Imagine finding out that your best friend in the whole world and the man that you just started falling for, used to be a white supremacist (um “you” are Black by the way). With NBC’s Midnight Texas being a show unafraid to “go there”, that is precisely the predicament its writers recently put its main character Fiji, in. The parallels between storyline and actual social conditions are not lost on the actress who plays Fiji. She says,”It was very interesting to shoot our storyline thinking about how the outside world was mirroring some of the things that we were doing in our story.” Midnight Texas is the second television show based on a book series by Charlaine Harris. Harris also wrote the True Blood novels upon which the 2008-2014 HBO series was based. Midnight Texas straddles fantasy and horror to highlight the relationships between the residents of the fictional town of Midnight and their efforts to combat the evil that constantly threatens to destroy the town and its denizens. “I think is very gratifying to act the storyline that they have created for me,” The actress says, “In particular to do that in the current social atmosphere that we are living in, where race and diversity and justice are coming up so prominently in everyday conversation with all people in this country. It is incredibly empowering and exciting to play a character who fits into a community that’s trying to live out these things in its own way.”
Good witch Fiji Cavanaugh, along with her adorable cat Mr. Snuggles, is the heart and soul of Midnight; a dusty yet quaint burb inhabited by a panoply of courageous supernatural oddballs. No other town would have them, so they protect Midnight with a desperate ferocity and always have each other’s backs. Fiji is played by bi-racial actress Parisa Fitz-Henley in what is turning into something of a television and film convention of women of color playing witches. A tradition begun by the legendary Lena Horne (The Wiz) and continued most recently by actresses such as Rachel True (The Craft) Bianca Lawson (The Vampire Diaries, Queen Sugar) Naomie Harris (Pirates of the Caribbean), Gabourey Sidibe (American Horror Story), and Kat Graham (The Vampire Diaries, All Eyez on Me). Fans may also recognize Fitz-Henley for her former role as Reva Connors on Netflix’ Luke Cage and Jessica Jones and will appear in Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience later this year.
Fitz-Henley was raised in a tiny hamlet in Florida. The actress describes it as, “A tiny city inside of the city of St. Petersburg, Fla. called Gulfport, that has its own mayor and its own police department but is very very small, like five minutes across to drive it. Often I’ll tell people St. Petersburg because no one ever knows Gulfport.” She remembers it as being a place with “neighborhoods very close together but not super interactive. Once people passed school age, I don’t remember a lot of mixing between communities, even in such a small town. But then I moved to New York when I was nineteen. I moved to Brooklyn at first and of course, there were West Indians everywhere.” Fitz-Henley also spent portions of her childhood living in Jamaica and went to all girls St. Andrews in Jamaica for her last two years of high school.
The former model literally stumbled into acting. Upon emerging from a restroom where she had stopped before heading home from a modeling casting, she was told that she had actually wandered onto a film set. She recalls, “I accidentally walked onto a film set and when I came out of the ladies room they let me know that they had forgotten to hire a day player that day and they needed a woman to play someone’s girlfriend.” Serendipitously, Fitz-Henley physically fit the role which was basically a walk-on. It was a turning point for her. “It was like one of those lightbulb moments when I just thought, this is what I want to do.” At the time shuttling back and forth between New York City and Jamaica, she began to study acting in Jamaica.
The role of Fiji came about in something of a whirlwind. In New York, at the time, she got the call for the audition she says, “at maybe six o’clock on a Friday evening and I was not expecting that at all.” The audition was the next morning in NBC’s New York City offices. By the following Monday, she was in Albuquerque, New Mexico playing the role of Fiji. Fitz-Henley was not altogether surprised, however. A woman with a strong sense of spirituality, she, “felt like something special was happening from that very moment my agent called.” The feeling only got stronger the more she learned about the project. Monica Owusu-Breen, one of the few women of color who are television showrunners, was creator of Midnight, Texas and had previously worked on shows that Fitz-Henley deeply admired and enjoyed. She was also increasingly moved by the character of Fiji. “I just went very much with my intuition and my heart with this project from the very beginning and that did carry through.” She says, “It served me well on this project. I felt like Fiji when I went into the room for the audition. I was like, I know it’s me. I felt it in my heart not in my head. I felt, they may not choose me but I’m this character.”
New episodes of “Midnight Texas” air Mondays at 10 PM ON NBC and episodes are available on Hulu and NBC’s website and apps.