It Ain't The Huxtables: Melissa De Sousa Talks "Reed Between The Lines"
Afro-Latina actress Melissa De Sousa is widely-known for her sassy, ball-busting role as Shelby in 1999 film The Best Man. These days, however, the Panamanian New Yorker is promoting BET's new show Reed Between The Lines, where she plays a fiery, keep-it-real acupuncturist. Alongside Tracee Ellis Ross' Claire Huxtable-esque role, De Sousa prepares to bring a fiery yet zen-like best friend dynamic to the almost-Cosby Show sitcom that'll fatten BET's fall line-up.
We've seen the pilot already. And while we're still training our brains to say "Gabby," Shelby, um... Melissa, still lights up the screen. There's a tinge of crazy, a pinch of good spirit and a whole lot of charm, that's got us anxious to see how her character develops.
Ready for her recent close-up? Tune into BET every Tuesday at 10pm EST! -Niki McGloster
VIBE VIXEN: Explain the background of your character's role on Reed Between The Lines?
MELISSA DE SOUSA: My character is Gabriella Jimenez. She's best friends with Carla Reed who's played by Tracee Ellis Ross. As you know, Carla [Tracee Ellis Ross] on the show is a psychologist and we share an office space in this building. They were best friends back in Philly before they moved to New York. I actually moved to New York as an inspiring dancer, but things didn't work out how I wanted them to. I took classes and became an acupuncturist, and I guess it's kind of like helping to heal myself and find myself while I'm also trying to find a man.
What's the dynamic between you and Tracee how did that develop onscreen?
Our characters are alike in a lot of ways, but we're different. Tracee's character thinks more with her brains because she's a psychologist, and I think I'm a little edgier. I might be a little more vocal; I might take it to the streets, You know what I mean? [Laughs] I'm just joking. I'll get in your face in a different way than she will.
How is the role that you play on Reed different from who you are on a day-to-day basis?
A work in progress--that's the similarities between me and Gabriella. My character, she'll do saging, meditating and cleansing you know that kind of stuff. Now I never have done saging, [but] I actually thought about doing it one time because I felt bad energy after a relationship. After getting older, I have become a lot more spiritual and more into meditation, and I think that's exactly what Gabriella is doing. She's trying to find herself in that way; trying to come from a more common place as opposed to coming from attack mode. That's how we might be a little bit similar in that way. I always think I'm a work in progress. I'm always trying to progress and change and grow and learn different things.
Everyone is a work in progress, and that's awesome that you recognize that. Do you watch the other Black sitcoms on BET? The Game and Let's Stay Together?
Of course! I'm friends with Wendy Raquel; we did Miss Congeniality together several years ago. I've know Wendy for a long time, so I support the show and all those actors. I have watched Let's Stay Together since it started airing. It's really great what BET has been doing; I think it's necessary. You know all these other cable networks have their new things going, and it may not be as diversely cast, so BET is giving Blacks and Latino/Latina actors a place. It's great. And Asians. We've had Asians actors on our show as well. It's definitely diverse which I love.
Very culturally diverse. What do you think Reed will bring to that line-up? Do you think it will bring something new, that BET hasn't had?
Definitely. It will totally bring something new, because it's more of a family show. I think The Game is more of a singles, sexy life. This show, I may be the single [person] on the show, but it's sexy because of Tracee and Malcolm [Jamal Warner]. They play a 30-something married couple that's still sexy and having a good time with kids. It's more of a family show, and The Game and Let's Stay Together are more for singles. I don't want to label it like [The Cosby Show] since Malcolm is on the show. It will be compared; it's inevitable, [but] it's different with them being younger and the issues in America are different. The things they are going to tackle are going to be more modern. Bill Cosby was a comedian, and he was brilliant. It was just a different kind of feel, and [Reed Between The Lines] is a little different than that.
Let's talk about the style of the show. How does the style fit the characters?
Tracee will be in more modern suits with pantsuits, but a little bit different than what you'd see a normal psychologist wear with just a jacket and a skirt to the knee. It's a little bit more fashion-forward and hip. With my character being more spiritual, she's wearing a lot of long skirts. They were putting me in flow-y tops, but I tried to make it more tailored and sexy than earthy, since I'm trying to looking a man.
It's a bit bohemian chic?
That's exactly how they describe it.
What's your style like every day?
I have had my Flashdance moments. I like my shirts with the top cut open and hanging off one shoulder, and I will wear it with tights and boots. I'm a native New Yorker, so I wear a lot of black. If I'm feeling funky, I will wear grey. [Laughs] I live in leather jackets with zippers and black tight pants with zippers on the bottom. I'm very clean and simple and edgy sometimes. Sometimes I wear my big clunky Michael Kors watch. And I like smokey eyes with my make up.
VIBE VIXEN: While you're on this new venture, fans still can't let go of your character Shelby from The Best Man. When's the last time you were recognized for that role?
MELISSA DE SOUSA: Guys are scared to approach me! They're like, 'You're not like her, are you?' But if they're scared to approach me but want to, they say something like, 'Oh shoot, here she comes!' [Laughs] Especially when I'm home In New York, I get recognized all the time. I get a lot of love.
It still resonates strongly for fans. Twelve years later, what do you feel The Best Man brought to the urban community about understanding black love and relationships?
It brought class and let people know that African Americans and love stories don't have to have a color on it. It can be like The Big Chill where a bunch of people know each other from college, get together for a wedding, [and] it can have the same story. Since it's people of color, it doesn't have to be ghetto. They still live classy lives and have beautiful homes. It showed the African American culture in a different light, as opposed to what society likes to portray or usual see. Everybody isn't living like The Wire. It showed a modern middle class story and that exists everywhere.
The show is being shot in Atlanta. Have you gotten a chance to enjoy the city offset?
Our schedule is so crazy, so I haven't had much social time. We went to Puffy's restaurant, Justin's, and Malcolm had his band playing there. You know, Malcolm does spoken word and he has a band. He took us there one night and he performed with his band; we had so much fun. Since then we've been buckled down working, but I've been to Wal-Mart and Target a lot. [Laughs]
That's the regular stuff!
Yeah, my big social hour is going to Target. Me and Anna Maria Horsford, we're Target buddies.