Unissa Cruse hails from Baltimore, Maryland. She embarked on a multifaceted career path after earning her degree from the University of Maryland. She followed her passions as an actress and dancer and Zoomed with us about her success with Casting Networks and booking a national Target campaign with a close friend.
You’ve booked many jobs via Casting Networks. What’s your favorite?
OK, my favorite job, which was my most recent job, was the national campaign for Target for 2023.
Can you take us through it?
I checked Casting Networks at the end of 2022 and noticed they were looking for good friends and roommates. I have a really good friend that’s in L.A. named Jazelle. We used to always joke like we totally could book a commercial together, but there was never an opportunity. So, I saw this ad for Target, and I was like, we’d be perfect. So, I submitted us, and we got a media request right away. We put a couple of scenes to put together, and a few days later, we got an email for callbacks from the director. My friend wasn’t available on the day of the callbacks. She was actually on set for another job with terrible service in the middle of nowhere.
Oh no, how did you get around that?
I panicked a little bit because they paired me with someone else, and I wanted to book this with my friend. My friend managed to hop on the computer, and the Wi-Fi was horrible. The director said, “You know what? Your tape was so good we’re going to use that initial tape to emphasize [that] to the client about you rather than this taped callback.”
We booked it, and we showed up at the fitting in the same outfit! Target was great, and the director and the client kept telling us how much they enjoyed watching us on camera, so to have booked that after all of that hard work and all of the chaos with someone that I truly love is something I’ll never forget.
That’s so awesome; what a great story. Is it running now?
It’s actually running this year. It’s exciting.
Is there any advice you’d give to people who are just signing up on the platform?
Yes, my biggest amount of advice that I would give is for folks to definitely set up their profile so that they receive matches. Select filters so they can get direct emails with projects that they’d be really great fits for. Whether it’s their ethnicity or whether it’s a special skill or their wardrobe. Also, you have to actually read through anything that you match because even if it’s a role where you think you might not, your type may read otherwise on camera. That’s happened to me before, and I booked the job.
What are you up to now?
Well, I am out of town. I’m in San Francisco right now, working on the world premiere of a new musical.
What’s it called?
It’s called Hippest Trip: the Soul Train Musical. It’s basically a recount of Don Cornelius’ time before he created Soul Train through the entire run of Soul Train. It’s a really heartwarming tale. It shows him in a new light and then encompasses the entire essence of soul and joy and peace. It’s a huge dance show, and there are some really reputable warm, and awesome people in the production. It’s taking place at the American Conservatory Theater.
That sounds amazing.
It’s definitely a challenge that I was willing to take on because I knew that the people that I would be working with were next level. I knew that they would push me in a positive way; I knew that they would continue to challenge me in a positive way; and for some reason, after having auditioned for them earlier this year, I knew that they would take care of me.
Do you prefer film or stage? What’s your passion?
Growing up, I wasn’t very much into theater. It’s funny, I used to watch musicals, and I only wanted to watch the dancing because I’m a dancer first. I didn’t have any drama or acting training.
When did you start doing musicals?
It wasn’t until 2016. I got injured really badly, and I was told that I would never dance again, and it was devastating. But I went to the Utah Shakespeare Festival to watch a bunch of performances, and I loved it. Everyone was amazing, and I was like, I think I could do this.
That’s where you started?
Well, as I was recovering, I found out about an audition taking place in Baltimore for the movie [redacted] My coworkers all told me to go, and I was like, I can’t dance anymore. They said well, just go and see how you feel.
Did you go?
Yes, I went, and there were hundreds of people, and I had an amazing time. I had no idea that they were only looking for one person until midway through the audition, so I panicked a little bit, but I didn’t let it get the best of me. I made it to the top three.
Wow. That must have been a grueling process.
It was a 14-hour-long audition, and five days later, I woke up at 5:30 AM to a knock on my front door. It was the news in Baltimore telling me that I won the role on [redacted]! It opened my eyes, and it opened up my interest in acting in general. So, I did theater and then signed up with Casting Networks, and then started auditioning for commercials. In the middle of the pandemic, I started booking commercials, and I fell in love with it.
At the cross-section of theater and commercials, is where you’ve found your passion?
I love how, in commercials, you can be funny and playful and campy, but still real and grounded, but there’s some sort of beauty in being on a stage because subconsciously, I always remember that feeling of when I worked on [redacted] when I was chosen as that one person, but then, I also looked at all of the knowledge and skills I have being behind the camera, and I loved it as well. There’s something about all of this that makes me feel like I’ve landed at the perfect time of my life.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and compliance with SAG-AFTRA strike rules.
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