Actress Crystal Renee Hayslett is beautifully humble. Couple this with her gorgeous brown skin, sensational sense of style, and refreshingly honest outlook on life, Crystal has indeed found herself in a league all her own. Originally from Martin, TN, a small town just two hours south of Memphis with a population of about 12,000 people; she now lives in Atlanta, GA, the new black entertainment mecca. Crystal’s journey into entertainment began as a costume designer at Tyler Perry Studios to Tyler Perry’s personal stylist and now a new series regular on the BETs hit show, SISTAS. When speaking with her she opened up quite a bit about her new role & mentoring young girls.
Describe your origin story in five words.
I would say small town, dreamer, headstrong, and never taking no for answer as a child. I was always the one that was willing to take risks. I’d say very headstrong because even if you did not like it, I was going to do it. It didn’t matter what it was. Oh, you don’t like it. Well, I do. I have never been a follower. My mom would be like, I don’t like that outfit, and I was just looking like I do and she’s like, okay. Who knew that one day I would get a job to dress one of the most influential black men in the world? That’s kind of funny.
Small town to Hollywood, that’s a big deal, so how do we get there?
I ended up going to college in my hometown, the University of Tennessee at Martin. From there I got an internship my junior year to work in Washington D. C. on Capitol Hill for our state senator. Once I got ready to graduate from my last semester of school, they called me and said, “Hey, we have a job opening. We want you to come back. “ And I was like, “Oh, okay.” And at this time the job market was crazy. People were graduating from college and not getting jobs. So, it was a huge blessing that I was getting an offer before I even got my diploma. I ended up moving to Washington, D. C. my last semester and I worked on Capitol Hill for 2.5 years.
It was at that time I realized that sitting behind the desk was not for me. Politics was not for me, So, I called my uncle and I said, Hey I want to move to Atlanta and he was like, Okay, you can come to stay with me…) I stayed with my uncle for a year and it took me a year to even find a job. When I first moved here, I was pursuing music, a singing career, and pursuing acting. I’m not getting any callbacks, started off as an extra, started meeting some really cool people, and ended up having a stylist that at the time, was styling Tyler and working at the studio…) She’s like, you have a good knack for fashion. What do you think about coming to work for the costume department at the studio as a production assistant? I was like okay cool. I want to be an actress as well so why not work at a studio where I can still study other actors while I’m working? I started at the bottom as a production assistant and worked my way up and eventually got a call to be the costume designer.
So fast forward. I ended up also being asked to be Tyler’s personal stylist. And then sisters came along and I’m a consulting producer on the show. I was reading the scripts and I was like; you know what? This is it. I’m reading the stories and I’m telling him they’re jumping off the pages at me. Why am I not in this show? This is my role. So, Tyler I talked about it and he said I got something for you. He was like, Now, you gotta earn it. And he was like, and I’m just going to tell you right now if you don’t do good, we have to figure it out. And said, “okay”, so he gave me a small role in the first season. I was still the costume designer, still styling him and acting…) He was incredibly happy with my work, and the rest was history. This season I became a serious regular. I am now stepping down from costume design and being his stylist…) I’m full force pursuing acting. So that’s how we got here.
Your character Fatima on the show, seeing as how you said she was made for you, how do you relate to her character?
I feel like Fatima was made for me. It’s funny. She’s sassy, She’s funny. She’s loyal. The way that she has Andy’s back, a lot of people tell me about how good I am to Andy but they don’t feel like she sees it. But that’s just the type of person that I am as well like. I’m going to always be there for the people that I care about, regardless, and not saying that I will let people run over me or anything like that. But I definitely am loyal to a fault. In my relationships and different things like that I actually started to see how sometimes my real life has started to imitate art. It’s crazy where I’ll see things happen. I’m like, Oh, that’s something Fatima went through…)
What do you believe is the best advice you’ve received since working with Tyler?
I think the best advice I received was recently when we were shooting Sista’s season 2 this summer. I got a call from Tyler and he said, “I just want you to remember what it was like to be on the other side. Always be kind to the people that are helping you—– to the crew—-to everyone, because you know what it was like to be them.” So many people who haven’t had the experience to actually work on the other side don’t understand how hard those jobs are, the load that they carry to make the actors and the producers and the directors’ life so easy. I have a different respect for them because I’ve been in their shoes…) For him to tell me just to “never forget” was one of the most important things that he’s ever told me. I will take with me forever.
What has been your most uncomfortable experience entering into this world of entertainment?
The most uncomfortable thing is getting used to so many people knowing you, and them thinking they really know who you are. I’m such a private person. If you go to my page, a lot of people don’t even know that I styled Tyler, for all these years. There’s a lot of things that I don’t really talk about. I just like to enjoy life and now that I’m on TV, my life is a little more exposed, but really getting used to that is one thing for sure.
What do you do to kind of keep that privacy? I know one of the people that is known for privacy is Beyonce, but you feel like you still know who she is and at the same time there’s still some mystery.
I love B. I respect her and Jay for how they handle their relationship and their personal life. I think the thing that I’ve learned is to just show the people what you want to show. You don’t have to give them everything but give them enough to know to have to give the sense of who you are so they can relate to you. But you don’t have to put your whole life out there for everybody.
I know you said you’re private, but what’s something about you that you want for your fans and supporters to know that’s not public knowledge that you believe is important?
I love mentoring young children. I am a mentor after school and do after school tutoring for this community center here in Atlanta. I love spending time with them. I love cooking, traveling, and I am an intro-extrovert. I’m the life of the party than other times I’m like, Okay, I’m ready for everybody to go home and I just want to be by myself. I have those moments where I really enjoyed my alone time then times I enjoy being with my friends and family.
You said you like to mentor. What advice would you have for African American girls, or just girls or women in period who are looking to you as a source of inspiration?
It’s funny. I had a young girl look at me when I went to the after-school program one day. I had on baggy cargo camouflage pants, an off-white hoodie, and some cool sneakers. And she was like, “did you go to college?” And I was like, “Yeah, I did.” And she goes, “you don’t look like you went college.” I was like, “what is a person who went to college supposed to look like?” And she said, like him and it was this white man that was dressed in a button-up shirt, khaki pants, and loafers. And I was like, “No, sweetheart, you could dress cool. I could look just like you guys and still take school seriously. Still take me seriously and still be cool.” I was like, “you don’t have to dress a certain type of way to go to school or college.” So I just wanted to get that perception out of their mind, you know that you have to be a certain way…and allow people to be who they are. But to have the understanding that education is important, that being yourself is just as important. Embracing who you are is equally as important.
What inspires you?
I get inspired by creativity. I’m telling you I can have an idea in my mind and once I start working on it, just being creative and I see it come to life…I won’t stop until I’m completely finished. It’s crazy, I won’t eat. I forget to eat sometimes if I’m working on a project that I’m passionate about and how my mind literally gets lost in creation. I would say just anything creative and that allows me to express myself in a creative way really is inspiring.
Words by Ebony Davis