by Ruby Comer
I’ve always had a fondness for demons …more so than angels.
Mazikeen, better known as Maze, is on the top of my list. She’s a character in the widely devilish series, Lucifer, and is portrayed with fiery evil by actor Lesley-Ann Brandt.
While Maze is a devoted henchman for Lucifer, Lesley-Ann is a devoted advocate for those living with HIV. Mazikeen is a badass when it comes to taking care of business and so is Lesley-Ann! Having been raised in Cape Town, South Africa, AIDS has mercilessly devastated much of her country, affecting her deeply. It’s a cause this heavenly girl doesn’t take lightly.
At seventeen Lesley-Ann immigrated with her family to Auckland, New Zealand, where local casting directors discovered her. She did some modeling, was cast in a soaper, and other projects followed until she landed on American soil in 2010. Since then she’s appeared in the feature films, Drift and Killing Winston Jones, and television series, CSI: NY, Memphis Beat, and Single Ladies. Lesley-Ann’s other interests lie in playing hockey and baseball, and practicing yoga. She even used to play competitive field hockey. Go, sister!
Like her fellow actor’s South African organization, Charlize Theron Outreach Project, Ms. Brandt works with a South African organization called Earth Child Project, which teaches nearly 4,000 less-than-fortunate children to cope with their unfortunate situation through yoga and meditation. Her current focus is parlaying her involvement with Earth Child Project into fighting the AIDS epidemic in South Africa. Like Maze, she’s kickin’ butt. Over the years, Ms. Brandt has designed Mazikeen fan merchandise to help various charities.
No doubt about it, this woman is exotic, sexy, and…can we talk about that bod?! Yikes. Okay, I’m jealous. The actress, thirty-eight, is married and has been together with her chap for eight years. They live in L.A. and have a three-year old son, Kingston Payne Brandt-Gilbert. That is a royal name if I ever heard one! Indeed, Kingston shares a birthday with the eminent Nelson Mandela.
For a devil of a good time, we decide to assemble at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. (This is before the complete lockdown.) We meet at Estelle Getty’s gravestone, since Lesley-Ann is also a huge fan of the actress. As you all know, Ms. Getty portrayed Sophia on Golden Girls and was a heavy hitter when it came to helping out in the AIDS community. She lost a nephew to the disease….
Ruby Comer: This certainly is a beautiful place. [Lesley-Ann and I plop ourselves on the fresh cut lawn, under the shade of an elm tree. I look around and heave a sigh.] So peaceful, and the landscape is exquisite….and so many celebrities buried here! [We chat a minute about who’s final resting place this is.] Lesley-Ann, when did you first hear the words “HIV” or “AIDS”?
Lesley-Ann Brandt: I specifically remember seeing an article on the disease in National Geographic Magazine around the age of thirteen or fourteen. It went in-depth about how people were affected in Africa, the issues with access to medication, and educational programs teaching teens about safe sex and how to prevent transmission.
So how did you learn about the disease?
I grew up in a culture where sex wasn’t openly discussed with your parents. But my parents were different. We had a conversation and my mother said, “If you’re going to do it, let me know and I’ll get you condoms, and if appropriate, even birth control.” I was very fortunate to have an open relationship with my parents, but not many of my peers did. My parents educated me about the repercussion of the diseases I could contract if I wasn’t safe.
You lucky dawg. Bless your ma and pa.
I aim to transfer that openness of communication about practicing safe sex with my son. It’s just being respectable. It’s important he feels safe coming to me to talk about everything about intimacy.
Speaking of youth, as you know, HIV stats are on the rise in our younger generation. Any ideas how we can better connect to them—or others?
Social media is the best way to connect and it’s such a natural part for our younger generation to stay connected. It’s one of the positive aspects about the Internet, the accessibility to information. Also, we need to provide more educational programs as well.
[She pauses and robustly states] We need to make messages less preachy about abstinence….
Stop right there…YES! What a foolish, absurd proposal.
[Lesley-Ann nods with gusto.] We need to realize youth will have sex whether we agree to it or not. The message needs to be more about empowerment and respect for each other and ourselves. We need to communicate the risks and equip them with everything they need to know, making preventive care easily accessible. Don’t make sex taboo or shameful.
How true you are. Tell me about the time you first got tested for HIV?
I believe I was nineteen. My boyfriend had cheated on me. I was so infuriated that he had put my health at risk. I made him get tested and was there to make sure he followed through! The results came back clear, thankfully, and I broke up with him. I have not given him a second thought since.
Do you have any friends who are living with HIV?
A few years ago a friend confided in me that he had contracted the disease from a one-night stand. Thankfully he had just gotten health insurance a couple of weeks earlier [she lets out a groan of relief] so he didn’t have to worry about the immediate financial burden of treatment and medication.
If you have the chance and the means to help someone…you should. Why not use what you can to help someone else who isn’t as fortunate?! Pay it forward.
What was your immediate reaction?
I remember my fear about what this would mean for him, but that was quickly put to rest once we talked through the options and how the disease is [medically] treated now.
How’s he doing now?
He’s doing incredibly well, Ruby, and continues to live a happy and healthy life.
Zay gezunt. So you are wisely using your platform as an actor to help others. Why do you care, Maze—oops, I mean Lesley-Ann?! I knew that would happen.
I’ve been asked this before and I’m always shocked this isn’t something natural in all of us. [I bob my head energetically.] It is truly innate in me. Growing up in South Africa which was faced with lots of poverty and devastation [Apartheid], I was just raised this way. If you have the chance and the means to help someone…you should. Why not use what you can to help someone else who isn’t as fortunate?! Pay it forward.
You know a lot about demons! One of the demons of this disease is…stigma, a
loaded word, I know. How do we get rid of these ignorant prejudices?
[Lesley-Ann glances over yonder where a burial is taking place.] There will always be a generation of people who will be like this, unfortunately; however, I am looking to the new and younger generation to save our world. Our kids are so smart these days.
Indeed. Sometimes I don’t understand them, but I guess that’s normal for an old fart like me.
[Lesley-Ann chuckles.] I believe “normalizing” is the best answer, Ruby. We need to treat AIDS like any other disease. [She cocks her head and smirks.] Along those lines, we must look to drug companies and fight against the outrageous costs they put on people in need. We need to cap medicine costs and this requires help from our leaders, as well as through legislation.
Hear, hear, Lesley-Ann….
I hope that characters like mine on Lucifer can help de-stigmatize. I believe characters in television and film help “normalize” it all. My character is pansexual and the show is unapologetic about it; she loves whom she loves and that’s it. The media can help showcase characters who are living with HIV in their daily lives, like in Pose.
Oh my gosh, yes. [Ahem.] Hey, since we are in a cemetery, what’s your final wish, Lesley-Ann?
[Laser focused, she casts those dark sultry eyes my way.] My absolute wish, Ruby, is for my son to see this disease gone in his lifetime. [She breaks, sweeping the palm of her hand back and forth atop blades of grass, then concludes] Not sure it will be possible in mine, but…I will do what I can to make it come true.
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected].