I spoke with the beautiful and talented Erica Tazel about her role as Rachel Brooks in Justified on FX. It was an absolute pleasure to speak with her and get her take on Rachel, and what it’s like working on the show and with that amazing cast. I’m going to keep my fingers crossed that we will get a Boyd (Walton Goggins) and Rachel moment sometime in the future. I was a fan of Erica’s prior to this interview but after getting to spend some time with her on the phone, I can honestly tell you that she is one of the nicest people that I have ever spoken with. Her love for her craft is undeniable, and she certainly doesn’t take her position on one of the best shows on television for granted. One of her charitable contributions is working with Get on the Bus, an organization that reunites children with their incarcerated parent for Mother’s or Father’s Day. She is coordinating a trip for Father’s Day, as we speak. Erica earned my respect as a performer and now as a person. Don’t miss watching her in Justifiedevery week on FX.
Lena: I have to say this season of Justified is fantastic. I mean wow, what a show.
Erica Tazel: It is fantastic and we are pretty lucky to have that as a job.
Lena: The writing and everything about it is just fantastic.
Erica Tazel: It’s a dream on so many levels from casting to writing to production design to cinematography to the costumes; it is pretty fantastic.
Lena: They definitely hit the mark on everything and there is nothing better than that. That is really hard to come by nowadays.
Erica Tazel: I was talking to someone the other day and you know how you go back to a conversation and reflect on it, I sort of got emotional because it occurred to me that, like you said, it doesn’t happen everyday. Justified was my first pilot that went to series and it’s now in its third season and that doesn’t happen everyday either. I kind of got choked up about that and I feel pretty lucky and pretty blessed to be on this journey with this group of people.
Lena: Absolutely, and I love that you are on FX so you are able to get away with more (than network TV).
Erica Tazel: We definitely get away with more than we would on network (TV), and it’s nice to be part of a network that is so supportive of the creative vision of our producers and even the ability that we have from time to time to chime in and be a part of the creative process if we are inspired to. It’s a great home and I’m not sure if this is normal but I’m taking it for now and I’m going to ride it out now and hopefully I don’t realize later that I was completely spoiled.
Lena: I hope the show goes on for a long time and that they keep your character. That’s the scary thing, especially playing a Marshal.
Erica Tazel: Well, that’s part of the ride and certainly playing a U.S. Marshal anything could happen. Certainly in my life on the show and in my real life, that is certainly not something that I take for granted, anything can happen. We’ve seen some things happen to Raylan and if they can tie him up to a tree they can certainly tie me up to one (laughing).
Lena: Yeah, he gets it frequently (laughing).
Erica Tazel: Hopefully, the Marshal team will have a long life together.
Lena: What I love about the show too, is how the women are strong, like yourself and Ava (Joelle Carter). Your characters are written beautifully. The women are portrayed as strong and not as damsels in distress; they get stuff done. (Ava knows how to do more than cook with a pan.)
Erica Tazel: Yes, the women on the show have made a nice transformation. We’ve seen Ava strengthen up and Rachel, some people have said that she’s starting to come into her own. She’s just returning back to what she knows. She got thrown off a little bit when this new Marshal came back to town but she’s got a lot to offer, she has a lot of value to add to the Marshal team which we got to see in episode two, which was a lot of fun. “The Devil You Know” was also a lot of fun to play and sort of have her present and owning the work.
Lena: It’s funny because I really love this season but I can’t believe I’m actually saying that I miss Mags (Margo Martindale).
Erica Tazel: That is the brilliance of that actor. It’s the brilliance of that performance, and the creation that was that person. For you to love to hate them and hate to love them, and then you hate that they are gone. She was a jewel.
Lena: Oh yes, Mags gave me nightmares that is why I can’t believe I am saying, “I miss Mags.”
Erica Tazel: I know apple juice is nothing like apple pie. I always pause as I take a drink of apple juice. I tip my hat to that character.
Lena: Yes, when someone gives you a hard time don’t you find yourself thinking, “Where is Mags and her apple pie?” She was amazing. How was Margo to work with?
Erica Tazel: Unfortunately and fortunately, I only work with Margo for I think two days. It was the first episode when Raylan and Rachel go to meet her in her store and then the day that she did die. I wasn’t in that scene but the scene with Loretta where she was deciding if she was going to kill her or not. Margo and I are two Texas girls and she is from Jacksonville, Texas, which is the halfway mark between Dallas and my parent’s hometown and to meet someone from Jacksonville, you know Jacksonville was the stop with Dairy Queen where we could get ice cream cones and continue our journey. To have that conversation and sort of discovery kind of launched a really interesting friendship with a woman that I didn’t have a whole lot of time to spend with on set but we immediately spoke the same language because of where are families are from.
Lena: That is fantastic. She was incredible.
Erica Tazel: Yes, she’s a lovely lady.
Lena: Yes but I would not want to meet Mags in a dark alley. I’ve never been so afraid of someone on-screen before.
Erica Tazel: She’s so sweet and funny. That is what makes that performance even more brilliant.
Lena: “Thick as Mud” is my favorite episode of the season (so far). You are in it a lot too, so that’s good.
Erica Tazel: Yes, Adam Arkin directed that and we always have a great time with him.
Lena: I love that episode. It’s very creepy and disturbing.
Erica Tazel: We get to see one of our favorite characters go through it and it was great to finally actually get to work with Damon. I think this is the first time that we had some time on set together. He’s the actor that plays Dewey Crowe.
Lena: It also has everything that you want a Valentine’s Day episode of a show to have. It has a little death, a little surprise “surgery”, etc.
Erica Tazel: Yes, it’s so sweet.
Lena: Jon Worley worked on that episode and I always loved his work on Terriers.
Erica Tazel: Oh yes, and he has such a great sense of humor. He’s really smart and very fun to be around. It’s always great when we work on the episodes with those guys because Jon is new to us this season. It’s great to put a face to a name and to have him around that week was really a treat.
Lena: I know that the Psych fans are excited because Maggie Lawson guest stars. It was a very different role for her. People are asking me to tell them more about her part but I didn’t tell them anything, other than it is a very different role for her and she was fantastic in it. I don’t know if you watch Psych.
Erica Tazel: I’ve watched a few episodes.
Lena: Some of the people that watch Psych have never watched an episode of Justified before and they were asking me if I thought they would like it. They want to tune in for Maggie. I told them that it’s a fantastic show but obviously very different than Psych, especially that episode. I can’t wait for them to see it.
Erica Tazel: I know what it looks like in person but I can’t wait to see the final product of it. I try so hard not to watch the episodes after they’ve been filmed. It gives me an opportunity to get some distance from the process of doing it and then I can enjoy it as a fan of the show as well. That one I am extremely curious about and there are some things that I have forgotten, which is also fun. I’m curious to see how that one all came together.
Lena: It must be hard too because I know they have to over film everything so you don’t know exactly everything that is going to be used in the episode.
Erica Tazel: Exactly and it is always a surprise to see the things that make it and the things that get reordered, cut, or nipped and tucked a little bit. It’s always nice to see not only the scenes that you were in, but also how they fit in the larger puzzle of the episode.
Lena: They did a great job; it looks fantastic. After I watched it I said, “Wow, that is my favorite episode of the season.”
Erica Tazel: That’s good. I can’t wait to see it.
Lena: Do you have any favorite episodes or scenes from that episode?
Erica Tazel: My favorite episode to watch was 2.09 of last year, “My Brother’s Keeper.” My favorite episode to shoot so far was actually last week’s episode 3.04, “The Devil You Know.” There are so many but if I had to choose I would have to give one that was my favorite to watch which was, “My Brother’s Keeper.” It was obviously the one that I worked on but there are so many.
Lena: Honestly, there really isn’t a bad episode of the show, and I’m not just saying that because you are on the phone.
Erica Tazel: I appreciate that.
Lena: I was so happy to get a chance to speak with you because I love Justified and I think that you are fantastic in it.
Erica Tazel: There is some really good TV out there right now, and I’m so glad that we are on that side of the line.
Lena: Oh yeah, just like Sons of Anarchy. Sons of Anarchy is amazing, too.
Erica Tazel: Oh yeah, FX is doing their thing between Sons of Anarchy, American Horror Story, and some of the stuff that is coming out. It’s just really different, good, individual, and unique. They are risk takers and I love them for that.
Lena: Yes, and I work with a lot of networks but FX has the strongest fan base for shows. Have you noticed that?
Erica Tazel: Yes they are very loyal and are really supportive and into what we are doing. It’s always nice when we have those rare opportunities to run into fans if we are having an event and there are people outside that want photographs. There are people that watch the show but we never get to see them because the medium itself isn’t like theater. You don’t walk out the stage door and there is someone there. Whenever we have those opportunities to come in contact, even if it’s one or two people, it really puts it into context, the work that we are doing, and that there are people out there that are enjoy it and are loyal supporters. Those are the folks that are keeping us on the air so we definitely appreciate them very much.
Lena: Are we ever going to find out more about Rachel and her personal life?
Erica Tazel: Oh I would love that and that’s why I enjoyed episode 3.04. There wasn’t a whole lot of history exposed but just that little exchange that Raylan and Rachel have when they are with Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson). It’s something as small as finding out where you are from. That is one thing that I’ve been going back and fourth with since we started the show. I’ve been trying to figure out who this woman is, is she from the south, is she from the north, or is she from the east coast. Hendersonville is a very specific detail and I love the fact that she used to clean houses with her mom. That was a nice twist. I feel that without the writers even knowing that they did it, it was a gift they gave me because my best friend actually used to pick cotton with her mother and her mother also cleaned homes. She would go into the house of the woman and help clean periodically and the relationship that she had with the homeowner as a child, that was a great gift and her mom just recently passed away. I felt like it was a nice way if I could have ended that episode in a memory of, it would have been that episode. I like that nice detail because it’s not something that you would even think still exists but there are stories out there. I liked that and it gives some more insight on who this woman is and why she is the way she is and why she works as hard as she does. There will be a little bit more in terms of backstory but not a whole lot this season. I’m very happy with that discovery and that piece that we found out about her this year.
Lena: Yes, because we really don’t know a lot about Rachel, Tim (Jacob Pitts), and Art (Nick Searcy). You get a little bit of a backstory but I guess you get to develop that.
Erica Tazel: Exactly, and the more time we have to explore and discover. We have this amazing guest cast that comes through and we have to get to know them very quickly and we have a limited amount of time to get it, so we are sort of sharing that space in terms of backstory and development. Over time and the deeper that we get in, I’m pretty confident that we will find out more about the Marshal team as it relates to Art, Rachel and Tim.
Lena: That’s good. Can you talk about Rachel and Raylan’s partnership and how it has developed over the seasons?
Erica Tazel: I think it’s great. I think once Rachel sort of relaxed and realized that he wasn’t coming in to infringe on her territory they were able to develop a relationship based in mutual respect. They are in fact colleges that do the same thing. I like the banter that happens between them and I like that they can talk about their cultural differences without it being heavy handed, there is always a sense of humor there. In any great working relationship there are certainly things that you learn from the other person. There are strengths and weaknesses that each of them have and in a great working relationship those strengths and weaknesses compliment each other. I think Raylan and Rachel strike a great balance between the two of them and it’s been nice to have an opportunity, whenever we can, to see them one-on-one, outside of the working relationship. They actually really like each other. I think Rachel still looks at him a little sideways sometimes, but I also think she realizes that there is a lot that she can learn from him as she is moving towards her career goal and things that she should explore and exploit in many ways that she gets to work with a Marshal like Raylan Givens.
Lena: I love in Tuesday’s episode (“Thick as Mud”) when Raylan is trying to get Rachel to laugh at his jokes, all those bad jokes.
Erica Tazel: I love that about her. When you see Raylan with a lot of the women on the show, especially the guest cast, they just swoon and they are just so giggly around him and Rachel, not so much.
Lena: I kind of feel that the day that she starts laughing at his jokes is the day she is going to die.
Erica Tazel: Yes, Rachel is either going to die or get shipped off to another office or something.
Lena: Rachel has to keep him in check. That’s how I’ve always felt about your character.
Erica Tazel: Yes, that’s perfect. I think maybe sometimes she laughs inside at his jokes but…
Lena: She doesn’t want him to know.
Erica Tazel: Yes it’s sort of the same thing like how I’m never going to let him see me sweat. I can’t let him see me laugh; I can’t give him that, yet.
Lena: That’s right. Can you talk about working with the cast?
Erica Tazel: Timothy is great and when you think about a leading man, it’s not just the person that the show is about, they really do lead the cast and the crew everyday. Tim is doing that so elegantly and with so much integrity. I love the boys. I love when we have an opportunity to all be together, and I’m a huge fan of Jacob Pitts and Nick Searcy. They are dear friends of mine and they keep us laughing. They keep us on our toes. They are also just incredible human beings. They are very smart and generous people. I’m hoping that before this all ends that I can actually work with Walton (Goggins), Joelle (Carter) and Natalie (Zea). I’ve sort of crossed paths with them briefly in our three seasons, and I mean briefly. I hope that the story will allow us to play, at some point, together but off-screen they are incredible people as well. We lucked out with having a great group of people that actually like each other (laughing).
Lena: That was going to be my next questions. Are we going to get any Rachel and Boyd moments this season?
Erica Tazel: I think that would be fantastic.
Lena: Yes! He’s my favorite.
Erica Tazel: Yes, I think they are so different in every way possible and I think it would be so nice to see these two people, who kind of keep their cards close to them, interact. I do hope at some point I can cross his path, even Johnny Crowder, any of those guys but especially Walt. I can’t say enough about how brilliant the guy is and what a gift he has been to the show and the brilliance of his performance as Boyd Crowder. I think we are all salivating at the opportunity to work with him.
Lena: Yes, everyone loves him, too. It’s funny because all of the girls (myself included) think that he is the heartthrob of the show. Timothy is cute but Walton has that certain something (laughing). He’s like Kim Coates in Sons of Anarchy.
Erica Tazel: Yes (laughing). Tim might not like that (laughing). It’s that danger factor and that unpredictability. It’s the enigma of the unpredictability of what he might do or say or might not do or say.
Lena: Yes and I love how Boyd’s hair gets bigger and puffier when he gets angry (laughing).
Erica Tazel: I think he’s trying to get a campaign add for one of the shampoos or something (laughing).
Lena: That would be fantastic; I can really see that.
Lena: Like I was saying before, it must be great to work on a show where the writing and storylines are intense and compelling and you have to give credit to Elmore (Leonard) and Graham (Yost).
Erica Tazel: Yes, without the words there are just ideas and they give us our roadmap and we’ve got a pretty stellar roadmap. Without the words none of us can work and not just us but the designers, the production team, the transportation team, and the location scouts; without the words none of us can work.
Lena: What are some of the highlights of getting to bring Rachel to life? What is coming up for her as the season progresses?
Erica Tazel: One of the highlights, as an actor, is that you’re the only person that is ever going to play this role and have the authority to create her from the pilot. The daily highlight is that with each script, and changes of the script, is a level of discovery and exploration. What can we expect from her? I think more of what we’ve seen in episode four and five. You see a woman Marshal who owns what she does and is completely comfortable taking the lead when asked to, and seeing the Marshal that Art is proud to have on his team, and seeing her ability to function excellently in what she does. We will see a little bit more of that this season. I like that change and exploration and it was sort of hinted at in the pilot episode where you think that she is a total badass. I like the fact that we are getting back into not only what makes Raylan a brilliant Marshal but what makes Art a brilliant Marshal which we saw in episode two, I do believe. It also shows what makes Rachel and Gutterson formidable and excellent in the roles that they play in law enforcement.
Lena: Several fans wrote in and wanted me to ask you who the biggest prankster on the set is?
Erica Tazel: That would have to be Nick Searcy (laughing). I’m not easily broken and I’m always like, “You’re not going to make me laugh.” He just comes up with these…he always has to have the last word of the scene whether it is written or not. He has to have the last say. He will also never let you get too serious about it all. I’m going to go with Nick. Jacob is pretty silly and he makes jokes during the shoot but Nick is the one that always gets me. I’m always, “I’m trying to focus, leave me alone (laughing).” He’ll wait until it’s your coverage to start the joking. It’s definitely Nick.
Lena: Does everyone still bust on Jacob for doing EuroTrip?
Erica Tazel: I think it’s more of the fan base that does that. I think he’s kind of shaken it, in terms of the cast, but I’m not sure about the crew. He doesn’t get it a whole lot from us. He was so funny in that.
Lena: I liked the movie.
Erica Tazel: Gutterson is so different from that guy (Cooper Harris), which is pretty funny. He is a funny guy.
Lena: What other projects do you have coming up? I know that you also do a lot of charity work.
Erica Tazel: Get on the Bus is something that is close to my heart. It’s an organization that unites children with their incarcerated parent for Mother’s or Father’s Day. I’m putting together a Father’s Day bus. This is my third year with them. It’s a six month thing that we started last month by going to visit the families that are on our bus. We had three applications, just for our bus, and our bus leaves the Saturday before Father’s Day, so we are in the mist of doing home visits and fund raising. We have to do everything for the bus because it’s a free trip for the families. Our prison is located in Soledad, California and it’s about an hour drive north of Los Angeles. For many of our families it’s the one time that they get to see their dad. What’s exciting about this year’s trip is that I have three kids that will be meeting their dads for the first time. I’ve heard those stories from some of the other bus coordinators in the area and I’ve had families before who haven’t seen their father in a while, but this year we have three that will be meeting their fathers for the first time. One of them is a little boy, who was literally just born three weeks ago, and then we have a sixteen-year-old boy, and a seventeen-year-old girl who will be reunited and we get to be a part of that journey and a part of that process. My attention will be given to that from now until June. Projects like Justified give me the luxury to dive into projects like that.
Lena: That is so nice.
Lena: Are you going to do any more theater work?
Erica Tazel: I would love to do a play. I miss the stage. We are working on some things and opportunities and we will see what we can work out schedule wise. It’s definitely something that is a desire of my heart and hopefully I can return to the stage sometime very soon.
Lena: I don’t know how you guys can do (live) work like that. (I really admire live stage actors).
Erica Tazel: As someone who has horrible stage fright I find it much more comforting than being in front of the camera because it’s what I know, my training is in theater and I know how that medium works. Once I get past that point where I’m waiting in the wings and I make my entrance and I say my first line, then I’m okay. Everything preceding that is a complete nightmare but the process of being in a room for four weeks, fleshing these characters out, improving, working with the other actors and having at least four weeks in front of an audience with that immediate feedback and the ability to take on that ownership that the theater gives the actor as well. It is nerve-racking but it’s also very exciting, very rewarding, and I’ve had some phenomenal opportunities onstage in terms of characters that I’ve been allowed to play onstage. I hope to get back to it for sure.
Erica Tazel Interview “Rachel Brooks”
Watch Justified Tuesday Nights on FX
February 14, 2012
By Lena Lamoray