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April 18, 2014

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Vanessa Bell Calloway: Former Soap Opera Vixen Now Bringing Drama to 'HawthoRNe'

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Vanessa Bell Calloway
is back on TV and giving Jada Pinkett Smith's character on the TNT drama series 'HawthoRNe' a run for her money.

While she's done numerous film and TV roles, many fans will remember the Cleveland native from her roles in films such as 'Coming to America' as Eddie Murphy's bride-to-be, 'What's Love Got to Do with It' with Angela Bassett and 'Biker Boyz' with Laurence Fishburne.

Daytime soap fans may also recall Calloway as Yvonne Caldwell when she was on 'All My Children.'

Black Voices caught up to the much-missed actress (who popped up on episodes of BET's reality show 'Baldwin Hills' a few years ago). Below are excerpts from the conversation.

How exciting is it to be back on TV?

Vanessa Bell Calloway: It's been quite a blessing. It's a fun show. I like the writing. I like the cast. Working with Jada has been really fun. You've got an African American female who's the head of the cast. We don't have that on TV. I'm trying to think is there any other show where there's a black female lead? I don't think so. I might be overlooking something, but I don't think there is. You have other interesting characters that are placed along there. I think it's worth watching because the acting is good and the writing is good and it's going to be a good show and it's going to get even better before the season is ended. I was in seven of the 10 episodes, and it was nice to be appreciated as an actress in this industry and it was a great experience. It's very exciting right now.

A fan of 'Hawthorne' commented on your return to television by saying, 'The bitch is back,' referring to your role on 'All My Children' when you first started acting.

VBC: I was more conniving than a bitch on 'All My Children'. Yvonne was more conniving and just kind of had to get things done that she needed her way. I've been called a lot of things in the last couple of weeks but there's a method to her madness.

How would you describe your character on 'Hawthorne'?

VBC: Gail is very by the book. She's working. She's been there for a long time and she's seen people like Christina Hawthorne come and go, coming in and trying to feel like they're going to save the day and then they get a better job. She's seen it all. She's just going to let them know, "Yeah, okay. You think you can fix this? I've seen it. I've done that. I tried that. That didn't work. I've been here. I've been working with my nose to the grindstone for all these years and you're just coming in here and trying to run things. So I'm not taking it. I'm not impressed. I don't want to hear it. This is how it's run. This is what we can do." It's about running this hospital, technically, in her mind.

Are there any similarities between your character and yourself?

VBC: I would say the only similarity is that I'm not one to take a lot of mess either. I'm pretty much to the point in my direction, with what I do and how I do it. I'm a lot nicer than Gail. I'm more like Christina. I care about people. I want to save everybody and nurture everybody and see everybody. I'm really more like her character in my real life because I really love people, and I love my family and I'm a mentor. My kids, they don't get away with a lot. It's like, I'm not going to let them get their way...because that was not working today. So I would say that would be our similarity.

Are you able to bring your work home to your husband, (who's an anesthesiologist). Can he relate to what you do?

VBC: Yeah. He's enjoying this. He enjoys it because he gets to give me some advice on how to say the words. Sometimes you get those medical terms, but also he'll chime in and say if he thinks it's a real situation or not because he has worked in and trained in a hospital like that. He got his specialty and is board certified so he's been through the ringer and now he does anesthesia at a surgeon's center. So he's there for all types of procedures and he's seen a lot. He's been a doctor for quite some time now and so he enjoys it because he'll weigh in and say, "Nah, we don't do that. We wouldn't do that. That's real. That happens." So his input is something that's fun for us to share.

You and Jada were both on 'A Different World'. I'm not sure if you ever had any interaction back then but if so what's it been like getting back together 20 years later?

VBC: I remember Jada and I both had Debbie Allen in common. We were both like two girls. When Jada first came to 'Different World,' I did a couple of episodes, and Debbie would also call me to do some other things for her, if she needed something. She would call me in to block Patti [LaBelle]s stuff because she was always busy out and about and she didn't want just a stand in doing it and so she would say, 'Come in and do this blocking stuff for Patti and when she comes in you can teach her the blocking and stuff.' So I did that a couple of times for her. Then Jada and I did 'Inkwell.' I watched her grow up in the industry, and I'm very proud of her. Her and Will [Smith] have really become quite a dynasty, and I just think it's fabulous. I really think it's fabulous. It's nice to see that and it's nice working with her again because this is the first time that we've really had stuff together like this, although we've been in the same projects, a couple of projects, before. But this is the first time that we really get a chance to really interact with each other and it's been a really great. She's very gracious and very, very great on the set. I mean, of course she gives a lot to crew and just acting-wise she gives you room to do your thing, and she gives and she accepts what you bring to her and there are no conditions. She's about the real work. She's about making it real and making it good and that's what I'm about. So it's been a pleasure.

There's not a lot of roles out there for African American women, some good roles on TV but not so many on the big screen. Has that been a challenge for you through the years?

VBC: Well, everything is a challenge. Life is a challenge. I don't think that any professional would say that it was a breeze but to answer your question about what keeps me going is I truly love it. I've always loved it. I feel like as challenging as it is, and, yes, it has been unfair because you don't get the parts you deserve. I've done parts that had staying power. The groupies will come up to me and tell me my lines from movies I've shot. 'Coming to America' and 'What's Love Got to Do With It?' So I feel very blessed that a lot of things I've done have had staying power. As far as being challenging, I guess if it came to any of us so easy, then the rewards wouldn't be the same -- and it keeps you grounded. Any time you're blessed with a great opportunity you realize what it could be. You know firsthand how you don't have to have it. I love it when I work with people and they complain the whole time that they're on set. They making all this money and they're starring and all they do is bitch and complain about this or that. I look at them and I quietly pray for them because I think, "I need to be careful what you ask for because God is going to give you that." You're going to get that break you want and it might last longer than you like. So be grateful. Being an African American woman when you get the opportunities you have to be grateful and you have to make the most of it and just believe that others will come around. I believe in what I do. I believe in myself. I know what I'm doing. I know that I'm good. I know that I'm good to work with.

Do you still keep up with 'All My Children' now that Jesse and Angie are back?

VBC: Honey, I ain't never stopped watching 'All My Children.' I've watched 'All My Children' since I can remember. That's one of my guilty pleasures. I like soap operas. Yes, Debbie and Darnell are back on, and so I'm happy for them and they're in L.A., too. I'm sure they're very excited about their new location and getting back to their old characters.

Do you have any other films coming out on the big screen?

VBC: I just did this independent film with Charles Dutton called 'The Obama Effect.' I'm not quite sure what's going on with that. It was supposed to be released this summer, I think. I do have that in the can though. Meagan Good is in it. John Singleton is in it. A lot of people are in it.



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