by Nikki Marks photography by Shanna Fisher
“…Any moves towards equality, in any way, across the board, especially in terms of sexual discrimination with salary, is a 100% right. There’s no version where this is a bad thing. It’s about equality amongst people in general, and you can use women as an example but this helps the whole business and people and industry across the board…”
We watched her grow up on Malcolm in the Middle, battle for her freedom in Lost, and solve cases in Death Valley. Stunning and super bright, Tania Raymonde seems to have been born for fame.
She grew up in Los Angeles, but with her European ancestry—her parents were French and Russian—she was encouraged to be passionately outspoken. “The French raise their kids in a very adult way in terms of exposing them to pretty much everything right away. I grew up in a very adult household where real conversations were happening about everything. So for me, I saw the world very young the way it is, without all the fucked up parts cut out just to protect me. I’m really thankful for that, and I think that’s how the European mindset really differs from the traditional American way.”
Her creative freedom stemmed from her exposure to an array of artwork. “I was allowed to watch any kind of movie I wanted to, read any book as soon as I wanted to. There were no restrictions to content when I was young.” Even Raymonde’s schooling was in French at Lysse Francais, where she majored in philosophy and literature. She dreamed of one day continuing her schooling in France. “In an alternate life I definitely would have gone and done my studies [in France]. I love it over there.”
But fate stepped in and she was swept into her true calling: acting. “I think it was just an imaginative period for me as a little kid. There was a drama program one year in fourth grade that put on a school production of The Wizard of Oz and from there I just sort of segued into a professional child’s acting career.” Yet Tania Raymonde is not your typical child star. There were no tales of drama or misbehavior. Instead, she was immediately smitten with the industry. “I loved it from the beginning. That’s how I started and I’ve pretty much been doing it ever since.”
Her career up to now has mainly been in television—her choice, she says—due to the depths of the medium. “The limitations of an hour and a half long movie…it’s very hard to portray a character with any amount of layered depth because of the pace count. With TV, you get to listen to someone’s entire story over a whole year, and that’s fascinating.”
And Lady Fortune as it happens has landed her in the midst of the Golden Age of Television, a creative paradise for story-driven actors like herself. “The most innovative stuff is happening in TV. They’re taking so many chances in terms of how to develop a plot that you could play the same character present day, then in a flashback and then jump to the end of their lives in another episode; or even play that character in an alternate version of their lives like I did on Lost. It’s a really exciting time to be an actor playing a character on television.”
Her current television role—as sympathetic prostitute Brittany Gold on Goliath—continues in the vein of progressive TV characters. Raymonde was cast even before lead actor Billy Bob Thornton was on board to play lawyer Billy McBride. The latest show by famed television creator David E. Kelley, Goliath creates a world of corporate sleaze while unveiling the deeper truths of tortured characters. “The amazing thing of working on Goliath is that no one is really defined by what they do. The creators really wanted to emphasize that every person is just a person, and that their humanity in the character is really what matters above all.”
For her playing Brittany is a dream come true within itself. “I always wondered what it would be like to play this kind of character, to get into the mind of a call girl. I didn’t really want to pigeonhole my preconceived ideas of what a hooker would be like because that just didn’t make sense to me. I kind of looked at Brittany as just a street-smart lost girl who is trying to get her life together, with a drug addiction among other things. But deep down she’s a smart person and a good person but just has maybe had some shitty experiences in her life.” And no, she did not watch other portrayals of prostitutes. “I’m super thankful that I didn’t watch every version of Pretty Woman that I could, you know?” Raymonde joked.
Of course, nowadays it’s not too far-fetched to imagine someone slipping into various forms of prostitution. Since playing Brittany, Raymonde has even noticed how the line into paid sex is becoming more and more blurred.
“I drive down Sunset Boulevard every morning to the studio and I see these big billboards advertising these things called sugar models or sugar babies online, which are basically college-aged girls at Ivy League schools that are trying to make a little bit of money on the side. But it’s kind of a form of a mutual financial arrangement that may or may not include sex, and it’s completely accepted and promoted by social media as a form of prostitution. And you see young, smart girls who are maybe moving onto law school who are doing this and seem to have no problem with it.”
Raymonde credits the self-promotion of social media with this rise in questionable pursuits for money. “Now with social media and Instagram and the way that people have a tendency unfortunately to exploit themselves online already anyway, it doesn’t seem like such a far jump to kind of get involved in this world. So to me that kind of took the taboo out of Brittany being a call girl or an escort because she’s kind of just a young woman doing what a lot of young woman do. That was a wild realization.”
“I think also it’s complicated now too because there are so many discussions now about consent and sexual abuse and sexual harassment. Yet if you look at something like this sugar models example, that in a sense is completely acceptable and yet we have so many problems now about people finally coming up about sexual harassment in the workplace. That’s a little complicated. And then also if you look at it from the perspective of a professional escort, there is no question of consent.” Raymonde is quick to clarify she does not necessarily endorse prostitution, however. “It’s a horrible job, there is no question. I don’t think there’s an escort on planet Earth that enjoys their job. But if you think about it and flip it, at the very least she’s getting compensation for what she does. And she’s setting the rules as much as she can for what she can and cannot do,” she said. “I’m not saying it’s female empowerment but at least she’s in control. And also if you consider it a legitimate business and she’s a freelancer or a private contractor and in the same way that someone decides to stay at home and work from a home office, then you can rationalize that it’s pretty much the same thing.”
Perhaps it is her upbringing that allows her to see both sides. “I think the Western World and America in particular has a very deeply engrained Puritan mindset because of the way this country began, and that reinforces this taboo against sex, against women who are empowered by sex, against women who choose to have sex for a living. But then at the same time if you really look at it, the sex industry itself worldwide is responsible for some of the most egregious human trafficking and child sex slavery. Even in this country alone, the amount of money that somebody can make off of human trafficking with a woman is in the hundreds of thousands per woman. It gets really complicated, and I think the second that you make it legal, it makes all of the nefarious side of it much more permissible. And that is happening everywhere. But this country still definitely has a very strange love-hate relationship with this issue.”
This isn’t Raymonde’s first time playing a woman caught on the other side of the law. Her turn as convicted murder Jodi Arias in the Lifetime movie Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret in 2013 was filmed in just 12 days while the court case was simultaneously playing out. “It was a wild ride. In the U.S., it was like a tabloid media sensation. You saw it every single night on television. It was like working with a very topical thing as the story was unraveling. It was a really strange experience.” She again found herself trying to find the humanity in a character. “At that time, people were dead-set against Jodi. She was one of the most hated women in America at that point. It was fascinating to play her, especially at that time.” Raymonde focused on finding herself within Jodi. “I had to block a lot of that stuff out because everyone was saying ‘guilty, guilty, guilty.’ And this really wasn’t about the murder necessarily—two thirds of the movie is pretty much kind of a love story. It shows the depths to which a young, very lonely woman who believes she’s in love will go to to stay with the man she believes she should spend the rest of her life with. It was a really complex character to crack. And the last thing I wanted to do was to be influenced by the public opinion of what people thought of Jodi Arias, so in that way the script was really successful in showing her humanity. My only concern was to try and make her into a real person and not vilify her more than she already was. What she did was reprehensible but she was really fun to play.”
With both Goliath and Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret TV productions, She feels connected to the direction that television is going. “At the moment it just seems like the stuff that I’m reading in television is most exciting. And the quality and caliber of creators and film directors and actors that are on television right now are the ones that you would never have a chance of working with if you were on film. Goliath this season takes a lot of risks,” Raymonde teased. “This is a really fun chapter in the Goliath universe with some really fun new characters and a great villain this year. I’m excited by these scripts.”
But original streaming content is just beginning, Raymonde promises. “I’m sure in a month from now some completely unknown network and some unknown studio will start as the next Amazon or the next Hulu and we’ll have a smash hit that no one saw coming that everyone will watch. I think the accessibility of it is such a democratic way of getting TV out there.”
Goliath has also acted as a platform for her to work with other female filmmakers, such as director Dennie Gordon. “I hadn’t worked with a female director since I was 14 years old. It just shows you how even to this day it’s rare for the most part for women even to be directing these big time TV shows and movies. Working with women, female producers, female directors, it’s a completely different experience. It’s so fun for women to work with other women and amongst women. Any opportunity to do more of that is exciting as a female creator and as a female performer.”
The industry however still has a long way to go from including female directors to equal pay among genders. “I think there should be more opportunities for women who very much deserve to be in positions of power where they can express their own talent and creativity in ways that might haven’t been able to before because of social dynamics and these kinds of boys club,” Raymond said. “Any moves towards equality, in any way, across the board, especially in terms of sexual discrimination with salary, is a 100% right. There’s no version where this is a bad thing. It’s about equality amongst people in general, and you can use women as an example but this helps the whole business and people and industry across the board.”
“Equal pay or women’s rights or women’s rights to vote, up until someone spoke up against it—a woman—it wasn’t even a feasible reality and things would have continued as they were. You think about women in France, they didn’t even get a chance, the right to vote, until the 70s! It’s wild. We (women) still have a lot of catching up to do.”
But in a business focused on appearance and rife with rejection, Raymonde believes there is always a sisterhood to be found. “The nature of being an actress…there’s a lot of insecurity involved in that. The business sometimes is designed to make you doubt yourself or feel less than. It’s just the cutthroat aspect of working in show business. I accept this with open arms, I asked for this and I love it. But I think as an insecure young actress, I spent a lot of time worried about that. ‘Now’ is so invigorating and empowering and the moment you start to believe in yourself, it changes everything.”
Looking forward, Raymonde has many goals in mind. Her upcoming film about the 1821 war for Greek independence, Cliffs of Freedom, will be released later this year, with the next season of Goliath underway. And of course, there always is Paris in the back of Raymonde’s mind. “Paris is undoubtedly my most favorite city on the planet. There are so many directors in France that I would love to work with. There aren’t many American actors who speak French who want to make movies in France. That’s a big goal of mine. I would even love to do a play in France one day. This is the first time I went with pride as a French citizen and said ‘please, please let this happen,’” she recalled of voting for Macron. “I treated myself to a huge ice cream afterwards.”
Until then her “ultimate dream role” is her passion project; a film about blues singer Amy Winehouse. “I’m trying to put together a script and some cool ideas on how to tell her history and approach producers for that. It’s been an ongoing dream of mine.” With her dark hair, high cheekbones, and lean frame she has a striking resemblance to the deceased powerhouse star. Her approach to Winehouse’s story though is what makes her project unique. “The documentary was wonderful and showed a little bit of her humanity. But I would love to make a movie that finally portrays her as who she was, a real human being, and try to really dig deep down into her relationships and how things went wrong and what made her so troubled. I’m fascinated by her. And the music, my god. Even if I’m in a restaurant and they’re playing her music on the radio, it gives me chills. There’s something about her that was so powerful.”
And her most poignant quote was fittingly saved ‘til last. “At the end of time, when I’ve finally lived my life and it’s almost over, I want it to end in a little apartment in Paris.”
C’est la vie.