Welcome to E!'s Tales From the Top, our series on women who are leaders in their fields and masters of their craft. Spanning industries and experiences, these powerhouse women answer all the questions you've ever had about how they got to where they are today—and what they overcame to get there. Read along as they bring their resumés to life.
As she detailed in her newly released memoir, Love Me As I Am, the bold, Haiti-, Boston- and Miami-bred high schooler had been booked as an extra for an orange juice commercial when she approached the lead actress, "and said, 'I want to do what you're doing!'" only to be given the brush-off.
"She wasn't having any of it," Beauvais joked in an exclusive interview with E! News. "She was like, 'You're on your own, girl.'"
But if life really is an audition, as the multi-hyphenate declared in her debut season on the Bravo must-watch, honey, she is getting that part.
Because days later, "without an appointment or even a head shot in hand," Beauvais was driving to Fort Lauderdale with a plan to get some face time with Irene Marie, the modeling agency founder she'd learned represented the commercial's aforementioned star, when "I was completely startled by a hand reaching into my car with a business card," she recalled in her book. "The voice attached to the hand told me, 'You should be a model.' The name on the card: Irene Marie. I later learned she was stopped at the same light in a car behind me, and she saw my face in the side mirror."
Within a year, she was on a flight to New York and her future as a Ford model, with all the success (Calvin Klein and Isaac Mizrahi runways giving way to acting gigs in Coming to America and on The Jamie Foxx Show) and rejection that came with it.
"I didn't know at the time, but all those things were shaping me to become who I am," the 55-year-old shared. "And helping me get tough skin because God knew I was going to go on Beverly Hills Housewives."
And though the mom to Oliver Saunders, 31, and 14-year-old twins Jax and Jade Nilon said she "can't imagine" letting her own kids chase careers halfway across the country as teenagers, "I would have to pay it forward and trust that their dream will come true."
Hers certainly did.
Boasting career titles that range from cover model to sitcom star to film actress and now reality star, talk show host and author, "I think my proudest thing is probably being able to change genres—working on The Jamie Foxx Show and then going to NYPD Blue," she shared. "Being able to diversify."
It wasn't always fully intentional, she admitted ("I'm just a Sagittarius and I get bored easily and I like to keep doing different things"), but that artist's desire to chase the next thing "has definitely been helpful." She recounts the journey with E! News.
E! News: You said this book was about finding the real Garcelle. What did you discover?
Garcelle Beauvais: For so long, I had to wrestle between being a good girl and being sort of a rebel. I was taught to be nice, be nice, be nice to a fault that, when I was growing up, I couldn't speak up for myself because I had to be nice. And then I had to find the balance between being nice, but standing up for myself. And now I won't shut up.
I remember when I started taking acting lessons with Howard Fine and I couldn't even get angry in a scene. I had to learn that I could be angry, which I struggled with even my first season of Housewives. It's interesting how one thing in your life can really be almost a theme.
E!: And yet you fully believed from a young age that you could build this major career.
GB: Yeah, crazy. Who is that chick?
E!: How tough was it moving to New York on your own at 17?
GB: Being lonely and missing my family was a huge thing. And I was afraid of subways. I would hear these horror stories that people got pushed in front of the subways, so I was petrified. There was a model that they introduced me to and she's like, "We have similar go-sees, do you want to go together? We can jump on the train." And I was like, "No, no, no, no."
So we're standing on the platform and this person taps me on the shoulder and I screamed bloody murder as if I was just shot. And the guy just wanted to know if the E train was coming. The girl that I was with looked at me and goes, "Yeah, you shouldn't get on the subway." So I ended up having to leave for my go-sees so early because I would only take the bus.
E!: What did you learn from that time—other than the bus schedule?
GB: You get a lot of rejections, a lot of nos, a lot of showing your book and not booking the job. And then the jobs that you got, you were just so grateful for. There's a lot of pressure and you're 17 and you're on your own and you're in this big city. I really felt like if you could make it in New York, you could make it anywhere. So definitely I was building up strength.
E!: What quality do you think most helped you in your career?
GB: Perseverance—that's really been my strength. No matter the rejections or no matter the jobs that I didn't get, I just continue to push myself. And not for anything else other than for me. I think I'm my worst critic and I'm also my biggest cheerleader.
E!: You had done modeling and acting and even formed your own production company when The Real Housewives came calling. What made you say yes?
GB: Timing is everything. My manager called and told me that they were interested and he was like, "We're going to pass, but I just want to tell you." And I was like, "Hold on a minute. Let me sleep on it for a couple of days." As an actor, not a lot of things are shot in L.A. So I'd be in Atlanta, I'd be in Vancouver, I'd be in Toronto. And my kids were about to go to middle school. I knew what that would bring—puberty and all that stuff—and I really wanted to be home more. And, listen, I was a fan of the franchise, obviously I had friends on the show. The timing felt right.
E!: Did you ever imagine how cutthroat it would be?
GB: No! No, no, no. I remember I had a panic attack the week before it started airing because Bravo was running old episodes and I was watching and going, "Oh my god. That's going to be me."
You shoot the show and that's dramatic enough. And then you watch the show and see what the other women are saying and that's dramatic. And then the third layer is the world weighing in and choosing sides and deciding if what you said was right.
E!: I would literally be hiding in a corner.
GB: I want to! So many times I have left scenes crying saying, "I can't do this. I can't do this." But there are other times where it's so much fun and glamorous and we're getting along and we're dressed to the nines even though we're just at one another's houses. The absurdity of it is also fun.
E!: You joined The Real around the same time. What inspired that?
GB: That has always been what I've wanted to do, even prior to acting. Acting just came first and then I had momentum with that. But being on a talk show has always been what I wanted to do. I did a stint on The View, I did Hollywood Today Live, I was up for The Talk. That's where I feel most at home, honestly.
Moving forward I hope I continue to [work on talk shows] and also produce. Since I have my development deal with NBC, I really want to produce content—not saying I don't want to be in front of the camera, but doing both, behind the camera and in front.
E!: What career advice has continued to resonate with you?
GB: You should do something you love so much that you would do it for free. Because then it's not about so much the job, but it's what you actually want to do.
E!: If you could go back in time and talk to 17-year-old Garcelle, what would you tell her?
GB: "Girl, hang on. It's going to be quite a ride. There's going to be bad moments, but there's also going to be great moments and you turn out to be a really good mom."
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Love Me as I Am by Garcelle Beauvais
Check out Garcelle's memoir to find out more about her life pre-Bravo and some behind-the-scenes scoop.