Tati Gabrielle is an actress whose career cannot be defined by a single type of character. Each one she plays is different from the last; and if that feels intentional, that’s because it is. From playing Prudence the witch on the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina; to Hannah Kim, head of digital security in Kaleidoscope; to Jo Braddock, leader of mercenaries in Uncharted; to Marienne the librarian with a dark past on You, it is very clear that she has steered away from being put in a box.
I had the opportunity to chat with Tati ahead of the premiere of season 4 of You, in which she reprises her role as Marienne Bellamy. (This is probably the series’ most shocking season yet.) We covered a lot of ground from me embarrassing myself with a really bad You pun, her intentions as an actress, the balance she is trying to strike as a mixed-race Black and Korean woman honoring her identity, and her hopes for Marienne on You. Spoiler alert: We just really really want Marienne to get a break!
Before I get into questions about the show, You, I wanted to get into some questions about you the person [insert very embarrassing finger guns].
I just love that joke with the show. Not you but you. It’s great.
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Firstly, I just want to congratulate you on your most recent Netflix releases, Kaleidoscope which came out this January and season 4 of You which airs on February 9. It’s giving Netflix series royalty vibes. I was also a really big fan of Sabrina.
One thing I have noticed is you have played so many rich and interesting characters and they are all so different. How intentional is it for you to have roles that are different from the last character you have played?
I grew up in theater so for me as an actor I never want to be pigeonholed or typecast. When things come through that look like, or feel like a character that I have done before, I usually pass on it. I want to be able to play as many roles as I can. I really want to challenge myself and stretch my wings. It is super intentional that every character I play is unlike the last.
You can definitely see that come through in the choices that you make. I know you went to HBCU Spelman. Shout out Lady Jaguars! How did that experience help shape your identity as an actress and the roles that you take?
I grew up in the Bay Area which is one of the most diverse places in the country. Going to Atlanta was the first time I had experienced racism or any form of discrimination against my Blackness. I am very grateful for Spelman for teaching me our true history as Black people and imbuing me with a sense of pride and a sense of a call to action which I feel like I have very much taken into my career. Being a mixed-race Black woman, when I am in conversations with show runners or writers [I want to make sure] that my Blackness and the Blackness of my characters is being treated with care, and with honesty, and with truth so that my characters will never be a token, will never be a side character. Had I not gone to Spelman I do not think I would have had that same sense of urgency toward making sure that I stand in that and stand up for that. It gave me the true understanding of what it means to be Black in America and fight for the ancestors that came before me and allowed me to even be here.
I know that’s right.
I am also a byproduct of a Black and AAPI family. My grandmother is half Black and Filipino.
Yes! I can see it in the eyes.
I think once I tell people they see.
People tell me the same thing. Once I tell them they’re like, “Okay! I get it now.”
How has your mixed-race identity informed your decisions and overall perspective as an actress? Because you’re not only bringing your Blackness but this whole other side of your racial identity to the characters you are playing. There are more opportunities now for people of color to just play what I would call “regular characters.”
That is why I was so excited about being on the show Kaleidoscope. It was the first time I was able to play my actual mixed-race. My character Hannah was intended to be Black and Korean. Prior to that, I found it very hard to bring that other half into my acting or into my characters. In order to change the world you have to understand it first. You have to break the system from the inside out. I understood that I present to most people as Black and I understood that most people either don’t see or are unwilling to recognize the fact that I am mixed-race. Up until I got to Kaleidoscope I couldn’t find a way at first to bring acknowledgement to, or honor that side. It was a big deal for me and exciting in that way. I spoke Korean in it. People like me are out in the world. This is normal. I love the way that [show creator] Eric Garcia and our writing team normalized it. People feel like they have to make it special, or do a thing and it doesn’t have to be [that]. I think art has the responsibility of reflecting what’s actually in the world back at us. Sorry that was a long winded way of answering the question [laughs].
I just hope after Kaleidoscope I am able to acknowledge that more in more of my characters. Even subtly. It’s something that I plan to find some way to execute moving forward.
Gabrielle as Hannah Kim and S.J. Son as Liz in Kaleidoscope.
Let’s go back to the fact that you are intentional about choosing your roles. I think what also makes these characters unique is that they could be any race and they don’t have to necessarily be rooted in any particular identity. It feels very much like, “This person happens to be X.”
The more representation we have normalizes that. Using your role as Prudence on The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina as an example, when I was growing up the only Black witch I had was Rachel True from The Craft!
I feel that, which is why I got super juiced when Angela Bassett was on American Horror Story.
Right! I said, oh, Marie Laveau!
I was like, Let’s get it!. I was so excited for that.
In season 3 of You, we meet your character Marienne as Joe’s new obsession. In every episode that she’s in, you learn something new about her. There are many layers to peel back. What has been your favorite thing about playing this character?
It was the first character I played after Sabrina and The 100 that was grounded in real life and reality. Not that Ii didn’t love doing all the fantasy and the sci-fi, but I was very excited off top to do a character that was grounded. That definitely has been one of my favorite parts in general, as well as how many layers that Marienne has and how much of a fighter she is. She doesn’t let any of the flaws or the things that have gone wrong in her life define her. I was very intentional about that when playing her in wanting to make sure that Marienne doesn’t have any pity for herself. She knows the choices she made in life. She knows how she ended up where she is but she doesn’t want pity and nor does she feel it. I think that’s the experience of a lot of Black women in America in general. Her strength has been innate to her; it’s almost generational. That strength should be acknowledged and honored it shouldn’t be a surprise. That’s been my favorite part of playing Marienne, is finding that balance and letting her life experience and her life speak for itself and to carry her head up high despite it.
You really set me up for my next question. In season 3 the show is set in Madre Linda, this upper crust, (fictitious) predominantly white neighborhood in California, and then this season we are with the London bourgeoise. The one thing that really stood out to me was that Marienne is the only character rooted in reality in both seasons. It’s such a stark contrast because she’s fighting for something real: custody of daughter. That relationship is what keeps her going, and compared to everyone else it feels like, “are you all living in the same reality as this woman or, nah?” Was that something intentional on the show, having this one super real character?
I think it was intentional with Sera Gamble with the writing team on You to make Marienne this grounded piece in this world of fluff. That’s what initially creates the bond between Marienne and Joe. Joe has been living in a fantasy. [Joe] has been living in several fantasies and Marienne was the first thing that sort of grabbed him and brought him to the ground. Had we had another wealthy obsession it would have made for a very different show. I think it was intentional by Sera and it was something that was very intentional for me. I didn’t want Marienne to be oblivious to the fluff that’s around nor did I want her to lean into it anyway and Sera didn’t want me to either.
Gabrielle as Marienne in You season 4.
We end season 3 with Marienne leaving Madre Linda with her daughter after her horrible ex is murdered—thank you Joe—to start fresh in Paris. We begin season 4 knowing that she has this new life but of course in typical You universe fashion, nothing is ever as it seems. Can you talk about the differences between the version of Marienne you played in season 3 versus in season 4?
You get a much rawer version of Marienne in season 4. Though in Madre Linda she was the most grounded and the most real, she was on her best behavior to win the custody battle for her kid knowing that her ex Ryan was a celebrity of the town. She was playing the clean librarian. And in season 4 we get to see Marienne more in her natural element and what she would have been like had she not been in the situation in Madre Linda.
Separating yourself from the character for a bit, what is your biggest hope for this character beyond this next season?
I just want Marienne to be able to find peace! I just feel like she’s been through so much in life, let alone, this show. I just want Marienne to find peace and be happy and live with her daughter and finally have the life she always dreamed of. That is what I want for Marienne more than anything.
This is the year of the soft life and I hope Marienne gets it.
Can she just get a break?! That’s all that I want for her, just to be cut a break! That’s it!
What’s next for you, Tati Gabrielle?
I’ve got another film coming out later this year called the Supremes at Earl’s All-You Can-Eat which I am very excited for. We put a lot of heart and love into that movie. I don’t know when but that’s coming out later this year. I will hopefully be getting my first producing project off the ground this year. I’m producing a series right now with my producing partner which I am very excited about which I can’t say too much about but we’ll be pitching soon and I’ll be getting on my producing track.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Marquia Walton is a writer and digital producer based in Bedstuy, Brooklyn. Further interests, in no particular order, include: cooking, natural wine, racial justice, sustainable food systems, universal healthcare and telling it like it is.