EDITOR’S NOTE: Toni first appeared on our cover July, 2012. Since then, she has continued to work in television, film and on stage across the globe.
YOU HAVE HAD A RECURRING ROLE IN CBS’NCIS: NEW ORLEANS –NOW YOU HAVE ONE OF THE LEAD ROLES IN SEAL TEAM, PREMIERING SEPTEMBER 27TH ON CBS. HOW DID YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH CBS BEGIN? FYI: SEAL TEAM PREMIERES ON WEDNESDAYS BEGINNING SEPT 27TH AT 9PM.
I am very fortunate to have a long standing working relationship with this network. My first show with CBS was in 2012 when I was hired as the Lead Guest Star on an episode of CSI: New York. Since then, I have had the pleasure of working on six additional CBS shows. Right Before booking SEAL TEAM I was working as a recurring character on NCIS: New Orleans in the role of CGIS Agent Joan Swanson.
WHAT IS THE PREMISE OF THE SHOW?
SEAL TEAM is military drama that is centered on the people that execute the most dangerous and high risk missions in our country. Our show will focus on the characters and their families rather than just being action based. I really believe this approach in the writing will set us apart.
WHAT SORT OF PERSON IS GOING TO LOVE SEAL TEAM?
This show has a lot of heart and will appeal to many different kinds of people. In SEAL TEAM we explore the rich, complex and varied lives that make up and intertwine with our men and women in service. I think we all know someone or have a friend or loved one in the military. And even if you don’t, this occupation is one that is often a point of conversation.
WHY DID YOU WANT TO BECOME INVOLVED WITH THIS SHOW?
I did not personally have a great familiarity with the military going in to this show. I have been very fortunate to portray military roles on television in the past. Most recently I appeared as CGIS Agent Joan Swanson on NCIS: New Orleans which I enjoyed immensely. Joining SEAL TEAM took my perception of what it means to serve to a new level The amount of danger and mere scope of reach on the map expanded immediately. I think what ultimately drew me to this project comes down to AUTHENTICITY…the manner in which the characters are portrayed. The people on the page aren’t at all cookie cutter or perfect. They are super humans; fantastically fallible, funny, flawed, fearless, and charging into unimaginable danger in a way that I haven’t seen before. THAT is exciting!! It is my firm belief that in complicated times we have an obligation as story tellers to tell complex stories. SEAL TEAM is doing just that.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR CHARACTER DAVIS. WHAT’S CHALLENGING ABOUT BRINGING HER PERSONALITY TO LIFE?
In playing Davis, I work closely with the Seal Team to prepare them for each mission. I work in what is called Logistics. That includes everything from providing intel to packing parachutes to loading body armor and more. To be positioned with such an elite Tier One Team, everyone has to be at the absolute top of their game. As our axis continues to shift and make Kick Ass Women the norm, it feels right and energizing to embody a woman of such strength and skill on television. Attempting to navigate and step deep inside the mental gymnastics that accompany war is the hurdle. Thankfully we have actual Tier One Navy Seals, Delta Force and Army Rangers that work as our Tech Advisors, our writers and our character guides on set every single day. A few even step in to act as Seal Team members on the show. I am very fortunate to always be only about 5 feet away from military personnel on set.
HISTORICALLY, FEMALES AND PEOPLE OF COLOR HAVE HAD MORE DIFFICULTY GETTING ROLES IN TELEVISION, FILM AND THEATRE. YOU ARE BOTH—A FEMALE AND WOMAN OF COLOR. YOU HAVE BEEN AN ACTOR SINCE YOU WERE A YOUNG GIRL. HOW HAVE OPPORTUNITIES CHANGED FOR THE BETTER?
Much has changed for the better yet there remains much more change needed. And as a black woman working in Hollywood, I think one positive change has been a willingness and appetite for conversations on this topic to occur. Even asking the question here is a testament to that. We must constantly mine each other’s experiences, get into each other’s space and truly engage if we ever hope for real change and equality.
With the increased awareness of racially motivated violence in our country, and around the world, there is no time for patting anyone on the back. Steps still need to be taken. There remains LOTS of room for improvement. Within the entertainment industry, I hope that translates to equal pay, equal opportunities, and a much much more colorful palette of stories being told.
WHAT CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES LED YOU TOWARD ACTING AS A CAREER?
I was real ham growing up. I always wanted to perform! I just love having an audience, singing and creating characters. I am sure I drove my relatives crazy. However, the inciting event that really started me on my journey as an actor happened when I was seven, my dad took me to see my first play at the Ramsdell Theatre. We sat in the balcony, which is his favorite place to sit and saw the Manistee Civic Players’ production of The Most Happy Fella starring your dad– the unforgettable, Dominic Naffie. I remember being so impressed with his comfort on the stage. He was such an easy and inviting performer. He really made it look effortless. During the play, a girl a little older than myself, walked across stage carrying a birthday cake. For some reason, I had no idea that kids could do plays. I immediately wanted to be up there on the stage so badly. I was beside myself. I can remember wondering if I could “help” her carry the cake in the next performance. I asked my dad right away if I could be in a play. At intermission he found out that Manistee Civic Players were having auditions for Sweet Charity the next day. My dad took me, I got a part in the chorus and the rest as they, is history. I think kids naturally grow out of their desire to “play pretend”… I never did.
HOW DID GROWING UP IN MANISTEE AND MICHIGAN INFLUENCE YOUR PURSUIT OF ACTING?
For growing up in a such a small town in Northern Michigan, I really hit the artistic jackpot. I was surrounded by incomparable teachers, an Art Deco Movie Theatre, a beautiful Victorian Playhouse that offered acting and dance for kids and a joyful community of people that supported the Arts. I was rarely discouraged in my pursuit of big dreams. My parents, the adults and peers around me said “YES” and cheered me on! Attending Interlochen Arts Academy was invaluable. And studying Musical Theatre at The University of Michigan’s School of Music gave me sharp tools for success. It also provided me with my first professional acting job doing summer stock at The Musical Theatre of Wichita where I performed every summer in college and ultimately earned my way into the Actor’s Equity Union. I am so lucky to have been exposed to the high creativity and energy level of my teachers. They impact me still today. When you are young, you think anything is possible. Manistee continues to shout that truth in my ear no matter how far away I travel. For that I will be forever grateful.
SEAL TEAM premieres on CBS, Wednesday September 27th at 9pm.