Donielle Artese shoots the breeze with hullaballoo – Part I
Okay, I know I’ve been promising this for days and weeks and more, but life is kicking my butt right now. Here is the first part of my conversation with Donielle Artese, who plays Sheila White, the ex-girlfriend of Paul Kinsey. There’s still a lot (A LOT) more to come, but I thought I’d whet your whistles with a teensy bit of our very long, but interesting conversation.
hullaballoo I’m with the lovely Donielle Artese. She plays Sheila White on Mad Men. She just kicked Paul to the curb and
Donielle Nooooo! (Laughs)
hullaballoo Heh, heh. So, to start off, I’d like you to tell us a little about who you are as an actress, then a little about your experience on the show. I checked your IMDB page. It’s got some stuff, not a lot, so give me some background on who you are. Where you grew up, where’d you go to school, did you always want to be an actor, that sort of thing.
Donielle I’m originallyI was born here, but then I moved to Detroit when I was two. So I’m essentially a Motown baby.
hullaballoo That’s interesting because when I saw you walk down the red carpet at the Mad Men Revue, I thought you looked just like one of the Supremes. One of the reporters I was standing with even said that: “is she one of the Supremes?”
Donielle Really? Well, my family’s originally from there, and when I was two we all “ my mom, my grandparents, everyone “ moved back to Detroit. I stayed there until I was about thirteen, and then came back here. In fact, my father was one of the original Motown acts.
hullaballoo You’re kidding! Wow. I bet you nobody knows that.
Donielle I don’t talk about it a lot. I’m not that close to him any more, but it kind of ties in.
hullaballoo Yeah, it does. It’s a good story. So who was he, who did he work with?
Donielle His name is Bobby Taylor of Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers. His was one of the first inter-racial groups at Motown “ one of the smaller groupsthey had a few minor hits, and the band included Jimi Hendrix [at one time] and Tommy Chong.
hullaballoo Tommy Chong? Of Cheech and Chong?
Donielle Yes. He’s one of my dad’s good friends.
hullaballoo That’s quite a line-up. Such “high” calibre performers. Heh. Were they that way all the time?
Donielle (Laughs) Most likely.
But it all kind of ties in “ it’s actually come full circle for me in terms of my career. I used to be a professional dancer. It was my first love, my first career. And I’d run into these people all the time in the course of that who knew who he was “ you know, other performers who were around then. I’d say something like, oh, my father was a singer. And they’d ask about him. I’d say “his name is Bobby Taylor.” Then they’d respond with something like “Bobby Taylor is your daddy?! Bobby Taylor?! He’s one of my best friends!”
He’s also the person who kind of discovered the Jackson 5 “ he actually got them into Motown for an audition. It’s funny because when I was a kid I used to say it, and everyone would accuse me of, you know “ they’d say “you’re lying.” I became a little skeptical, thinking maybe it wasn’t quite the truth. But it’s in the books. Then I had this full-circle moment. It was early in my career, and I was doing a music video for Michael Jackson. The choreographer arranged for us to meet him, and they gave us something like five minutes each. So I asked if he knew my father, and his eyes widened, and he said “Oh my God. Oh my God. Tell him I said thank you. I was too young to realize what he did for us then. I probably wouldn’t have had this career if it wasn’t for him.”
In the TV movie “ the story of the Jacksons — Vanessa Williams, who played Suzanne de Passe, mentioned his name. He wasn’t an actual character in the story, but while talking on the phone she said something like “Bobby Taylor’s got this group he wants me to audition”
hullaballoo He got a shout out on TV? That’s something. It’s preserved for posterity.
Donielle Yes, it is.
So I guess you can say it’s in the genes. I always wanted to be in show business. When I was a kid, I wrote scripts for the “Facts of Life.” I’d play Tootie’s little sister. I was determined to be Tootie’s younger sister on the show.
hullaballoo Tootie’s sister? Did you have that “ the hair, the pageboy haircut?
Donielle I had the little bangs, you know, the perfect little sausage rolland two little pony tails. I practiced on my roller skates. I wrote scripts for it. I actually had the story, and I tried to get it to her. But I was in Detroit. I was a little girl in Detroit, but I was determined to be Tootie’s little sister on the show. So that was one of my first forays into show business. But I pretty much trained as a dancer.
hullaballoo Did you go to school or train with a particular company?
Donielle I started in pageants when I was little, and trained at one of the local dance schools in Detroit. Then someone pulled my mother aside and said “she’s really talented as a dancer, you should get her into a strict ballet school to get some real training.” First I went to one of the top ones in the Detroit area, then when we moved here, I went to this dance school called the Dupree Academy. It was this really special, magical place “ the best training. For summers, I went away to Pennsylvania Ballet. It was a great experience. I still have the fondest memories of those summers at Pennsylvania Ballet. But after a while I just decided I wanted to commit to acting.
hullaballoo What was your first role?
Donielle I did stuff as a child back in Detroit, but my first adult role was on a show called “South Central.”
hullaballoo I remember that show.
Donielle It was just a small, little co-star part. And I thought, “oh my God, I get to talk?
hullaballoo Your first roll you got lines?
Donielle With Larenz Tate.
hullaballoo Such a fine actor. And I mean that in every sense of the word
Donielle Yeah, it was awesome. It was my first speaking role as an adult, and from there, I’d get little jobs here and there, and I was still dancing — that was my primary job. With the acting, I didn’t really know what I was doing, but for some reason that helped. It’s appealing to people because you’re so nonchalant and you don’t appear nervous or desperate for the part. I’d go to these auditions, but I’d be like “it doesn’t matter because I’m going on tour tomorrow, anyway.” And then I’d get the part. There was this one time I got a commercial campaign. An entire campaign
hullaballoo Yeah, that’s for, what at least three mediums? TV, magazines, billboards, and maybe radioand probably for a decent period of time, like a couple months at least, right? What was the product?
Donielle Yes, all of that. It was for hair care products. But I was scheduled to go on tour the very next day. So I was like ahhhHad I known then what I know now, though
hullaballoo Yep, we’re all young and stupid once. I’m still trying to grow out of that phaseWho were you touring with?
Donielle The Isley Brothers.
hullaballoo Oh, the Isley Bros. Well that’s nothing to sneeze at. I mean, the Isley’s. They’re legends. That’s a real dilemma.
Donielle Right. I was so excited because it would be my first on-the-bus-tour, which meant I’d be going everywhere with them…
hullaballoo I have a friend who did wardrobe for the Pointer Sisters. She said those tour experiences were justinsane “ incredible. Best time of her life.
Donielle There’s nothing in the world like being on the tour. It’s so exciting “ you’re right there in the mix of everything. On the bus with them, traveling everywhere, partying, privvy to all their secrets and idiosyncraciesI could tell you stories that would make your hair stand on end
hullaballoo Care to share?
Donielle Oh, no. No. No, you couldn’t handle it.
hullaballoo God, am I that obvious? Damn. And here I thought I was pretty hipSo how did you get Mad Men?
Donielle I’d just found out that I was in the trailer for a movie that I’d done “ You Don’t Mess with the Zohan
hullaballoo The Adam Sandler movie? You were in that?
Donielle It was a very small rolebut, you know what? I take that back. There are no small roles. You know, it wasn’t a very large part, but I’d been talking to the director and he was asking about some of my goals, about some of the roles I wanted to play. And I told him I just wanted to do something to get a little publicity. To get my name and face in front of people. And then I got featured in the trailer, which was something. All of a sudden I got phone calls from five different people saying they’d seen me in the Adam Sandler movie. I wasn’t hard to miss “ I was the only Black woman there.
hullaballoo Been there, done that
Donielle It’s the story of my life. But I got all this attention all of a sudden. And that got me an appointment with a publicist. So they were asking about my work and what upcoming projects I had. I told them about this audition that I was going to after my meeting with them, but I was kind of nonchalant about it. She asked what show, and I said “it’s something called Mad Men?” I hadn’t even heard of it.
Donielle I know. That’s how she reacted as well. And she said “you really need to take that part. It doesn’t matter what it is, you should do that role. You need to go online and find out what you can about it because it’s the best show on television. BY FAR.” Of course, that piqued my interest
hullaballoo I can imagine
Donielle So I go to the audition. It wasn’t a particularly difficult audition “ just a couple of lines — and I think I did well, but I still didn’t understand the excitement. Then I got a call-back, and I told my publicist, who was emphatic that I get the job. Whatever I do, she said, I had to get that job. I said, “okay. Done. I’ll get it.”
hullaballoo Just like that?
Donielle I’m a determined woman. (Laughs) So, I walked into the audition, and there was Matthew Weiner and the casting directors. And I have to admit, that at the time I didn’t know who he was. I figured he was one of the show’s producer’s, but like a lower level producer. I didn’t realize he was the show’s creator.
hullaballoo Yes, I hear he’s very hands on. At least you didn’t get caught up playing the sychophant.
Donielle I didn’t know who he was. I mean, I was smiling at the casting directors because I knew who they were “ I definitely knew who Laura (Schiff) was. I’d heard of her, I’d seen her, and probably auditioned for her before, but I had no idea who Matthew Weiner was.
He gave me some direction “ “do it this way, now do it this way, now let’s try it this way “ this may not be right. I just want to see it” and I did everything he asked. He said something like, “well, you can do just about everything.” I thanked him, but I kind of shrugged it off. I’ve had thousands of auditions like that, so I didn’t think anything of it. The next day I got a phone call that said I was in the running for the role. I was still nonplused because it seemed like a very small part “ just a couple of lines, probably not much of an impact on the story. I thought what’s the big deal? Why the build-up? Just call me if I get the job. Don’t attempt to build me up just to say I didn’t get the job. Blah, blah, blah, that sort of thing. Two hours later, my agent called and told me I got the job. Then I called my publicist and she was so excited. She said “you have no idea. You just got the. Best. Show. Ever.”
It still didn’t hit me how special this job was until my first day on the set, when I got to meet with the hair and make-up and wardrobe people. That’s when I knew these people were serious, and that this was a one of a kind opportunity
Sorry about that kiddies. Can’t give away too much of the story on the first go around. Tune in next week for more of my conversation with Donielle, and how she approached the role of Sheila.