In this interview, Charise Castro Smith, Brown University class of 2005, talks about why she decided to attend Brown, what her campus experience was like, and how she pursued a career in theatre and film.
Smith begins by describing her childhood as a first generation Cuban-American in Miami, Florida, and her high school education at New World School of the Arts. She explains that she found Brown through a high school teacher who encouraged Smith to pursue a broader liberal arts higher education versus a concentrated fine arts education. She remembers her parents and her brother moving her onto campus in 2001, learning to dress for cold weather, and having to learn new educational skills to keep up in classes.
Smith goes on to describe the events of September 11, 2001, occurring just weeks after becoming a Brown student. She recalls learning about the first plane to hit the Twin Towers and watching the second plane collied on TV in class. She talks about her friend trying to get in touch with her mother who worked at the Pentagon and the frantic, terrifying feelings of the day. She also describes scenes from New York City that following Thanksgiving.
Smith also discusses life after Brown. She remembers moving to New York City to pursue acting and then deciding to attend the Yale School of Drama. She talks about writing and co-directing Disney’s 2021 animated film, Encanto, which is the first Disney film to feature Columbian characters. Smith goes on to discuss the transition her life and work took when the COVID-19 global pandemic hit the United States. Smith explains working on Encanto while also raising her three-year-old daughter during stay-at-home orders in Los Angeles, California. She also shares her insights on how streaming services have impacted the movie and entertainment industries. Smith closes by emphasizing her gratitude to Brown for the education she received.