Mouna Traoré proves perseverance pays off. The Toronto-based actress auditioned several times for a Murdoch Mysteries role and didn’t get it. The most recent time she was successful, landing the plum role of Rebecca James, an African-American woman who has come to Canada and landed a gig at Station House No. 4. Initially tasked with cleaning up the morgue, viewers have learned she has been studying medicine in the United States.
Now she’s under the tutelage of Julia, and hopes to blossom. We spoke to Traoré on the phone while she waited for a ride to her latest job.
I understand you’re waiting to be picked up for a ride to your next gig. Can you tell me about the role?
I’m shooting a film now called Brown Girl in the Ring that’s based on the book by Nalo Hopkinson. It’s a dystopian, sci-fi film about a girl living in 2049 Toronto and how she’s battling with herself and her grandmother over whether or not she should step into these superpowers that she has that are connected through their spirituality.
That couldn’t be any different from the role we’re seeing now with you playing a character in 1903.
Yeah, I’m going from the past to the future. It’s been a really interesting year.
How did you end up being involved in Murdoch Mysteries?
What’s funny is I’ve auditioned for the show multiple times over the years and I never got the parts. I was always really bummed out. One of the last auditions that I had was for the Ragtime episode and my friend Tenika Davis ended up getting the role; she was great in it. I auditioned for this role and didn’t really expect it to be as big as it became. I only imagined it being a one or two episode thing. I love to audition for shows in other time periods and had a lot of fun in this one and I got the part.
Murdoch Mysteries is an established show. Was there any kind of nervousness on your part on that first day?
Oh my gosh, I was nervous for the first three months! It’s really intimidating to walk onto the set where some people have been working together the entire time. I’m really the new kid on the block. I always put a lot of pressure on myself not only with the work but in fitting in and wondering where to sit in the cafeteria. Do I sit with the grips, or the extras or the cast? It’s so silly, but I guess I’m still a bit young and new to the game.
So, where did you sit?
I feel like I sat with the sound guys!
You have several episodes under your belt. Have you gotten used to having your hair up and wearing layers of clothing?
No! I’m always wondering if there will be an episode where I don’t have to have my hair up. I have a lot of hair and would love to let it loose, but I know that’s not what was going on during the time period. Wearing the costumes has been fun, but the corset makes me cry sometimes. Not because I’m sad, but because I can’t breathe. But, actually, wearing something restrictive like that brings you into character.
We’ve gotten a little bit of background on Rebecca. We know she’s from the U.S. and had a wealthy patron who was helping her gain medical knowledge. What else can you say?
She is really, really curious about medicine and, of course, she wishes she could complete her schooling and practice medicine, but maybe she feels there are too many obstacles in the way and it’s more important to take care of herself than get back to medical school.
What kind a research did you do into ladies of this time period?
I specifically looked at black Victorians and people of colour in that time period because I think we see media jump from slavery to the Civil Rights Movement. There is all of this great stuff in between and a wide variance of the black experience in Canada and the U.S., and how long black people have been in Canada. We had black people in Toronto at this time and they were all over Ontario and upstate New York. Even though this single character can’t carry all of that, it gives a glimpse into that part of history and, hopefully, interested viewers will do their own research.
Does Rebecca experience racism?
Yes, of course. She’ll face her own challenges in the next few episodes and even though Dr. Ogden and Det. Murdoch are really kind to her, not everybody in the community shares their sentiment. We will see, as the season progresses, not only how Rebecca deals with racism, but the other characters as well.
What’s been your experience with the fans so far?
I haven’t heard too much so far. I know the show has a huge fan base and I’m looking forward to hearing what they have to say. I’m also doubly intimidated by that. I also feel very grateful that everyone is so open to a character like Rebecca James.
Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.
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