Actress Jesmille Darbouze Juggles Busy Career and Motherhood

Jesmille Darbouse (Photo Credit: Jenny Anderson)

Jesmille Darbouze started our interview with an apology. The young mother of two had a tantrum emergency (her two-year-old’s, not hers) and we had to reschedule our initial meeting. I immediately dismissed the apology, my own eight-year old son hovering in the background half-dressed and covered in Goldfish crumbs.

I asked the talented actress, dancer, teacher and mother if she had ever decried screen time before having kids, and now regretted her stance. “My husband and I were one of “those” people,” she laughs. “We were like, ‘No, they’re going to sit and they’re going to talk to us.’ Now I understand. What were parents doing before the tablet existed? What were they doing?”

Darbouze has been making waves in the entertainment industry with her exceptional talent. Accomplished actor, singer and dancer, with experience working professionally in television, film and stage, she is currently playing ‘Kristine Linde’ in A Doll’s House, starring alongside Academy Award® winner Jessica Chastain.

Originally written in 1879 by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, this iteration of “A Doll’s House” is a modern take on the three-act play about a housewife who becomes disillusioned and dissatisfied with her condescending husband.

“It’s very accessible. It doesn’t feel like 1879, yet the social constructs still exist,” Darbouze says. “The director has created a world where the props don’t exist, where a set doesn’t exist. There’s no bustles and fans and cigar boxes and mustaches; it’s six actors on stage and six chairs, naked and exposed. There’s nowhere to hide. I have to inherently be present and listen.”

Darbouze discovered her love for musical theater and the performing arts while in high school in Miami. She trained at New World School of the Arts in Miami, FL, and later went on to earn a BFA in Acting from Carnegie Mellon University. Her hustle was evident even back then, working through school to make ends meet, which included stints at Banana Republic, Applebee’s, Bubba Gump, and the front desk at The Standard hotel in NYC.

While working in the restaurant industry, Jesmille served some of the biggest names in entertainment like Cameron Diaz, Robert De Niro. Patti Labelle, Ben Stiller, Derek Jeter, and Billy Porter.

Darbouze would wake up at 5:00am frequently to go to open calls to try to book work in NYC. She was a part of regional theater productions, worked on a cruise ship for 6 months, appeared in Netflix’s “Jessica Jones,” and her first opportunity to work with a prominent Broadway director—Kathleen Marshall—in The Unsinkable Molly Brown in 2017. As her character, Kristine Linde, says in A Doll’s House, “Without work I couldn’t live. All my life I have worked, for as long as I can remember; that has always been my one great joy.”

Getting The Job

When the opportunity to audition for A Doll’s House came around, Darbouze initially thought she would be considered for the understudy role. She sent in her audition tape, had a callback for the role, but still left unsure if she would land the part.

“Even though I’ve been in the industry since 2006, pounding the pavement as an actor, doing a lot of regional theater and a couple of TV films and two other Broadway shows, I still wasn’t a ‘name’. Nobody knew me. If anything, I thought I’d get the understudy,” she shares.

Two days later, she landed the role. “It’s creating an incredible platform for me as an artist to share what I’m able, share my talent and get people to know who I am and to see my work, which is a gift,” she says, elated at working with ‘titans’ of the craft.

Struggling with Impostor Syndrome

It seems implausible that a working parent who achieves so much success in her field would have time for self-doubt. And yet Darbouze, like so many other women, struggles with self-advocacy and yes, even Impostor Syndrome.

“It was at a red level when we first opened the show,” Darbouze says. “I’m finding that I’m having to change the narrative that I’ve had for myself and the emotional landscape of my purpose and where I fit in this industry.”

She admits that she has struggled not only with finding work but finding self-worth. “It was always a struggle, I’m going to be honest with you. Always a struggle. About 16 years of it. Then all of a sudden to be in this place, you start to think, ‘They’re going to find me out.’”

Darbouze says she wouldn’t even go on stage after a show to talk to high-profile actors, directors or execs that had come to see her perform. “In my mind I thought, they don’t want to talk to me. It took some time to realize, no, Jesmille, you are a part of this company, and you’re equally of value and of worth.”

Diversity, Inclusion and Representation in the Theatre

Darbouze knows firsthand about the challenges of representation in theater. As a woman of color (her mother is from the Dominican Republic and her father is Haitian), she has experienced the frustration of being the only person of color in a cast or only being considered for roles specifically written for people of color. Darbouze acknowledges that issues with representation exist in theater just as they do in film, and that it’s a systemic problem that needs to be addressed by writers, producers, and directors.

Darbouze’s recalls running into other actresses of color during open casting calls back in 2006.

“I remember we would say to each other, ‘Well, at least one of us will get it because we know there’s always one. They always pick one black girl,’” she says. “That was something that I just understood, assumed and accepted, didn’t even challenge it.”

She notes, however, that the industry has been shifting and changing, particularly during the pandemic when people began to question the lack of diversity in theater and media in general.

Darbouze recognizes the importance of having more diverse stories and representation on stage, and believes that it all starts with the writers.

“I think we need writers to begin writing for us. Not only do we need writers willing to open up their scope and landscape and write for everyone, but the producers and directors also need to open up and look at things differently.”

She says we need to create more stories that reflect everyone’s experience and hopes for more opportunities for up-and-coming writers and directors of color to share their work. As her character, Kristine would say, “Castaways have a better chance of survival together than on their own.”

Free to Be Perfectly Imperfect

The mother of two could easily add “juggler” to her already impressive resume. In her line of work, balance isn’t easy and the choices are always hard.

“I am drowning. Do I sleep in on a morning like today where I know I have two shows, or do I walk my daughter to school because it’s the only time I have to be with her? Ten times out of ten, I will walk her to school. Because that’s my time,” she says. “I have a five-year old and a two-year old and I am in the trenches.”

A Doll’s House is a meditation on the sacrifice of women, a role Darbouze knows only too well.

“People ask, how are you doing this? And the only answer I can say is, you just do it. You sacrifice your sleep, you sacrifice your self care, personal hygiene, you sacrifice,” she laments. “But there’s a part of me that also knows I only have them this small for a certain amount of time and it’s a finite window. And so I’m willing to make those sacrifices because they’re my family and they depend on me.”

Darbouze seems confident and more self-assured about the future, despite knowing less about what’s to come. “Honestly, I don’t know. And I think a lot of us live in the unknown, I don’t know anyone who really knows all the time,” she says with a small laugh.

“I do know my son was able to say Coco (as in Coco Melon) before “Mama”, so, there’s that.”

Alexis Nicols

Alexis is a full-time writer, graphic designer and mom in Ontario, Canada. She's obsessed with all things related to film, TV and streaming, particularly through the lens of her two boys.

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