This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
My name is Chelsea Gilligan and I am a creative. I feel like I do a lot of things. [Laughs] I’m an actor, a model, a ceramicist, a food lover, and I have my own production company.
My interest in acting and modeling came very early. I grew up in a household where my stepdad and mom had a publicity firm and so I grew up on sets. We traveled from Huntington Beach to LA all the time. I remember seeing the Hollywood sign and I guess from a young age, I always had this sense of wonder. Just this huge imagination that I didn’t really know what to do with.
I also grew up in a house where a lot of my family members and my parents continued to try new things. They had multiple businesses and I think that’s where a lot of my multiple avenues come from—not being afraid to fail and not being afraid to try. But my mom had a rule: I couldn’t start in the arts until I was 18. So I waited and waited and waited. Finally, at 18, I entered the Miss California Teen USA pageant. I didn’t win. I got first runner-up and then I thought, You know what, I’m gonna try this again. So I did it the next year and I ended up winning.
“...from a young age, I always had this sense of wonder. Just this huge imagination that I didn’t really know what to do with.”
Through the pageant, I got a modeling agent. I moved to LA and stayed in a model apartment that had cockroaches and bunk beds—it wasn’t great. [Laughs] It was not the glamorous modeling life I thought it was going to be. But thankfully, shortly thereafter, I started working and was able to get my own apartment.
What was your first real break and who gave it to you?
For acting, it was Star-Crossed on the CW many moons ago. It was the first time I ever tested for something. I think I was 19 or 20 and I remember just wanting it so bad. We went through the whole process of testing and then testing again for network. I remember leaving the room and usually you feel like you bombed it—like, you really don’t feel good about it sometimes, because you never know and it’s completely out of your hands. I was waiting for my dad to pick me up and then I saw the reader driving away. She looked at me and she went… [Mimes giant double thumbs-up] And I was like, Did I get it? No, I probably didn’t get it. She was just being really nice to me. It’s totally fine. I didn’t get it. And then I got it.
Me booking Star-Crossed through CBS and the CW was something I’ll never forget. I didn’t have any credits and they gave me a chance—a curly-haired, buck-toothed chick who was just trying to process what she was going through at that time. I’m really grateful for that.
Could you imagine a life without creativity?
No. I could not imagine a life not making art and not being creative. For me, doing my day-to-day, I have to be creative to decompress. It brings me so much joy and happiness. Even just the basics of picking out your outfit can be super-creative, or the next dish you create for dinner. It’s hard not to be creative, in my opinion. I feel like there’s so much art in anything that anybody does, and it should be celebrated, no matter how big or small. [Laughs and wiggles finger guns] Dr. Seuss, “Horton Hears a Who.”
“Cooking was my first love. It was a safe outlet for me to create and be myself and feel seen, really. So I feel like, from that process on, I allowed myself to continue to be creative. That, in turn, allowed me to be alive and want to succeed and want to try.”
What would you say to young Chelsea?
I’m going to get emotional. I would say to her…that it’s okay to be seen. And it’s okay to take up space, and when you get older, you will. You are loved and…you did it. You’re doing it. Everything that you wanted to do, you’re doing it and you can do it. [Laughs and wipes eyes] I knew a question like that was coming! I thought I prepared for it and I didn’t. [Dabs tears] Okay.
What does creativity mean to you?
Creativity means that I allow myself to be fully present. To acknowledge that there are so many different ways to do one thing. Creativity is ultimately fun—I love imagining there are purple clouds in the sky or that I’m going to go inside and make a souffle. I feel like it’s a big part of life to be creative and there’s nothing better. It’s a free gift you get to access. So why not use it to the highest degree?
What makes you come alive?
My creativity helps me come alive for sure, especially when I’m cooking. Cooking was my first love. It was a safe outlet for me to create and be myself and feel seen, really. So I feel like, from that process on, I allowed myself to continue to be creative. That, in turn, allowed me to be alive and want to succeed and want to try.
The pandemic and you.
This pandemic has taught me a lot about myself. It’s taught me to not procrastinate. It’s definitely taught me that we’re not promised tomorrow and that I have to live outside my comfort zone. Through the pandemic, I created a cooking show that has made little Chelsea so joyous! I can’t even tell you how happy I am that I started doing it. It’s just me in my kitchen cooking and I love it.
I’m already grateful, but the pandemic definitely taught me to be more grateful for my family and my friends. To not take anything for granted. And it allowed my creativity to come back. It forced me to really sit down and be idle and think about what I want. To think about how I can execute myself to the highest degree and what that looks like. I’m human and I’m still evolving into what future Chelsea’s going to create or look like, but it’s been a ride. The pandemic was a ride and I’m glad to be getting off of it, to be honest. Very happy.
“I think we all need to remind ourselves that there’s no you out there. We’re all individuals and we all have something to add.”
What does the near future hold for you?
I’m definitely going to keep creating what I want to see online. I feel like a lot of people get caught up in the idea that, Oh, it’s oversaturated and there are so many people doing that one thing. But I think we all need to remind ourselves that there’s no you out there. We’re all individuals and we all have something to add. I just want to continue putting out things that I love and making people smile. I want to continue working on myself to be the best person that I can be.
This interview was conducted on November 2nd, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.