Vanessa Bell was an English painter and interior designer, a member of the Bloomsbury group, and the sister of Virginia Woolf.
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I'm a producer, I direct, I'm a theater actress, I have my own online TV stuff going on and a radio show, and I'm also a mother and wife.
You check out my new film, DIVAS, right here: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/divas
Victoria's helping me out over the phone. AMA.
Update Thank you for taking the time to ask me questions for an hour! I'm flattered that people are paying attention and are interested in what I'm doing, and that they actually tune in and watch some of the things that I do because I'm passionate about what I am and what I'm doing. And whatever joy I've brought you, I'm so happy. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today! I didn't know that anybody was going to type in, so thank you!
Why do you think there's such a wide race divide in comedy films? Do black and white people really have totally different senses of humor? Because that's how the movie industry appears to treat it.
I think because a lot of people are still stuck a few decades ago, and it's time to realize the world has changed, people have changed. And racism shouldn't be as prevalent - it's about representing the people that are out in the world. But I think so many people are stuck in the past, they think that because of the dollars in the film industry, they think that a lot of minorities aren't going to go for certain products, and they don't trust that, so they're still going for the old formula of "white is right, and everything else is sub-standard." It has gotten a little better. I think we see it more on television now than we do on film. But I still see it as a long way to go.
What's it like working on Shameless?
SHAMELESS is so much fun, because you get to do things that you would never, ever do or say in real life.
You have an excuse to be shameless without any consequences, haha!
Shanola Hampton (who plays my daughter) and I are very close.
What was filming Coming To America like?
It was a lot of fun. And Eddie Murphy was really cool to work with. Great memories. My audition was really memorable. It was just kind of funny. I went out and bought a wig, because I didn't think my hair was what they were looking for for this part. And then when i GOT the job, my character ended up wearing two wigs! So you never saw my real hair. It was just kind of funny.
Great Job on Shameless. The storylines for your character were spot on. Did you have any input on how the character was written?
Not written, but I do have say-so on how I interpret it and how I portray her.
Thank you for that honest answer. It sometimes seems to me like there are two totally different industries out there and there are only a few actors that can easily cross over. Hopefully that gets better faster because it's definitely a remnant of the past.
Well, one of the big problems is that Hollywood thinks that there are only 5 black actresses that can act - there's whomever that hot person is that moment who's black and can act. And then you see tons of different white actresses in many different roles, but you only see a few black actresses, meaning that if you're the person of the moment, you're the one chosen. Whereas white actresses have more movies for them to be in. They have more shots to be in movies. But Hollywood chooses the 3 (or 4 or 5 black actresses) they think can act - they only choose the few they feel are "hot "at the time. So if black people don't make black movies, then we don't get a chance to act in movies. Because there's only a few "spots" available, so to speak.
If you could work with any actor in the world, who would it be?
Oh, right now?
I'm thinkin' about that!
You know who I'd really like to work with? Ed Norton. I really like him. He's a really good actor. I'd like to work with him.
What actor/actress was different in person than what you had expected?
That's a good one.
Denzel Washington was a little different than I thought. I knew him before we worked together, and so it was just a little different than I thought.
Any specific favorite moments?
The day that we shot the wedding and all that, because I was in a dress and all that hair, they had to bring me what they called a "Leaning Board" - where you can lean on it - and so the dresses were so tight in the 30's and 40's that the actresses back then leaned on the boards, instead of sitting down! So my dress was too tight, and I remember thinking it was just terrible, I thought. But my dress looked good and stayed nice, cuz I never sat down!
And when I went to the premiere - when they shoot movies, they shoot out of sequence. So when I did my sequence walk through with all the dancers, in my head, I saw this wonderful moment onscreen that was all about me - so when I saw it in the movie theater and saw the actor singing "She's your queen!" and I'm walking through and everybody started busting out laughing - I didn't know that he was going to be singing when I was walking down the aisle, so everybody was cracking up! I was mortified. I thought "Oh my god, they're laughing at him, and he's blowing my moment!"
That was really funny.
What's your favourite memory working on Shameless?
I don't know if it's my favorite, but one of the FUNNIEST memories was when Shanola, myself, and Howie had to shoot the threesome for me to get pregnant with their baby. That was very interesting, working with two other young actors in the bed, hahaha! I was the oldest one in the bed!
Tell me what kind of music you like?
I love the radio. I like R&B. I like jazz. I like pop. I like a lot of the songs on the radio right now. A lot of nice songs have been written in the past few years. I listen to rap, I listen to it all. I like anything with a good beat.
If you hadn't gone into the film industry, what sort of job do you think you'd be doing now?
I think - that's interesting. That's a question I always ask people who are on MY show.
There's 2 things I would've done. Being an event planner, because I like planning and cooking, and pulling things together, or art curator, something like that.
Hi Vanessa, I loved you in DIVAS - what was your favorite moment on set while filming?
I think shooting the dinner scenes were a lot of fun. Because of everybody on set. All the different energies. I had SO much fun! I made a lot of friends, I was shopping, and that was my second time in South Africa - i had a BALL while I was there, going out to dinner! I had fun.
What's your all time favorite movie and why?
That's a hard one, because I have several favorite movies. I don't think I have just one favorite. I enjoy What's Love Got To Do With It, Inkwell, I had a good time making that, and I enjoyed BIKER BOYZ as well. And Coming to America. And the independent movie that I did a few years ago, called LAST FALL - I enjoy different movies for different reasons.
what is your radio show?
It's called "That's So Very Vanessa" and you can listen to it - it's on hiatus right now but I have over 100 episodes available on http://inthecompanyoffriends.tv/
It's a chat show. I talk to a lot of my favorite friends about various topics and chatting it up, nothing heavy or anything political. We're talking about life & the things that we do and don't do, things that make us happy. The show's generally about an hour.
If you could snap your fingers and go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Right now I'd go back to Thailand. I went there with my husband and children for Christmas, we were in Bangkok, and we enjoyed it SO much. And I'm dying to go to Phuket. So if I could snap my fingers, I'd be there on the beach right now, chillin'!
What made you decide to get into acting?
Acting chose me, I didn't choose it.
I was born dancing, as a breech birth. And I knew I loved theater and dancing, so I was actually a concert dancer for many years, with a few companies in New York and in my hometown in Cleveland. I have a Bachelor in Fine Arts, concentration in Dance, from Ohio University. I would go to New York and dance. And then from dancing, one thing led to another, i started taking acting classes, I would do musicals, and that's how I got to acting.
Are there any shows that you are addicted to (or shows in the past you binge watched), and if so - what are they?
Oh god, yes. I bingewatched HOUSE OF CARDS, OITNB... I was addicted to - my favorite show forever - TRUE BLOOD. I loved TRUE BLOOD. I liked SEE MARY JANE... I love HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER... THE BLACKLIST, love THE BLACKLIST... I got a lot of stuff on my DVR, gotta go through my DVR! But I binge-watch. I like HOUSE OF LIES, that's another one I binge-watch!
What's the one thing everyone should take away from DIVAS?
The thing that I took away from it is my character is so mean - she's a bitch - and you should want people to embrace you and like you, so they won't want to kill you, haha! Be nice to people, how about that? Just be nice!
What's your all time favorite food (and dessert)?
Well, I'm a gourmet cook, so I have lots of favorite foods. I like making thai food. One of my favorite dishes that i make is my garlic roasted crab and garlic noodles, that's one of my favorites. I'm not a big dessert person, but if I'm going to have a dessert, then it's got to be a chocolate souffle RIGHT out the oven, with extra whipped cream! Mmmm-mmm! That whipped cream just melts on the chocolate souffle - I have that once or twice a year, then I'm happy.
What do you think has been the most influential film of this decade?
That's a broad question. I can't remember 10 years worth of movies!
I'd say that for me, this year, STILL ALICE is a movie I really want to see. It didn't necessarily change how we do cinema in this world, but I liked the way it was shot. I loved the way BIRDMAN was shot. I think that that might change some other filmmakers' ideas on how to shoot. I LOVED the way he shot that movie. And when I work as an actress, I love working with a steadicam, because it feels like real life to me - it's not stagnant, it's moving. So that was influential in how to make a film.
Who chose the cast?
I guess it's Robbie Reed? I'm sure they did. I didn't have anything to do with the cast!
What made you want to do DIVAS?
Well, when I read the script, I was in the middle of doing August Wilson's Piano Lesson here in Los Angeles - doing the lead female part in the play - and I had to leave to go to Johannesburg to shoot. But what made me want to do it - I flew away for 2 weeks to do it - I loved the script that it was all these great black actresses, young and different ages, and this movie is full of women - and we don't see that in hollywood - and the fact that i was the nemesis, the movie was about killing me! so I loved it, thought it was worth doing, and talked to the director - because we just started rehearsing - and then I flew away, and worked, rehearsed with them, and then the film title changed - they did all my scenes, and then I went back and opened the play! So it worked out great. I thought it was worth doing, because as I mentioned - we don't see a lot of women movies. And now BRIDESMAIDS came out, it's perfect like some of those movies, but once again, those are mostly white women, so I thought this was a good movie.
What kind of food do you like?
I love thai food, that's one of my faves, for sure, is Thai food.
Haha thanks for your serious answers, but you're totally missing your cues from one of my all time favorite scenes! lol I actually thought about this scene with Eddie this morning and I was floored when I saw you were doing an AMA!
Oh, absolutely! Whatever you like, whatever you like!
While I'm hopping and barking like a dog!
what's next for you?
Oh, wow, a lot. I have 4 indie movies that I did last summer that are being released.
I'll be on the new Amazon show, HAND OF GOD, that's coming out soon.
I just finished another recurring spot on MURDER IN THE FIRST on TNT. And I have a one-woman show, called LETTERS FROM ZORA, about the life of Zora Neale Hurston, a playwright during the Harlem Renaissance. I won the NAACP theater award for that performance, and I will be performing it at the DC Black Theatre Festival June 19-20. And then at the National Black Theater Festival, in North Carolina, August 4 and 5th. And you can always see my web series, IN THE COMPANY OF FRIENDS, at http://inthecompanyoffriends.tv/
And I just completed a new webseries called "Cooking & Hooking Up: How to Turn Up for $50 or Less." And that is geared towards the 20s and 30s, the Millennium Babies, it's a how-to show for them. Just shot it this past weekend. So you can look for that on September on my site, http://inthecompanyoffriends.tv/