BY David whitely
images provided by Getty Images & BET
Quoted as hearing guys say, ‘There goes that bitch,’ Melissa De
Sousa doesn’t hold any grudges against those comments, but what she does do is take it as a compliment and a testament of her acting ability. “People call me Shelby on the street, like that’s my real name. I take it as a compliment; I guess I did a good job,” as quoted in King Magazine back in 2007. Mainly known for her roles on the big screen in films like The Best Man, Lockdown, and Miss Congeniality, Melissa still is no stranger to television. Before the Afro-Latina starlet joined the cast of Reed Between the Lines with co-stars Tracee Ellis Ross, Malcolm Jamal-Warner, and Anna Maria Horsford; Melissa had already played a supporting role on the very popular UPN series, One on One with Flex Alexander and Kyla Pratt. There she showcased her talents playing the every so fashionable girlfriend of Alexander while balancing the role as the witty take no nonsense teacher of Pratt’s character. So when it was time to undertake a new role for BET's Reed Between the Lines, Melissa was ready. When you wrap words like spiritual, fiery, passionate, funny, and beautiful all in one, you get actress Melissa’s new character, Gabriella Jimenez. This New York City native was just the right person to play the role of passionate Puerto Rican acupuncturist and best friend of Tracee Ellis Ross’ character.
Melissa takes 30 minutes to chop it up with Dr!p Magazine's feature writer, David Whitely about her show on BET, coming from Jamaica, Queens and her after school snack - all while dropping a few bars of Mobb Deep's Survival of the Fittest.
David Whitely: So Melissa, you play Gabriella Jimenez on the show. Who is a acupuncturist, best friend to Carla Reed (Tracee Ellis Ross' character) and was raised in South Philly. Tell me a little bit more about your character.
Melissa De Sousa: Her [Gabriella] and Carla grow up together and move to New York. Carla kept going on her career as a psychologist and I actually was an aspiring dancer but you know, that didn't work out. 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, 'cause I'm looking for a husband honey. [Laughs] Carla is her BFF and she's trying to have her back. Carla is more of the psychological friend; she thinks things out. But I'm like the, “I'll get in your face.” I act more on my emotions than she does.
DW: I remember back in episode 3 where you spray some different things in the office, like for the chi. What was up with that? [Laughs]
MDS: [Laughs] Yeah, I was aura-cleansing. I'm very spiritual, and I'm trying to find inner peace. Like I said, as Gabby, I'm more of an in your face type person and I'm trying to calm myself down at the same time. You know, just spreading the love and positivity with my clients, but I have to try to get myself together is basically what I'm doing.
DW: How was it working with Tracee and Malcolm on the show?
MDS: Well I've known Malcolm going back to Cosby days, so I've known him for a long time. I've known Anna Maria for a long time too; we did a movie called Lock Down together. I think I did the Wayans Brothers when she was on there too. We all get along great, we work well together, and we're extremely witty, and we do our thing together. We have a good time.
DW: How is it on the set? I know there has to be somebody that's the jokester on the show behind the scenes.
MDS: Wow. Umm, let me think of who it is. Tracee is a little zany and very free-spirited. And I like that about her. She kind of puts it out there and has a good time, and takes chances. She's really funny in person, you wouldn't believe it. It’s tough because we don't do that much hanging out off the set because of the hours. We just go to work and we just get it done. We laugh together and stuff like that, but there is no one who is like off the chain crazy like that. [Laughs] Like this week we're having Anthony Anderson guest starring on the show, and that's our comic relief for the week. He's funny. He's really funny.
DW: Yea, that will definitely be your comic relief for the week; he is a really funny guy. Have you seen any of his movies?
MDS: Oh yea, yea. I've known Anthony for a long time. He's just as funny in person, he's funny on film, he's funny all the time. He cracks me up. So we'll be laughing all day.
DW: Tell me a joke or something funny that’s happened on set.
MDS: [Laughs] I was on my cell phone and he was like, Oh no. Melissa we don't do that. We don't do that. On your email time you don't get on the phone. What are you talking about Anthony? What's with all this email? Yea, put that away we don't do that. You was just on the phone Anthony. Yea ok, that's how we do it on my show? That's how we do it? [Laughs] Ok ok. I'll put it in my pocket. So we get ready to start the rehearsal and the scene, and I look over and he is on his phone texting. So I say oh umm Anthony...he says, “Aw man you caught me, I was just following your lead.” [Both burst out laughing] He's just crazy. [Laughing hysterically]
DW: Wow, that's crazy. So more about the show. What is your personal opinion about the family dynamic of the Reeds on the show?
MDS: Well I think it’s good. I think a lot of the young people out there who need to see more family oriented type shows. With all this reality television, if it’s not that, its just crazy stuff on television, and that's fine, it has its place. But I think that it’s like that with all the positive images of America and family on television, we haven't seen that on TV in a long time. I'm not saying that they are this perfect family, but there is something out there for the young people to see. You see BET trying to have more positive programming. Which I think is good. It’s good for the African American community. It’s just needed.
DW: Yes! Absolutely! Me personally, I'm 22, and finishing up my undergrad degree, and I grew up on re-runs of the Cosby Show and A Different World.
DW: Aside from Reed Between the Lines, what else are you watching on TV? What show would you stop on when you flipping through the channels?
MDS: One of my favorite shows, is Breaking Bad. [Laughs] I mean, that's my show. The season just ended. I don't know if you've ever seen that show?
DW: Na, I wasn't able to catch it.
MDS: It is really good though, starring Bryan Cranston. What else do I watch? I hate to say it, but I watched All My Children until it was taken off the air.
DW: [Cuts in] Wow.
MDS: I know, I know. [Laughs] I use to watch the show since I was younger. It used to be my thing after a long day of work, and now it’s gone.
DW: When I was younger, my mom used to be on that with One Life to Live, and General Hospital.
MDS: That's my stuff right there. [Laughs] That's my lineup.
DW: You were quoted in an interview in talking about your character Gabby saying, “I'm more of an action chic. I'll take it to the streets.” Tell me about a time when somebody was getting out of pocket, or besides themselves and you had to take it to the streets.
MDS: You mean me as Melissa?
DW: [Laughs] Yeah. Definitely… coming from New York City.
MDS: I mean yeah, you know it happens.
DW: You know you gotta tell me about that.
MDS: Well I was in high school. Actually, it was like 8th grade, right before high school. You know, people always try to test you. You know it’s like, “oh the light skin girl,” and they always try to test you. There was this girl, this neighbor, and she was just a bully. Somebody said we should just play fight, and we had a fake ring in my backyard, like a boxing ring. I'm not a person that like confrontation; I don't like to fight. But when people push me to a certain point, it’s like you know, you can't play yourself. So I knocked that girl’s tooth out. [Laughs] It was probably already shaking because we were young, and it was probably a baby tooth.
DW: Na, you had that Mike Tyson power behind your punch. [Both burst out laughing]
MDS: I mean I didn't feel great about it ‘cause they kept bullying me, but part of me was like “alright I knocked your tooth out what.” [Laughs] You know how it is in New York. [Laughs] I think I got into one other fight on my block, and we hit, and pushed each other, but somebody came and broke it up quick.
DW: I dig. You were talking about your block, where are you from exactly in NYC?
MDS: I lived in Queens, Jamaica Queens.
DW: Oh, you all the way out there. Me, I'm from the Bronx, but I used to live out in Queens, out in Far Rockaway.
MDS: Oh, okay. Oh, Far Rock.
DW: Oh word? What's wrong with Far Rockaway? [Jokingly]
MDS: Nothing, nothing. [Laughs] It’s just another place where you know …had to be on point.
DW: I know that you guys are coming out with The Best Man sequel.
DW: You knew this one was coming.
DW: With the return of Shelby
MDS: “The return of Shelby,” that's funny.
DW: Shelby's character, you know… she was bossy.
MDS: Yes, the one character that everyone loved to hate.
DW: Of course. You did a great job in that role. I know that's not you in real life as Melissa, but you played one hell of a job out that role.
MDS: It was fun. It was fun playing Shelby, I can't wait to do it again. She's even more off the chain in the next one. I'm excited for it.
DW: How so?
MDS: I can't tell you anything. I can't tell you anything about that. [Laughs] You not gonna get me fired. [Laughs] That's more hush hush. All I can say is the audience will not be disappointed.
DW: Well when the movie gets closer can I lock you in for another interview to talk about it?
MDS: Oh most definitely, sure.
DW: In real life, do you ever catch yourself having a Shelby moment?
MDS: I mean yeah, sometimes I act spoiled when I want my way. But usually I compromise. I really compromise. I go out of my way for the other person that I'm dating. I don't really do it like she does.
DW: Ok. You mentioned dating. Are you dating now, seeing anyone?
MDS: Yeah, I'm seeing someone.
DW: Well congratulations.
MDS: [Laughs] Thank you.
DW: I read the King Magazine article you did back in'07; you were talking about guys thinking you were like Shelby in real life.
MDS: Well yeah, cause it’s such a stigma because of that character. People think I'm like that at first glance, but see that I'm not after talking to me for like 5 seconds. And they realize I'm nothing like that. And I'm a homebody, so it’s kind of hard to meet people that way because I like to stay out of the clubs, and just stay at home and watch movies.
DW: What was one of the craziest things a guy has said in trying to approach you? That made you say, “Wow, I can't believe he just said that.”
MDS: One guy told me that I was gonna be his wife, and I'm like umm no I will not, I might not even go out with you. [Laughs] I remember I was walking down the street one time in Manhattan, and this was when I was dancing full time and really in shape. A group of guys were walking up towards me, and you know when you're in New York its like “let me pretend I'm on the phone.” One of the guys like grabbed my calf.
DW: Wow, that's crazy.
MDS: Yeah, I know. Guys get crazy at times.
DW: Being from Jamaica Queens, how was it for you growing up?
MDS: It was fun. Those were the days of LL [LL Cool J], block parties, going to the bodega, turntables in the street, the block cut off for parties. Free styling in the street. It was like what you see in urban movies; that was my childhood. It was a great time. Just music, culture, it was just a good era.
DW: What was your snack when you went to the Bodega? That one thing you had to get.
MDS: My snack everyday in high school was the white-powdered gem doughnut, and a Welch’s grape soda. Sometimes I would switch up the doughnut for the honey bun. All my friends would ask me for a piece of my honey bun because they knew I was coming with it.
DW: Where are you residing now?
MDS: I live in LA now, but my mom still lives in Queens.
DW: What's the difference in growing up in New York and living in LA now?
MDS: Well I just miss interacting with people, and just experiencing different cultures. I think LA is a little segregated, and not like the “melting pot” that New York City is. One day if I go home and I go to a diner, I'm chilling with Indian, Latin, Black, Asian, all in one day. I just miss that. LA is not really like that, you're mostly in your car not interacting with people. Just walking in NYC, there is always a chance for conversation when you go out. You know New Yorkers; we always start talking to you in a minute. People think we're rude, I'm not saying we can't be, but we're open to talking to people.
DW: So speaking of between NY and LA, who you rocking with: the Knicks or the Lakers?
MDS: [laughs] I don't think anyone has rocked with the Knicks since Patrick Ewing retired. I mean I would have anxiety attacks because they would always be up in the third quarter and lose in the fourth; I couldn't do it anymore. But if I had to choose, come on you know who I'm gonna choose, and it ain't the Lakers.
DW: Yeah, you better say that before you get a crazy phone call from Spike Lee. [Both bust out laughing]
MDS: I know, I know. That's funny.
DW: You were talking about your car earlier, so what are you listening to in your car right now?
MDS: It depends what mode I'm in. Sometimes when there's crazy traffic, I listen to classical music to calm me down. When I'm in a hype kind of mode, I love my Jay-Z and Kanye album. I'll definitely bump that album. When I feel like singing, I really like Adele. I love my Jay-Z and Kanye single Otis. I just love that beat. That's that one that I obsess over and play over and over.
DW: Oh word. Let me hear a Jay-Z verse.
MDS: Oh you know you are not getting me to do that.
DW: Let me at least hear a couple bars. I know you got it in you, you're a New Yorker.
MDS: I can't. I could probably do Mobb Deep.
DW: Let me hear that.
MDS: [She starts rapping Mobb Deep's Survival of the Fittest]
MDS: [Laughing] Thank you
DW: What other projects are you working on?
MDS: I've been in Atlanta for like 6 months and haven't had time to think. All I have coming out right now is The Best Man sequel.
DW: Are you on Twitter?
MDS: Yes, my Twitter is @1melissadesousa.
DW: Mine is @davidwhitely. I’ll tell you what, you follow me and I'll follow you.
MDS: [Laughs] Ok.
I really enjoyed this 30 minutes talking with Melissa. Diving into her world bridge many gaps between her world and mine but from one New Yorker to the next we keep it real. Find out more on my interview with Melissa by following me on Twitter. You definitely don’t want to miss out. We thank Melissa and BET for the time they took out for DR!P Magazine. Make sure you tune in to BET on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. to support Melissa and BET by watching Reed Between the Lines.