A Berwick native and Nicholls State University graduate, Julie Hébert packs a list of TV credits that includes some of the medium’s finest and most successful recent dramas. As writer, director or producer — sometimes all three — she’s contributed her talents to, among others, “The Good Wife,” “Nashville,” “Boss,” “The West Wing” and “ER.”
The list also includes ABC’s “American Crime,” which begins its second season at 9 p.m. Wednesday on WBRZ. Hébert’s latest multiple-job-titles credit sees her serving as staff writer, director (of the new season’s fourth episode) and co-executive producer of the “limited” series, 10 times an Emmy nominee in its first season.
Last time, the challenging anthology drama tackled race, class, law and order in a crime-and-justice story set in Modesto, California. This time, the series is set in suburban Indianapolis (both seasons were shot in Austin, Texas), and examines a crime that takes place in a tony high school.
Key cast members from Season One return: Felicity Huffman, Timothy Hutton, Richard Cabral and Emmy winner Regina King. But they’re different characters, telling a different story. Issues of race and class are at the forefront again. The season-premiere episode is pre-streaming at ABC.go.com.
Created by John Ridley (an Academy Award winner for his “12 Years a Slave” adapted screenplay), “American Crime” is the product of the most diverse writing staff Hébert has ever worked with, she said, crediting Ridley and executive producer Michael J. McDonald with making heterogeneity a priority both on and behind the camera.
“After having been in so many writers rooms with not only white guys, but straight white males, not a lot of women, and certainly not a lot of people of color, the writers room for ‘American Crime’ is incredibly diverse,” Hébert said. “The room has a completely different tone, and it’s so interesting to me that there’s actually diversity in the stories and the experiences and the point of view of the writers. Eventually, all of that makes it into the show. It was striking to me, the controversial subjects we were discussing.
“I think John and Michael had that in mind when they pulled this all together. I think one of the things they wanted to show the world is that this kind of diverse writing room can produce the same high-quality product that the very experienced, more entitled, wealthy, middle-class, experienced white guys can. We’ve been very proud of that. It’s been just an incredible experience for me — all the women in the room, all the people of color, gay people. It’s just been really great to see that diversity is valued in such a direct way.
“It’s not about political correctness. It’s not about quotas. It’s about relating society as it is, and therefore having discussions with people from all walks of life. The product is actually more reflective of our society.”
After college in Thibodaux, Hébert directed productions for Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, New York’s La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, San Francisco’s Magic Theatre and others. She sharpened her playwriting skills through the 1980s, and worked as artistic producing director at the New Orleans Contemporary Arts Center in the mid-1990s.
Roger Ebert described the 1996 film “Female Perversions,” for which Hébert wrote the screenplay, as “the kind of movie you can’t stop thinking about.” Hébert later wrote the teleplay for the 2000 TV movie “The Mary Kay Letourneau Story: All-American Girl.”
Landing an internship with John Wells (“ER,” “Third Watch,” “The West Wing”) launched a busy, Los Angeles-based career directing episodic TV.
Though Hébert directed one of the episodes of the new season of “American Crime,” writing is her priority on this show and in general.
“Writing is more important to me than directing,” she said. “Directing is part of the spectrum of storytelling. I love doing it once in a while, but I’m not somebody that only wants to direct, and I don’t want to direct back-to-back episodes and fill my year with that. I’d rather fill my year with writing and direct once in a while.
“Women directors have had such a rough time. When I did get the opportunity, I felt like I had to do it and do it well, to sort of keep the door open for other women to come through and say, ‘Yes, women can do this. It’s not a problem at all.’ … Now women are flowing in (to directing jobs), and it’s good.
“Meanwhile, I had a great time directing episode four. The cast is tremendous. They really get into the meat of the scenes, and bring so much to it. It elevates everything — my work as a director, my work as a writer.”