Erica Tazel is an actress who found success by thrusting herself out of her comfort zone. The Southern belle left her home in Texas for Atlanta, where she studied at Spelman College, then left the ATL for New York City, where she earned her MFA at NYU’s Graduate Acting Program and debuted in the New York Shakespeare Festival’s A Winter’s Tale. She eventually left New York for Los Angeles where she would go on to land her most famous role to date, Deputy U.S. Marshal Rachel Brooks on the FX hit “Justified.” After six seasons, the show is finally winding down and Tazel spoke to rolling out about what it means to say goodbye.
“We wrapped about a month ago and I woke up yesterday and completely had a meltdown!” says the beauty. “It caught me by surprise. There were obviously tears on the day that … we wrapped in the Marshall’s office [on set]. You have a family or six years and the realization that we probably all won’t be in the same place working on the same project again really does get to ya. It surprised me yesterday.”
Tazel explained how, despite the fact that her time as Rachel Brooks is over, she’s taking a part of the character and the “Justified” experience with her for the rest of her career.
“I don’t see it as me putting [Rachel] down forever,” she says. “The lessons and the experience that she gave me will go with me to the next project. When I left New York as a theater kid, I wanted to do a series because I would just have to concentrate on one character but at the same time have the privilege of getting comfortable in front of the camera without the character changing week-to-week. So in spirit, I’m putting her down; but in experience, in terms of what I gained being around incredible writers and actors and invaluable camera experience, she will definitely be the point that I go back [to] and remember.
“I’m looking forward to putting on some different shoes and some different clothes and seeing the next story that I will tell.”
When Tazel thinks back to those early days in Los Angeles, she’s frank about how uncertain she was about her career at the time and reveals just how hard she fought to adjust to Hollywood initially.
“I’m, in general, an optimistic person. When I made the decision to leave New York, I knew that I was walking away from a lot,” explains Tazel. “But at the time, Hollywood was transitioning into Broadway. That’s still my big dream, and there were two opportunities to be in a Broadway show but those roles went to stars. I looked at it from a business point of view and I made the decision to come to L.A. with the hopes that I’d get here and make a name for myself and maybe I’d be the person to land the next role on Broadway under whatever circumstances. I took a year to make my decision. My first year here was very promising and then the bottom dropped out. The phone stopped ringing, I lost my agent; all of my contacts were on the East Coast, not the West Coast. I had several moments of ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’ But I started breathing again and got out of the fetal position on the floor and figured out how to make this work for me. There is no rule book. It’s different for every person.”
At the time that she landed the role on “Justified,” she was planning to make a career change.
“I wasn’t expecting it at all. In fact, I was thinking about taking a teaching job in Atlanta. For me, it was a reminder to just stay focused and persistent and prepared so that when the opportunity comes, you’ll be ready.”
Tazel believes that having a strong circle is imperative for those committed to the oftentimes brutal realities of Hollywood. She had a close-knit support group in New York City, but once she moved to the West Coast, it was harder to build a similar “tribe,” as she calls it.
“In terms of camaraderie, I definitely had that in New York; but the business is much smaller there. You see casting directors, directors and actors that audition much more frequently than you do in L.A. because there are way more actors and way more casting directors here. There was definitely a community with the circle of actors I was in in New York. When I got to L.A., I didn’t really know anybody. My best friend lives here but she’s not in the business. I didn’t have any actors my age or my type, which at times was very lonely and isolating. But slowly and surely, as more people made their transitions out here, we’ve slowly built our version of a West Coast tribe!
“I think that’s important in any field for a new person. You come in and you have an ideal of what it will be and you have your dreams, but there’s reality. So it’s always great to have people in your circle that are on the same experience level and have more experience — to keep it real and keep you grounded and not have this city completely wash you out. It’s vital to surviving the city and the process of being an actor.
“I’m completely grateful for the dark years,” says the star. “Because it forced me to figure out what else I love to do and what else is important to me. I immersed myself into volunteerism — and once I got the show, in many ways, it was an embarrassment of riches. I have so many friends who booked pilots that didn’t go to series or the show got canceled after six episodes; but I got to be on a show that was incredibly smart and went for six seasons. Without the dark years, I may have taken that for granted.”