By Sandra Song
It’s been a big week for Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Stephanie Beatriz. On the heels of NBC’s announcement that the show has been picked up for a seventh season, “He Said, She Said” — the episode Beatriz directed — aired on Thursday, February 28.
Her directorial debut, the episode is the show’s timely take on #MeToo and deals with the investigation of a smarmy finance executive accused of sexually harassing his coworker. Obviously, the case is a difficult one that mirrors the experiences of many women — something that wasn’t lost upon Beatriz, who made sure to treat the episode with immense care and respect.
Praising screenwriter Lang Fisher, creator Dan Goor, as well as the performances given by Melissa Fumero as Amy Santiago and Andy Samberg as Jake Peralta, for helping her execute this vision, Beatriz tells MTV News the experience was an absolute “thrill.” And though she admits she’s a bit nervous in terms of critical reception, she feels that the subject matter — as well as the fact that she’s at the helm of this episode as a queer Latinx woman — supersedes any potential hesitation.
Here, Beatriz opens up about navigating the intricacies of a sensitive episode like “He Said, She Said,” the meaning of infusing the episode with her point-of-view, and how she’s ready to claim her (well-deserved) seat at the table.
MTV News: So for starters, tell me a little bit about the significance of “He Said, She Said.” Why did you want to tackle this particular episode for your directorial debut, especially given the intensity of the topic?
Stephanie Beatriz: You know, it was purely by chance and the stars kind of aligned that this was the episode I got to direct. When I threw my name into the ring for consideration to be a director, it was just going to be up to scheduling. Our show is so ensemble-heavy, and some of the storylines are so ensemble-based; it’s not often that as a member of the ensemble you are not really featured in either the A or B storyline. It really just came down to chance and who was needed in what episode where. And then it kind of just became a discussion between myself and Dan, and he was like, “Do you feel comfortable taking this on?” And I jumped at the chance because the thing I love so much about the art form of acting is really… stuff that feels really honest and delicate and real.
I wouldn’t say Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a really “delicate” show. I would probably use a word more like “zany.” But I am really drawn to that kind of work in acting and storytelling, and I was really excited that I might get a little taste of that in this episode. Besides that, as a woman, I have heard…. There's that line [that Amy says to Jake] that’s like, “Stuff like this has happened to every woman I know,” and the way that it lands on him, that’s how it feels when you talk about this stuff to people that haven't had this kind of experience.
I think it’s just brilliant writing by Lang Fisher and our writing staff. It’s so subtle but so honest, and I just was so excited that we were going to try to explore this thing inside the realm of a sitcom. That wouldn’t be your first guess for a show that’s going to dip into this topic. But I think that’s what Brooklyn Nine-Nine can do and has done in the past.
MTV News: Speaking of Amy’s line, this subject is something that has affected millions of people, many of whom are only now beginning to speak up about their experiences. Was being in charge of a story this relatable and real, but potentially triggering, emotionally draining for you at all?
Beatriz: No, it wasn’t draining. It was very inspiring and really filled me up. I feel so honored to be alive in a time where this topic is being discussed globally. It’s being discussed at dinner tables, in courtrooms, in boardrooms, on school buses. I feel honored to be in a position where I, as a Latinx queer woman, am at the helm of this ship. If the ship is this episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I’m the captain and everyone’s listening to me and what I say — my point of view — about how we should talk about this in this episode with this script.
That's absolutely thrilling to me. Even just a few years ago that might not have been the case. I maybe wouldn’t have been chosen. In that really great article that just came out, Brie Larson was like, “Women have been here all along, women have been doing the work and telling these stories and wanting to speak about these things, and it really is so recent that people have paid attention.” Let’s usher in the next wave of people who want to talk about things that have been swept under the table for so long.
MTV News: The crux of the episode comes at a moment when Amy tells Jake about her own experience. What was filming that like?
Beatriz: Even before we did the rehearsal, I was like, “This is a delicate scene. The actors are going to give us everything that they have today and we're going to stay very quiet. We're going to give them space and respect, and let's allow them to create.”
We covered this scene from many different angles and got the images that I really wanted to get. Like the image of Melissa as Amy, isolated on the couch by herself, feeling alone at that moment. This very intimate conversation between them on the couch was really important to me... and it was also important to me to allow these actors the space to ride this emotional train where it took them. And, of course, we have to create a balance in the editing room of what's the right tone for the show and what's the right tone, emotionally, but to watch those actors work that scene and sometimes just let it rip was really absolutely thrilling for me.
MTV News: Were there any other scenes that really resonated with you?
Beatriz: The argument between Rosa and Amy about whether or not someone should come forward and report sexual harassment, sexual abuse, or sexual assault — that was an argument that felt so honest to me.
I’ve had similar arguments with women and men that I know, and there's no one clean answer of, “This is what you should do.” Or why popular culture says you should do it. It can have huge ramifications for your life, your career, your mental health. You hear “Why didn't she report it?” over and over again on the news or from talking heads, and I think that scene does such a good job of exploring and digging into a myriad of reasons why someone wouldn’t report a sexual assault. It’s not cut-and-dry.
And then to have these interjections from the male character in the scene who’s trying to step up to the plate and really be an ally, and also realizes that his voice is not the important one here, that he just needs to shut up and listen... He realizes in the 45-second scene that, “Oh, the best thing that I can do in this moment is to listen to these women.”
MTV News: Did the gravity of this topic affect your approach to making it at all?
Beatriz: Not in particular. I wanted to make sure that the more emotionally-grounded scenes were given space to breathe and they felt earned. But I also know that our show is a situation comedy. The biggest task I had going in was thinking about how to make stuff on the page that’s already funny even funnier than it is on the page. And I had a lot of help with that. Meaning that my cast members are extremely talented and are very imaginative and creative. I was super prepared going in, but nothing can prepare you for the brilliance of these people.
MTV News: Brooklyn Nine-Nine has garnered a lot of critical praise, but it's also been on the receiving end of some criticism in terms of its approach to really heavy issues like racial profiling. The show is a comedy at the end of the day, but were you worried about a similar sort of critique emerging by virtue of tackling a serious topic like #MeToo and sexual harassment in the workplace?
Beatriz: I am sure that there will be people that don't like this episode, in the same way that there are people that don't like our show. In the same way that there are people that don't like sitcoms. There is no one artform that is going to satisfy all human beings, and there's no one way of talking about difficult stuff that is going to satisfy people, period. So it's really up to artists, in all artforms, to decide whether they're going to take a risk and do something, say something, create something that other human beings that they share the planet with might completely denounce and criticize as garbage. I read that episode, and it resonated with me. To me, that meant it might resonate with someone else. That's all you can really do as an artist. You're just here for such a short time. You can't live in fear all the time. You have to try to say something while you're here on this planet. Otherwise, what are you doing?
MTV News: With that in mind, do you think the show will continue to address topics of this sort? Do you see the show moving even more towards sociopolitical stories and storylines?
Beatriz: I think anything that we do on the show fits the world in which the show lives, which is this very idealized world in which the good guys are really trying to be good people. And if a topic fits, and we can explore it in a way that feels authentic and organic to the world of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, then I think Dan Goor is down to try it. But at its core, this is really a situation comedy. It's about the situations that this group, this chosen family, get into and how they deal with each other's personalities in those moments. But, I also think because we’ve been lucky enough to be on for six, and now, seven seasons, we have a fanbase where we’ve earned their trust, so they’re willing to go to a place with us where we maybe wouldn’t be able to take them on the first or second season.
MTV News: Well, congratulations again on the episode, it’s truly great.
Beatriz: It's so funny. Even when you're saying it's a great episode, my brain is like, “You know, it's probably fine. Thank god our writers and our cast is so good." I really don't feel comfortable taking credit for it. Maybe I will get to that place someday, maybe all directors are like this. I’m going to ask my director friends: “Do you ever feel comfortable seeking a compliment like that or do you feel like, ‘Ugh, I wish I could do that one moment again?’”
MTV News: That’s so interesting. I've talked to a lot of directors and, for the most part, a lot of men I talk to are like, “Yes, thank you. I know it was brilliant.”
Beatriz: We’re in a new wave. We’re in a very transitional period in humanity. And part of that transition is maybe… For those who weren’t invited to the table [for so long], it sort of feels like, “Oh shit, is it OK that I'm here?” But if you’ve been invited from the beginning of time, you're going to feel really comfortable at the table. I guess it's about remembering that all of us have a point of view, and all of our points of view are worthwhile, and we all belong at the table.