On the Nickelodeon series True Jackson VP, Danielle Bisutti plays Amanda, the fashion company executive who is jealous of — and always outsmarted by — the teenage title character played by Keke Palmer. She also stars in the popular Christian film No Greater Love as a young mother who leaves her family and devotes her life to Christ. I spoke to her about fashion, co-starring with young performers, and what inspires her.
Is it fun to wear high fashion clothes as Amanda?
When I was two years old, I would pick out clothes. My mom would stand me up in my crib and pull out dresses and I would point to what I wanted to wear. So it was an inevitable thing that one day I would end up playing a role where I was a vice president of a fashion company. My mom and my aunt did a great deal of modeling and both my grandmother and my great-grandmother on my mom’s side worked for Gucci. So I have all these amazing vintage Gucci pieces. So when I was cast as Amanda in “True Jackson VP” and saw that it was a kind of “Devil Wears Prada”/”Ugly Betty” setting I knew exactly what I was going to wear. It was a total dream come true. And our wardrobe stylist, Alison Freer, is phenomenal. She totally gets me, my body type, the character. Amanda has a bit of little girl in her and a lot of sass, a lot of edge. She’s a New York executive and she always wants to be a little sleek and sophisticated. We’re totally on the same page and I couldn’t be happier. I love her; she’s amazing.
Is there one outfit you especially loved wearing?
I seem to get a lot of great dresses from Karen Millen and some pieces from Alice & Olivia. Alison Freer let me borrow and Alice & Olivia dress on the red carpet, and a Karen Millen one that fit like a total glove I wore on the red carpet as well. She gives them to me on loan and I rock them on the red carpet and bring them back.
You’re working with one of my favorite young performers, Keke Palmer of Akeelah and the Bee.
She is a consummate professional and she’s just 16 years old. There’s a side to Keke where you feel like you are dealing with a sophisticated 40-year-old woman who has been doing this forever and then there’s side that is this 16-year-old girl who is bouncing off the walls. What I love about her is that she is always open to playing, always open to new ideas. Sometimes I’ll come to her and say, “Hey, why don’t we try the scene this way, or in this scene why don’t you look at me and I’ll look and you and then we’ll go in this direction. We come to each other with different ideas and there’s a real collaboration with a lot of love and respect for each other and playfulness. It’s a total joy.
What is it like interacting with kid actors all day long?
That’s like the clash between the two worlds in the show — dealing with kids in a very adult, high-fashion, high-pressure situation. I kind of see myself as like the mama bear on the set. If the kids are getting rowdy before a take, honing everybody in and getting everybody focused. You have to watch your language. You have to watch what you talk about. I feel like it has made me a little bit more PG-rated, which is totally fine for me! It’s refreshing. The writers come up with clever, interesting jokes without it being anything risque. It’s a total family show.
Tell me about meeting fans of the show — they must get very enthusiastic!
I play the nemesis of the show. And there are kids who love the hero but there are also kids who love the villain! A lot of kids love Amanda! They love how she takes herself so seriously. They love how she dresses. One girl sends me pictures of how she dresses like Amanda at school! That’s been fun. We have a lot of parent fans, too.
I think it is great for families to watch a show that is set in the workplace. Most shows featuring kids are set at home or school.
You nailed it right on the head.
How was your experience filming No Greater Love?
Filming NGL was a completely organic and collaborative process. Russ, Brandon and Brad all set the tone for a family feeling environment which allowed me as an actor (and I believe the other actors as well) feel safe to really discover the truthful unfurling of each moment. Yes we were on a budget, yes we had a time limit, yes this was the first film for this production company but you’d never be able to tell by looking at the finished product that any of these factors weighed in on the over-all quality of the project.
What was it like being a part of a faith-based film?
Being in a faith-based film felt like being back at home, growing up in Simi Valley. Everyone was kind and supportive. There were a lot of prayers to get through stressful moments or non-stressful moments such as before each meal and no one ever used “bad words” on set. Much like being on set for my Nickelodeon show “True Jackson V.P.”
Did you identify with your character “Heather” in any way?
Since I am not a mother nor have I ever been married nor have I ever had a problem with drugs and alcohol, I do not directly relate to Heather’s outward circumstances and life choices.
However I can certainly relate to making a selfish choice as an act of desperation from a time in my life where I was feeling absolutely helpless and hopeless. Even regardless of having a relationship with God there have been those moments of total doubt and loneliness where I have felt like I need to do something drastic to take control of my life and inevitably my choice doesn’t help so much as lead me to a BIG lesson that God was trying to teach me all along. Then comes humility, surrender and supreme forgiveness and those are experiential attributes that I can certainly relate too.
Anything you want to add about the film, its importance in the industry, what people can learn from it, etc.?
NGL is a film that I believe transcends all “genres” or limits to “specific audiences” simply because its themes are so central and universal: Forgiveness, Redemption, Family, Love and Second Chances. Since it is a faith-based film the moral code is up to par to fit any families standards and regardless of what “Religion” you are, there is most definitely a need for more films of this caliber, upholding the highest integrity.
For people who want to check out the film, what is the one thing you would say about it to spark their interest?
First love that gets lost along the way is given a second chance to make it work for the better. I mean how romantic is that?!
The show has a classic “I Love Lucy” tone to it, with the over-the-top situations and humor. Who are the performers you look up to?
Well of course Lucille Ball is like the queen of comedy, and maybe the goddess is Madeline Kahn, who had a little more of an edge to her. I grew up watching a lot of “I Love Lucy,” a lot of “Saturday Night Live” in the Gilda Radner/Jane Curtin era. And a lot of Mel Brooks. I really resonated with her because she had that darker, edgier side, totally ridiculous. When I was 21 and graduating from college I had to do a one-woman show and I did “I’m Tired” from “Blazing Saddles.”
Is there a role you would really love to play?
I’ve always loved the role of Guinevere in “Camelot.” I’ve always been drawn to the Arthurian legends. My mom and I used to watch that movie all the time. I love rock operas like “Jesus Christ Superstar.” I admire performers like Nicole Kidman and Cate Blanchett because they are so chameleon-like; they do comedy and drama and music. Cate Blanchett can do anything — she even played Bob Dylan! I just love to continually change it up.
And you sing and write songs as well.
I’ve been singing and song-writing since I was 21 or 22. I have not released an album but I have done songs for movies. I hope to do an album very soon, that’s one of the things I’m working on during my hiatus time. The “True Jackson” fans have been downloading my songs and two of them even performed one in the talent show! To think that two 13-year-old girls would love a song of mine so much that they would sing it in a talent show is really a compliment and very touching.
Do you have a favorite romantic movie?
The Notebook is so good. It has that retro feel. “Casablanca” is also very romantic. Anything that has a love triangle sucks me right in. And “Camelot.” I get so tortured trying to decide who should be with who.
What inspires you?
To continually feel authentic in my work. And in my authenticity to be able to touch people is the ultimate gift. There’s a sense of being of service when you can get yourself out of the way and let the art come through. Surrender to the process and allow it to be fun, allow it to happen. Knowing that my work is inspiring other people to be authentic to who they are is my inspiration.