Three decades after she broke onto the scene as a model and actress, Beauvais is revealing the woman behind the characters.
If you’ve watched recent seasons of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, you’re no stranger to the raspy laughter of Garcelle Beauvais. Whether she’s throwing a little bit of shade or cracking a joke at her own expense, Beauvais loves to punctuate her statements with a full-bodied chuckle. Despite the ongoing drama and constant lack of privacy that comes with being on a reality television show – especially one that’s known for lacking in diversity – it’s clear she’s thoroughly enjoying this phase of her life.
An actress who first entered our homes via the classic movie Coming to America and The Jamie Foxx Show (which recently joined the wave of Black ‘90s sitcoms available on streaming services), Beauvais has dedicated the most recent years of her career to revealing the woman behind the characters. Even with her prior notable roles, it’s her most recent work which centers her personal experiences as a Black immigrant woman in Hollywood that is likely to have a lasting impact.
In the past two years, the 55-year-old became the first Black woman to serve as a main cast member on RHOBH, making an effort to bring her Haitian-American identity to the small screen weekly amid a backdrop that has historically focused on obscenely rich white women. And, as if that opportunity didn’t provide Beauvais with enough of a platform to let people into her life, she’s hosted the sex and relationships podcast, Going to Bed with Garcelle, since 2020, the same year she began appearing on the Bravo reality TV franchise. Beauvais’ third season on the show began airing in May, one month after she released her memoir, Love Me As I Am.
During a Zoom chat earlier this month, Beauvais says the idea to join RHOBH was initially casually presented to her. “My managers were like ‘Oh, no, we're gonna pass but I'm just letting you know.’” Her youngest sons were headed to middle school, though, and Beauvais was looking to take on work that wouldn’t necessitate as much travel. “I really wanted to do things that kept me home.” She decided to give reality TV a shot.
Being the first Black person to do anything is often presented as an achievement, but it can often come with a number of challenges for the person entering a world that hasn’t historically made room for anyone with their experiences. “I knew I was representing the Black girls, representing the Haitian girls, representing the Caribbean girls... That was a lot of pressure,” she says.
“And I didn't feel that pressure until, like, maybe a week before we started shooting.”
Despite her initial nervousness, three seasons of her presence on the show have mostly been met with praise from vocal fans. Along with fellow castmate Crystal Kung Minkoff, an Asian-American woman, Beauvais has brought conversations about race to a franchise that has historically lacked women of color. She’s repeatedly pointed to an incident from her RHOBH reunion as an example of this. When fellow castmate Kyle Richards publicly accused Beauvais of failing to make good on a charitable donation, the then-newcomer was notably blindsided and irritated. She later had lunch with Richards in a televised scene, asking her if she would’ve made the same accusation of Beauvais if she weren't a Black woman before explaining why the assertion was so triggering to her because of the racial implications.
It’s possible that Beauvais' palpable joy is sparked by the fact that as a Black immigrant woman, she’s accomplished more than she ever could have conceived as a young girl. When she was 7 years old, Beauvais moved from her native Haiti to Peabody, Massachusetts. To say it was a culture shock would be an understatement. At the time, she didn’t speak English and had never seen snow. She learned the language of her new home, she says, from watching Sesame Street. But even as her family settled into life in Peabody, Beauvais missed being able to visit her grandmother, as well as the food and music of Port-au-Prince.
For much of her childhood, Beauvais adored entertaining, but she didn’t consider acting a viable career option. “I always had an interest in the arts and I would put on little plays for my family,” she says. “But I didn't know you could do that for a living.” That all changed when the family moved to Miami.
The then-16-or-17-year-old says she was invited by a friend to work as an extra on the set of an orange juice commercial. The job paid $75 per day. “I was like, sign me up,” she says with her signature chuckle. “That’s a lot of money.”
On the last day of the two-day shoot, she approached one of the lead actors, a Black woman, on set. Seeing someone who looked like her in front of the camera instantly intrigued Beauvais, who found out the woman was signed to Ford Modeling Agency. In her book, Beauvais describes the serendipitous, life-changing encounter that followed. She’d borrowed her mother’s car and decided to drive to Ford Modeling Agency, sans appointment. She was almost there when she stopped at a red light, checking her makeup in the side mirror. While stopped, someone came up to her window and handed her a business card, saying she should think about modeling. As it turns out, Eileen Ford, the co-founder of Ford Modeling Agency had been in the car behind her. That’s how Garcelle Beauvais first entered the world of entertainment.
As a young actress, Beauvais appeared in music videos, as well as in episodes of shows like Miami Vice and The Cosby Show. But it was her first film role in Coming to America that she says served as her beginner’s guide to the industry. “I was in awe of everything. I’m sure my mouth was open a lot. Just going ‘wow,’” she says, referencing the film’s star-studded cast, including Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall. “I couldn’t have picked a bigger movie in terms of production.”
Beauvais says, though inexperienced, she originally auditioned to play the lead woman in the film, Lisa (“which I had no business doing,” she admits).
“I didn’t get it, but John Landis called my agency and said ‘We want to offer her one of the rose bearers if she wants to get into the industry. This will be the perfect way to be on set and learning,’” she recalls. “He was absolutely right.”
Dabbling in the world of talk shows, reality television, and memoirs has allowed the actress to reflect on her upbringing, the early moments of a career that has spanned more than three decades, and the way she shows up as a parent to her three sons. In her book, for instance, Beauvais writes about her love for her late mother, as well as the strain her mother’s relationship with her dad created throughout her childhood. “Growing up in a Haitian family, you weren’t able to ask a lot of questions. You were seen and not heard. I wish I had asked [my mom] about my dad [and] what their relationship was like. What did she cry about at night?”
That experience impacts the way she parents her three sons, she says. “You want them to know that you're human, and you're flawed and you make mistakes. But at the same time, you don't want them to be disrespectful and throw those mistakes back at you. I never had a grownup apologize to me growing up. If I mess up with my kids, I will say ‘hey, I’m sorry, I didn’t handle that right.”
She talks about motherhood a lot on television and elsewhere, but Beauvais has always been honest that it’s not the totality of who she is as a woman. She certainly hasn’t been shy about sharing details of her dating and sex life, either. Readers of Beauvais’ memoir, for instance, learn in one chapter that she is quite fond of giving fellatio. She continues these conversations on a podcast titled Going to Bed with Garcelle. Beauvais says the podcast began as casual conversations at private hangouts with her friends, and has been her way of having the taboo conversations she wanted to have when she was younger. “I grew up thinking that women only please men,” she says. “There was a lot that I had to discover about sexuality.”
“Just because I'm a mom doesn't mean that I can't embrace my sexuality,” Beauvais adds. “I’ve tried to talk about sex with my boys. Of course, they’re uncomfortable and they’re rolling their eyes and they’re like ‘Mom!’”
While season 12 of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills is currently airing, Beauvais has already accomplished what she set out to do when she first started the show more than two years ago. “I think I've been able to navigate it in a way that's authentically me,” she says.