Rising Star Cassandra Blair Of ‘Jury Duty’ On The Five Things You Need To Shine In The Entertainment Industry

An Interview With Elana Cohen

Elana Cohen
Authority Magazine
21 min readJun 11, 2023


Be kind. So much of this industry is about relationships. It goes back to the perception of what “networking” really means. You guys know that Maya Angelou quote right? “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” So be kind. That doesn’t mean be passive. It doesn’t mean let people take advantage of you. You still need to have your own boundaries. And you can hold your boundaries while still being kind. If you can do that on set, things will go well for you.

As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Cassandra Blair.

Cassandra Blair is an actress you’re going to be seeing a lot more of, and for good reason. She currently stars as “Vanessa” in Jury Duty, the #1 streaming show on Amazon’s newest platform, Freevee. The show, which has been featured in the top 10 of IMDB’s “Most Popular TV Shows” and is making the rounds as one of the new breakout comedies of the year, showcases Cassandra’s talent for comedy and sheer likability. If you’ve watched the show, you’ve no doubt been tickled pink by her priceless reactions and authentic charm. Cassandra has appeared on several popular series including, NCIS: Hawaii, Hacks & Westworld on HBO, Better Things, S.W.A.T., 9–1–1, and The Rookie. She also played a supporting role in the upcoming comedy, Reunion, starring Lil’ Rel Howery, Jillian Bell, and Billy Magnussen.

In between projects, Cassandra is a showrunner for her husband and three children. She is a walking testimony of the often impossible balance between a professional career and motherhood. Since becoming a mother, Cassandra’s passion for equity in maternal healthcare and her advocacy for diversity in the entertainment industry have taken an even deeper hold. She is currently taking steps to become a certified pro-bono doula for women in need of post-partum support, and also hopes to soon create a non-profit program to help create opportunities for Black and Brown actors and build networks for underrepresented hopefuls who want to make their creative claim in the industry.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I’m originally from Kalamazoo, Michigan. My husband always jokes that I’m from “the country,” but I have to correct him. I’m always like, “Hey, we have two colleges, a university, and two malls!”
I come from somewhat humble beginnings, being raised primarily by my single, very hard-working mom. My family life was pretty complicated and I had to learn to adapt at a very young age. But I’m grateful for the resilience that I had to be able to move through it and be the change I wanted to see in my own world. I was always someone who found inspiration and vision in what I would see in other people. I would see things- from celebrities on TV to something as simple as families having dinner together- and think, “Wow, that’s cool. I want that when I grow up.”

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Oh man, I used to sing and dance ALL. THE. TIME. I remember being at my Grandma Rita’s house when I was maybe four or five, and I would be twirling around like what I thought ballerinas do. My grandma, who passed away back in 2015 and whose presence I miss dearly, would be gushing over me like I was the most talented dancer she’d ever seen. She really made me feel like I was the sauce. She used to say all the time, “One day, we’re gonna see your name in lights, Cassandra. I just know it.”

But really I learned the art of performance and the impact it can have on an audience from every Black singer’s rite of passage: church. Nothing moved me more than watching another singer in church pour out with their spirit through their performance. I wanted so badly to do that too. And I did- mostly in the confines of my bedroom. The world is really missing out not seeing the sheer number of bedroom-mirror performances I gave. Me and that Conaire brush microphone had some dope concerts. Singing led to choir, choir led to drama club and high school musicals, and that led to studying musical theatre in college where I could finally take formal dance classes too. All of this led to moving to LA to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

In my third or fourth year in college, I spent all my money on a flight to Los Angeles just to audition for a new show. I had to crash with my brother’s bandmate and take a bus to Hollywood for the audition. I remember being in awe walking on those Hollywood Stars for the first time. It was a new reality show that was supposed to be in search of “Janet Jackson’s new protegé,” a la, P. Diddy’s Making The Band. She had just started her Discipline tour and we were given choreography to one of my favorite tracks, Feedback. I thought I was hot stuff when I ended the choreo with this low-budget breakdancing freeze that I recently learned how to do. It cracks me up now looking back on it. I’m positive it wasn’t as cool at the time as I thought it was. But they liked me! I had gotten through all rounds of the audition- to the point where they had me do a medical screening to clear me for the show’s “physical challenges.” I was so geeked. I remember telling myself like, “This is it. This is my time.”

When she canceled her tour, they canceled the show. I was crushed. By then I had auditioned for every talent show you could think of- American Idol, Star Search, Showtime at the Apollo, The Voice- and in every single one of them I didn’t get past the first or second round. This canceled show was the closest I had ever gotten to people finally seeing my potential; seeing something special in me, that it gave me the confidence I needed to just move to LA and pursue a career in the industry.

It has been said that mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first moved to LA, I had no idea what I was doing. I was submitting for roles and jobs on Craigslist, and just running into the weirdest things doing it. The first acting audition I had in LA was in a library. A public library. Not in like, a side room or a private conference room or anything like that- nope, it was at a large study table in the middle of the library. There was a high school kid like three chairs away from me doing their math homework. I was looking around like, “Is this normal? Is this how they do it here?” I remember reading my scene and in the corner of my eye just watching the librarian, waiting to get shushed. I’m laughing right now because I just didn’t want to get in trouble. I’m like, “Please let me just read this scene and go back to my busted apartment and call it a day.” And then what made it worse- I booked it. My first short film in Los Angeles was a stop-motion movie about lesbian surfers. That story is so funny to me because it taught me that anyone, literally anyone can create something. Anybody can make a film. Very few people will make good ones. It taught me very quickly that I needed to be more discerning with the projects I take on, and also, maybe run it by some people first.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I mean, it would be crazy for me not to say that Jury Duty was the most interesting project I’ve ever been a part of. It was insane- by far the most challenged I’ve been not just as an actor but as a human. Not only did we need to stay in character all day (nobody was yelling “Cut!” in the courthouse), but the whole concept of portraying myself as something that I’m not to someone who’s not in on the joke was really difficult for me. Leaving the court every day as a moody, aloof, true-crime fanatic and not being able to say, “Just kidding! My name is Cassandra and I’m actually really fun and happy!” was a very conflicting experience. But also, the whole thing was ultimately so rewarding. I made such amazing relationships from that show, and it really made me feel like I can do just about anything. I also laughed more during the filming of that show than on any other project I’ve ever done. Working with funny people- who are also good and kind and were unbothered by me cartoonishly twerking in the middle of a meeting- that was special. And to top it off, seeing myself AND the show up for Emmy eligibility- wow! So yeah, I’m walking away from that experience feeling incredibly humbled and just so grateful for it all.

You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

Failure? That’s a silly word to me. Who made that word up? Because what people consider “failure” is really just an opportunity to learn and grow. You can have a bad experience and think, “Okay, I don’t like how that went. I want to try again and I’m going to do it differently this time.” Or you can be like, “Yeah, that wasn’t fun and I have no interest in trying again.” It’s all a matter of what you do with your experiences. Now that’s not to say that I haven’t felt like I’ve failed in the past. When I gave birth to my first baby, it felt like failure when I went into the operating room after laboring for two whole days and ultimately ended up with a cesarean section. But thinking about it as a failure on my part implies I did something wrong. Nah, I can’t see it that way. We’re humans. Sometimes we will execute something the way we planned and sometimes we won’t. We’re still amazing.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

This is another question that fascinates me. For one, there are countless reasons. And the question often comes up primarily because of our lack of diversity in the first place. Not just diversity of people, but diversity of thought- that’s actually where much of the value lies in diversity; exposure to different ways of thinking, which leads to different ways of existing in the world. Of course that’s important, right? And the pinnacle of that is when exposure to diversity leads to a greater capacity for empathy. When we can look at another person who is different from us and still feel what it would be like to be them- that is humanity at its finest.

I could talk until my jaw fell off about why it’s important to have diversity represented in every area of our lives. One of the multitude of reasons that having representation is important and how it profoundly affects our culture is that most people‘s understanding of cultures other than their own is predominantly framed through their consumption of entertainment media. How can we possibly fully appreciate the depth of a person’s culture when the only image we see of them on TV and in movies is singular, and most often negative? The bottom line is, Black people- and I’m singling out Black people simply because I’m Black- we were seen as a disposable commodity not that long ago. How do you go from seeing someone as trash to seeing them as valuable; as worthy of love and compassion? One of my favorite speakers on this issue is Dr. Joy Degruy, author of “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome — America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing.” She says in one of her speeches back in 2015, “We are unpacking 339 years of slavery… We are unpacking 339 years of trauma… Cognitive dissonance is a direct cause of the trauma black people face.”

The cognitive dissonance in our country perpetuates the notion that Black people are somehow inherently threatening. What challenges that dissonance is seeing Black people in media being our whole selves; playing and laughing in the backyard with our families, making dinner for our partners, putting our kids to bed, loving and being loved… And that affects our perception of our own community as well. When we see ourselves represented as kind, loving, intelligent, successful- that reinforces to us that we have the capacity for all of those things too.

When I saw Black Panther for the first time in the theater, I’ll never forget the scene- it was right before T’Challa’s ceremony. There were all these boats in the river with different tribes on each one, and there was African music, African clothing, African dancing, African joy. It was the first time in a movie I had seen Africans depicted as beautiful and joyous rather than as poor or savages. Boy, I cried. I still cry when I think of it. But other people who watched that movie- people who didn’t know that my ancestors are beautiful and full of spirit and joy… well hopefully they see it now. Yeah, we need more of that.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for e ach.

  1. Vet your teachers and coaches. Here’s the thing- if someone wants to be a teacher at a public school or university, they have to have a degree- typically a Master’s degree. But you don’t need one to be an acting teacher or coach. Anyone who thinks they know something about acting can charge you for classes. It doesn’t mean that their guidance
    will be helpful to you or that it’s even relevant in today’s market. I’ve heard a lot of bad advice from teachers who were paid to give it. And now post-pandemic, there are a lot of actors-turned-coaches who will offer a free workshop with limited information that’s designed to convince you to pay for their classes. Some of them are great! And some are precariously misleading. Be discerning about who you give your money to and more importantly, who you learn from. Choose coaches who have clients who are booking. Audit classes if you can. Search online for reviews or feedback for specific teachers and
    studios. Ultimately, if something doesn’t feel good when you work with that person consider working with someone else.\
  2. You are a business. Listen, taking acting classes, going to a dramatic arts school, joining an improv team- all of this helps to hone your craft. That’s how you do your art. But your art then becomes a product. And if you want to make a living selling your product then you’ve got to understand the business side of it. I swear, all dramatic arts programs need to include an entire business component- not just one or two classes. There’s so much to learn- from finding representation to what a relationship with that representation should look like, what wages to expect at different levels, how to market yourself in today’s social media-led world, even breaking down what a call sheet is and the coded language that it uses. Study the business side so that you are ready for it when it comes time to make your money.
  3. Networking is 1) being around and 2) being sociable. When I first started going to certain type of “workshops” (#IYKYK), I remember hearing people complain incessantly about networking. “Omg I hate networking.” I felt like I heard that all the time. Then I started to say it. And when it became a part of my inner-dialogue, then networking was
    scary to me. One time another actor invited me to their agency’s holiday party. I was so intimidated. I wasn’t going to go. And I was on the phone with my long-time friend and fellow actor/director Keena Ferguson at the time and she was like, “Girl. Go to the party. You’re sociable and fun. People will remember that. That’s all that networking is.” So
    simple. All this time, networking to me was the awkward act of handing out business cards to other actors at random parties. It was as if they were going to call me up when they finally finished that screenplay they’d been working on since college and they realized they needed a goofy Black girl to do this amazing role and as they were pre-casting this
    incredible film, they remembered to go dig up that cheap business card that I had printed at Kinko’s so they could call me up and be like, “Cassandra, remember me? We met at that party and exchanged seven words and you gave me your card. Today’s the day.” Okay, so no. Networking is just being around (go to the party) and being sociable (don’t sit at a table and be lame the whole time). And that leads me to…
  4. Be kind. So much of this industry is about relationships. It goes back to the perception of what “networking” really means. You guys know that Maya Angelou quote right? “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” So be kind. That doesn’t mean be passive. It doesn’t mean let people take advantage of you. You still need to have your own boundaries. And you can hold your boundaries while still being kind. If you can do that on set, things will go well for you. For example, when I’m on set, I don’t demand having a bottle of Frank’s Red Hot at the ready! I kindly ask for it… Just kidding, I keep one of those travel bottles in my car. Stay ready.
  5. Know who you are. This sounds like a super fluffy, elusive piece of advice but it is far and away the most important. Those workshops I was referring to before? One time I was reading a scene for a casting director and after I finished the scene, she just kind of stared at me. She was like, “The thing about you, Cassandra, is you don’t know who you are yet.” Oof. That hit. This was also the day after the 2016 election and I was well in my feelings. I cried on the ride home. And then I started going to therapy. If there was a “5.a” it would be go to therapy. I needed to take time to shed so much of what was influencing my actions- things like people-pleasing, giving too much trust too quickly, resenting my childhood, I mean, it was a lot. But as I started to let go of those practices and beliefs… who I am- which is someone who is inherently good and deserving of love- became more and more clear to me. I don’t need to prove anything to anybody. Which means when I auditioned, I stopped thinking about what “they want” and started doing what felt true to me. And then I started booking.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

You know, I think burn out for many of my colleagues comes from a constant feeling of rejection, or never feeling “enough.” I think when you change your mentality to understanding that with this career comes an ebb and flow, then you give yourself the space to experience it as it comes instead of being overwhelmed by the stress of it. Sometimes you’re working a lot and it’s like everybody loves you! And then other times it’s like you can’t get an audition or an agent to save your life. The problem comes when we associate the process with our worth. Just because only a few months ago, nobody knew my name doesn’t mean I had no value. I always felt that this path was one that was right for me, in spite of the countless times someone didn’t choose to work with me. If I ever felt like maybe this career isn’t for me, or maybe I need to try it from a different angle, I like to think I would have moved in that direction without necessarily feeling defeated. If you take the wins, the losses, and every experience with as much grace as you can muster, and the courage to grow from them, then you can make the choice to continue to pursue this career or to let it go and move forward with something else. And then it’s not “burn out.” It’s a decision made from learning more about who you are and what you want out of this life.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I think- no, actually I know my answer a few years ago would be different than my answer today. I’m a mom now- a mom who has been through the experience of child-carrying, child-birth, and postpartum healing while caring for a newborn baby. And wow- have we gone off the rails in this country. Countries with the best prenatal and maternal outcomes understand that it takes a village to raise a child, and that the mother needs care, nurturing, and support too. If I could inspire a movement that would give new mothers the time, resources, and emotional support that they need to enter- notice I’m saying “enter” rather than “come out of”- this new phase of their life with strength, love, and community… now that would be a movement I could be proud of!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Oh man, if I narrowed that down to only one person, my phone would be blowing up. But really, there were several people who were critical at different points in my life in helping me get to where I am now.

I’m grateful for Mrs. Labelle, my third grade teacher who gifted me a brand new notebook- it was navy blue with gold moons and stars on it- to write in, because she said I was creative and should keep writing. She was the first teacher to tell me that I was smart.

I’m grateful for my eighth grade health teacher, Mrs. Kuiphoff- the one teacher that when I told her I was in pain from my period and I couldn’t pay attention in class, she believed me. To this day I think of her when women, especially women of color, are treated as though our expressions of pain aren’t valid.

I’m grateful to my ninth grade English teacher- I can’t remember his name. After being in his class for a while, he knew I belonged in the advanced class so he sat me down and talked with me. When I explained that I couldn’t keep up with the workload of the advanced classes, he asked me, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I told him I wanted to be an actor and a singer. He goes, “Okay. But you’re gonna need a back-up plan when that doesn’t work out.”

I mention him now for an important reason. Because of what he told me, I spent years focusing on my “back-up plan” instead of committing to what was always my calling. So that taught me to never tell a young person that what they believe in for themselves isn’t good enough.

I’m grateful to my mom for driving me all the way to Nashville, Tennessee for my first American Idol audition when I was sixteen. My mom didn’t have a lot of time or money to spend on trips. We stayed in a fancy hotel (let’s be honest, all hotels to me at that age were fancy), we ate out at a restaurant, and she waited in line with me, outside, for an entire day just to be sent right back home. The fact that she did that- and she did it happily- told me that she believed in what I was doing.

I’m grateful to one of my first employers, Ms. Angie. I used to be a teacher’s assistant at her preschool. At the time, I was going to school full-time and working three jobs. Every day at work, on my break, I’d go to the back room and pass out on the couch. Sometimes she’d have to wake me up if I didn’t hear my alarm. Heck, sometimes she’d have to wake me up when I was supposed to be working. One day when she came to wake me up, she saw the exhaustion in my eyes and she said to me, “Ms. Cassandra, I want you to know this is only temporary. I see what you’re doing, and I know it’s hard. But it will get better. I promise.” In that moment, I felt seen and it made me believe I could get through it; she confirmed to me that there was another phase of my life I had to look forward to.

I’m grateful for my husband. When I tell you that this man has never once questioned my career or what it took to pursue it… he has supported my belief in myself since the beginning. All of the times he drove me to class- an hour away sometimes- because we only had one car and he was working from the driver seat of our 2004 Mazda while I practiced my Meisner technique at the theater… All of the last minute schedule changes because I got a “big audition,” or better yet, I booked a job, and oh yeah, I have to be out of town for two weeks, can you come with me because our baby is still breastfeeding and I need someone to watch him while I’m on set? He keeps me in check in my moments of self-pity or self-doubt, because yes, we all have them, and he is the only person in the world more confident in me than me.

I’m grateful to my manager, Maritza. She came to help me when I was overwhelmed and we were expecting our first baby. She said she wanted to represent me, and I laughed. I said, “Listen, if you wanna take on a client with no credits who is also eight months pregnant, big as a house, and can’t tie her own shoes, go for it.” Two weeks later she got me my first Co-Star audition for West World on HBO. And I booked it. Even after I had the baby, just returning to work again, and I was struggling to find someone to watch my newborn child, she said, “bring him over, I’ll play with him.” Honestly, she’s just a rock star.

I’m grateful to my Aunt Renee. The reasons are countless, really. But more than anything in the world, she sees me. She gets me. She is my spiritual beacon when I’m lost, unsure, or disconnected. And if there is one thing I’ve learned in this life-long pursuit of a career in this industry, it’s that when you are spiritually grounded, the ups and downs of this path will not throw you off of it; they won’t break your sense of self or make you feel like you aren’t enough. In fact, quite the opposite- my spiritual foundation is what allows me to hear someone say, “No” a hundred times and I can still know my inherent, unwavering worth.

For the sake of not getting yelled at by someone I didn’t mention here, I’ll just say, the list goes on, really.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My first real restaurant job- which became my survival industry while I was building my acting career- was at a Perkin’s Restaurant when I was nineteen. It’s that kind of place that has a 45-minute wait on Sunday mornings because: pancakes. I was working my first Sunday and let me tell you, I was getting my butt kicked all day. I finally begged my boss to let me take a break in the smoke-filled break room because I was near tears. One of the other waitresses, she must have been in her late forties… I was venting to her and I was just utterly overwhelmed. She takes a drag from her cigarette and she goes, “Look. You can only do what you can do. And that’s all that you can do.” I laugh now when I think about it because it’s so simple, but really, wiser words were never spoken. How can we get mad or frustrated with ourselves when we understand, very simply, that we can only do what we can do? If we could do more, we probably would’ve done it! I’m constantly saying this to myself and to my friends so that we can remember to extend ourselves some grace for mistakes that we’ve made, because at any given moment, I believe that everyone is doing the best that they can with the tools that they have at that time.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

The Obamas. Hands down. All of them. Even the dog. To be surrounded by that much grace, intellect, love, light, and Black girl magic all in one household- that would be a dream come true.

How can our readers follow you online?

I thought I was super clever when I came up with my Instagram handle, @cassandrablaircurlyhair. The jury is still out on that though.

Photos by Dynasty Productions, Las Vegas @dynastykp on Instagram

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Thank you for having me! I’d love to do a shout out to the true star of Jury Duty, Ronald Gladden by repeating his one-line thank you speech at the finale party which was simply, “Be good to each other, guys.”



Elana Cohen
Authority Magazine

Elana Cohen is a freelance writer based in Chicago. She covers entertainment and music