Beautiful, strong, and more than a match for any foe, Erica Tazel is a great role model. She works hard, takes chances, and helps children and their families find homes. Taking time from her busy life, she opens up to Cliché about her path to becoming an actress, her work on Justified, and her plans for the future.
Cliché: In life, we face many different crossroads. One crossroad that you faced was whether or not to go into medicine or follow your heart and take up acting. How did you decide which path to take and what would you tell someone facing a similar problem in their life?
Erica Tazel: The fork in the road between being a physical therapist vs. an actor was more of a surprise to me than a problem. It really was. Although I had gotten the beginnings of extensive theater training at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX, I sincerely was not aware of or present to a desire to tell stories for a living. I initially auditioned for Booker T. as an option to not have to attend the school in whose district I lived in. I did not think I would fit in at that school and who wants to spend four years like that? I heard about Booker T. at lunch from a friend in 8th grade and it sounded like the movie FAME which was very exciting to me. Would we really have jam sessions in the lunch room and would the dancers really walk around all day in leotards? That sounded like a cool alternative!So I went for it and it was a glorious time for me creatively. When I entered Spelman College as a Biology Pre-Med major, I honestly had every intention of completing that coursework and going on to medical school with a focus in physical therapy. However, during the first semester of my sophomore year in college, a friend invited me to see a show the Theatre and Dance department was putting on. It may sound crazy, but when I walked into the theater, I unexpectedly began to cry. I felt like I had come home. I knew in that very moment that I had to change courses. If this decision presented a “problem,” it was the fact of telling my parents. I value my life very much and I was sure this decision was not going to go over well. Luckily I was 900 miles away from home! So in many ways, I feel like acting chose me. Although I had no clue how to pursue a career in acting, I had tremendous peace about taking that path. I just “knew,” so I jumped and I have yet to regret that leap. I do not take for granted that for other artists it was not, and in some case, still not that clear. So my advice, if I can call it that, is to sit very quietly with your dreams, with what you really want, and be very honest about that. If at the end of the day, you feel like you MUST do such and such, then go for it. There is no rule book for a career in acting, so it is also a faith journey of monumental proportions!
Because you chose to follow your heart, you have been in television shows, movies, and theater productions. Have you found that you enjoy working in one of these areas more than the other?
The mediums give me very different things that I appreciate very much. Theater has offered me the most diverse and challenging opportunities. I enjoy being a part of an ensemble that I get to play with eight shows a week. I love the process of rehearsal and the live audience/in the moment aspect of theater. There is usually at least a four-week rehearsal period before a theater run begins. In TV, there may be four minutes of rehearsal especially if there is a last minute rewrite, so the homework is much more condensed. I love this medium because there is no time for me to get in my head about the work. My imagination is exercised in a very different way in television. Unlike theater, in TV I may only get to have that conversation three times! I am looking forward to my first film opportunities to see what I learn and experience there. I aspire to be comfortable and compelling telling story in all three mediums.
With Justified in its fifth season, what do you think about the evolution of your character from season one until now? Has she surprised you in anyway?
While I have always imagined Rachel to be an ambitious woman who cares deeply about her work, it has been delightful to see her permit herself to have fun at the same time. That’s been a nice point in her evolution. She’s very serious and by the book, so I love when she allows herself to cut up a bit. To that point, I was surprised and thrilled, on some level, that in episode five, I believe, of this season, Rachel decides to go down to Harlan with Raylan to look for Danny Crowe, not so much to “babysit,” but to get a piece of the action.
Who do you want to work with more before the show reaches its end in season six?
I am very pleased with the work Jacob Pitts and I did towards the end of this season. We work well together and I would love to do more with him. I had my first conversation with Boyd Crowder which seems to potentially set up more interaction for the final season which would be great! I would love to be on camera with Walton more before this ends. Joelle Carter and I have only passed each other on screen so I would also like to spend some time with her as well. Then that would pretty much cover all of the series regulars, at least.
Do you have any ideas on where your character will be at the end of the series?
The great thing about Rachel is there are so many avenues the writers can take her in the final season. So many great opportunities there. My only wish is that the audience has an opportunity to finally see why Art says Rachel is his best Marshal.
You’ve been with Justified since season one. How does it feel knowing that it’s coming to an end? Do you have any ideas on what you want to do next?
It feels like we just shot the pilot yesterday so it feels odd that this time next year it will be over. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been a part of this show. First pilot, first series; it has been a roller coaster ride. I have a Peabody Award! That’s crazy. I’m sure I will be a hot mess when it’s all over, but I suspect I will be very nervous and excited about my next chapter. What that is? I’m still looking for my first film. I want to stay open as there is still so much I want to explore. I would not be opposed to another series especially if the character and story present interesting challenges and multi-dimensionality. Being a theater kid, Broadway is still on my heart as well.
Outside of being an actress, you do charity work. What are some of the programs that you work with and what about those programs called to you?
I just came back from South Africa. I was there with Habitat for Humanity working on a housing project in an area called PeliKan Park in Capetown. Not only will families who have been waiting for homes 20 and 30 years be blessed with home ownership, this community will have blacks, whites, coloreds, and Indians living together which is huge in that country. This was my third time in South Africa. I initially went in 2009 to visit the Rainbow Sparrow Village, which is an AIDS/Hospice and Orphanage run by a wonderful woman named Corinne McClintock. I spent time there during this trip as well. Very special place to me. On the way back home after my first visit there in 2009, I knew it would be a year and half before I would get back to Sparrow.
In the meantime, I wanted to find a way to work with children at home. I began partnering with Get on the Bus five years ago whose mission is to reunite children with their incarcerated parent for Mother’s and Father’s Day. I am a Bus Coordinator for one of the Father’s Day buses that goes to Soledad, CA. It is six months of planning to get the families on the bus and I was drawn to the hands on aspect of the project. I really get to know the people. It is also a pretty transformative experience for the kids and volunteers. It has certainly changed my life. Each year is so different, but oh so special.
Justified’s Erica Tazel Interview “Razzel Tazel” originally appeared in Cliché Magazine’s Apirl/May Issue.