Even after more than a decade as a working actress, success still can seem surreal for Danielle Moné Truitt ’05 (Theatre Arts).
“Even when I’ve seen myself every Tuesday on TV, I was just like, ‘Wow, that’s me,’ ” she says. “All those years of working hard, it really can happen if you just believe and you don’t give up.”
The time spent pursuing her dream despite the seemingly endless no’s, the challenges of raising a family while trying to make it as a professional actor, and the occasional internal voice of doubt taught her an important lesson: Celebrate every moment.
More than 10 years after she stepped onto the stage for the first time as a Sacramento State student, Truitt’s moment has come. She recently starred as Rebecca “Rebel” Knight, an Oakland police officer who becomes a private investigator after her brother is killed at the hands of a fellow officer, in the BET police drama series Rebel, her first major role. That performance has opened up even more opportunities for the multitalented, multifaceted actress.
“The subject matter of the show is very dear to my heart,” she says. “It really confirmed for me that this is my purpose. Not just to act, but to tell stories that are important to the world that we live in, for the time that we live in.”Truitt had no plans to pursue acting when she arrived at Sacramento State in fall 2001. The Sacramento native initially declared as a psychology major, thinking it would be good preparation for law school and a career as an entertainment lawyer. But she also had been singing since she was 8 and, looking for a creative outlet, signed up for a theater class. By the end of the first week, her natural talent caught the eye of then-Professor Juanita Rice, who encouraged her to audition for an upcoming play.
The audition won her the lead role – and changed her life.
“The first time I stepped on the Playwrights’ (Theatre) stage, I just remember seeing the lights,” she says. “It was definitely a rush of adrenaline, and when I stepped on that stage, I knew, OK, this is what I wanted to do.”
Continuing to perform at Sacramento State helped Truitt build her confidence as an actor. The University also introduced her to African-American theater and art, which she says has “given me a pride about who I am and my culture and creating a body of work that speaks to helping people understand that the African-American experience in America is the American experience. It’s not a separate experience.”
‘The first time I stepped on the Playwrights’ (Theatre) stage, I just remember seeing the lights. It was definitely a rush of adrenaline, and when I stepped on that stage, I knew, OK, this is what I wanted to do.’
“She was very attentive, very astute, very intelligent, and very much a go-getter,” says retired professor and former Theatre and Dance Chair Linda Goodrich, who recalled Truitt’s performance as the lead in the play Venus, about the life of a native African woman who was exhibited as a freak show attraction during the 19th century. “It wasn’t a very attractive role as a character, but she dove right into it and gave it her all and made it an absolute success.”
Truitt also picked up unique skills such as providing the voice for a character portrayed on stage by a puppet, a situation that would be reversed in 2009 when she did video referencing for the protagonist of the animated Disney film The Princess and the Frog, lending her movements and expressions to bring the character to life.
“Danielle was always radiant, always disciplined and very committed, and I had no doubts that she was going to be a success no matter what she chose to do,” says Theatre and Dance Professor Andonia Cakouros, one of Truitt’s teachers at Sacramento State. “I knew that whatever she did in theater and film, it wasn’t just going to be about theater and film. I knew this young lady was going to be about people, and using the talents God gave her to give herself to people.”
Truitt graduated in 2005, continued to act locally with groups such as the B Street Theatre, Music Circus, and the Sacramento Theatre Company, and then in 2006 decided to take the plunge and move to Los Angeles. Suddenly a “very tiny fish in a huge pond,” she had to lean on family and friends for encouragement in the face of countless “no’s.” And no one played a bigger supporting role than her husband, Kevin.
“There were times when I was like, ‘Babe, I’m just going to go back to college and get my master’s degree in psychology, what I should have done in the first place. I shouldn’t have listened to that professor,’ ” Truitt says. “And he’s like, ‘No, Truitts don’t quit. Truitt can do it.’ That’s our mantra. Truitt can do it. We can do the good, we can do the bad, we can do the ugly. We’re going to make it through.”
Slowly, her career began to take off. In 2014, she made a guest appearance in the Rebel Wilson comedy series Super Fun Night, and the following year appeared in an episode of the sitcom Mulaney. She performed her one-woman show, 3: Black Girl Blues, on both coasts, raised her family, and continued to audition – often with her two children in tow.
Then, in 2016, she came across what seemed like the perfect part. A BET made-for-television movie called Rebel and produced by Hollywood legend John Singleton was looking for its female lead.
“African-American woman from Oakland, California, brown skin with natural hair, and I was like, ‘That sounds like me,’ ” says Truitt, who reasoned her south Sacramento upbringing was close enough to the Bay Area to count. “She was super tough and strong and fierce and beautiful and sassy and sexy. There were a whole bunch of things that encompassed her, and I thought she would be super fun to play.”
She auditioned for the casting director, then was called back to audition in front of Singleton himself, who gave her rave reviews. She left happy for the experience but, tempered by the knowledge that she wasn’t a “name” as well as a decade’s worth of rejections, she didn’t expect anything to come of it. Four months later, however, she got the call: The movie was now a series, and they wanted her to be its star.
Rebel, which aired in 2017, was more than just a professional triumph for Truitt. It was the opportunity to participate in a series focused on timely and important topics such as race and police brutality. And it was the opportunity to add her name to a dishearteningly short list: black female television leads.
“Me and a friend were counting how many black women right now are the lead of their TV show, where the entire plot is centered around them, and I think there are only five of us, out of all the shows that are on network television, cable, and online,” she says. “So I feel very honored to have had this opportunity and I also feel a charge to do what I can to create opportunities for other black women.”
To that end, Truitt has her sights set on even bigger goals: producing, directing, and working to ensure that black women are able to see themselves represented and their stories told on TV and in the movies. She also hopes to someday act on Broadway and write books. And she hasn’t forgotten her hometown. She recently brought her cabaret show Overnight Success – the title is a play on the 10-plus years it took for her to land a starring role – to Sacramento.
“Danielle is a person who doesn’t forget where she’s from,” Goodrich says. “She always comes back and gives back to the community.”
Although Rebel was not picked up for a second season, the show opened the doors to many new opportunities for Truitt. She signed with talent agency UTA, will star in The Mountaintop at in Memphis for the National Civil Rights Museum’s MLK 50 Celebration, and also is developing 3: Black Girl Blues for television. With a career on the rise, however, Truitt also is remaining grounded.
“When I’m on my death bed, I’m not going to be thinking about the fact that I played Rebecca Knight on Rebel on BET, or whether I won an award for my work or whether I had a million followers on my Instagram,” she says. “I’m not going to be thinking about that. I’m going to be thinking about my family. I’m going to be thinking about my legacy and the impact I made on people’s lives.”