On Aug. 11, Send Help debuts on AllBlk, bringing to the AMC Network streaming service for Black television and film an all-new show from actor Jean Elie (Insecure, Colin in Black and White) and writer Mike Gauyo (Insecure, Ginny & Georgia).
Send Help dives into the life of Fritz Jean-Baptiste (Elie), a first-generation Hatian-American who just landed a starring role on a hit TV show. He feels on top of the world. That is until he gets the news that his show has been canceled. As Fritz works to conquer Hollywood (and a bit of imposter syndrome), he also must navigate his family’s recent tragedy and life’s other numerous obstacles.
Ahead of the series premiere, Elie spoke with LA Confidential about bringing his labor of love to life for TV and how his early-years L.A. home in Van Nuys evolved into his production company, Bassett House Pictures.
Send Help is categorized as a dark comedy. Why was this the right tonal approach for the story you wanted to tell?
I like comedy, but also like a lot of dark s***. So it just spoke to me to have it within that type of frame.
It lends itself to situational comedy to happen within the moment where you’re like, “Oh, my God, this is getting so dark,” but then an unexpected funny thing happens. And that's like life. Life is like that when you think, “Oh my god, this can't get any worse.” And then you just bust out laughing or something funny happens in the moment.
With so much television available for us to watch, what makes Send Help stand out?
We don't really have first-generation immigrant stories like that, especially immigrant stories surrounding the Haitian culture. It’s one of the shows that’s first of its kind, and I'm super happy and excited to be able to bring that out to the world and share that story with us. And it's also something that's so personal to me, so it gives it some authenticity that we don't necessarily see in shows like that.
You serve as creator, writer and star. But when you first started acting, at the time, you didn’t plan on getting into writing and other endeavors, right?
That's true. I did not plan on getting into any of that. Honestly, I thought I was just going to be an actor. I thought that was the goal: get on a TV show and do something that my family has never seen before and just show there are other options outside of being a doctor, lawyer, or nurse. And when I first got out here and started working, I started noticing that the more you're trying to get to where you want to be at, it's a lot of waiting for other people. And I'm not about waiting for other people, so I started investing in myself by creating my own content and that stemmed from the house that I lived in, Bassett House. A lot of those creators in the house came out here to be an actor or came out here to be a producer or came out here to be a hairstylist or computer programmer, but they can actively do things, whereas as an actor you're constantly waiting. So I got my roommates together and we started creating little sketches. We started doing audition tapes together. We started producing projects together. And even one of my roommates ended up becoming one of my managers who assisted me in getting American Crime. It was just a community of people just supporting one another and I knew that for me to make it and also to build a solid foundation for my work and to get hired for the work I want to do, I have to create it. And Bassett House was one of those things that started me on that trajectory.
How did Bassett House evolve from literally a place you lived to your production company?
It's pretty simple because if you think about what Bassett House was, it was a community of creators all living together and working on getting to where they want to be at. Once we started working together, things started popping off for all of us. So when I started to the idea of creating a production company, I said Bassett House is probably the best name and there's so much we could play with it. It's about reaching for the person sitting next to you and building a table that we all sit at.
You just mentioned you wanted to show your family that there were other options besides being a doctor, lawyer or nurse, which I can imagine is pretty high pressure. What fueled your actor’s drive?
The freedom. When I really fell in love with acting was when I got to acting class over at Playhouse West. I was in a rehearsal class and the teacher was doing a scene with another kid and he was so alive on stage that I knew that that's what I wanted. I knew that there was nothing else I want to do besides this moment right here, and I started going to class about seven days a week. And with the way the school was set up is that you have two classes: you have a Monday and Tuesday class and then you have two rehearsal classes. And then I started auditing other people's classes so therefore I can have the opportunity to go up and workshop my work. And the teachers there were so amazing and nurturing and caring that it allowed me to actually grow as a creative and, as an actor, and really hone and build that foundation I needed.
When I was graduating college, acting wasn't a thought for me at first because it didn't feel like it was possible. I thought I was gonna be a scientist. I thought I was going to create projects and do things to help the world that way after watching Dexter's Laboratory and The Magic School Bus. I love those shows. So when I heard a radio ad about ProScout, which turned out to be a total scam, it piqued my interest in order for me to further pursue this. And as I start going down the rabbit hole of research and trying to figure out what acting is and how I can get involved and how it's somewhat tangible for me, I started looking up jobs on Craigslist.
After my brother passed away, I made a decision that I wanted to actually pursue this for real and I made the move to L.A. and I just stuck with it even through the setbacks. When I first got here, the person I was supposed to live with bailed on me at the airport and I had to move in with someone I met baggage claim. And also the person that allowed me to stay with him at baggage claim, I just knew I had to own up to everything that I said I was going to do when I first got out of here.
I was in the process of proving to myself that I can do something that I set out to do. And also the craft really inspires me to continue to move forward. Because if you don't love it, it's gonna be hard for you to actually move forward in anything you do. There's several times where I've gotten to those low moments where I thought this was it and I had to like re-dream my dream in order for me to achieve what I'm achieving right now
Send Help has ties to your early years in L.A., which really contrasts where you are now. You have a production company, your TV show is about to premiere and you recently got engaged! How does it feel to be at this point in your life?
It's crazy. Honestly, I'm still processing it all. It’s a lot of changes happening. At the same time, I've been working for this for so long. So now that it's all here, I’m probably going to have to sit back and try to re-dream my dream again and figure out what the next move is.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Photos by Ally Green; Courtesy AllBlk