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November 1, 2014

THE REAL MONSTERS

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Who's That Girl?: Julia Pace Mitchell Shines With Hearty 'Young & Restless' Role

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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.

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Black Actors & Their Daytime' Jobs

Black Soap Stars: An Intimate Look
Believe it or not, soap operas can be a good breeding ground for some of the greatest actors in Hollywood. From Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman to three-time Emmy Award winning thespian Cicely Tyson, many great black actors have cut their teeth on daytime dramas. While Shemar Moore, Victoria Rowell, Tichina Arnold, Tonya Pinkins, Debbi Morgan and Vivica A. Fox were beloved characters on popular serials, they've done well beyond them. Check them out.

Charles Divins
'Passions' (NBC)
Prior to acting, Divins was a model who worked for Tommy Hilfiger and appeared in GQ, Glamour, Cosmopolitan and Gear. When his attention turned to acting, he took on the role of Chad Harris-Crane on the soap 'Passions,' from 2002 to 2007. The Dallas native left the show when it moved from NBC to DirecTV.

Cicely Tyson
'Guiding Light' (CBS)
A veteran of film and TV, this New York native had a stint on daytime television nearly 40 years ago. During 1966, Tyson also had a recurring role in the daytime soap opera, 'Guiding Light,' which ended its run this month after 72 years. Her character's name was Martha Frazier. Tyson soon went on star in 1972's 'Sounder,' for which she was nominated for an Oscar for best actress. After working with Tyler Perry in 2005's 'Diary of a Mad Black Woman' and 'Madea's Family Reunion,' Perry mention her name as part of his dream cast for his film adaptation of 'For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.'

Victoria Rowell
'The Young and the Restless' (CBS)
Speculation continues about whether the Portland, Maine, native will come back to the role that she's played on daytime's number-one rated soap opera, 'The Young and the Restless,' for over 15 years. As Drucilla Winters, Rowell has occupied the longest-running African American female soap character in daytime television. She won 11 NAACP Image Awards. Rowell's first run as Drucilla was from 1990 to 1998. She briefly returned in 2000, and then returned on a regular basis from 2002 until early 2007. Rowell also played Dr. Amanda Bentley on the CBS series 'Diagnosis: Murder,' opposite Dick Van Dyke, and starred opposite Samuel L. Jackson in 2007's 'Home of the Brave.'

Darnell Williams
'All My Children' (ABC)
The London actor was one-half of the first African American supercouple on 'All My Children' (along with Debbie Morgan) for his portrayal of Jesse Hubbard, from 1981 to 1988. Before he left the show, Williams won two Emmys. He returned to the soaps as Jesse's look-alike, Jacob Foster, on 'Loving' and 'The City.' In May 2007, Williams joined the cast of 'Guiding Light' in the recurring role of the villainous Griggs. After a 20-year absence, he returned to the role of Jesse on 'Children' in 2008.

Vivica A. Fox
'Generations' (NBC)
Although we've seen the South Bend, Ind., actress make it big in roles in 'Independence Day,' 'Set it Off,' and 'Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2,' many may remember that she headline the first daytime black soap opera, 'Generations,' when it aired on NBC from 1989 to1991. She played Maya Reubens, opposite Debbie Morgan and Kristoff St. John. Fox later had roles on 'Days of Our Lives,' and 'The Young and the Restless.' In September 2007, she appeared in the sixth season of HBO's 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' as the mother of a family displaced by a hurricane and taken in by Larry and Cheryl. Fox last hosted her own VH1 reality series, titled 'Glam God,' in 2008.

Debbie Morgan
'All My Children' (ABC)
In addition to appearing in films such as 'Eve's Bayou' and 'Love and Basketball,' the Dunn, N.C., actress is best known for her role as Dr. Angie Hubbard on the ABC soap opera 'All My Children.' Her role on the show during the '80s was as one-half of the first African American supercouple on the American soap opera (along with Darnell Williams). In 1989, Morgan, in a tie with Santa Barbara actress Nancy Lee Grahn, won the Daytime Emmy for outstanding supporting actress in a drama series. After leaving 'Children,' she had roles on NBC's 'Generations' and ABC's 'Loving' before returning in 2008 to play Angie again on 'Children.'

Charles Divins
'Passions' (NBC)
Prior to acting, Divins was a model who worked for Tommy Hilfiger and appeared in GQ, Glamour, Cosmopolitan and Gear. When his attention turned to acting, he took on the role of Chad Harris-Crane on the soap 'Passions,' from 2002 to 2007. The Dallas native left the show when it moved from NBC to DirecTV.

Dondre T. Whitfield
'All My Children' (ABC)
Recognized as Robert Foreman, the love interest of Tempestt Bledsoe's character Vanessa Huxtable on 'The Cosby Show,' the Brooklyn, N.Y., native grew up and refined his acting skills as Terrence Frye on the ABC daytime drama 'All My Children,' from 1991 to 1994. The role earned him nominations for three Daytime Emmy Awards and two Soap Opera Digest Awards. Married to actress Salli Richardson, Whitfield will next appear in the independent film 'Pastor Brown,' which is directed by Rockmond Dunbar.

Eva Marcille
'The Young and the Restless' (CBS)
As the first black contestant to win the third season of 'America's Next Top Model,' the Los Angeles native honed her acting skills with roles in 'Crossover' and Chris Rock's 'I Think I Love My Wife.' In 2008, the beauty began portraying Tyra Hamilton on the Award-winning soap 'The Young and the Restless.'

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