Gabrielle Dennis (@gabrielle_dennis) has the comedic charm, beauty, and talent that has given her the opportunity to play many roles in some notable shows. Now the actress can add award-winning writer to her accolades with her win in the 2020 Tribeca X category. She wrote and starred in a comedic short about a character named Nyssa repeating her Pay Day, a-la Ground Hog Day. Although Hollywood has been halted due to COVID-19, Gabrielle has been able to pick up the award for her writing and acting chops — while realizing her culinary skills are actually on point. Taji Mag was able to catch up with the actress/writer to discuss her Tribeca win, writing future, and how she’s throwing down in the kitchen.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): What is the inspiration for Pay Day?
Gabrielle Dennis (GD): A payday! Getting paid to be able to say that I am a writer because it’s actually what I went to school for. I went to school for tv production (Howard University…. HUUUUUUU). The acting was the thing that took off. I had been recently putting it out into the universe that I wanted to get back into a creative space and creating content. Then this opportunity fell in my lap when one of the producers from the Black Lady Sketch Show, who is actually one of the producers on Pay Day, Deniese Davis, said “I have an opportunity if you are willing to take a shot at it?” From there, things felt so aligned. I felt motivated to follow this goal and follow through on this dream that I’ve had for years. The experience was really exciting and really fun.
DDF: How was it working with Cooper Morgan?
GD: Cooper Morgan is so awesome! He is such a visionary! He is a great visionary and has so much energy. I could not get over how he could just be on top of it all day. His vision is very clear. I am very excited to see what he has in line for the future. Cooper just gets it! From the colors to the music, he kind of catches all of the senses which makes him a great storyteller and I hope to work with him again.
DDF: What was the atmosphere like on the set of Pay Day? Was there a hard day?
GD: The atmosphere was cool but things seemed very fast. We had a lot of content, even though it was a six-minute film. The final script that we shot was about 8 mins, we had to cut it down some more. I got to work with people that I knew. We were working so fast, we didn’t have enough time to develop a conversation to make these friends feel like real friends. We had just enough time to say “Hey girl, good to see you!” Then it was like boom! Back to work. I think it was smart of the producers to bring together people we were familiar with each other as peers.
DDF: How did it feel being on set as the writer and actress of the film?
GD: It was different for me to be on set as the writer and actress, I developed more respect for our writers for whatever work they put on the page. I’m always an actress that tries to respect and honor what’s on the page. As the writer on set, you are like “ Oh no! They are cutting out another piece (of the script).” Our director was so great at adjusting to what we needed to get. He reassured me, allowed me to breathe, and understand we had enough footage to tell the story. Shout out to the entire team, the whole team was just awesome!
DDF: What has been your greatest investment after you started landing larger roles?
GD: I would say investing in the stock market. I am by no means an expert in stock but to have the ability to see how far your money can go and have the excitement of knowing your money is working. It’s like “Money has a job and it’s to make more money!”
I’ve had fun investments. I was able to buy my SUV. When I booked my role on Rosewood, I thought about my long commute and it was time to turn in my college car. I thought to myself “I am going to treat myself!” I had this long commute, I get to be comfortable, I get to drive fast and sit up high in my new vehicle. We all know that an automobile is a depreciating item, as soon as you drive it off the lot.
DDF: What would be your reaction to being stuck in a time loop like Nyssa?
GD: I think I would learn my lesson a little sooner than Nyssa for sure. I feel like I would have been extremely extravagant, I am talking about trips around the world as far as I could get in that 48 hr period. Like the morning of I’m buying a plane, I would spend 200 of those days learning to fly the plane myself. I feel like I would have had a lot more adventure and be more of a risk-taker because I know I would be ok the next day. I would have spent way more money than Nyssa did.
DDF: Pay Day has been compared to skits on A Black Lady Sketch Show (ABLSS). How do you feel about the comparison?
GD: I take that as a compliment. I think the writers from A Black Lady Sketch Show are brilliant. I love the full-color wheel we get with the types of comedy we get to create. We all have different experiences. I love quirky, bizarre comedy. We get things that make you think, so I take it as a compliment. The scenario in Pay Day is not a normal thing that would happen to anybody and the whole idea for the project with Synchrony Bank was to make people think about their finances. I feel like it was an education in disguise.
*Hopefully the writers and producers from A Black Lady Sketch Show read this and give Gabrielle a seat at the table*
DDF: Will you get more writing duties for the next season of ABLSS?
GD: I don’t think I could write on ABLSS because the writing team is already intact. I think I am going to need a little bit more than 6 and a half minutes of experience before I get confident enough to be a part of a writer’s room. If the team from the show would have that, I would love that. It is a goal of mine to write some more for sure.
DDF: If there was a Luke Cage season 3, what do you think would’ve happened to Tilda Johnson in your opinion?
GD: She wants what’s owed to her. Her mother used to preach family first and she left paradise to Luke Cage, which is a slap in the face to Matilda. Which ruined her relationship with her mother but then again we see what Tilda did to her mom. I would just have Tilda growing into her villain role. I am cheating a little because I know the plans for season three and it was for her to be one of the main villains. I would love to see the complexity in the role of how can someone get to the other side of the tracks? Does she have guilt for killing her mother? Does she feel emboldened about what she did to Mariah?
I feel like when she walked into the club with her afro puffs at the end of season two, at that moment she was a different person. To be able to see all the things she was willing to do at all cost, like really, really allowing herself to no longer fight, deny or be ashamed of the villainy in her DNA. I could see her being like Cotton Mouth and Mariah times 10! From what is known in the comic books, I just would love to have seen her character just take off. I think Tilda and Bushmaster would team up at some point.
DDF: Would you be open to appearing in the MCU films?
GD: Oh yeah! Who’s turning that down?! I wish that would happen, I would accept it with open arms.
DDF: You have to write a romantic comedy using two characters you’ve played on tv and film. Who would you choose and what would the film be about?
GD: I would say the first one would have to be my character from The Game, Janay. I feel like she was misunderstood by some people. She’s deemed as tough, but I would like to see the more thoughtful side of her, the romantic side of her, and see her relationship grow.
Another character I would like to see in a rom-com is from Rosewood. To see where the relationship went with TMI. How they grow and blossom. I would also love to see if they could make it throughout the engagement and marriage because of the challenges TMI brought to the table with her past. Pippy wore her heart on her sleeve and put everything out there, then seeing the tables turn at some point with the two lovers.
Out of all the characters I have played, those two get talked about a lot and people miss those shows the most. So I would love an opportunity to bring those characters back.
DDF: If you had to be quarantined in a house with three other actors or actresses who would it be and why? It can’t be anyone you know…
GD: Howie Mandel would be the first person because everyone knows he is a germophobe. We would definitely be clean.
Erykah Badu because she’s going to have the vocals on deck, she’s going to have the vibes, the incense you need to mellow out, and she’s going to be able to keep my chakras in check.
For the last person, I need someone that is going to feed me…I’ll go with Bobby Flay.
DDF: What have you learned about yourself during this COVID-19 crisis?
GD: I discovered that I am a really, really good cook, even though I don’t like cooking. I love eating, I always have. I can handle meals I didn’t think I could cook on my own before. I also don’t like cooking because it comes with having to clean up. I would say I was a recovering germophobe and when all the shutdown stuff happened I went into a full relapse. I envisioned everything being germy like everything has COVID-19 on it. I watched this handwashing demo where the guy used the glitter on his hands to demonstrate and everywhere I went I saw green glitter. I can’t wait to see what happens on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic. If people are going to be more OCD with clean hygiene or just have reckless abandon and not care.
I learned you can get to a point that you hate washing your hands and I am a really good cook.
DDF: What are some of the dishes you have been cooking and are most proud of?
GD: I made red snapper for the first time and I could not decide if I wanted to fry it or bake it, I just ended up making both.
I make really good Brussels sprouts. I made collard greens for the very first time that weren’t from a can. Lol! I cleaned them really well, seasoned them, just being a mad scientist in the kitchen with ingredients. I’m very proud of the greens. My mother drove 45-mins and sat outside in my yard share waiting for me to make her a plate of food. I gave her fried chicken and greens, she raved about them for days.
DDF: Is your family going to ask you to cook for the holidays?
GD: Now that’s the danger since I’ve been cooking. People will be expecting me to cook and I will be “No, no, no!” Hopefully, I won’t have to fall back on it and I have a career after this (COVID-19) is over.
DDF: What was your reaction to your win at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival online?
GD: I couldn’t celebrate too much but I was super excited about it. When I saw the text message that Pay Day had won, I got on the phone and I squealed with Denise about it. It was surprising because I didn’t even know they had submitted the film for the Tribeca Film Festival. As an artist, you hope to be involved in a project at a festival like Tribeca. I am pretty sure I had a glass of wine and danced
With all of this talent manifesting in Gabrielle Dennis’s life, we may see her get her own comedy show. Hey, maybe even a Black Comedy Cooking Show… For now, you can catch Gabrielle on Black Ladies Sketch Show season one on HBO, and be on the lookout for season two of the show. Check out her award-winning short Pay Day below.
Director: Morgan Cooper
Brand: Synchrony Bank
Agency: Giant Spoon
Production Co.: ColorCreative
TRIBECA X AWARD WINNER