Give yourself grace — personally, I am very hard on myself — and at times a perfectionist. With practice I am learning to give myself grace and accept that things won’t always be perfect or go the way I want them to. That’s a part of life.
Asa part of our series about creating a successful career in theatre, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jesmille Darbouze.
Jesmille grew up in Long Island, NY as the middle child with two brothers. She speaks English and Spanish. After her parents’ divorce, Jesmille moved to South Florida and joined musical theatre and performing arts in high school in Miami. She began her training at New World School of the Arts in Miami, FL, and holds a BFA in Acting from Carnegie Mellon University where she took classes in acting, dancing, singing and theatre. As only 1 of 5 black students of color in her program, Jesmille hopes to see more women of her identity and culture in performing arts programs.
All throughout school, Jesmille worked and hustled to make money to support herself. She worked at Banana Republic, Applebee’s, Bubba Gump, and worked 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. Jesmille woke up at 5:00am frequently to go to open calls to try to book work in NYC. She was a part of regional theatre productions, worked on a cruise ship for 6 months, appeared in Netflix’s “Jessica Jones,” and landed her first big role in The Unsinkable Molly in 2017.
Jesmille didn’t land her debut until the age of 35 in 2019, where she was in the Tony nominated Broadway musical Kiss Me, Kate (directed by Scott Ellis, choreographed by Warren Carlyle, and starring Kelli O’ Hara). She was also an understudy in the Tony nominated play BETRAYAL, starring Tom Hiddleston in 2019.
When the Pandemic hit in 2020, Jesmille had her second child and went back to school for nursing. She booked a Hallmark Channel film in 2021 and later began teaching at Marymount Manhattan College. In 2022, Jesmille had dinner with the A Doll’s House associate director about the Broadway show and expressed her desire to understudy. She submitted a self-tape audition and three weeks later received a call back that she got the main role as ‘Kristine Linde.’
Jesmille is also an acting coach for professional actors and a proud member of AEA and SAG/AFTRA. She is married with two children, her daughter Grace (5) and her son Elliot (2). In her free time, Jesmille enjoys watching ballet, concerts, TV, and film, listening to classical music, reading, and traveling. She is passionate about fitness, incorporating HIIT, kettlebell workouts and weight training into her exercise routine.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Iwas born in New York City at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. I was a preemie, weighing 2lbs 6oz. We lived in Long Island with both my older and younger brother, and then moved to South Florida after my parents separated at age 10. My mother is from the Dominican Republic, so there was always a lot of merengue and bachata music playing in the house, and we were surrounded by grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, who all lived less than 2 miles away from each other. I developed the passion the for the arts in elementary school, where I played the flute, sang in the chorus, and acted in school plays. Upon moving to South Florida, I went to a performing arts middle school and then performing arts high school, and from there went on to study theatre at Carnegie Mellon University.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I think what set the ball in motion for me was choosing to audition for New World School of the Arts in Miami. FL. I lived in a town called Homestead, which driving is an hour away from downtown Miami. When I got accepted to pursue musical theater, I never complained once about waking up at 5 am, to get on a school bus and train, to get to school by 7:30. I was exactly where I wanted to be.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My mother is a huge influence and has been such an advocate for me. Usually every 6 months, I am planning a way to leave the acting industry. It’s taxing emotionally and very hard to believe in yourself when you are getting so many “No’s’” coming your way. My mother has always stood by my side and encouraged me to not give up.
You probably have a lot of fascinating experiences. Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I think I am currently living in the most fascinating experience I have ever had. Working on A Doll’s House with some of the best actors of our generation has been a dream. I never imagined this being possible.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was just starting out as an actor, I would do all I could to change my appearance and dress to fit what I thought the casting director wanted. I would wear wigs, buy new clothing, doing everything instead of bringing myself to the role and trusting that I was enough, and letting them decide.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Currently I am working on A Doll’s House, directed by Jamie Lloyd and staring Jessica Chastain, Arian Moayed, Okieriete Onaodowan, Tasha Lawrence and Michael Patrick Thornton
You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of rejection, lack of support, or failure?
I would tell them to trust that they are enough: Intelligent enough, talented enough, interesting enough. You don’t need to be anyone else but you. I would also encourage them to always continue training and working on their craft.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in the live performance industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Listen to your body and trust your instincts. If you feel you need to rest, you are probably right. If you feel like you need to eat, you probably need to eat. Taking care of yourself should be your number one priority.
Thank you for all that. This is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career in Broadway, Theater or Live Performances” and why? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
1. Surround yourself with your biggest allies. — I have been very fortunate to have created a support system of friends and family who have supported my work since the start of my career. I do not take their words of encouragement lightly. You need a group of people who will love you and support you unconditionally.
2. Take care of yourself, mentally and physically — I have found that taking care of my mental and physical health was just as important in between productions as when I’m doing one. The mental and physical demands of an 8-show week is a lot. You are using so much of yourself to meet the demands being asked of you. Carving out time to recover and take care of those parts will get you through.
3. Trust your instincts — This is hard for me to do, but I never regret it. Listen to yourself and your needs, always. At the end of the day, you must do what is right for you.
4. Give yourself grace — personally, I am very hard on myself — and at times a perfectionist. With practice I am learning to give myself grace and accept that things won’t always be perfect or go the way I want them to. That’s a part of life.
5. Know that you are exactly where you need to be. In my dressing room I have a picture on the wall that says that exactly: “You are exactly where you need to be.” I love it as it reminds me that in all the various stages of my career, there was purpose behind where I was; even if I didn’t see it at the time.
For the benefit of our readers, could you describe how the skill-sets you need in a theater performance are different than the skill-sets you need for TV or Film?
In the theatre, you need to give yourself grace in knowing that every night will be different. The audience is so much a part of the theatrical experience, and they are all different every night. You may have gotten laughs on a line one night, and not the next, and that’s ok. I think with tv and film, you have a lot more control of your performance, since you can always do another take. There are no second takes in live theatre.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love to inspire a movement that would encourage people to allow themselves more grace in their lives. I think we can be our biggest and harshest critics. The immense of amount of pressure the world puts on us at times can be debilitating. Being kind, gentle and mindful of ourselves and our needs is important. I think it’s important to be reminded of that sometimes.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I read this quote somewhere and it’s been one of my favorites: “It’s ok, darlin. Learning eyes sometimes leak”. I love this quote. It’s a great reminder for myself that experiencing something new will aid to my growth as an artist and human, and that it’s ok to get frustrated, it’s ok to experience the growing pains of it all, and it’s ok to cry.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would love to meet Shonda Rhimes. Shonda had changed and challenged the way traditional stories are being told. I revere what she has done for the television industry and what she has done for actors of color, who including myself have wondered “Is there a place for me?”
How can our readers continue to follow your work online?
You can follow me on Instagram. @jesmilled
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!