Liz Gallardo
November 01, 2021
In The Mix

A New View

A couple of things about Kelsey Asbille.

Neil Turitz

The first thing you should know about Kelsey Asbille is that she's super smart.

When she's not starring opposite Kevin Costner on the Paramount Network's hit show Yellowstone or shooting the new season of FX's Emmy-winning Fargo, she's studying human rights at Columbia University in New York — even though she lives in Los Angeles. Sure, she's a 28-year-old junior, but she still finds time to wedge in a semester here and there between gigs, sometimes doing summer sessions.

"I'll probably graduate when I'm 40," she says with a laugh. "I'll be the old guy in the back at graduation."

That's the second thing you should know: she's funny.

That might come as a surprise, since she's known for dramas. Asked if she discusses Columbia's famed Core Curriculum, or, say, Greek poets with Costner, she deadpans, "It's all we talk about."

She's also aware of her role as a woman of color in Hollywood. When she began her career as a regular on the CW's One Tree Hill, she was known as Kelsey Chow, but in 2014 she started going by her middle name. Given that her father is Chinese and her mother is part Native American, she had long pondered such a step.

"I always talk about being mixed race in this industry being quite challenging, and fighting discrimination because people have a hard time trying to place you," says Asbille, who was born and raised in Columbia, South Carolina. "You sort of feel this permanent insecurity about where you belong. Acting really connects me to the communities I belong to." She has twice played Native Americans, in the 2017 film Wind River and on Yellowstone.

A huge fan of Fargo, she was excited to audition, but she was stuck on the set of Yellowstone, so she had to put herself on video. Luckily, her mom was visiting and eager to help. "We had the best time," Asbille recalls, "but she was getting a little too into it. I had to reel her back."

She can't reveal anything at all about her character — is she playing a woman? "I don't even know if I can answer that!" — but she does say, "It's completely different from my character on Yellowstone." Which makes sense, coming from someone who's working so hard to broaden her horizons.

The obvious next step? A comedy.

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 3, 2020

For more on Native American contributions to the television industry, click HERE

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