Monte-Carlo TV Festival celebrated its 60th anniversary. We sat down with Jimmy Jean Louis & Edi Gathegi to talk about their challenging careers, streaming services and representation of minorities in Hollywood.
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Jimmy, how would you describe your career from Haiti to Europe and then to Los Angeles?
It’s been fantastic because I didn’t know what I was doing. In Spain, I did theatre, and in Italy, I worked as a model. Then, I moved to the United States. All that moving around gave me enough material to play different characters.
It was not planned, mainly a search for something more exciting than what I was doing. It was an eagerness and motivation but with key meetings that were a turning point like meeting Nelson Mandela that solidified that I had something to offer in life.
And how was the meeting with Nelson Mandela like?
I was still modelling In South Africa back then, and for some reason, they wanted to introduce me to him. We spoke and we connected because he respects Haiti and the heroes of my island. By him doing that, he gave me value and a level of power to overcome the struggles of the entertainment industry. This small interaction is something I hold on to for the rest of my life.
And what advice would you give to an actor of colour who dreams of a global career?
Perseverance definitely, it’s not easy, but it’s possible! I wouldn’t know how I would advise myself even, but what I would say is be in harmony with your own desires and stick with it no matter what you want to do. Be true to yourself and don’t do things according to others. We can be guided, but we need to respect and honour what we truly want.
Finally, what are your thoughts about steaming services and their effect on the TV industry?
It’s a transitional time we are living in. Traditional TV is disappearing and streamers are taking over, and that’s why every studio is launching a platform. But things are still not clear, it seems like in the end, we would have a couple of strong streamers that will dominate the industry, just like back in the day with TV channels.
American actor Edi Gathegi carried on the conversation.
Edi you were supposed to be a professional athlete and then life led you to acting, tell us more?
Well, I broke my knee in university as I was playing basketball. It was the first time I experience physical injury and I got depressed. So, I wanted a class that lifts my energy and acting sounded fun. It was thrilling and the teacher said I recognize ability in you and suggested that I audition and choose acting as a major and pursue it professionally. The challenge was my father, who has 5 degrees from UC Berkeley and is a lawyer. I had to tell him I wanted to be an actor, I was terrified. When I went home, he said to me: “We knew this your whole life and were waiting for you to do it.” I got the blessing of my family and turned out they had an artistic bone, my father and mother had a passion for arts and they promised to have my back.
Your family’s blessing is important but the industry is still difficult?
Indeed, it beats you up, it tells you no over and over again. I wanted to quit several times in the early stages of my career and my parents said no. But I think it’s a human instinct, when you are dying your body fights to survive. When I think about quitting, I visualize the other options which won’t make me as happy as acting. Tomorrow is another day, and you can have a new outlook. If you stay, your chances to succeed are higher.
What about black representation in TV? And have you ever rejected a role because of the stereotypes?
From the very beginning, black people have been systematically removed from the cinema equations; either demonized or criminalized. Now is the time to include different stories and perspectives, like actors from Africa. We have so many stories that haven’t been supported because of the history of slavery, it’s now happening, but it should happen more and more.
As for rejecting stereotypical roles, I do that all the time. At the beginning of an actor’s career, you have to say yes to everything and play roles you don’t believe in, but with time you can become more selective and refuse culturally insensitive roles. A film that dismisses black identity I will either turn down or discuss with the writers to improve and educate them about black culture.
And do you think platforms like Netflix can help actors of colour?
Yes, these platforms can reach an even broader audience, it’s a good thing because people are watching and can hear different stories from across the world.