Interview: Garcelle Beauvais on Dating Haitian Men, Black Men, and Passing on Haitian Culture
Garcelle Beauvais is the pride of the Haitian community, not because she’s an actress in Hollywood who happens to be Haitian, but because she’s a staple in Hollywood, who is perceived as clinging to Haitian values, even though she’s lived in Hollywood land for most of her life—but with her chin up in the air. The St. Marc native didn’t have it easy from the beginning. Her father Axel and her mother Marie-Claire divorced when she was a little girl. Not too long after, Marie-Claire moved to the United States—Massachusetts specifically—and one by one, she brought her kids with her (Garcelle has five brothers and two sisters).
Around the time she was 16, Garcelle’s family moved to Miami (her parents had reconciled, only to break up for good again). But with Garcelle’s gorgeous features and leggy figure, New York came calling on a gramophone, and she headed there and signed with Ford, one of the biggest modeling agencies in the world. She even got a few roles in movies (she’s one of the rose bearers in the classic comedy film Coming to America), and TV shows, and actually played a model on a short-lived television show about models, before striking gold as a star cast member on “The Jamie Foxx Show”. From then on, TV producers seem to always have her in mind, as she took on lead strong women roles in the early 2000’s detective show “NYPD Blue”, followed by “Eyes” and more recently “Franklin & Bash”. Currently, she has a role on “Psych”, and is pretty much one of the few television actresses who still remain relevant on TV today as when they first started. Many people don’t realize that at one point Garcelle was even a video girl! She played the leading lady in at least two music videos, “Down Low”, “Come with Me”, “Take me Home” with the singer R. Kelly, rapper-mogul Diddy and crooner Luther Vandross—in that order.
The movie arena was not to be neglected and it never was. Watch for her in theaters in November alongside Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle in the thriller Flight. She and fellow actor, and one-time costar Jamie Foxx, will be reuniting for White House Down, an action-thriller, currently in pre-production. The two actors are going to be lighting up the screen with their much-vaunted chemistry! Joel Surnow directed her in a movie called Small Time, set to be released next year.
But more than an actress, and career woman, Garcelle is a mom—mother to Oliver Saunders, her son from her first marriage to Daniel Sanders and her twins Jax Joseph Nilon and Jaid Thomas Nilon from her defunct marriage to Christopher Nilon. And don’t forget about business woman. Ms. Beauvais launched a children’s jewelry line Petit Bijou years ago, and is swiftly moving into the publishing arena. She is the author soon-to-be published books in a series of three: the first I am Mixed, inspired by the biracial heritage of her two youngest. The second book will be a children’s book about co-parenting after divorce; the subject of the third has not yet been released to the press.
Throughout her life, Garcelle has emphasized the resilience of her nurse mom—whose death in 2008 at age 80—left Garcelle understandably devastated. Her father died in 1990, seeing only a glimpse of his daughter’s success (he had actually been opposed the idea of her going to New York to launch her modeling career).
So on a Friday, when the folks on the East Coast are well into their day, Garcelle has just dropped off her twin boys at school. She’s having coffee at her home in California, during what she calls some “alone me time”. She sounds like a perky receptionist throughout our phone conversation, as she talks about her sons, Haiti, Haitian men, her career and the dating scene–and Eyes to See, the most personal movie project she’s done so far.
Kreyolicious: Of course, I’d like to start off and discuss this movie. It’s now on DVD. It’s called Eyes to See. This is basically the first Haiti-themed movie you’ve done. How did you get approached about playing this role of Marie in this movie? My manager got a call from the production company, and she read it, and she called me and said, “I think this is something you’re going to want to do.” By the time I finished reading it, I was like, “You’re absolutely right.” I just loved the story. I thought, “You know what? We should keep Haiti at the forefront of everybody’s mind.” I loved the relationship between Marie and the other characters. I thought it was really profound. I wanted to do something that represented what was going on at the time.
Kreyolicious: This movie was partly filmed in Haiti, correct? The exteriors and some of the other shots were shot in Haiti. The others were shot in L.A.
Kreyolicious: Your mother’s name was Marie-Claire. Yeah! In reading this script, there were so many things that I connected with. The name of the character was very, very surreal to me. Obviously I connected with the Haitian part, being Haitian and having a Haitian background. The name of the character. Great timing. Great script. And when I met with the director David [de Vos], I felt that he was someone who was passionate and compassionate for Haiti and he represented it the right way.
Kreyolicious: Speaking of representation, the character Ray in the movie is a camera man, who had to go from behind the scenes. At one point, he has to decide between capturing—getting a good story—and saving a life. In terms of how Haiti has been portrayed in the media, what are your thoughts? I think we’re still a work in progress. I think things have changed so much from my teenage years, from when I started modeling. Whenever you said, “I’m Haitian”, people immediately thought of AIDS, poverty. I think we’ve come a long way in the sense that people don’t think of us like that anymore. We’re thought of being intelligent, proud and honest people. I think there’s a whole lot more to be accomplished.
Kreyolicious: After Eyes to See, are you going to become involved in other Haitian-themed projects? If it’s presented to me, yeah, I’m definitely open. Absolutely. If it’s a good script. I think Eyes to See was—at the time of the earthquake—such a passionate story. I felt that it was going to be done well, and like I said, I wanted to tell people to people not forget about Haiti—with the other disasters going on. It was a way of doing something that would last, and hopefully tell people not to forget.
Kreyolicious: When you play a character on TV, do you sometimes feel some kind of obligation to have your character be Haitian? No. I mean I don’t have a say in that. It’s whoever writes the script. I feel for me, as a Haitian actress, I’ve always been careful about the roles I play. I try to pick roles that are not demeaning. I try to pick roles that are non-degrading. Roles that are not gonna set us back. Not only am I Haitian, but I’m a mom. I don’t feel that I should do anything that will take us step backwards. All the characters that I’ve played have been honest—not necessarily good people—but positive roles.
Kreyolicious: I’m wondering if you feel any type of pressure as being “The Haitian Actress”. I remember this girl saying that you were hosting some Haitian event some years ago, and some in the crowd asked you to speak a little Creole and you refused. She kinda took offense. Do you ever feel like— I speak Creole all the time. Anywhere, I’m at. At an event. At Haitian gatherings. I don’t believe that story to be true. People are always surprised that I speak Creole. But I’m always like, why would I not speak Creole. I am Haitian.
No, no. The thing that I wanted to bring out from that—sometimes people see you. They expect so much from you. Do you ever feel like you have to be everything to everyone? Haitians expect so much from you. I think I expect so much more of myself. I can be pretty tough on myself. It’s part of the job. I think when people see you, they expect you to look like you’re happy all the time. We’re just like everybody else. There are good days, and there are bad days. Frustrations. I always put my best foot forward, especially if I’m representing a brand, or something at an event. I’m one of the people who talk everybody, sign autographs, and will take as many pictures. My fans make me what I am. If you’re ever anywhere I’m at, you’re like, “How do you do it?” That’s part of the job. I feel that if If I’m not gracious, take pictures, not signing autographs, then I’m not doing my part. If I’m at an event, I know what people expect. Some actresses will stay behind the ropes, and not want to take pictures, not talk to anybody. I’m usually that person who goes way beyond the fact of what I’m supposed to be there and used for; and I feel like, this is who I am.
Kreyolicious: You’re the most well-known Haitian actress in Hollywood. At one point, you weren’t the only one, and actually there were some that started before you—that no one knew were Haitian. But you’ve always been—in your interviews, bio and everything—-you’ve always been forefront about being Haitian. What is the difference between you and these other ladies? I can’t speak for them. But for me, I was always taught to be proud. I never shy from that. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t be proud of where you’re from. For me, there was never a shame. There was never a, “Oh my God. I can’t say that I’m from Haiti.” It’s like I’m proud that I am from Haiti. Everything about me—good and bad—made me who I am. No regrets. No shame. It’s part of my makeup. And I’m proud of it. If you come to my house, as soon as you walk in the door, I have a Haitian vodun flag, a vodun king, kids wearing uniforms in Haiti.
Kreyolicious: Back when you started, there was this negative stigma with being Haitian. How did you navigate through that? You know what? It was never in my home. My mom toujou di, “Fò’w fyè”. You should be proud. I think you get that stuff if you’re taught that stuff. It wasn’t in our home. I never thought of it. It never crossed my mind. We were always proud. Haitian dishes. Matter of fact, I had some friends over the other day, and I told them, “The next time you come, I’m cooking a Haitian dish.” I never took it upon myself—that negativity—was part of who I am.
Kreyolicious: Some people are wondering…would Garcelle date a Haitian man? Um. [Tremendous laughter] I am open to dating a good man, so whatever forms he comes in, then great. I would have to date a Haitian man who’s more Americanized. A traditional Haitian man would probably not go for the way my life is…in terms of what I do. I’m only speaking of that in terms of my sisters’ husbands. I’m open to all nationalities. It would actually be fun to date somebody Haitian. We can speak in Creole. He’d understand my background and culture. Yeah, I’m totally open.
Kreyolicious: You never had a Haitian boyfriend or anything like that? I did, I did; I did. Back in the days when I was younger, I did.
Kreyolicious: You said you had a Haitian boyfriend before. Was it something about them that turned you off to marriage? No, no. I never dated—I was so young then. It wasn’t about getting married. We were just dating. I haven’t yet met a Haitian man who’s asked asked me out. [Laughter]
Kreyolicious: Say for example, say a Haitian man who wants to romance Garcelle… Have fun, I think. [Long stream of laughter]. Great dinners and nights, you know. Someone who’s honest and fun. Who loves God too.
Kreyolicious: Can it be anybody, career-wise? Like a carpenter? A blue-collar worker? Yeah. [Laughs] Well, yeah. I’m not, you know, he has to have six figures; you have to have to have this and that. I’m looking for somebody who’s fun, loving, honest. It doesn’t matter what he does.
Kreyolicious: God, I hope this doesn’t come out wrong. Has the fact that you’ve dated two men who were outside your culture and “race”, made you more open to dating a black man? I’ve always been open to dating black men. Oliver’s dad is black. I’m not opposed to it. It’s that the right people have to approach me. I love who loves me; I love who comes to me. I’m accessible to everybody. I’m receptive to everybody. I can’t just go out and look for only one type of man. Life is tough enough. I love who loves me; who approaches me.
Kreyolicious: Right now, there’s this big tourism movement. And your family being from St. Marc—are you involved in anything at the moment that would bring that city to the forefront? Not at the moment. My sisters and I are trying to come up with something that we can do. We’re in the process of figuring this out now.
Kreyolicious: Do you ever think about moving to Haiti someday, starting a business there, staying there on a permanent basis? I can’t move to Haiti because of my kids, because of my divorce. They have to be close to their dad. That’s not even—I can’t entertain that. Plus my career is in the United States. Maybe someday. Maybe I’ll start an organization. But my life is here. My kids are here.
Kreyolicious: Now in terms of your kids….do you teach them Creole? They know some. Oliver knows some. Jaid is much more interested in learning. Jaxson has no interest. He only wants to play. They know certain words. Sometimes, they’ll do something; I’ll get frustrated. I start speaking Creole. I’ll crack them up, and they’ll know what I mean.
Kreyolicious: Have you ever taken your kids to Haiti? No, no, no, not yet. When the earthquake happened, the boys were too young. The next time I come, Oliver’s definitely coming with me.
Kreyolicious: Do you have a good relationship with Oliver. We have a great relationship. He’s a young man who’s trying to find his way. He tells me everything, to a fault. [Laughs]
Kreyolicious: If you could give advice to all the girls out there about love, relationships, and marriage, what would you say? First of all, I would say, be true to you. I don’t think you should have to give up part of you just to be with somebody else. I think it’s important if you can start with self-love. Loving yourself, you will not allow other people to hurt you unnecessarily. Love yourself. Have boundaries for yourself [so] that you won’t let anybody hurt you. I think that it’s also finding a good person, who has the same morals, the same goals with you. Relationships are tough no matter what. If you have somebody who has a lot in common with you, that’s half the battle. Obviously, I don’t know. I have two divorces. I’m not an expert. I think self-love is where you can start off with.
Kreyolicious: You and your mom were so close. She raised you and your siblings by herself. What are some of the things you learned from her about life, love, and marriage. I definitely learned strength from her. Being a strong Haitian woman. Having integrity. My mom was working—she was trying to take care of us. And I just feel like I didn’t see a working relationship between a man and a woman. So that’s what I aspire to do with my kids.
Are you saying that you and your mom didn’t get along? No, no, no. I loved my mom. We got along great. I’m saying in terms, of seeing her as a role model with a man in a healthy relationship.
Kreyolicious: You think that’s had an effect on you and your own relationships? I think everything a parent does affects us. It’s the way we do things. We’re all on our journey. I try to figure it all out. Doing a lot of self-work. Figuring out myself so that I can have a wonderful, healthy relationship with a man. That’s what I’m saying.
Kreyolicious: How did it feel to be reuniting with your old co-star Jamie Foxx. Yeah, it’s going to be fun. I was just in Montreal. We had a photo shoot. We had to do photos—all the stuff for the set. He’s playing the president and I’m the First Lady. He was great. He’s like a brother to me. Being on the set with him was like old times. It’s like time never passed. I love that man.