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There's an increasing number of black actors landing choice roles on daytime soaps. And they're not serving anyone, playing anyone's best friend or struggling in secondary roles.
From the Hubbard family on ABC's 'All My Children,' the Evans clan on 'One Life to Live' and the Winters family on 'The Young and the Restless,' the actors have primary parts and are showcasing their skills.
Take Julia Pace Mitchell, who plays the feisty Sofia Dupre on 'Y&R,' the former right-hand woman to billionaire Tucker McCall and fiancée of Malcolm Winters.
In the few months that Mitchell has been on the show, she's shown toughness and vulnerability. Her performance has garnered an NAACP Image Award nomination for outstanding actress in a daytime drama series. And we are rooting for her.
As the daughter of actress Judy Pace and actor Don Mitchell, and stepdaughter of baseball great Curt Flood, the Los Angeles resident definitely has the genes to make it in this tough business.
"I've always been an actor," Mitchell told BlackVoices.com earlier this week. "That's been my trade. I was in the theater in New York. I've done Broadway, lots of regional theater and then my first feature that got a lot of talk was 'Notorious' where I played Jan. I was Biggie's baby mom. I've always pursued my love for the arts. I've been dancing on the table since I was little. That kind of thing."
Between filming 'Faster' with Dwayne Johnson and doing theater in Los Angeles, Mitchell found herself a steady gig where audiences can see her blossoming skills. BV recently caught up with Mitchell. Excerpts from the interview are below.
It's very rare to see a casting call for a black actress to be on a soap opera. How did you land the gig?
Julia Pace Mitchell: Honestly, I was just as surprised when I got the audition because a lot of times, from my type, you don't even get the opportunity to audition for soaps. So at first I was like, "Really? Okay." Then I went in, and I kept getting called back, and it kind of clicked for me on the third time that I might really have a chance to book this job. I was so grateful that CBS opened a door for me to be able to represent a different kind of woman on the soap. They have, I think, five or six actors under contract right now.
Prior to your casting, were you a fan of the show?
JPM: Oh, I was. My sister was an even bigger fan. She was like, "Oh, my God!" She was telling me the whole Neil and Malcolm back story, so she talked me through it. I'm a really big fan now.
How would you describe Sofia?
JPM: I would say that she's actually been changing just in the seven months that she's been on the air. I hate to use the word "bossy," but I definitely think that she's bossy. She's a big boss. She's running things in her relationship and in her business life. She recently got fired from the company, but I think she might be trying to get her way back into her job through her relationship with Tucker. I'll describe her as sensitive. A lot of black women on television get to play one note a lot. Either you're sassy and bossy and that's it. But you get to see Sofia's soft side with her fiancée.
You get to act with some veterans who have been in the game for more than 20 years. What's the joy of learning from Stephen Nichols, Kristoff St. John and Darius McCrary?
JPM: The one thing that I can say about Kristoff is that he will be acting so silly and playing around right before the take and as soon as it's time to shoot, he just drops into his character so fast and is so professional that he's like a completely different person. His personality is very different than Neil's and it's just really great to see him transform. I've been soaking it all up. It's really an honor to be a part of it and bring what I bring to the group.
Besides this group of guys, 'Y&R' has also brought other new blacks on the show with the casting of Angell Conwell and Evan Parke.
JPM: Yeah, and the funny thing is that Evan and I met just the other day in the dressing room. I hadn't seen them at all because we live on two different sides of Genoa City. Hopefully our stories will start to intertwine a little bit, but I can't give too much away. Angell is just beautiful.
Your story line is starting to grow, which is great because in a short period of time you've been given a lot to do.
JPM: Things have heated up a little bit between Sofia, Malcolm and Neil. Me and Malcolm are on the outs, and that's all I'll say.
Your parents are well known for the work they've done. What kind of influence did they have on?
JPM: My mother has been super-supportive. My sister has been super-supportive. Basically it's just a business. It's like the family business. It's not a hobby. This is what we do for a living. So the level of respect for it. I'm not really a partier or hanging out too late when I know I have to shoot the next day. I take it just like my job, and I've always had that respect for it. Even my stepfather, he played professional baseball – Curt Flood. He looked at his job in the same way. He said, "I have to put on my costume." That was his baseball uniform. It was about the business of playing baseball. So, everyone is an entertainer.
Looking at your background, I see that you are one hard working woman! How do you find the time to do films and theater?
JPM: This year I have decided not to go on the road. It's the first time since I was 16 that I've been still, and that I've been in one place for this long. I haven't done any other projects in a while. I'm doing the show and my play that I wrote, 'The Hills Above the Hood'. I decided I'm just going to chill out and focus on 'Y & R' for as long as they'll have me. If anybody wants to let CBS know they're happy about having all of us brown people on, they can go to CBS.com and send letters and tell them because I really do think that they listen to the fans.
Congratulations on your recent nomination. Are you excited about the Image Awards ?
JPM: I am so excited. I'm very excited that I get to meet all the other nominees. I don't know what I'm going to wear. It's like every young actress's dream to get to put on the beautiful dress and just be recognized for the work.
What do you tell your actor friends who are still looking for work and may want to consider doing soaps after seeing the success you've had so far?
JPM: I'd say the average things, like get an agent, send in your head shot and resume. For any person, I would say study your craft. When I was auditioning, I started watching the shows on YouTube.com. When you're audition for 'The Young and the Restless' it's different than when you audition for 'CSI.' TV shows have styles, and you have to kind of learn the style that you're going in for.