How Saint X Star Josh Bonzie Built His Breakout Role in Therapy

"I wasn't expecting to learn so much about myself," says Josh Bonzie, the standout performer in Hulu's psychological crime drama Saint X. The series, based on the popular Alexis Schaitkin novel, explores how the mysterious death of a teenage American girl on a Caribbean holiday leaves a devastating impact on the lives of so many. To develop the character of Clive Richardson, a hotel worker accused of her death, Josh turned to his therapist for help.

Words by Josh Bonzie

There are things that we carry with us through our lives, things we hold on to that we aren’t even conscious of.

‘Saint X’ focuses on questions about class, race, trauma, grief, and letting go. Playing the role of Clive ‘Gogo’ Richardson, it allowed me to examine these systems and emotions from a bird’s eye view, consider how I fit into them, and learn so much about myself.

When we first meet Gogo he’s young, idealistic, and hopeful. He’s got his whole life in front of him, and that’s exciting. Then when we catch up with him many years later, after experiencing unspeakable trauma and tragedy, he’s hardened. He’s become a ghost who just floats through life and does what he can to get through the day. So the challenge was creating two separate people, but keeping that thread to link them together.

When he’s younger, Gogo gets accused of the murder and rape of a young woman, and that will do things to a person. Then he’s got a friend who f***s him over, and plants drugs in his grandma’s house, so he ends up going to jail for that — and the prison system is a whole different beast. He faces tragedy after tragedy, and he’s just trying to stay afloat.

What drew me so much to this story is that it examines the many people who are surrounding the central tragedy, the death of this young girl, and how it affects them all. My vision for this character was a man who was stuck in a time freeze; a huge trauma has happened and now he is stuck at the age he was when that trauma occurred. Every day is a gray palette and he’s not experiencing anything new — there are no colors there. He’s plagued by the past. This made me think about how, especially as men and without the benefit of therapy, we can lack the tools needed to move on and cope in healthy ways.

Josh Bonzie (R) and co-star Jayden Elijah in Saint X // 📸 : Hulu / Palmoa Alegria
Josh Bonzie (R) and co-star Jayden Elijah in Saint X // 📸 : Hulu / Palmoa Alegria

I first saw a therapist when I turned 30. I was just a young Black man in America, trying to navigate life. I looked back on my last decade, being in my 20s, and it was such a blur. Dating was hard. My professional life was hard. And I didn’t want to live my life in that clumsy way anymore. I wanted to grow and heal, and move through the world with more peace of mind. My amazing therapist, John, has given me tools to communicate better, not be a people pleaser, and to establish boundaries. It sounds simple, but this has been colossal in helping me navigate my way through life’s challenges.

I had a lot of talks with my therapist about my character in ‘Saint X’. We talked about where, within myself, do I feel shame in my body? Where do I physically feel regret? Is it in my stomach? In my chest? In my back? So I thought about my own life, my own experiences. When certain things have happened to me, where do those emotions live? And that helped me develop Gogo’s whole physicality — the way he spoke and moved.

I also talked with my therapist about how to let go. Being alive is a gift, and to have those experiences, even the traumatic parts, are all part of the human experience. I found it really healthy to work through this stuff with my therapist as I developed this character. I was able to bring in my own experiences, but compartmentalize, and consider these things in a healthy way. I can observe my trauma without it being who I am. I can relate with these things without identifying with them.

Josh Bonzie // 📸 : Emilio Madrid
Josh Bonzie // 📸 : Emilio Madrid

I’ve also tried to examine how I think about grief, another theme of ‘Saint X’, and my therapist and I talk a lot about reframing. There’s a quote in one of my favorite shows, ‘WandaVision’, where a character says, “What is grief if not love persevering?” That blew my mind, and I have since tried to look at grief in that way. It’s this big, colossal amount of love that has nowhere to go. My character doesn’t have the wherewithal to grasp these things, but I was able to look at these themes from a bird’s eye view and benefit.

I wasn’t expecting to explore this character and learn so much about myself. You expect to go in, do your job, and leave. But every day, every week, I was discovering new things and surprising myself with how much I could push. I’ve always looked at myself as a delicate little being. I’m 6ft 3in, and have felt like I’m too soft for my size. There are parts of this character that were so terrifying, so scary. But by going through it and not around it, I found healing there for my own life which I was not expecting. That has been really profound for me, and I’m really grateful for that.

Saint X is streaming on Hulu now

Josh was speaking to Mr Feelgood co-founder Pete Samson
Styling by Dolly Pratt Lanvin
Grooming by Melissa DeZarate

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