The talented and beautiful Andrea Bordeaux shares what drew her to acting, her role in NCIS: Los Angeles, and the need for greater representation in Hollywood for women of color in an unfiltered conversation with our editor-in-chief Anna Zhang.

There’s no solid reason why certain characters whose family you never meet, whose race is never mentioned, whose race has nothing to do with the circumstances of the story, are specifically and intentionally written for white women with no regard to the other women of color that exist in the United States.

When did you start acting? How did you find your passion for acting?
I was inspired by watching really amazing, dramatic films when I was a kid. I remember seeing films like ‘A Time To Kill’ and ’Rosewood’, films that were very adult, very serious, tackling intense emotional and social issues. My mom wanted me and my sisters to be conscious of these issues, the realities that people live and have lived. She was especially keen on showing us Black stories.

I was 9 when I saw ‘A Time To Kill’ with my family in theaters. I was the same age as Tanya, the pretty little black girl that is raped in the beginning of the film. I remember feeling the weight and gravity of her assault and the eventual fallout that divided a town by race. I remember crying, I remember being angry and sad. That film took me on this crazy emotional journey that had a real, but satisfying ending. The performances of the actors in those films had resonated with me so deeply and I knew that I wanted to make people feel the way they made me feel.

My first exposure to acting was in high school, in theater arts classes. I didn’t really start pursing acting as a career until I moved to New York City for school when I was 18.

Just last year you were working as a waitress, and now you star as special agent Harley Hidoko in NCIS: Los Angeles. What was the transition like?
Well, I worked my last shift at my old restaurant and a couple of days later, I was on set at Paramount filming my first episode of the show. I had tried to get a leave of absence at the restaurant so that I could come back in case I only did a few episodes, but they weren’t willing to hold my spot for more than a couple weeks. And I don’t hold that against them, they have a business to run. I definitely didn’t want to go back and I’m sure they were secretly happy to get rid of me. My attitude the last few months I worked there wasn’t the best. I was just so tired of it. I had been waiting tables on and off (mostly on) since I was 16 and I was starting to crack, emotionally.

Serving is such difficult job because most of your customers have never done your job but think they know how to do it better than you. And then your livelihood is dependent upon the whims and the relative amounts of social conditioning of each person that walks through the door. That wears you down.

In the first several weeks of filming, I really just took it, day by day, episode by episode since I was brought on as a recurring character. My ultimate hope was that I wouldn’t do just a handful of episodes and then have to go back to searching for a server job in Los Angeles. Here in LA, it’s almost as hard to get hired as a server as it is to get hired as an actor.

I also just made sure to enjoy each moment and take it all in. I had no idea how long I’d be around, I still don’t, so it keeps you humble and on your toes.

In your own words, what is NCIS: Los Angeles about?
It’s about an elite group of special agents, analysts, and the bosses that drive them crazy, solving seemingly impossible crimes while still making it out of the office in time for happy hour.

How did the role come about?
My initial audition for this show was for a one-day guest star role in the season premiere, a completely unrelated character. I auditioned for the producers and when I was in the room, the show runner, R. Scott Gemmill, asked me to read for the role of a new special agent that was also being introduced in the premiere.

I went back in 20 minutes later to read one of the scenes, and I ended up getting a callback. I worked really hard to prepare for the callback but I was so nervous during the audition that I flubbed a few lines and even lost my place on the page at one point. I also distinctly remember my right leg shaking.

I really thought that I bombed the audition and I was in tears before I made it out of the building. But the next day, I got the call that I’d gotten the job.

When I booked this role, I was only pinned for 6 episodes, but now I have a full season under my belt and that makes me feel so incredibly proud. Starting on the show was exciting, but also intimidating and scary. I felt a lot of pressure to perform well because if I wasn’t able to handle the responsibilities that were going to be thrown at me, then I knew that my role could have ended up being much shorter than I would’ve liked or anticipated. I’m proud of how this experience has grown.

Tell us about your character Harley Hidoko. What’s your favorite part about playing her?
Harley is a former Marine turned NCIS special agent. She’s talented, extremely smart, levelheaded, introverted, and stylish. She can seem aloof, but it’s really because she’s private and doesn’t feel pressure to engage unless she wants to. Harley likes order and is meticulous. She’s the kind of woman that will disassemble, clean, and reassemble her weapon as a way of relaxing.

She’s fun to play because you don’t always know what she’s thinking.  I’ve heard some fan theories where people think that’s she may actually be duplicitous and working for “the other side”. I don’t think it’s that deep, but there a lot people who have a natural distrust for people that they can’t read or figure out. Harley isn’t easy to figure out. You will see her open up a bit more and teasing out those little tidbits has also been fun.

What was your mindset going into filming?
My mindset was to get a permanent role on the show. I was not cast as a series regular, but as a recurring guest star. When you recur, every single episode you shoot could be your last. You really have no idea when you’ll be asked back.

I knew that I needed to prove to everyone that I could handle the rigors of shooting a one-hour action tv show. Not everyone can handle the filming schedule, the rhythm of the show, or the physical demands.

You have to have confidence to pull off stunts and weapons work, to make it look real. A lot of people aren’t good at that. I was eased into stunt work over a few episodes, but I was handed a live firearm on my 3rd day of work. All under the guidance of our expert prop masters and stunt coordinators, of course. I’m an Army brat born and raised in Texas, so I’ve been around a gun or two. That wasn’t intimidating for me. I kept getting booked episode after episode and given more and more to do as a character. That wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t risen to the occasion, I don’t think.

Do you have an episode or scene that was most memorable to film?
Yes. My favorite episode of the season was “The Monster.” Hidoko is paired up with Deeks out in the field, so that meant I had a lot of one-on-one time with Eric Christian Olsen. We had never even had a scene before with just the two of us, and for this episode, most of our screen time is together. Eric is so funny. He has a one liner for everything in character or out So you have to stay on your toes with him. It was fun to work with him and play off of him.

The episode itself was co-written by Frank Military and Adam George Key. Frank is my favorite writer on the show. He writes some of the best dialogue and his episodes are always really intense and emotionally exhilarating. This is Adam‘s first episode as a credited  writer and his excitement on set made filming the episode even more fun. Together, the two of them created an episode that was very dark and sinister, and a complete departure from the other episodes of the season. Getting the chance to be such a prominent part of this particular episode was dope.

What advice did you receive from working with such an incredible cast?
I was filming a scene with the legendary Linda Hunt. Between set ups, Linda was talking to the director about some of the beats in the scene and I heard Linda say with a bit of a laugh, “I will always take my moments.” Those words really landed for me because I have a tendency to rush during auditions and scenes. I sometimes need to remind myself to slow down and breathe because that’s how you can miss beautiful opportunities.

Linda was talking about taking every opportunity, every moment of her camera time to make interesting choices. She doesn’t feel the need to rush her work and she knows she would never be rushed. I loved that so much and it’s something that I’ve started working on being better about.

What would you share with those who are interested in pursuing acting? Any tips?
My best advice is to have a life and interests outside of acting. It’s so easy to get completely wrapped up in the daily grind of pursing this dream that you forget that you have to live. I spent years refusing to take long weekends or leave town for more than a few days at a time because I was so afraid that I would miss an audition. That prevented me from really enjoying myself and having memorable experiences.

It’s also important to have something that fulfills you and keeps you energized so you don’t get sucked into some of the darker emotions that arise from the stresses and heartbreaks of pursing an acting career. When you make this business your entire life, you’re bound to fall into depression and despair if things don’t pan out as planned.

You need to have a solid support system or people that you can turn to when you’re feeling low. Make sure that you surround yourself with people that are positive and uplifting, not negative and draining.

If I can take a moment to plug myself, I started a blog in 2009 called The Actress/Model (theactressmodel.com) where I detail my experiences with getting started as an actor and model, and all of the lessons that I learn as I get deeper into the business. I haven’t updated since 2015, but plan to reboot it this summer. I keep up since I still get emails and DMs from young actors who discover it and find value in the advice and experiences detailed there.

Being a woman of color, have you encountered any obstacles while pursuing a career in Hollywood?
Of course. I got my first taste of just how much harder it would be for me when I was first starting out in New York City and was looking at castings on Actors Access. If you went into the search engine of the website and filtered roles for women, you’d get pages and pages of available roles. But then when you filter that down to roles for women of color, for black women, that number of castings shrinks down to an almost laughable amount of available roles. Then you start reading the character breakdowns for all of the roles for white women, and 90% of those roles could be played by any actress of any ethnicity. It was infuriating.

There’s no solid reason why certain characters whose family you never meet, whose race is never mentioned, whose race has nothing to do with the circumstances of the story, are specifically and intentionally written for white women with no regard to the other women of color that exist in the United States.

Next, we have to deal with is colorism. Producers and studio executives will want to cast a “black woman” but she has to be the right shade of black. Too black isn’t palatable enough for their mainstream audiences. So what happens is casting directors will release a breakdown, describe a character as possibly being Black, mixed-race, Latina etc. They will bring in mostly black women, a few people from another ethnicity, and then ultimately what happens is a biracial or light skinned black actress is cast.

White people really and truly don’t understand just how important representation is, just how much representation matters, because they’ve never had to worry about representation. They turn on the TV, they flip open a magazine, they go to the movies, they are pretty much guaranteed to see people on that screen or in that media outlet that look just like them. The fact that people are still so surprised by the success of Black Panther blows my mind. Obviously this film is shattering box office records and blowing everyone away for a multitude of reasons, mostly because it’s just flat out fantastic, but you cannot tell me that the representation of all of these beautiful dark skinned people in that film doesn’t have something to do with it. This is the first time history that people who look like me, who look like my family, who look like the majority of other black people around the world were able to go to a tentpole, big budget film and see nothing but heroes and lovers and villains who looked just like them. That’s powerful.

This is the first time history that people who look like me, who look like my family, who look like the majority of other black people around the world were able to go to a tentpole, big budget film and see nothing but heroes and lovers and villains who looked just like them. That’s powerful.

What do you want to tell young girls out there?
Treat yourself the way you treat your best friend. Be kind and loyal to yourself, look out for your best interests, stand up for yourself, support your own dreams and opinions, be forgiving to yourself.

We give so much of ourselves to other people in our lives, give that same love to you.

Don’t set timelines or time limits on yourself. You’re going to make mistakes, possibly get sidetracked, or even have to start over. That’s okay. It doesn’t make you a failure. If you’re not making some mistakes, you’re not finding opportunities to grow. Challenge yourself and do things that are terrifying, it’s the only way you’ll learn just how strong you are. Never fall asleep in your makeup and wear sunscreen every day. Yes, every single day.

Most importantly, learn that “No” is a complete sentence. If you don’t want to do someone a favor, or go somewhere, or lend someone money, or sleep with someone, or anything else that you don’t want to do, say “No.” You don’t need to explain the “why” or the “how,” unless you want to.

With the rise of #MeToo and Time’s Up, there is more emphasis than ever on the voice of women. Have you seen Hollywood change in response to these movements?
Respectfully, #MeToo and Time’s Up have put more emphasis on the voices of white women, and there’s still much more work that needs to be done to lift up the voices of Black women who have largely been ignored by these movements. In fact, many people don’t even know that the #MeToo movement was started by Tarana Burke, a Black woman. As for whether or not Hollywood is changing in response to those events, I don’t think nearly enough time has passed for us to really see any effectual change. And until Black women and other WOC are being heard in the same way that white women are, nothing that Hollywood as a collective does in response to these movements will be satisfying for me.

Women are often portrayed as competitors. In your perspective, what is the power of a strong, united front of women who support each other?
I see it amongst my girlfriends every day. My circle is filled with strong, kindhearted, funny, intelligent women. We support each others’ successes and hold each other during the devastations. If one of my girls is killin’ it, I feel like I’m killin’ it just by association. When I get amazing auditions, I tell my friends who may also be right for it. They do the same for me and we all benefit from the shared knowledge and built connections.

I get emails and DMs from young actresses who see me out here or read my blog, theactressmodel.com, and I encourage them as best I can. It’s devastating to meet a woman that you admire, that you look up to, and you find out she’s a complete, utter bitch. Trust me, I’ve felt that devastation before and it’s important to me to be a woman who never makes another woman or girl feel that way.

Give a shoutout to an actress that inspires you!
I am loving every single thing about Tiffany Haddish! She is the epitome of #carefreeblackgirl and I love how she walks this planet unapologetically herself! Please never stop doing your thing!

What are your passions outside of acting?
I’m passionate about social issues such race, politics, activism, whatever. I spend a lot of free time on Twitter plugging in to the various things that are happening in the country, but also globally. I’m more of a lurker than anything. I like and retweet mostly, but will pop off if I feel like it. No one is checking for me on Twitter right now so it allows me to stay under the radar.

I love writing, although I haven’t done much of it lately. I have a few personal writing projects that I want to work on, just for creative growth and stimulation. I’m into transformative festivals such as Lightning in a Bottle and Desert Hearts. I love Burning Man. It’s cliché but going really did change my life.

Any upcoming projects you can share?
I’m in the early stages of co-producing my first project, a 5-minute short film with a great concept. I’ll also be revamping and relaunching my blog. Other than that, I’ll keep auditioning during the break and hope for a season 10!

 

STORY ANNA ZHANG
PHOTOS IAN SPANIER
STYLIST SARA ALVITI
MAKEUP EMILY GARRIDOMA

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