Writer of Netflix's When They See Us, ABC's upcoming Mason-Dixon & Searchlight's Alvin Ailey biopic
By Carly Hillman AB '15
“Oh, I should re-read that,” Julian Breece AB ’03 whispers to himself as he scans his bookshelf and reads me his favorite titles, as if he were reminding himself to call an old friend to catch up. I’d asked him about his favorite books from college, and the final addition to the list is not a book, but an admission: “I could go on forever.”
His adoration is apt, because those books changed his life. Before he read them, he had a plan: he was going to be an academic. He would graduate from Harvard, get his masters, next his PhD, and then he’d become a professor. There were some questions of course (like whether he’d get a Rhodes Scholarship) but the general route was mapped. Then, he started the thesis writing process. “That was when I realized, ‘Oh, hell no. Academic writing is not for me,’” he remembers.
With the help of a few creative writing classes he’d taken, he started to realize that he didn’t want to just write about the authors he admired—he wanted to do what they did. He switched to writing a creative thesis, and esteemed novelist and essayist Jamaica Kincaid signed on as his advisor.
Breece followed the creative path out of Cambridge all the way to Hollywood. He’s now written for shows like The First, When They See Us, and First Wives Club. Currently, he’s writing a screenplay about Alvin Ailey, which Barry Jenkins is set to direct, and working on a TV show at ABC with Lee Daniels.
Becoming a creative was more of a homecoming than a pivot. Breece grew up acting in his hometown of Washington, DC. He describes himself as a theater kid, which, upon deeper questioning, is a humble depiction. He was an actual working actor who performed at The Kennedy Center and appeared on shows like Teen Summit. Ultimately, he quit acting (“I embraced the fact that I was an introvert”) but continued to chase what had drawn him to acting in the first place. “Acting was a way of communicating,” he says, “and I always had something to say.”Read more