Recently, actress Jamie Brewer welcomed ABILITY’s contributing writer David S. Zimmerman into a sunny and peaceful backyard. Tucked away in a Hollywood, CA, enclave, the two spoke about her part as a clairvoyant witch on the megahit TV show, American Horror Story; her leadership of an important nonprofit organization, and her ultimate dream role. Photographer Michael Hansel tagged along to snap some shots and to ask a few burning questions of his own. Zimmerman got things rolling when he came bearing a gift.
David S. Zimmerman: I got this for you, because it reminded me of you. Be careful, it’s fragile.
(Jamie removes a jeweled wine glass from the gift wrap. Etched into is “Queen Witch.”)
Jamie Brewer: David! Oh, wow! That’s me. (laughs) This is so sweet of you.
Zimmerman: Well, I saw it and said, “I have to buy that.” You can put your Bud Light in it.
Michael Hansel: How did you and David meet?
Brewer: I’m part of this theatre group called the Born To Act Players, and when I first started with them I was doing a play. I forget which one exactly, but David came to it. And ever since, we’ve been really amazing friends.
Zimmerman: How long were you with Born To Act?
Brewer: I’m still with them; it’s just been a while since I’ve done anything because of everything else that’s going on.
Zimmerman: But you’ve done a lot of shows with them.
Brewer: That’s right. I started working with them because when we were moving out here from Texas—where I worked with the Dionysus Theatre, which includes individuals with and without disabilities—I was trying to find a California troupe that was similar to it. I heard about Born to Act, and that’s how I first got involved. I met Mary Rings, and then you, and then everybody who was involved. Moving out here, honestly and truly, has given me a lot of great opportunities.
Zimmerman: Is American Horror Story your first TV series?
Zimmerman: Wow. That’s hitting it out of the park on the first swing, isn’t it?
Brewer: Yes. At the same time, I had been studying acting for a while. I don’t know if I told you—I probably have—that I’ve been a theater girl since eighth grade. It was in college that I learned the basics of theater, the entertainment industry and various mediums.
Hansel: So what do you like about theater?
Brewer: I’ve done a lot of ensemble work and I like that. Performing with Born to Act was my first chance to sing duets. I also love music.
Hansel: So you like to sing—
Zimmerman: —and dance.
Brewer: Yes, dancing is one of the ways that I stay physically fit and healthy.
Zimmerman: You can play a wide age range, from a teenager to a young woman. What would be your dream role?
Brewer: Playing someone’s wife someday or fiancé. I’d also like to play a lawyer because my Aunt Sandy, my mother’s sister, is an attorney. And maybe a cook or a lounge singer—anything that plays to my strengths.
Zimmerman: You’ve already played a number of different roles, from Adelaide on the first season of American Horror Story to Nan on the third season.
Brewer: And also Amanda in a guest-star spot on Southland. It was exciting to be cast opposite Michael Cudlitz, as his so-called girlfriend. That episode was called ‘Heat,’ and it was my first role as somebody’s girlfriend.
Zimmerman: How do you approach learning a new character?
Brewer: Just by being open and ready to study the script.
Zimmerman: When we’re watching you work, you’re so in the moment. I have to say, when I saw you acting in those scenes with [actresses] Jessica Lange, Angela Bassett and Kathy Bates in American Horror Story you were stunning. Whether you played the multi dimensional Adelaide or the brilliant clairvoyant Nan, you had so many levels to your performances. You made us fall in love with you just by being. I always tell people that there is Jamie playing ball with Jessica Lange! To me, the characters that you play become iconic. And you have a huge fan base.
Brewer: Thank you so much. Yes, I’m almost up to 50,000 Twitter followers.
Zimmerman: I’ve talked to a lot of friends, and they say, “Oh, she’s my favorite on the show.”
Brewer: There was this really surprising moment when we were in Vegas a while back: Stevie Nicks was performing with Lady Antebellum and I got to watch the rehearsal at the MGM. At one point I yelled out, “Stevie!” and then all of a sudden she actually said, right through the mic: “Jamie is my favorite little witch.” It was a total shock. I was excited the whole night. It had been some time since we were on the set of American Horror Story together, and it was great to see her again and reconnect.
Zimmerman: That’s an amazing story. That’s like meeting the queen.
Brewer: Yes, and getting to know her has been great. She invited me to see her place, to spend time with her, and maybe for us to get our hair done together.
Hansel: How fun is that? Getting your hair done with Stevie Nicks!
Brewer: Yeah, she’s an amazing lady.
Zimmerman: She is. So tell me, Jamie, what is your biggest joy?
Brewer: Honestly, David, it’s just being myself and showing who I am from the heart. I have some really great friends who encourage me. I consider everybody I know to be my family.
Zimmerman: It’s true; we’re like family.
Brewer: We are.
Zimmerman: How are you dealing with success? Do you get a lot of people asking for your autograph and wanting to take a picture with you?
Brewer: It depends on where I am. When people recognize me, I stop and treat them with respect.
Zimmerman: You’re very generous and come across as friendly. It’s in your smile. It’s so clear that you were brought up in a loving family.
Brewer: They always encourage me no matter what I want to do.
Zimmerman: I can relate to that with my parents, too.
Brewer: My dad pretends to be my security guard; it’s this cute thing he does. Mom just laughs when he does it. There’s this father/daughter event coming up and my dad and I are going to it. He loves to be my date. We have that kind of bond.
Zimmerman: I read somewhere that you were the youngest person to be elected president of The ARC [for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities] in Fort Bend, TX?
Brewer: That’s true. I’m an artist who also has a business mind. When I was president of The ARC for two years, I brought a sense of order. Coming into office, they told me ahead of time: “This is the thing that’s a mess, and we need someone who has a business mind to put things in order and give us specific things to do.” And with me, they got that.
Zimmerman: Why do you think some people use the R-word, the N-word or language of that nature?
Brewer: They do it to put labels and limits on what individuals can do. Some people are quick to make snap judgments, especially about individuals with disabilities: “Okay, they can’t do this. They can’t be seen in certain things. They can’t do some things that we can do.” But the truth of it is—if you really look at the true heart of things—we can. Sometimes with certain people it takes them awhile, but they get it done.
Zimmerman: Do you think those people who use language like that are scared or something? That’s what I feel.
Brewer: I agree.
Zimmerman: They block themselves off—
Brewer: They limit themselves, but we see the heart.
Zimmerman: The heart of the matter. I love that.
Brewer: That’s what I’ve always lived by. I don’t always look at the exterior. I know that being with them, with you, with anybody that I’m around, I see the heart, and who they are, and I love them because of it.
Zimmerman: That really touches me, because that’s where I come from. The heart. And I connect even more with it since my heart attack a few months ago, as you know. That’s where we connect, we both come from a place of healing and love.
Brewer: Yes. One movie line that I have written down and live by is that everybody is different… Everybody is different. We may speak in different tongues and come from different worlds, but the truth is that our hearts beat as one. Our heart is always the same. Seeing the heart is what really matters. If you really study movies and TV shows, you find life lessons. This one was my interpretation from the Harry Potter series that actually inspired me to be someone in film and TV.
Zimmerman: So you can be a messenger?
Brewer: Yeah, just by being myself and showing everyone that people with disabilities can really do what they put their minds and hearts to.
Zimmerman: What are you most proud of?
Brewer: Everything, because everything I do shows the real me.
Zimmerman: Define sexy.
Brewer: It’s being who you are and having the inner beauty come out. This is what matters. Looking into a mirror, saying positive things about yourself, that inner beauty shows.
Zimmerman: Yeah, I wish more people would see things that way. On the flip side, what really ticks you off?
Brewer: When people say things the wrong way or judge other people. Those kinds of things.
Zimmerman: Let’s talk about the good news you got recently; you won an award.
Brewer: It was a Groundbreaker Award from New Horizons.
Zimmerman: And you’re on the red carpet a lot, I see.
Brewer: Yes, I am.
Zimmerman: I remember when you went to one of the Meet the Biz classes, you brought in your own script. You’re a writer, too.
Brewer: Yeah, right now I have six short-story collections that I’m trying to do.
Zimmerman: I can’t wait to read them! So tell me, Jamie, what scares you?
Brewer: I used to have a fear of heights, but not anymore. My mother actually inspired me to learn parasailing, which has its scary moments.
Zimmerman: You do parasailing? That would scare me! (laughs) What’s your favorite scary movie?
Brewer: I like Mike Myers’ Halloween movies, which kind of fascinate me, and the film The Conjuring.
Zimmerman: I need to see that one. Who’s in it?
Brewer: Vera Farmiga. Her sister, Taissa Farmiga, played Zoe in Coven. It’s all about the paranormal and witches. And I got hooked on it. I’m hooked on that film. We first saw it in a movie theatre, and it scared me to death.
Hansel: Do you like watching movies over and over again?
Brewer: Yeah, so I can study them. One of the biggest things I’m learning is about the camera. I always told myself that if I didn’t get work as an actress right away, I would still want to be part of the production and work behind the scenes. Learn about the writing, the camera, the editing—things like that. And the directing. Someday I want to do a workshop where I can bring in some of my knowledge, and have other people who I’ve worked with bring their perspectives as well.
Zimmerman: I could see that happening very soon. Maybe at a Meet The Biz workshop?
Zimmerman: Recently I posted on Facebook: “If you were going to ask Jamie Brewer a question, what would it be?”
Brewer: Yeah, I saw that.
Zimmerman: One person said: “I’d ask her who or what inspired her to get into acting?”
Brewer: It was different people. And not just actors. I got a chance to meet [the first] President Bush’s wife, Barbara. Her personality and how she carries herself are an inspiration to me.
Zimmerman: Could you see yourself becoming a political figure?
Brewer: Someday. That would be a dream. I’m a huge advocate, David. You know how strong of an advocate I am.
Zimmerman: I’ve heard that you recently started studying French.
Brewer: A few French words in one of the American Horror Story scripts, and a French woman named Christine, both inspired me to learn the language.
Zimmerman: Have you been to France?
Brewer: Yes. My family went to England, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Austria and Belgium.
Brewer: It was a whole month in total in all those different countries, which was also my high school graduation present.
Zimmerman: What are some of the other irons in the fire that you’ve got going?
Brewer: One is Snow Moon, an animated film that’s being cast by Stanzi Stokes, which I’m excited about.
Zimmerman: And onto the fourth season, American Horror Story: Freak Show.
Zimmerman: So on a personal note: Is there anyone special right now?
Brewer: I love being single and at the same time I’m open. Like the Michael Bublé song says: “Haven’t Met You Yet.”
Hansel: What kind of music do you like?
Brewer: Country Western, R&B, and Broadway show tunes.
Zimmerman: Would you want to do a Broadway production?
Brewer: I’d love to do the musical Wicked.
Zimmerman: Who would you want to play?
Brewer: Elphaba [The Wicked Witch of the West]! I know that music really well.
Zimmerman: I would love to see you play her!
Brewer: I even told a few friends on our show that I can do a really good witch laugh. There is one take, where Alfonso [Gomez-Rejon], the director, asked me to “Do the laugh.” It was a scene with Patti LuPone, and I laughed like the Wicked Witch of the West, and everyone got a kick out of it.
Zimmerman: I love it!