, there was no doubt this is what I wanted to do. Having the lead role in that film and the work that it took, it was so much fun. I just knew that doing film and television was what I wanted to do. I mean, later in life I would start to deejay and be in a rap group, but I always knew I wanted to entertain.
Pop Culture Principle – In the television movie Saving Jessica Lynch, which was based on her rescue, you played Private Lori Piestewa. How did you prepare for that role and how was the experience shooting that project?
Crystle Lightning – Well, Saving Jessica Lynch was probably the most profound piece that I’ve done because it was portraying someone who was actually real and who passed away during combat fighting in an American war. We happened to be the same age and we are both Native and she had three kids. I did whatever I had to do to get the actual role.
What’s interesting about this project is that there is always some kind of sex appeal to my roles and this was completely opposite. I actually got to act and show my chops. After I got the role, I wrote her family a letter and asked it if was ok that I did this role because I didn’t want to exploit her in any kind of way and they gave me their permission.
I’m a girly girl naturally, so it took a lot of work for me to actually look natural and really get into it and feel like I was really her. I had to live her for three months. I’m 5 foot 2 and I had to drive a real Humvee and I had to sit on three phone books to drive the thing! It was so intense and I loved it.
We shot in Texas in real Army fatigues and we were training with M-16 rifles and it’s 105 degrees outside. You hear all the guns going off and it was very emotional because this woman died and I had the responsibility of playing her and we had so many similarities. It was the most amazing experience I’ve had as far as intensity and preparing for a role.
Pop Culture Principle – Many actors get their start in the world of daytime soap operas. You appeared in an episode of Days of Our Lives. What was that experience like?
Crystle Lightning – Soap opera acting and the soap opera sets are completely different from doing any kind of film or television. Soap operas, if you are lucky, you get two shots and they have four cameras going on at one time. They go through 12-15 pages in one day and you better have your stuff on point or you are not even going to make it on the screen. It’s really face paced, which is kind of nice, but you have to get it right the first and second shot and that’s it.
It’s kind of fun because you go in at 8 o’clock and you are usually done by four. It’s like a full-time job because you shoot Monday through Friday and you have weekends off. It really surprised me my first day because they shoot really fast and it was so different. They have these cameras that don’t really look like cameras, they look like robots and they roll on the ground. For a scene, they will have a camera on each person in the scene and then they just cut back and forth.
So, it’s a lot different from film because in film, you get a lot of different takes and if you are lucky, you’ll get an actors’ director that will work with you. There is a lot more time involved when it comes to shooting film or television.
Pop Culture Principle – You also were in the movie American Pie Presents: Band Camp. What was it like being part of such a famous movie franchise?
Crystle Lightning – The role was actually written for a Caucasian girl and when I went in for the audition, someone else had already booked it. I guess they had a table read and she didn’t work out and they ended up calling me and I got the role. Being a part of that project was so much fun and a lot of people that I worked with on that movie I am still friends with to this day.
Eugene Levy is absolutely hysterical and he’s the guy that is in all the American Pie movies. He really is funny and I had a couple of scenes with him and they had to yell cut several times because he is so funny with his facial expressions, you can’t help but laugh.
Most of my fan base comes from American Pie and to this day, I still get a lot of fan mail from Europe because they still play it over there.
It was such a blast because I got to play this rocker/goth girl which was a character, so I got to do some character acting which was really fun.
Pop Culture Principle – You appeared in an episode of the gritty and critically acclaimed series Southland. What was your experience like working on the show?
Crystle Lightning – You know, I just loved working on Southland. I grew up in a Mexican neighborhood, so that audition was super fun because I think I wore a doo rag on my head, the dark lipstick and the accent just comes easy to me. So, I went in and all the producers and directors were in the room and as soon as I saw everybody, I just said to myself use that feeling and go for it and I know I killed it. I used the chair as a car and I used my accent and ended up getting the role.
When we were on set it was cool because they had this lowrider car and they had me working with this stuntwoman who was helping me get physical with the cops. I love playing the bad girl because it’s so much fun and I just milked it. Having the accent and telling the cops off, it was a blast. You get to do that stuff and you are totally acting.
Pop Culture Principle – Not only are you an actor, but you are also a DJ and part of the music act Lighting Cloud. First, when did you start to DJ?
Crystle Lightning – You know, after I turned 21, I started bartending because that is how you survive as an artist out here. I started working as a shot girl at a bar called Dublins and I would always pass by the DJ booth and I was fascinated by it. He’s controlling both of these rooms, everyone is dancing and I know all this music, so that is where the seed was planted.
I think I was 22 and I went to this party and the dance floor was jumping. I wanted to request a song and went to the DJ booth and there was a female who was the DJ and her name was DJ Lady Tribe. She was scratching and using turntables because nowadays they have all these controllers and things. I was obsessed and I said that I wanted to do this. She gave me her phone number and for the next two years, she taught me everything she knew. She let me open for her, but I had to setup her equipment and break it down and that was the way I paid for my lessons.
I saved up enough money to buy some turntables and I started practicing every single day relentlessly. I practiced every chance that I got. I already had a wide knowledge of music because my mom was in a rock band and my step-father was a musician, so I was exposed to all kinds of genres. So, I started collecting music and working different things.
One-time Lady Tribe couldn’t make a gig and she asked me if I could do the gig and it was going to pay $250. I couldn’t believe I was going to get paid because I had never been paid before. I did the gig and I just loved the feeling because everyone is dancing to what I am playing and having a good time. When they see a female DJ they are surprised, because this is a male driven thing.
From then on, I loved that and I started doing gigs and I was also bartending and that’s where I met Red Cloud who I’m in the group Lightning Cloud with. We met at a photo shoot were they were featuring different artists. He ended up getting in contact with me a couple of months later because he had a gig in Canada and his DJ couldn’t make it, so he asked me if I would do the gig with him. I went on a two-week tour with him and that’s how the seed for Lightning Cloud was planted.
Pop Culture Principle – Do you feel a person in this business should be involved with as many aspects of the entertainment industry as they can?
Crystle Lightning – It’s interesting that you ask that because I had this conversation with a friend of mine the other day. I’m an artist, I love music, I love acting, I love performing and I love that side of my brain. I took a break from acting for two years because I was touring with Lighting Cloud.
Red Cloud and I both have our separate careers, but we both have Lighting Cloud together, but for a while we were hot, so I couldn’t do my acting thing. Now that things have slowed down a little bit with Lightning Cloud, I’ve had a chance to really work on my acting craft.
LA is expensive and just to stay afloat, you have to have side gigs to survive out here. I’d rather have my side gigs being a DJ than waitressing or doing this or that and it’s still being an artist.
A lot of people will say that if you focus and put all that you have into acting or music or whatever you do in the business, the universe can’t deny you. I still go to acting class which is like being in the gym because you have to work out and stay in shape. I still practice being a DJ almost every day. So, I like to dabble in other things, but still keep on top of it.
I’m an Aquarius and I love to be excited about a lot of different things. I love when I am in the DJ booth playing music for everybody and knowing I have auditions coming up and knowing I have another DJ gig coming up. I love that lifestyle and the fast pace and love that everything that I am doing attaches itself to being an artist in some way.
Pop Culture Principle – There can be many pitfalls and drama in Hollywood. What keeps you grounded and way from all of that?
Crystle Lightning – You have to think like there is always someone behind you who wants it way more than you do and is way more focused than you and is way more driven than you and you can’t let them get ahead of you. What separates you from them is focus, drive and ambition.
There are people out there who have the most amazing talent, but their downfall is that they like to party, they wake up late for auditions and they aren’t totally prepared and so the next person who may not be technically as good as them, is going to get it because in that room they were prepared and they were on it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my times where I wasn’t that focused and I kind of fell off a little bit. That’s when you come to a point where you say I’m not getting any younger. You have to bite it and you have to be focused and want it so bad that there is nothing else in your way. Going out with your friends is going to be there all the time. Going out to clubs is always going to be there, but your opportunity for this job only comes once. Nothing is ever going to come knocking on your door. You have to fight for it and really go after it. It takes a lot of focus.
Pop Culture Principle – Do you think things are changing as far as opportunities for minorities in Hollywood or is there more work still to be done?
Crystle Lightning – I think a lot of minorities are making great strides in the business and it’s amazing to see, but I feel that Native Americans, we are the least represented in television and movies. A female Native American takes up one percent and If you do get a role, you are either getting raped or killed in the first scene. There are no strong Native roles out there and that’s why I thought being a part of American Pie was so cool because I just played a regular girl who happened to be Native. I wasn’t on a horse with feathers in my hair.
I think we still have a long way to go when it comes to Native Americans in film and television. I think the best representative was Dances with Wolves because it had some great female characters in the film and it represented Native Americans well, but look how long ago that was, so we are still fighting.
You have projects like Longmire which has a strong native presence and you have Red Road which was filmed on a reservation. Adam Beach is killing the game right now because he’s in the new Suicide Squad movie in a lead role, but it’s taking a long time. We represent one percent in the Screen Actors Guild, so absolutely we have a long way to go.
Pop Culture Principle – As a Plains Cree Native American, do you feel a responsibility or any pressure to not only make it, but be an example and role model as well?
Crystle Lightning – Absolutely I do. I want to be that role model so bad. I want the little girls on the reservation to say you know what, she was from Canada, she was from a reservation and she is Native just like me and she chased her dreams and she did it. I’ve been to reservations and inner-city communities and you look into their eyes, you know that they don’t that there is a world outside of where they live. I want to be one of those people who can say there is hope out there and that there is a huge world out there where you can do what you want if you work hard enough.
So, I absolutely feel a responsibility. I think you do have a responsibility being an artist and you have a platform where a lot of people listen to what you say. Now with social media and everyone listening to what everybody is saying, there is so much influence that you have.
Pop Culture Principle – You have a couple of projects coming up, namely Second Sunrise and The Red Man’s View. What can you tell us about those projects and anything else you’d like to promote?
Crystle Lightning – Second Sunrise is a film that was written and directed by Joanelle Romero and I’m very excited about it. It’s kind of like a vampire, action-thriller. I know a lot of actors in the film which is great. Red Man’s View is a film that is going to be directed by Thomas Vaughn and I am also super-excited about that because it’s more of a period piece.
Those two are still in the works. I am auditioning constantly and finally back in the groove. I mentioned before I was away for a while because the music thing was hot at the time, but it feels good to be back acting again.
We would like to thank Crystle Lightning for sitting down and talking with us in this very informative and fun interview. If you would like to keep up with all of her latest news, projects and gigs, you can visit her official website here. On her official site, you can also sign up and become a member for extra benefits.
**All photos courtesy of Crystle Lightning/Ryan Weight**