There is a saying in Hollywood: “there are no small parts” as each role is essential — as just like in a jigsaw puzzle, every piece is necessary to complete it. So while some roles have more lines, a film or show would be incomplete with each part portrayed to its fullest. Newcomer Mickaëlle X. Bizet makes that saying even more true through her work in her role in ABC’s drama series AMERICAN CRIME, as every one the characters portrayed are vital to the complex and intertwined tale, which this season highlights the harrowing and heart-breaking reality of labor exploitation and sex trafficking in the U.S. In an exclusive interview, Mickaëlle X. Bizet shares why she was drawn to such a difficult role and the joy it brought her to be a part of this momentous television series.
What initially appealed to you about the role of Gabrielle Durand and working on the AMERICAN CRIME Season 3?
Mickaëlle: Oh wow, so much initially appealed to me about the role of Gabrielle Durand. To start, she’s a character in AMERICAN CRIME! That’s appealing enough right? It’s such a high quality show. It is truly a blessing to get the opportunity to audition for any role on a show of that caliber. When you watchAMERICAN CRIME, right away it is crystal clear that everyone involved in all the departments care about every single aspects of this televised storytelling piece of art. Then, she’s a black, French-Speaking woman who immigrates to the U.S. to be the nanny to an American family. That’s me, in real life! Her name is Gabrielle; my name is Mickaëlle. Gabrielle was born in Haiti. I was born in Martinique. Both islands are former French colonies. Haiti got its independence; Martinique didn’t. My family left Martinique and moved to France when I was a little over 2 years old. So I grew up there and I came to the U.S. from France to be an au pair to an American family in Boston. Gabrielle lives with the Coates, in North Carolina; I lived with the Howlands, in Massachusetts. When my manager, Pamela Cappetta-Brice of CSP Management, sent me the info for the role I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I thought “Wait, what?! That’s me!” How uncanny right? When I booked the role, I called my American dad, Jerry Howland (the father of the family I was a nanny for in Boston. Yes, they’re still in my life) to tell him about it, he was like “yeah, whatever”. He laughed; he didn’t believe me! He really thought I was messing with him! Also very appealing is the idea that someone can arrive in a totally foreign land, all alone, and not speak the language at all. How do you survive emotionally? Who do you turn to if something goes wrong? What do you do if your American Dream seems to turn into an AMERICAN CRIME?
How would you describe who Gabrielle is?
Mickaëlle: Gabrielle is full of hope. Like a lot of people who come to the U.S., me included, she sees this country as an opportunity to create a new and better life for herself and her family back home. But wherever you go, there you are. She made and makes mistakes. She’s human, you know? Gabrielle is demure, quiet, trusting, extremely loving; almost like a pushover. She wants to believe that people are good. She’s eager to do well, to work well, to be accepted in her new environment and not make waves. She has this dream of a better life and she’s very grateful to be here, to be living with this well-to do family. She might seem weak or naïve to some. But you know… people make assumptions about people all the time. The global society has the tendency to think that because you come from humble beginnings you are less this, less that, less everything; especially, when you’re an immigrant. I know this first hand. Don’t get it twisted; nice little quiet Gabrielle is intelligent.
What do you most admire and/or like about Gabrielle?
Mickaëlle: I admire that she had the courage to leave everything and everyone she knew behind to move to a brand new country where they speak a language she neither understands nor speaks. How bold is that? And a lot of immigrants do that every day! That takes so much courage. Plus as soon as she gets here, she starts living with complete strangers! I did that. Looking back I think “What a risk!” All in the name of The American Dream.
How would you describe where Gabrielle’s journey takes her this season on AMERICAN CRIME?
Mickaëlle: Ah, nice try. You know I can’t tell you too much. What I can tell you is that her American Dream gets shut down in a way that nobody could have ever, ever imagined. What she goes through emotionally (and otherwise), a lot of domestic workers go through. Some of us might not be aware of it, but this, and other things, happens. It’s not even on a lot of people’s radar; you know… the struggles of domestic workers in the U.S. When you watch Gabrielle’s story you are probably going to think: “What?! No… no way. Nope. It’s not happening. Not here in America. Nope.” Well, it’s happening all right. And domestic workers are even more vulnerable if there’s a language barrier. I learned a lot when I was doing my research; I’m very grateful. Now my eyes are a bit more open. Check out @DomesticWorkers on twitter. It’s very informative.
Which other characters does Gabrielle interact with?
Mickaëlle: Nicholas Coates (Tim Hutton) and Clair Coates (Lili Taylor) decide to hire Gabrielle to be the nanny to their son Nicky played by an amazing young actor, Aidan Wallace. He was my little buddy on set. We spent quite some time together. Most of Gabrielle’s interactions are with Lili Taylor and Aidan Wallace, aka Clair and Nicky.
What is it like working with such a strong ensemble cast?
Mickaëlle: It was like going to Yale every day. I learned so much by just being around them and observing them. People asked me if I was nervous around them. I didn’t have the time and luxury to be nervous! I was “something” but I was not “nervous” per say; not nervous as in “I’m scared, I’m scared, I can’t do this, I can’t be in the same show as all those heavyweight champions of acting!” I wasn’t nervous in that way. I had butterflies, but they were butterflies of excitement, happiness, eagerness to work hard and do as well as I could, and MAJOR Gratitude. So they were beautiful butterflies in my stomach. At least that’s how I decided to interpret those feelings; in a positive way. You know, it’s such an important show and every single person there works so hard for the good of the story that I was focused on doing the best job I could, instantly. Their dedication is palpable. I just felt like “Ok, I’m here. Let’s do this!” To look at it another way, imagine that you’re a superstar basketball player in high school and you get drafted into the NBA right out of high school. You don’t even go college and play college ball. All of a sudden, you have to play with the likes of Shaq and Kobe. There’s no time to freak out, now is there? Can you afford to freak out? No, you cannot. You just have to play! You have to play as amazingly as you possible can and hope that you don’t get kicked off the team after your first game!
What has been your favorite part about working on this project?
Mickaëlle: I don’t think I have one favorite part about working on AMERICAN CRIME. I have sincerely enjoyed every second of it, every aspect of it, from the day I got the audition notice until now… and beyond. Being on set is definitely pure joy to me. It’s like being back in my mother’s stomach. If I could remember what that feels like I would say that it’s Bliss; Bliss with a capital “B”. I never wanted to leave. I never wanted to hear that I was wrapped! It’s true. You can ask Andy, Andy Cervantes; she was my favorite PA on set. And side note, as soon as I met that girl I thought she was a producer in training; so efficient, so on-point and on top of everything. That’s what I’m saying; everybody on that show takes it very seriously. And of all the shows on TV and on the Internet right now, being on THIS one? Working on AMERICAN CRIME?! I mean, come on! I’m going to repeat myself but the quality is phenomenal. It’s a blessing. I’m #SuperGrateful. I visualize a lot and being booked on this project is way better and beyond the realm of what I had visualized as far as TV show gigs. I love this show! It makes you think, it makes you feel, it makes you look at situations and people that you might not have thought of before because you probably had no idea they even existed; and if you knew they existed, you might not have realized what they were really going through. You probably had made assumptions; as we all do. AMERICAN CRIME takes the veil off the underbelly of the United States Of America. As much I love me some U.S.A., just like anywhere, there’s a lot going that we don’t know about and that directly affect our lives on a day-to-day basis. Pour conclure cette réponse(to conclude this answer), I would say that my favorite part of working on AMERICAN CRIME is working on AMERICAN CRIME.
What do you think you have learned from portraying Gabrielle?
Mickaëlle: Well, like I have mentioned before. I learned a lot about the life and struggles of domestic workers. Gabrielle has also altered my personal life. She’s altered who I am, but I can’t tell you how. I don’t want to spoil her story.
What has been the one thing you as an actor have taken away from working on AMERICAN CRIME?
Mickaëlle: I have learned a whole lot working on AMERICAN CRIME and being around a cast and crew (pre, on-set, and post) who are so incredibly committed to bringing the best work to the world. If I were to choose one thing, which is hard to do, I would say that one of the most important things I’ve learned is that you can actually do what you love (which for me is acting), your art and at the same time be of service to humanity. AMERICAN CRIME doesn’t teach lessons, AMERICAN CRIME “televisely” and “telewisely” truthfully and authentically paint aspects of the world that some people might have no idea exist. I act on a show that makes people think, rethink, and “alterthink” (Alterthink=think in a different way).
What do you hope viewers take away from watching AMERICAN CRIME Season 3?
Mickaëlle: Hopefully, people will be able to emotionally walk a few hours in someone else’s shoes. Not just with my character’s story; with all the stories. Maybe they can start to alterthink a bit about certain people and situations.
At this stage of your career, what do you think you have learned from the amazing variety of roles and projects you have worked on?
Mickaëlle: All the different roles I have played have assisted me in my practice of non-judgment. I work at it every day. For me, inserting myself in someone else’s psyche requires me to find some type of understanding of their perspective in order to accept them.
Then what are the perks of where you are in your career right now?
Mickaëlle: Right now there are a lot of perks. The glamorous perks, let’s get them out of the way. We all know they are there. I love them. However, the best perk is working alongside those massively talented individuals. That cast though! Like, what?! It is definitely a huge blessing that I sincerely cherish and appreciate and I will never take for granted. I am extremely grateful for every second of this experience. I am on the same show as Tim Hutton, Lili Taylor, Richard Cabral, Felicity Huffman, Regina King, BENITO MARTINEZ! And that’s not it; you have Connor Jessup from Season 2 and Ana Mulvoy Ten who are precious stones as well. Oh, slightly (but not really) random thought: Kim Coleman, the casting director of the show, she’s the one who took me out of high school and recommended I be drafted in the NBA right away! That woman sure knows how to put a cast together. Now, back to the perk of working with the best… I learned so much by simply being around those masters; even the ones I didn’t have any scenes with. It’s very informative and educational to just observe them as they do what they do whether it’s on-set or off-set. They’re so efficient and they do what they do so well, that you don’t even have to sit with them and ask them for advice; you can just shut up, observe, and take mental notes. Then there’s John Ridley and Michael McDonald who are phenomenal as driving forces of the show; the Godfathers of this whole family. I see them as the 2 dads of my AMERICAN CRIME family. And when I say family, it includes the pre-production crew, the production crew, and the post-production crew. I’m learning everything I can from every AMERICAN CRIME family member. Listen, it takes a Village to raise an AMERICAN CRIME… season.
If there were one role you would like to revisit, which would it be and why?
Mickaëlle: One of the roles I played was that of fetal abductor Veronica Deramous. She was sentenced to 25 years in prison for kidnapping a young pregnant homeless woman and attempting to steal the baby out of her womb. I would like to revisit that one because I feel as though I could have done a better job. I like realness and truth in my portrayals. I feel some scenes felt extremely “à fleur de peau”, as in the emotions where right there, oozing out of my skin from the pit of my being; others were like “hmmmm”, not quite as emotionally palpable. It was for a reenactment show and I would be interested in replaying her for a “regular” show; or better yet, for a show that’s in the realm of AMERICAN CRIME… with that same level of authenticity. When I auditioned I did a lot of research on fetal abduction. My intention was also to get in touch with Veronica at the prison where she lives so that I could get a better feel of her. But at first I didn’t get the role and then by the grace of the Universe, which apparently rearranged itself, I got it. By that time it was super late at night and I think I had to be on set the next day or the day after. Even if it’s not me playing Veronica the second time around, I would love to see the story altermade (Ha! “to altermake”: to make in a different way. We can take this whole using “alter” in neologisms very far); starting by going deeper into both the perpetrator’s mind and the victim’s min.
You seem to take on roles that are very challenging. Do any of your characters and the situations they find themselves in ever leave a lasting impression on you?
Mickaëlle: Oh yes. I still think about Teka Adams, the woman that Veronica Deramous kidnapped and on whom she attempted the fetal abduction. The good news is Teka and her baby Miracle Sky, are alive and doing well, which is rare in fetal abduction cases. Now, that you’re asking me this question, I wonder if Veronica Deramous got help in prison. Before now, right now, when I thought of her, I always pictured her behind bars and that’s it. Now, you have me wondering, “Is she getting help? Is she getting ‘fixed’? Does she regret what she’s done?” I hope so because we don’t want her to get out one day and try the same thing again. Teka is the one I google from time to time. Her face and her daughter’s face are forever imprinted on my mind for some reason. If I ever saw them walking down the street I would recognize them right away and go talk to them! Veronica? Let me google her real quick, her face is blurry in my mind.
Has there been any great advice you have gotten? What advice would you offer to other upcoming and aspiring actors?
Mickaëlle: At an AMERICAN CRIME event in Atlanta, I was having a casual conversation with Benito Martinez about life, the industry, we were just chatting. At some point, I think we were talking about how to handle yourself when you reach a certain level of success and he said, “you can’t believe your own hype”; not “you” as in “me” but as in people in general. At first I thought “What?! Really? Nah, I have to believe my own hype, I have to be my biggest cheerleader, I have to believe that I am going to accomplish great things!” Growing up with no self-esteem and having worked on it for years to get to the point where I know and am comfortable enough with who I am, I didn’t get what he was saying on the spot. But I remembered to shut up (not right away but fast enough). I listened. Later I pondered on it then and I started seeing what he was saying completely differently (I started “alterseeing” what he was saying). It didn’t happen that day. It didn’t happen that week. It happened maybe a couple of weeks later as I’m navigating this new level of the industry and making conscious efforts not to get a “big head” by keeping my ego in check. It just dawned on me like “Oooooh, I get what Benito was saying…” I think what he was trying to say is simple yet crucial. He was saying, “Stay humble.” I see how easy it could be to develop a feeling of superiority, entitlement, and take your self-appreciation too far in this industry. You can still believe in yourself whole-heartedly, be assertive, have big dreams, go for what you want, AND stay humble at the same time. I think Benito’s “You can’t believe your own hype“ statement means “Stay humble”. I love that. Simple; yet crucial. “Stay humble”. Thanks, Benito.
Do you have any other upcoming projects that you can share that fans should keep an eye out for?
Mickaëlle: Nothing that’s “physically” concrete; as in the pen that holds the ink that’s supposed to be drying on some piece of paper somewhere… isn’t even bought yet. I am writing. I have solid ideas. There are four that give me major butterflies; 2 shows and 2 movies. Some of them have been developing in my mind for more than a decade; they swooshed through my cortex when I was still living in Boston and working as a high school teacher, and a waitress, and an au pair, and a hair-braider. Others are more recent. In my head, some of the roles are already cast. I definitely want to find a way to develop those projects but I want to learn much, much more before anything starts unfolding and materializing (Although I have a feeling that materialization has already started; even though it’s not visible. It’s probably in the womb of the Universe). Then again, if people that I already know, trust and that I’ve worked with (or the “right” people) are interested; let’s go buy that pen. As far as acting; I am in talks on some amazing projects.
At a time when women’s voices are rising to be heard and respected around the country and world, what do you recommend your fans do to lend support in that endeavor?
Mickaëlle: I feel that everybody has their own way of lending support and making an impact. Some people like to march peacefully; some people use art as a way to express themselves and trigger something in others (as AMERICAN CRIME does), some are good at influencing others via their behavior and how they live their lives. I’d rather let people choose their mean of support. Me, I have a mom, a dad, a sister, a brother, four nieces, one nephew, cousins, aunts, students, friends, my American family, and now the fans of AMERICAN CRIME, etc… I’m aware that they’re watching me. All I can do is be the best me possible as a woman but also as a human-being, and most importantly, as a spiritual being (spiritual as in “soul”, not religion). Although I’m not responsible for the behavior of others and I’m not perfect, being aware that people are watching, especially my immediate family and my students definitely gives me that extra motivation to be successful and go for what I desire without hurting anybody in the process. I’m still gonna do what I wanna do though, okay? I will finish by saying this: I’m also on the other side watching women do what they do at this amazing time in “Women’s History”. ABC is the home of AMERICAN CRIME. The president of ABC Entertainment Group is Channing Dungey. Season 3 of AMERICAN CRIME has 8 episodes. 6 out of the 8 episodes were directed by women. BOOM! “Drops The Mic”. Thank you for coming.
To see more of Mickaëlle’s fine work, be sure to tune in for all new episodes of AMERICAN CRIME on Sunday nights at 10:00 p.m. on ABC. Then also be sure to follow Mickaëlle X. Bizet on social media to see where her career takes her next:
Facebook: Mickaëlle X. Bizet
Personal Hashtag: #TheFrenchBlackGirl