Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni
Violett Beane has been a superhero on two different Earths, brought heart to Chastain Park Memorial Hospital, and played truth or dare on the big screen.
But did you know she also makes a killer vegan nacho cheese sauce?
"So, I went plant-based like a year-and-a-half ago. And cheese, obviously, is like the hardest thing ever to give up. But I found and have continued to, like, manipulate an amazing recipe for nacho cheese sauce made out of pistachios," the actor said in a recent phone interview. "You blend it up with nutritional yeast and paprika and salsa and all the things you can find in queso; and it's creamy and it's delicious. ... And, wow, you just made me really hungry!"
Now, while the dip is meant to help people feel good physically, Beane is hoping to make viewers feel good emotionally with her new project, "God Friended Me."
The show debuts Sunday on CBS.
The series stars Brandon Micheal Hall ("The Mayor") as an atheist with a podcast who proudly proclaims, "There is no God, and that is OK." In the premiere, Miles Finer is "Friended" by someone claiming to be God. As he tries to discern who's behind the account, Miles quickly finds himself in the middle of unexpected and unexplainable situations that lead him to reconsider his anti-spiritual sentiments.
"God Friended Me" is an especially timely show. As red and blue states continue to debate morality, and all of us learn more about social media and new ways to connect with others, the dramedy's premise is designed to create dialogue and unite families.
Hall was a revelation (no pun, intended) as the title character on "The Mayor." He brings that go-getter mentality to this role, as well as his own particular charm and comedic timing.
Beane is an ideal tag-team partner. Her character, Cara Bloom, gets tangled in the "God account," and gets life-changing news - and assistance - from Miles and his "Friend of the Week." Along the way, she, too, seeks to learn the origin and meaning of the divine Facebook messenger.
The actor has had good fortune in recent years. Beane scored with both sci-fi genre fans as Jesse Quick on "The Flash," and drama viewers with her heart-tugging turn as Lily Kendall on "The Resident."
Beane chatted with BTS ahead of the "God Friended Me" premiere. An edited Q&A follows.
"God Friended Me" stars Brandon Micheal Hall (pictured, right) in a humorous, uplifting drama about Miles Finer, an outspoken atheist whose life is turned upside down when he receives a friend request on social media from God and unwittingly becomes an agent of change in the lives and destinies of others around him, including Cara Bloom (Violett Beane), an online journalist. (CBS photo by Jonathan Wenk)
Q: Tell me, first of all, a little bit about what the past couple of years have been like for you, between "The Flash," "The Resident" and now "God Friended Me"?
Violett Beane: Honestly, it's been amazing. I'm so grateful for all the experiences that I've had in just the last few years. But it's been a whirlwind. I mean, two years ago, I still lived in my hometown of Austin, Texas, and I moved to L.A., and I was there for about a year-and-a-half, and now I'm in New York. It's crazy. It's nuts, but it's so invigorating and so fun.
Q: There are a lot of actors who work their whole lives to try to be in distinct genres and to have distinct characters. And now, right from the get-go, you've had the opportunity to do that. You've had the opportunity to work in these very different fields, with these very different characters you've brought to life. Was that a conscious choice? Was it luck? Tell me a little bit about how you've been able to score three great roles - but three very different roles - basically out of the gate.
Violett Beane: I can't say it's by choice, but I definitely think I'm drawn to roles that will challenge me, and that are different from other things that I've played. And I know, like growing up, any actors that I saw, you know, I always loved how versatile they could be. And it's always amazed me when I see someone and then I see them again and I didn't even know it was them, because it was so different and so fabulous in its own way. So, I definitely think that, you know, that's something that draws me to a role, and I'm really happy that I've been able to play different characters.
Q: "God Friended Me": Obviously, it's very topical - the idea of how people interact with one another in 2018; the idea of religion; the idea of social media; I mean, there's so much to play with here, but what was the appeal of the concept to you initially?
Violett Beane: I think, for me, I was just wanting something that that made me feel good after reading it. And during pilot season this last year, when I was auditioning, constantly, multiple times a day, this was definitely one of the most uplifting scripts that I read. And I think in the times that we're in right now, we need something that will take us away from the trauma and the violence and all of the things that a lot of other shows, you know, handle. I think that this show is a heartwarming little message at the end, and I think it, hopefully, will draw people a little closer together.
Q: You talk about the script and it being feel-good, and the pilot really is a feel-good episode, but that's not necessarily so easy when you start a show off by basically having the lead character say, "There Is no God, and that's OK." That's something that would offend or anger a lot of people, but the way it's done, and the way it's all brought together, and the way we start to the way we finish, is just so creative. To what do you credit that? Tell me a little bit about the creative team that you're working with here.
Violett Beane: Oh my gosh. I mean our creative, (creators) Steven (Lilien) and Bryan (Wynbrandt), they really were like - cuz I'm not gonna lie: When I heard this story and read the pilot and went in, like, it does sound a bit crazy, and it sounds like, you know, "Is that something that I would want to be a part of?" Religion is a very heavy topic. It's not handled lightly. But when I talked with Steven and Bryan, like, right away, from our first conversation, I felt like this show was in great hands, because they just, they're so focused on inclusivity - and even both of them, one of them comes from a Jewish background and the other one comes from a Christian background that is now an atheist. So, even just for them, they have such different stories to tell.
And our writers' room is extremely diverse, and each of the main characters all come from different backgrounds. So, I feel like, because that's so important to everyone - as it should be - it makes it so that people of different backgrounds can fit together and watch this and have a conversation. And I feel like that's the best thing for the show.
Q: There is a line that Miles says in the beginning of the episode that I want to use that as my next question, and that is, "Who the hell is Cara Bloom?"
Violett Beane: Cara is an online journalist. And in the pilot, you see that she came to New York to look for her mom, who left her when she was young. And you see that she actually reconnects with her. And throughout the season, you're going to see that relationship develop and see if it's possible to move forward and not look back, and build relationships with people who have hurt you in the past.
And Cara is not the type to let anything go. She's a journalist, so she wants to get to the bottom of everything; and I think that's what she brings to the team when they're trying to figure out who's behind the God account and helping people along the way.
Q: Brandon Micheal Hall, he really was terrific on '"The Mayor." I guess, for the betterment of you and me and this conversation, that show didn't get picked up and he's moved on to something better. I really thought he was good on that show. I really enjoyed his work. What does he bring to the table? What can you tell me about him as an actor and as a partner?
Violett Beane: I had the pleasure of doing a chemistry read with him during some of my first auditions, which is not always the case, but I feel like right off the bat we instantly had a connection and he was there for me in the scene - even just in my audition, and he didn't even know me yet. And I think that's Brandon. You know, one of his best qualities is that he cares. And he's there for people. And he wants to get to know you, and he's constantly asking, like, "Where you from? What's your story?" He's a really good guy, and I couldn't think of anyone better to play Miles.
Q: So, interestingly, CBS made the pilot available on social media, and I saw - just on Twitter alone - it's been streamed 145,000 times. I'm wondering, what kind of feedback have you already gotten from people about the pilot episode?
Violett Beane: Oh my gosh, we've gotten such great feedback from people. The thing that makes me happiest is when people say, you know, like, "I needed a show like this." "I watched this and now I feel like I'm able to like talk to someone." One lady was saying she was able to talk to a family member that she didn't know how to connect to, because they didn't see eye to eye on everything. And for me, that's like, when we're making these episodes, I'm like, if we can just help one person reconnect with someone that doesn't think the way they do - because, realistically, we're not all gonna agree on everything or anything. And so, it's just about how we can still be there for each other and believe in whatever we want to believe in.
Q: That first episode, I mean, it is just jam-packed with so many different things. There are epic reveals; there's the feel-good moments; there's the interesting conversation subjects. Is this the kind of pattern that we can expect to see in subsequent episodes?
Violett Beane: Yeah, yeah. So, it's essentially episodic in the way that in every episode you're going to get a "Friend of the Week," is what we call them. Miles is going to get a friend suggestion from the God account and weaves into that - which, actually, the most recent episodes that we've filmed have been some my favorite - weaved into it is the characters and the development of Miles and Cara and Rakesh (actor Suraj Sharma) and Ali (actor Javicia Leslie) and sort of their relationships with each other and how, you know, it might seem like we're helping someone else - we're helping a friend suggestion - but they might be helping us just as much. It's kind of a beautiful little balance.
Miles (Brandon Micheal Hall) hears it from Ali (Javicia Leslie) and Cara (Violett Beane) on "God Friended Me." (CBS photo by Jonathan Wenk)
Q: Like I said, I'm super-excited about the show and I think it's going to be a big hit for you guys - and obviously you can't go wrong with CBS. But I want to ask you quickly about a couple of other non-"God Friended Me"-related things, and one of those is we talked a little bit about what you're doing as far as not having meat and cheese and things of that nature. You recently did some work with PETA on behalf of animals. What can you tell me about that, and why was that important for you?
Violett Beane: I've always had animals growing up. I've always been surrounded by pets. When I was growing up, I had a dog, a cat, four chickens; and now I have a bunny and a dog. And I just, I've always loved animals; and I think that it's sort of our duty to show compassion to them.
And I recently, just a couple years ago, just decided that I don't need to eat meat. I think that our meat industry and our agriculture industry is so messed up right now, and I just decided I didn't want to be a part of it. And I feel so much better since.
And the campaign I did with PETA was essentially saying that - it's called "All Animals Have the Same Parts." And it's, you know, whether it's human or a cat or a pig, or whatever it is, you know, we're all animals, and we all deserve the same amount of respect. And I think that the way that we treat our animals, and the way that we raise animals to kill, is like a correlation to how we treat each other, and how we see each other as human beings.
Q: I thought it was really brave, and kudos to you for that.
Violett Beane: Thank you.
Q: The last thing I want to ask you about - and I'm not expecting an answer - but I would be remiss if I didn't ask you if we might see you again on "The Flash."
Violett Beane: You know, it is definitely possible. Jesse is not gone for good. She is fighting crime on her world. So, it's definitely possible - let's hope!
Q: It probably helps you that there's a nice relationship between CBS and The CW.
Violett Beane: Exactly.
Q: I'm sure that might make things a little bit easier for you, right?
Violett Beane: It does not hurt.
"God Friended Me": Miles, Rakesh and Cara look into the "God account." Pictured, from left: Violett Beane as Cara Bloom, Brandon Micheal Hall as Miles Finer, and Suraj Sharma as Rakesh Singh. (CBS photo by Barbara Nitke)