The new hit drama, Blindspot, tells the story of a beautiful woman with no memories of her past, found naked in Times Square with her body fully covered in intricate tattoos. Her discovery sets off a vast and complex mystery that immediately ignites the attention of the FBI, which begins to follow the road map on her body into a larger conspiracy of crime, while bringing her closer to discovering the truth about her identity.
The cast includes Sullivan Stapleton (“300: Rise of an Empire,” “Strike Back”), Jaimie Alexander (“Thor: The Dark World,” “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”), Marianne Jean-Baptiste (“Broadchurch,” “Without a Trace”), Rob Brown (“Treme”), Audrey Esparza (“Black Box”), Ukweli Roach (“The Royals”) and Ashley Johnson (“Much Ado About Nothing”).
Blindspot is a production of Warner Bros. Television and Berlanti Productions
Recently, I spoke with Marianne Jean-Baptiste about her role on Blindspot and the dynamic career path she’s on–
Sandra Varner/Talk2SV: Your introduction to us happened in a very big way, the critically acclaimed feature film, Secrets & Lies (1996), one of my all-time favorite films, ever. It is the story of a successful optometrist, adopted at birth, who goes in search for her biological mother. What she finds is a white birth mom, initially in denial, ashamed but repentant. Their relationship is a journey of forgiveness and acceptance. How does that film rate among everything you’ve done and are known for?
Marianne Jean-Baptiste (MJB): Oh, it’s up there very high with some of the best experiences I’ve had to date, actually. I mean, it’s a very special project that reached and touched a lot of people; it just feels great to be involved in something like that film; to do what it did was phenomenal. We made this little film in England, not suspecting that it would reach as many people and do as well as it did.
Talk2SV: Well, it did and the enduring quality of Secrets & Lies is noteworthy. Switching gears, the TV cop drama is ever enduring among perennial viewers, were you a fan of such shows growing up in England?
MJ-B: Yeah, I used to watch NYPD Blue when I was a kid in London and I loved it, I loved Cagney & Lacey. I have such a broad taste in the things I do like but it is something I go back to often–the mystery, catching the perpetrator of whatever crime it is so I’d say yeah, I am a fan of that genre.
Talk2SV: Americans’ fascination with Brits is also endearing. What were your thoughts about Americans prior to becoming a part of the entertainment landscape here in the U.S.?
MJ-B: Growing up, I always found shows like NYPD Blue, Cagney & Lacey and Taxi, were very slick. At that time, there was something different from the sort of kitchen sink dramas we were making in England; they (US shows) had a pace to them and a sense of urgency that I enjoyed. I’d always admired American television and enjoyed what was on or offered to us in the U.K.
Talk2SV: I’m always curious when I talk to actors with accents, what is the secret that you employ, the technique you use when roles call for you to lose your accent?
MJ-B: I usually try to find an American equivalent to where my character is from; their economic background and so forth. It is as much about the movement of the character as anything else. People move differently in London; people move differently in Kansas versus New York City so that’s another element that I explore. Where is the character’s center? I listen to a lot of accents and decide if it’s somebody who has a particular accent but tries to hide it somewhat. If it’s someone that has been brought up in New York but lived on the west coast so the NYC accent isn’t as strong. There are a lot of elements that go into creating an accent and I enjoy it a great deal.
Talk2SV: In addition to acting, you are also a writer; a composer… music is very much a part of your existence. Does your musical side inform your ability as an actor and ability to emulate others?
MJ-B: Certainly I can identify totally with that assessment, and the placement of my voice whether it’s a chesty or a guttural sound; something at the back of the throat, whether it’s nasal or something else. I think that my love of acting comes from my love of music and rhythm.
Talk2SV: What would be a description of your musical side?
MJ-B: I’ve got very eclectic tastes. I love all genres of music and depending on where I am at that present moment, blues, jazz, classical, R&B–when it was R&B–it changes.
Talk2SV: The role for women in Hollywood is a very fluid debate, what say you about this discourse that we have time and again?
MJ-B: I think that a debate is necessary then there is an issue because we’re not talking about it if the playing field was level–there wouldn’t be a discussion. So I’m like, ‘let’s take action, let’s do something, let’s stop talking and do something about it.’
Talk2SV: In your own words describe Bethany Mayfair, your character on NBC’s Blindspot, and what the character means to you personally.
MJ-B: Bethany Mayfair represents a woman who has worked extremely hard to get into a position of power and what’s interesting about her is watching that struggle, the pressure and the weight that comes to bear with being in that position. Also interesting to me is a slight ambiguity; you’re not quite sure what side she’s on. There are no good and bad people or good and bad things so it’s interesting to explore a character and how they justify what it is that they do. I identify with her because she’s somebody who is very driven and invested in doing a good job. Interestingly I’m trying to explore her in a way that isn’t the stereotypical sort of character; that for me is also intriguing in how that manifests.
Marianne Jean-Baptiste received Academy Award, Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations for her feature-film debut in Mike Leigh’s “Secrets & Lies.” She recently co-starred on the hit ITV drama “Broadchurch,” playing a role written especially for her by the show’s writer and creator, Chris Chibnall. For seven years she co-starred on “Without a Trace,” for which she and her cast were nominated for a SAG Award, and was nominated for a NAACP Award for three years in a row. Other television credits include “Harry’s Law,” “Sons of Anarchy” and “Private Practice.”
Film credits include “Robocop,” opposite Joel Kinnaman and Samuel L. Jackson; “The Moment,” opposite Jennifer Jason Leigh; “Violet & Daisy,” opposite James Gandolfini and Saoirse Ronan; Fernando Meirelles’ “360,” opposite Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins and Rachel Weisz; “Spy Games,” opposite Robert Redford; and “Won’t Back Down,” opposite Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis.
A writer and composer, Jean-Baptiste wrote the score for Mike Leigh’s “Career Girls.” She has written and performed with British jazz musicians, including Jason Rebello, for whom she wrote and recorded four tracks on his album “Keeping Time.”
A graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Jean-Baptiste’s theater credits include “Hang,” “The Way of the World,” “Measure for Measure,” “The Winter’s Tale” and “The Merchant of Venice,” opposite Al Pacino.