Many adolescents feel the pull of the entertainment industry. The majority of us stop at the middle school musical or the post-college improv group: the rejection (and the improv), just too much to bear. But Caitlin Gerard is nothing if not persistent: It’s no surprise that she recently scored a breakout role in American Crime—the ABC drama currently garnering shiny star reviews from some of our most curmudgeonly critics—and it’s a messy one.
In Crime, Gerard plays Aubrey, a beautiful young woman who struggles with drug addiction, among other traumas. And though substance abusers on TV tend to be demonized or romanticized, Gerard was careful to avoid these conventional traps: “I would talk with all the directors beforehand, and tell them—don’t tell me your opinions of her. Keep those to yourself. A lot of times, they would say, ‘She’s really manipulative. She’s very this, very that.’
“In our reality, that might be true. But in the reality of the world I’ve created for her, I had to protect her from all that. That’s what I tried really hard to do. Not approach her with judgment. My own judgment, too.”
Aubrey, Gerard explains, isn’t so different from other characters in the show—or most people in real life. “Everyone in American Crime is on a mission to do what they think is right.”
Aubrey is also involved in an interracial relationship—with substance-abusing boyfriend Carter Nix (played by Elvis Nolasco, who recently appeared in 2013’s Oldboy)—in a town that finds racial tensions reignited after a crime is committed. Caitlin Gerard eschews judgment on this relationship as well: “It’s love. I don’t think that race ever comes into play for what they feel for one another. Aubrey has a mood board for what she feels—posters and pictures of interracial couples. It’s a space for her to say, ‘we exist, and we are accepted.’”
Maybe this is the ingredient that makes American Crime different from so many other crime shows obsessed with the perfect cadaver shot, the unbelievable plot twist—Crime has empathy: “We’re not looking at it from the law, or from trying to solve the crime. We’re looking at something when it’s past the headlines, and we’re looking at how this will affect the person over the course of six months to a year, when sometimes these things get forgotten.”
And Gerard is confident in the show’s direction. Produced by John Ridley—the producer behind the award-winning Twelve Years a Slave—the network drama felt emboldened from behind the scenes: “John hired a majority of female directors. Eight directors were hired. Six out of the eight were women. For me, I’ve never had the opportunity to work with female directors. I’m not saying that female directors are different from male directors. They’re all directors; they all have their own style. But for me, I was empowered by that.
“They require you hire one female director for a series. The fact [that] they did six? That’s unheard of. That’s unprecedented.”
Her fascination with what goes on in front of, and behind the camera—Gerard also recently directed a short—seems to run in her blood: she grew up in Los Angeles with her music video producing mother and father, and her first brush with performance involved jumping on stage at House of Blues and singing a song (“I think it was about my cat”). From Coca-Cola to Florida strippers to substance abuse—she appears to handle these transitions with ease, and I wonder what she’ll pick up next. Right now she’s not sure, she’s just enjoying the warmth you get from being a part of a great piece of art.
“I love this. I love the collaboration filmmaking has that very few other art mediums have. It’s a unity, it’s a collaboration. Every person is so essential. That’s what I like. That’s what I love.”
Stylist: Kim Johnson for AlteredAgency.com.
Hair: Matthew Monzon for TraceyMattingly.com.
Makeup: Munemi Imai for BrydgesMackinney.com.
Manicure: NQ for Art-Dept.com.
Photography Assistant: Clay Howard-Smith.
Digital Tech: Andrea Bartley for TomSchirmacher.com.
Animal Handler: Kathy for AllTameAnimals.com.
Location: Pier 59 Studios, New York.