Speaking with Jasmine Burke, one of the stars of Bounce TV breakout drama, Saints and Sinners, it is hard not to notice how her voice fails to hide her natural exuberance, which is infectious and understandable. Her series drew 1.3 million viewers when it premiered on Bounce TV, presently, the audience has grown to 1.5 million viewers each Sunday night, who would not be excited with those numbers? For the series finale this Sunday, fans are in for a real treat, most of their questions about show’s storylines and characters will be explained, but even more questions will arise, it is a testament to the show’s creator Ty Scott’s gift of storytelling. Sheen Magazine spoke to Jasmine about the intriguing complexity that is Saints and Sinners and her character “Dr. Christie Johnson” on the hit show.
What made you pursue acting?
I was in theater since I was in elementary school and continued in middle and high school. [I am a self-proclaimed] drama queen, which described my desire to be a thespian rather than being caught up in messy drama. I did not know it could be a real career, it was just something I loved to do; no one pushed me–it was something I always put myself in. When I went to college, I realized I can make this into a professional career. From there, I was a finalist on MTV’s Making the Band 3, I worked with Tyler Perry [on his show] Meet the Browns, which was my first television acting job followed by The Secret Life of Bees with Queen Latifah, and I have not looked back since.
The show Saints and Sinners is a runaway success. What have been the contributing factors on why the show is so popular?
As an actor, I knew the script was something special, but you never know how people are going to receive it, so when we saw people were going crazy about it–we thought this is incredible. We knew we were making something special, but we did not expect this incredible, amazing response. The success of the show, I feel, is due to people not seeing people of color being successful and scandalous at the same time. Usually, when you see people of color being scandalous, the characters are in the hood as drug dealers and gangbangers. You do not see us as the doctors and the pastors, city councilmen and the mayor doing dirt, and people were intrigued by that.
The show depicts that African-Americans are not all the way good or bad; the series showcases what it means to be human.
I think we always have to be the Great Black Hope, for some reason, and that is not the reality of life. Just like we come in all different shades, we come from different backgrounds, mindsets, socio-economic statuses and just because you have achieved success, does not mean that you are the great black hope. The people who are considered the top 1% have the most craziness going on behind the scenes. Black people have been put in that box because we have not seen a lot of images of ourselves in the first place. However, with our counterparts, they get to play a full gamut of characters that do not have to be perfect, like Breaking Bad where the main character “Walter White” was a schoolteacher selling methamphetamine. You have House of Cards with Kevin Spacey playing Francis Underwood along with his wife “Claire Underwood”, and I love that show, but they get [to be imperfect], but with us it is a different story because we have not seen a lot of ourselves.
When we were promoting Saints and Sinners, we had to be clear that we were not bashing the church because people were hesitant about the show. They felt we were pulling the covers off the church, and I am like, ‘if we are what is wrong with that?’ We all know some things that are going on in the church, so if we are making an entertaining situation out of that what is the problem? We had to condition people’s minds that it is okay to show the pastor and his wife up to things. It is okay, we are not tearing the church down, and we are giving you a weekly entertaining program in the scope of the church. The church is going to be fine, and the black community is going to be okay. We had to do that, and that was interesting.
As an actor, there is always the search for the character’s humanity and to show it no matter how it conflicts with your views. In what areas do you relate to your character and what areas does she cause you to question her?
I can relate to “Dr. Christie” in that she is trying to find her voice. I believe every human being on the planet has been there when you get to a point in your life where you ask ‘who am I, what do I want to do, what do I want to say?’ and I can relate to her in that sense. I don’t relate to her in having an affair with a married man, but having played the character; I get how it can happen. What I discovered from her is she never had a real sense of what it like for someone to love her without any strings attached, without any expectations. So when “Miles” came along, he made her feel that she was loved and that she could be who she wanted to be deep down inside and be a woman. Married men know how to do that, I believe they are the best at finessing in the world because they know what it means to be with a woman day in and day out. They know how to appeal to a woman and make her feel special, and that is what happened to my character.
How would you like for your character, “Dr. Christie Johnson”, to grow?
I want to see her boss up more. Right now she is trying to put fires out and trying to maintain. I want to see her get to the point where she in control of the situations that are happening. Right now, she is trying to keep them at bay. Like the situation with “Angela”, now that “Angela” is blackmailing her, I want to see her deal with [her]. She did boss up on “Miles” when she told him that the affair was over, but I don’t think he is done with “Christie”, and she is going to need to figure out how to handle him. With “Levi”, she is begging him to stay instead of telling him to go. I just want to see her take control of situations that is her evolution to me, but we will see what the creator Ty Scott has in mind.
What steps did you take to prepare for your role?
I have never been a PK, a preacher’s kid; my grandmothers are pastors, and I have spent a lot of time in church, from the Kingdom Hall to the Baptist Church to the mosque, I have seen it all. It is one thing to be an actor in the spotlight, but to grow up privileged, in the spotlight, in a small town where everyone looks to you to be a picture perfect example of life, I had to do a lot of imagining of what that would feel like [for my character]. I had to think about “Christie” because there was a little flashback of her and “Levi” in high school. I had to imagine what was her life like, was she one of the cool girls, did she get bullied, was she a loner, I had to create my backstory for her for my preparation.
What initially attracted you to the script and your character?
The fact that “Dr. Christie” was an accomplished young woman of color, but she still did not have it all together was interesting to me. Many people think that once you achieve something like being a doctor, lawyer, or judge that you have it together, but “Dr. Christie” doesn’t and she is on the edge of a breakdown, and I was excited to play that out in a series. Also, to be a part of a series where people of color are doing big things as we say was very appealing to me. A lot of scripts that I read, I do not see a lot of them showing a young black woman dipping it and doing it as we say, they are mostly stereotypical. That’s what they want; they want you to be a stereotype and Ty Scott, the creator of the show is a black woman, and she wrote these interesting, complex black people, and I wanted to be a part of the show.
Can you describe what it is like to work with such a dynamic and diverse cast?
There are a lot of veterans and what we call ‘bubbling people’ on our set. It is exciting because our veterans are like Vanessa Bell Calloway, Clifton Powell, Gloria Reuben, and Afemo Omilami, they are always dropping jewels, and they are very giving with their wisdom. They are pouring into me, Christian Keyes, well Keyes is established, and he talks to me like his little sister. He is like, “Let me tell you about these men Jasmine, don’t do this and don’t do that,” he is like a big brother to me, and it is weird to have to kiss him on-screen (laughs) because we have that kind of dynamic. But he makes it very comfortable, and he is a gentleman. Everybody on set is very giving, and it is rare, but we all know we are there to do a job and handle our business, and we hang out with each other now and then. It is a great working environment.
You are also a writer; do you foresee yourself writing an episode for the show in the next season?
You just planted a seed girl. I didn’t even think of that, oh my gosh. I like that suggestion; I didn’t even think about it because Ty does such a great job, but I do write, and she and I have talked, and she wants to mentor my writing aspirations. See that’s what I am saying, that does not happen on a lot of sets where I can go to my creator and showrunner and tell her that I write. She says that she would like to read my stuff and if I need help to let her know, that is the kind of show Saints and Sinners is. I have a feature now that we are in the phase of raising the budget to shoot it, so writing and producing is a very tangible part of my life.
What can fans expect from the season finale?
Well, first of all, we just want to push the fact that people should tune in this Sunday for the season finale, hashtag the mess out of Saints and Sinners. We will be live tweeting during the finale. We are very active [on social media] even after Sunday when our supporters are still sending us messages, and we are still responding. We are going out with a bang, so everyone make sure to tune in, hashtag Saints and Sinners. What fans can expect are some answers to what has been happening all season long and some things you will be holding onto your seat.
How can fans follow you on social media?
They can follow me @thejasmineburke and that is across the board on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and my website jasmineburke.com for anything else people would want to know about me. They can also follow @bouncetv.
Be sure to catch the season finale of Saints and Sinners this Sunday on Bounce TV 9/8c and to watch past episodes, download the Bounce TV app.