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Interview: Parisa Fitz-Henley

It seems the appetite for supernatural themed series continues to grow for viewers around the world. The latest entry is the intriguing new NBC series Midnight, Texas.

Midnight is a safe haven for those who are different, but with the presence of outsiders, the residents band together and form a strong and unlikely family. One of those residents in Midnight is a witch named Fiji Cavanaugh played by the wonderfully talented Parisa Fitz-Henley.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Parisa is already carving out her own path to success in Hollywood. She’s appeared in series such as Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Blue Bloods, Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice.

We sit down with Parisa to talk about her new series and character, what input she had in creating the look and feel of Fiji Cavanaugh and her thoughts on Midnight, Texas being compared to HBO’s True Blood.

Pop Culture Principle - Can you tell us about your character Fiji Cavanaugh and how you approached bringing her to life?

Parisa Fitz-Henley – Fiji was described to me as a quirky, hippy witch and I just thought that was so me. I then read the script and saw so much of me in Fiji. Since the first two books were available, I immediately picked up the books and read them.

I had this very strong sense preparing for the audition that I didn’t need to do too much because she was already there for me. I felt very strongly connected with Fiji right away. I try and trust my intuition as I prepare for things and my intuition was telling me light some incents, put on some Enya, relax yourself and move around the room. I was thinking just relax yourself because this isn’t one of those things where you have to beat your head against the wall to try and pull out a backstory.

There is just so much that I related to when I read her thoughts about herself and about the world around her. In the books, I think the color of her skin is only mentioned once. Her prominent feature is her hair for other people and for her, the prominent feature is her figure, which she isn’t comfortable with and that is something I could relate to. My figure is more along the lines of what people consider to be culturally acceptable depending on their culture, but how we are perceived and how we feel about ourselves are not the same and I think any of us would agree with that. So, I could really relate to her thoughts about that a lot.

Pop Culture Principle – Did you do any type of research in witchcraft, spells and tarot cards to learn more about Fiji Cavanaugh and do you personally believe in the supernatural?

Parisa Fitz-Henley – Yes, I did research and I totally believe in it. I am sure some of the things that we have seen are imaginary, but I am also very certain that a lot of the things we have seen regarding magic and witchcraft are science that we don’t understand yet. So much of it was science that was practiced by women, so it was especially not understood and not accepted throughout history. I’m really glad to be living in a time where it is safe to do these things.

Part of my research was meeting with people in the Pagan community who either practice witchcraft or are around it and they had to be careful that their families wouldn’t know that this was a part of their life because it’s still a problem for some people.

There was a lot around to pull from in preparing for this character as I went along learning what different things did. We had such an incredible team doing the art for Fiji, preparing the herbs or the containers that Fiji would use and putting all these props together. They knew what certain herbs and roots would do and they really cared about what they were doing when putting all of this together.

Pop Culture Principle – Fiji has a very interesting style and look. How much input did you have with that aspect of the character?

Parisa Fitz-Henley – This is a very collaborative team. The Midnight, Texas team are all very excellent at their jobs and they are open to consolation about decisions. This is definitely the kind of project that you want to pay attention to and take with you as you move along to other projects and how to act. I feel like I’ve seen so many exemplary things with this series.

We discussed things about Fiji’s look in the very beginning. For instance, in the pilot, you see me wearing this big blue sweater which was my personal sweater. The director saw me wearing it between takes and when I was about to take it off before we were going to shoot, he asked me what I was doing. I told him I was taking it off to get ready to shoot and he thought that it was Fiji’s sweater which was pretty funny.

Fiji expresses her journey through what she wears and you see it on the show. No outfit that she ever wears is put together arbitrarily. There is a lot of thought that went into every ring, every stone because Fiji is someone who would care. We see her dressing for her mood as she goes along in the first season and God willing if we get another season, you will see even more of that.

Pop Culture Principle – It seems that Fiji is a bit uncomfortable with her powers. Would you agree with that and if so, is that something she will struggle with this season?

Parisa Fitz-Henley – One hundred percent to both of those things! We are going to see very clearly why she is uncomfortable with her powers. I think nobody hides their power for happy reasons and she doesn’t. We will see and understand so much more about her when that comes out and we’ll get that this season and you will come to understand.

Pop Culture Principle – We get the feeling that Fiji has more than friendship in mind with Bobo. Is that true and if so, will that be explored in the first season?

Parisa Fitz-Henley – Yes, it is true and she’s totally in love with him, but for some extremely good reasons, she can’t tell him and we will get to find out why. I am such a huge fan of the show, whenever I got the next script, I would always be surprised. The books are exciting and there are surprises, but it’s a really interesting ride that Bobo and Fiji go on in the book, but it wouldn’t be interesting if that was exactly the same thing that happened in the show. So, it’s very, very cool what Monica Breen brings in with the DNA of the book and implanting it into the show. I would say definitely stay tuned because it’s going to get good!

Pop Culture Principle – Some people are comparing Midnight, Texas to HBO’s True Blood. What are your thoughts about that? Do you see it as a compliment or a bit of a hindrance or both?

Parisa Fitz-Henley – I think a little bit of both. It’s apples and oranges in a sense. Both are delicious fruits, but not everybody wants both of them. Some say True Blood is all about sexuality in modern life and Midnight, Texas is about community, diversity and finding family where there is none. So, they are very different sets of themes, both really important and pertinent to what is going on in the world right now, but not the same.

Does our show have sex in it? Of course, it does, maybe not as much as True Blood because we are on a network and not cable, but that’s not what made True Blood True Blood anyway, it was the story. So, people who are open to these stories about supernatural and “normal” people interacting will like both of these shows for that reason, but there are other things that are going to appeal to people that we deal with that True Blood didn’t and vice versa.

Look, to do anything that’s involved with Charlaine Harris is amazing. She’s a queen, she’s the sweetest, she’s the smartest and she’s everything. It’s an honor to be in the same world, but they are different.

Pop Culture Principle – Why do you think shows about the supernatural are so popular these days?

Parisa Fitz-Henley – I think we’ve always loved story as human beings and the more imaginative the better. We think back to the fables that people have shared for generations. There is something about seeing a being who is not exactly like you go through something that is exactly like you would go through that gives you just enough of a remove to be able to sit with them through the entire process of learning the lesson. I feel like we get that through natural stories.

I think about Superman for example and the idea of feeling like you have to hide yourself because your true self is too much for people around you. Fiji experiences that, Manfred on our show experiences that and countless characters experience that in the supernatural world. We as human beings experience that all the time because many of us hide our light and our true color.

Also, I think humans are naturally wired for beauty and this fantasy world allows us to paint visual pictures that are stupendous and we eat that up and it feeds a human need.

Pop Culture Principle – Although this is an ensemble cast, each character gets their time to shine in the series. Would you agree with that?

Parisa Fitz-Henley – Yes, I totally agree with that and I love it. Again, as a fan of the show, to be able to dig into these characters is fantastic. If we get further seasons, which I so hope we do, we’ll see backstories of each of these characters, but they aren’t THE backstories of these characters. There is so much depth to each of these characters that we can be doing this for a very long time and I really hope we do.

Pop Culture Principle – What can fans look forward to with the first season of Midnight, Texas?

Parisa Fitz-Henley – They can look forward to some mysteries being solved and some new mysteries presenting themselves. They can look forward to a lot of different emotions and some things that will probably make them talk about what’s happening in our life and country right now. I think folks can look forward to some good conversations.

They can also look forward to the cast being involved with them on social media as much as is humanly possible. We’ve had the fans in mind since shooting the show. This has never felt like a bubble and this show has felt like it belongs to so many people. There has always been a feeling of connection to the people who are going to consume this partially because each of us as actors knows what it’s like to be an outsider and we know what it feels like to find community. So, it’s really exciting to be able to find that community throughout the world right now with people who enjoy the show.

We would like to thank Parisa Fitz-Henley for taking time out of her busy schedule to talk with us! Remember, you can catch new episodes of Midnight, Texas every Monday night at 10/9c only on NBC.

If you would like to keep up with Parisa’s latest news and projects, you can follow her official Twitter account @ParisaFH.

**Photos courtesy of: Mark Davis/Virginia Sherwood/Cathy Kanavy/NBC**

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