Paul Sarkis / NBC

Blindspot Star Marianne Jean-Baptiste Is Not Cool With Colorblind Casting

She'd like to see some people on TV who aren't so pretty, too.

Our Players

Hello, I'm Previously.TV Contributor Liane Bonin Starr.
Hello, I'm Blindspot star Marianne Jean-Baptiste.

The Talk

After I stop geeking out about Broadchurch, talk to me about Blindspot. Why do another U.S. series after seven seasons of Without A Trace?

The character I play [on Blindspot] -- Bethany Mayfair, the assistant head of the FBI -- is flawed. She's interesting. What appealed to me about the whole project was, speaking to the creator and the producers, they're trying to do something that's a bit more complex that's procedural, but deals with character and goes into more of the complexities of the people going out. So far, we work way ahead. But it's almost like a mystery. They've got the procedural thing, but there is a mystery that's quite different, in that they take time to explore the characters.

So, we'll see more of Bethany's life away from work?

Yeah, it is outside of her solving crime, but I think it's also about a job that's all-encompassing, and trying to work out what makes that person tick. Why is she the way that she is? What is her blind spot, see what I'm saying?

This is a pretty novel concept for a series. Was that also a draw?

There are a number of reasons. Look, I love theater, and for the last couple years I've been in London doing theater. For me, what interests me is the writing. I find it very interesting and very compelling; I think [series creator Martin Gero is] extremely clever and talented. The premise of the show always fascinated me. I read the pilot and it kept me reading. Whether it goes 7 episodes or 700 episodes, we don't know. But from what I read, I'm interested in the journey and being on board and seeing where this thing goes. I think when you get into this, you've got to be able to assess the people that you're working with, the people in charge, the people that are creating and assess whether their hearts are in the right place and your visions align for what you like, your taste in things. We have similar likes.

Is that the secret to choosing a project? Similar likes?

I think so. And life. I'm 48, you know what I mean? I think by now I should be a good judge of character. To be able to assess something and to see whether it's for me or whether it's not, and to be able to accept if it's not.

On television, we've seen a lot of you as a cop or an FBI agent or some permutation thereof. How have the offers changed over the years?

People are essentially quite lazy. Society's made them that way. We get things like this [waving toward the crowd at a TCA press tour party]. We don't work for them. You don't go to a library and reference six or seven books. You Google, and it's all up there. I think that people say, "We want a role that's this and that, that person can do it. Let's go to that person." But that's the society we live in.

You're a catch, though. Getting an Oscar nominee with your track record gives a project an instant boost, I'd think.

There's a certain amount of cachet because of my history with Mike Leigh, my history with theater, the Academy Award nomination and all that sort of stuff. But I think people have to have their game. You have to come up with the goods as well. Because I'm not just going to be able to say, "This is credible." People are going to look at me and say, "Okay, she's great, but where's the story?"

Do you think everything shifted for you after the Oscar nod?

Of course they changed. I don't know if they've changed in the way people's perception of that would be. It's certainly opened up a world of, not necessarily quality, but opportunity that would not have been afforded me if I had not been nominated. It's certainly opened up the world, and the U.S.

Do you feel that TV is moving toward colorblind casting? We have a lot more diversity this season.

I don't like the term. You need to see my color and accept it. Don't say, "I don't see color" -- see it! Embrace the difference. We don't all look the same. I'm interested in how different people look. I'm interested in different cultures, different languages. I'm into a Scandinavian drama at the moment. I'm hooked on all that stuff. That's very white. It fascinated me and I'm fascinated by the language, because it's very different. I don't think I'm unique. I think there are other people who are tired of seeing the same thing and want to see real places. Why do you have to be colorblind? Why can't you go, "That guy looks like an American but it doesn't matter"?

Do you think there's been any effort here in the U.S. to create characters with that kind of nuance? Or do we not go that deep?

I don't know. To be quite honest with you, I don't know that that's what people are thinking about. Every time somebody does it, they tell you about it, which I think tells you something about that. I'd like to see unattractive, traditionally unattractive, people. I'd like to see people of different sizes and shapes. That's what I love about the Scandi stuff. You certainly see people where you think, "That person's not ugly, they're just different." They don't look like their teeth are all straight and their nose is in the right place. You just see people, you know?

Did you ever feel like you needed to fit into a rigid type?

No. Coming from the theater, you disguised yourself constantly. You didn't want people to recognize you, because that meant you'd failed in some way. You wanted them to say that person is so different from me -- nobody would ever recognize me.

So, where are you based now?

I'm based in Los Angeles, but we're filming in New York.

How do you like L.A.?

I love this space. It's grown on me. I love the space, I love feeling that you can spread out. I love the sunshine and the optimism. The weather's great.

A lot of perfect people, though.

But you've got to remember, this is hippie haven. A lot of people forget that. This is the land of communes and organic food. I saw a documentary, The Source Family, the other day. It's a great documentary, but it's just interesting about the history of L.A. It reminds you, oh yeah, that happened here. There was all that free love. People say to me, "How can you live in Hollywood?" And I say, I don't live in Hollywood. Hollywood is about that big. There's the rest of L.A. -- Ladera Heights, Watts, Compton, Venice, Cheviot Hills. There are so many areas. It's huge. Hollywood is that small. If that's what you're into, you want to hang around that, that's great. But there's a culture of East L.A., go down there and you won't hear English. Not a lick. Then go down further into Chinatown, not a lick of English. I love that. You get in your car, drive down there, and there are these markets. Fresh fish. I love to cook. Crab! I call Whole Foods Whole Paycheck. And there's Mitsuwa [Marketplace]. I love that place. There are a lot of great things.

All of that is hard to remember that when we're standing here at Spago.

We can't say we don't feel blessed, because we're here at Spago and I've not paid for a drink. I've not paid for anything to eat.

So, is there any hint you can give me for what's coming up on Blindspot?

I can't say anything, nosiree bob. They might kill me in a couple of episodes. You don't know. It might be a Game Of Thrones situation. You never know. But I think Martin [Gero] is so clever. He really sets up stuff. One minute you think, "Okay, this is what it is." And then bang! It's not. What's really frustrating about this is you can't say a lot. Because there is that intrigue.

What about Sharon Bishop coming back to Broadchurch?

Well, she's not going to get an apartment in Broadchurch. You might see her. She might visit.

Discussion

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