Ever watch that film Romeo Must Die with Ving Rhames, Aaliyah, Isaiah Washington, and Jet Li? Do you recall a scene where a character’s head was dipped in a barrel of vicious crabs? That was Montreal-born actor Benz Antoine in one of his earliest USA film industry roles. Since then, the son of a Haitian immigrants has been in some of Hollywood biggest movies including Gothika, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, and even TV movies like Betty and Coretta. In his home country Canada, he’s the award-nominated star of the popular detective show “19-2” on Bravo Canada, playing the ever astute character Tyler Joseph. Read on as we talk about his growing up as a Canadian of Haitian heritage, and of course, about his career.
Kreyolicious: You accompanied your girlfriend to an audition, and ended up auditioning yourself, and thus started your film career. When you’ve think of all you’ve done as an actor, what would you say has been the moment that defined you as an actor?
I honestly don’t think there is one moment. So many things have to go your way in order to accomplish all of the great things I have been able to over the course of my career. Certainly, dating that particular girl—at that precise time—was serendipitous. But then again, reading for a French cop show, having that run for three years. It becomes a cult hit with over two million viewers in Quebec alone. Get nominated as best supporting actor…the show gets translated into English. I end up being the only one who got selected again and then earn another nomination for the same role of Tyler Joseph. If I had read that in a script I wouldn’t have believed it…but it’s 100% True!
Kreyolicious: So you were born in Canada of Haitian parents. In Montreal, to be specific. What was it like growing up as a Canadian-Haitian?
I don’t think Canadians have the same nationalistic pride that Americans do. As a result, I grew up thinking I was more Haitian than Canadian. That was my environment. Those are the things I was connected to…the music, the food, the entire culture was second nature to me. Even though, to this day, I have never been to Haiti. There is a very large Haitian community in Montreal, so it’s very easy to make friends as long as you “proved” that you were really down. By the time I was fifteen, I was fluent in Creole. But, I saw countless others struggle to be accepted simply because their creole was weak. I understood at an early age that in order to be successful within any community you must not only frequent the community often. You also have be able to adapt—which I do very, very well!
Kreyolicious: Let’s talk about your show “19-2”, which airs on Bravo Canada. What’s it like on a shooting day?
Shoot days for me are happy days. You have a bunch of people ready to cater to your every need starting with what will you be having for breakfast, to getting dressed, makeup…hair, etc. What an amazing feeling to be paid to do something you love—and on top of that—they feed you! And all you have to do in return is play. Play with the words, play with costumes…you basically get to be a kid all over again! To me, it’s a dream come true. I have been doing this show for six seasons now—three in French and three in English. That place is like my second home. I am sure I will look back on this one day and realize that I am even luckier than I think I am!
Kreyolicious: How do you stay connected to Haitian culture? Have you been to Haiti?
I don’t actually feel the need to “stay connected”. I am always connected. Once while doing a scene for “19-2”—the French version—[the script called for me] to invite Ben Chartier—played by Claude Legault, one of the most famous people in Quebec—for a drink. When he refused I jumped at the opportunity to mention Barbancourt. My character told him on live TV with two million people watching that he could not refuse Barbancourt Rhum, especially if it’s a Five Star. Of course, all the white people on the set—and those watching—had no clue what just transpired, but Twitter exploded with pride over the fact that our rum was mentioned on national TV. I always envisioned that one day I would be the ambassador for Barbancourt! How’s that for connected [Laughter].
[Photography Credit: David Giral and Rob Daly]
Watch out for Part 2 of this interview. Meanwhile…
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