Mickaëlle X. Bizet

Mickaëlle X. Bizet was stealing scene after scene in the third season of “American Crime,” playing Clair Coates’ (Lilli Taylor) nanny. After the finale wrapped last Sunday, I talked with Mickaëlle about some of her favorite scenes to shoot, that final scene, and the takeaways from her character Gabrielle.

How did you get the part for season three of “American Crime”?

I got it the “regular” way. Kim Coleman (casting director extraordinaire) called me into audition, then I got a callback, and then I booked it.

What characteristics of yourself did you bring to the character? What was the most challenging part of tackling Gabrielle?

Well, the easiest answer to the first part of your question is that she’s a French-speaking woman of African and Caribbean descent (in other words we’re both black women who speak French and creole). Gabrielle and I also both came to the US to be nannies to American families. I moved to Boston from France to be an au pair to two little Bostonian girls, Daryn and Sydney Howland. That whole family, the Howland/Nethersole, they’re still in my life by the way. They’re amazing. They’re my American family.

Challenges? I didn’t really see any challenges. Not because “I’m all that” or because there weren’t any, it’s just that I didn’t give myself time to even think about things like challenges. I was so happy and grateful to have gotten a part on the critically acclaimed “American Crime” that I just wanted to do really, really well. That was my only focus. So I just focused on that: doing the best job I could for the show, for the story. It was like I got the chance to go to Yale so I was determined to do my very best and not blow it. I didn’t think “Oh my God, they want me to break down crying!?!?!” It was more like “Okay, gotta break down crying. It’s gotta be real. Let’s prep.” And you know, everybody is very serious about what they do on “American Crime,” and it’s contagious.

What was it like with working with so closely with Timothy Hutton and Lili Taylor? What was your interaction like with the rest of the cast?

Most of my interactions were with Lili, Tim, and Aidan Wallace (the little boy who played their son). On set my interactions with Lili were distant in a healthy and very necessary way. Because of the nature of Clair and Gabrielle’s relationship and because of how we both work, there wasn’t much room or need for kikiing. Maybe if we played best friends it would have made sense for us to hang out and braid each other ‘s hair, but not in this case; she played my abuser. Working with Lili Taylor was priceless. For an actress like me, new to this level of the industry, working with Lili and Tim was sincerely an education I could never put a price on. Lili is super focused and I absolutely love that about her. She has a funny side too. She would say something real quick and make us giggle but then it’s right back to 100 percent concentration and focus. I loved watching her work from a distance. She’s so excellent at what she does that by just observing her and even just being around her, I learned SO much. Tim too, I mean, everybody already knows that those two are high quality, it’s just that I feel so incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to work and learn from them. And if that wasn’t good enough, I got to watch Regina King work from a distance – that was awesome! And there’s Felicity Huffman, Cherry Jones, Tim DeKay, Janel Moloney, Connor Jessup, and there’s my favorite Richard Cabral, Dallas Roberts. I mean, all of them, it’s crazy. I’m very grateful.

Despite your character’s unfortunate circumstances, was there a scene you wanted to record over and over? On the same note, was there one that you dreaded doing?

Oh wow, that’s a great question. I was so down for whatever that I was ready to do 100 takes for every scene if it meant getting what they wanted. Actors would do just about anything for John Ridley and Michael McDonald, that’s how dope they are! But the first scene that comes to mind as far as scenes I loved is the hospital scene in episode 308, the one that opens the episode. Oh my goodness, that scene (written by Julie Hébert and directed by Jessica Yu). Oh my God, I will forever be connected to these two ladies because of that scene. I barely say anything it. It’s my favorite of all Gabrielle’s scenes and it is now my favorite of all my scenes, as an actress. And mind you, I wasn’t expecting this scene to be my favorite scene. I thought the crying scene before Gabrielle escapes would be. I was super excited to shoot that last hospital bed scene because Gabrielle is all drugged up, out of it, like, is she in a regular hospital? Is she in a psychiatric hospital? Is she really hurting herself? Does she really have mental issues? And oh wow, let’s not forget that she’s by herself in this country. It’s not looking good for her, huh? Is going to jail? All of that and she is still trying to stand up for herself. As far as acting work, it’s delicious stuff. But it’s when Jessica gave me a certain direction that something clicked with all of us on set I think. When they called cut on that take we literally all went “Oooooooh woooowww,” it was very weird, like we had hit something so yummy in the art of it all.

Now, was there a scene that I dreaded doing? Hmm, I’m going to humor you for a second and think about it but I don’t think there was. Hold on. Yeah, nope. I didn’t dread any of them. I felt so honored and grateful to have the opportunity to work on such a quality show with a top-notch cast and crew that I would have done anything for “American Crime” and love every second of it. And I did.

Oh wait, the scene in the police car! That’s a great one too (episode 307). I couldn’t wait to shoot that scene. I couldn’t wait to shoot everything in 307 as a matter of fact! Kirk Moore’s episode, 307! But the police car scene, we did it many different ways, I was loving it. They had me do so many different emotions that I was super curious to see what they would choose. I was literally kicking and screaming at the top of my lungs and banging my head against the seats for some of the takes. I had a feeling that they would choose the one they chose though. It felt right, it felt authentic. Geez, there’s also the standoff between Nicholas Coates and Gabrielle. Oh that was great. Shooting an intense moment with Tim Hutton and Gabrielle standing up to that big mean man… unforgettable. Ok, let me stop, too much goodness in “American Crime.”

Is there anyone’s storyline that you wished had crossed over with Gabrielle’s?

Well, Kimara would probably be the one who would make more sense, right? She’s a social worker. Although domestic workers’ abuse and Gabrielle’s type of labor trafficking isn’t her field, she maybe could have referred Gabrielle to someone. But that’s too fairytale like for “American Crime.” If Gabrielle’s storyline would have crossed with Kimara’s, it probably would have been because Gabrielle would have escaped (without Nicky) and found herself on the streets with no money and doesn’t speak the language, so she would have ended getting caught up in sex-trafficking. OR she would have come across the new recruiter of the Hesby Farm (now that Isaac is dead) and ended up working on the farm.

Focusing on the finale, what was going through your head as the episode was unfolding on the television screen, especially the final scene with everyone in the courtroom?

I cried. Among many other things, I thought about all the real life Gabrielles who are still struggling even after having been rescued. And I thought about the ones that are still stuck in those situations, the ones that might never get justice.

I thought about the National Domestic Workers Alliance and all the work they do. Yeah, I cried.

I cried a lot watching season three. I don’t know, maybe because I’m an immigrant. Maybe because when I see Teo, Shae, Dustin, I see my students. Or when I see Kimara, giving her life for those kids, I think about all the teachers I know and how I felt when I was a teacher too. And Clair and Nick’s marriage, oh my God, so painful to watch. I mean I’m crying writing this. “American Crime” makes you feel so hard, so deeply for people, for humanity, you know? The fact that we all ended up in the same courtroom where you’re supposed to get “justice for all,” but well, you know.

Looking back at the entire season, what do you hope viewers (and yourself) took away from the experience?

Well, there’s a lot to take away. I don’t think “American Crime” teaches lessons and tells you what to do or think though. The show sheds light on issues and makes you think about them and sometimes helps you think and feel differently about them. I feel that we really need to treat each other better, as human beings, as souls, instead of treating each other as we are conditioned to think we’re supposed to treat the “labels” we put on each other. It’s really a matter of human rights. As far as Gabrielle’s story, I hope that more people are aware of what’s happening with domestic workers: the psychological abuse, the physical abuse, the sexual abuse, the intimidation, the threats, the isolation, the withholding of passports, etc… it’s real. It’s happening in real life, in our backyards. I invited a human trafficking survivor to our FYC Emmy event at the Television Academy a week ago. I mean, she was right there, in the flesh, standing next to me. Her passport got taken away, she wasn’t allowed to go outside, she wasn’t given any money… she’s real. I still get messages from survivors.

What’s next for you? What projects are you taking on?

Nothing is set in stone yet but hopefully I’ll be able to make an official announcement soon. All I can say is that there’s more TV coming my way… so stay tuned… oh and when I say TV, I mean “shows,” you know? You could be binging on me on Netflix soon, who knows? He he!

If you were picking the theme for next season of “American Crime,” what theme(s) would you like to see the cast and crew take on?

Well, I’ve heard the theme for season four would be “Women In The Workplace” which sounds fantastic to me!

Check out a few clips featuring Mickaëlle from this season of “American Crime”!

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