Victoria Rowell Interview: "Young and the Restless" Stars Reunite in UPtv's "Marry Us for Christmas"
Image attributed to Victoria Rowell
Award-winning actress Victoria Rowell co-starred with Dick Van Dyke in the TV series Diagnosis Murder for eight seasons as well as portraying Drucilla Winters on the CBS daytime drama The Young and the Restless from 1990-2000 and 2002-2007. She appeared in the feature films The Distinguished Gentleman, Dumb and Dumber, Barb Wire, Eve’s Bayou, Black Listed, Motives and Home of the Brave.
Television appearances include The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Law, Noah’s Arc, Ghost Whisperer, Let’s Stay Together, Single Ladies and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Rowell has been recognized for advocacy work on behalf of education, arts, foster and adoptive youth and parents as well as diversity issues.
“We were very excited to work together again and so appreciative that UPtv saw the value in pairing us up. Our audience has been demanding that we be on television together, and UPtv made the magic happen. Rhonda Freeman-Baraka beautifully penned our work together on camera. It was like riding a bicycle. It was like no time had passed.”
In 1990, she founded the nonprofit organization, Rowell Foster Children’s Positive Plan, which enriches foster children through artistic and athletic expression. Rowell has penned three books: The Women Who Raised Me, Secrets of a Soap Opera Diva and The Young and the Ruthless: Back in the Bubbles. She is very active on Twitter (@victoriarowell).
The versatile actress stars in a new UPtv movie, Marry Us for Christmas, with Malinda Williams, Karon Joseph Riley, GregAlan Williams and reunites with her on-screen Young and the Restless husband Kristoff St. John. The holiday fare is a sequel to the popular UP 2013 original, Marry Me for Christmas, and premieres December 7 at 7:00 pm eastern.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Victoria, I’m looking forward to watching Marry Us for Christmas. Tell me about your character, Stephanie Chandler Jewel.
Victoria Rowell: She’s a fun character, a matriarch and a traditionalist among the three sisters. They are all about Christmas. That is their signature holiday. That’s not to say that they don’t celebrate Easter with passion, celebrate birthdays with passion and celebrate their annual family trip with passion also.
This one is a sequel. We experienced fantastic success last year with Marry Me for Christmas, so I’m very proud to be a part of Marry Us for Christmas where we get to explore even further the Chandler women and see the family evolve as they celebrate the holiday, but it is coupled with romance and a wedding.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will Stephanie find true love with Lawrence Simpson (Kristoff St. John)?
Victoria Rowell: (laughs) You’ll have to tune in to see. I don’t want to give that away. What I can tell you is that our loyal fanbase should tune in to see that kind of chemistry you can’t put a price tag on, right?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Absolutely! How did it feel to be reunited with Kristoff?
Victoria Rowell: We were very excited to work together again and so appreciative that UPtv saw the value in pairing us up. Our audience has been demanding that we be on television together, and UPtv made the magic happen. Rhonda Freeman-Baraka beautifully penned our work together on camera. It was like riding a bicycle. It was like no time had passed.
It has been seven years since I have worked on The Young and the Restless, but we’ve stayed in touch, and I say that it was like riding a bike. That chemistry is undeniable. When you see chemistry on camera. it just leaps off the screen, and we have that. I’m very pleased that the audience is excited and that they are going to be tuning in on December 7!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was the 2013 film, Marry Me for Christmas, your first experience working with UPtv?
Victoria Rowell: It was my first time. Malinda Williams plays my daughter. She has starred in many productions, film and television. Many people know her from Soul Food. I’m also proud of Malinda as executive producer on both Marry Me for Christmas and Marry Us for Christmas.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): A rep from Uptv said about this year’s Christmas movies, “The diversity of our casts in movies like Marry Us for Christmas definitely sets UP apart from other networks.” You have been an advocate for diversity for many years. When did you begin your activism?
Victoria Rowell: Well, I was born pre civil rights and born into a family that was not supportive of my mother having black children, so I was immediately put into an orphanage. My life was informed from the beginning in terms of race division. My whole life has been, in essence, dedicated to civil rights, human rights, economic emancipation for minorities, and there hasn’t been a day in my life where my life hasn’t been about that.
It has nothing to do with it all happening when I came to Hollywood. No, somehow when you spend eighteen years under the umbrella of child services, you come out two different ways. You come out caring about other people and being an advocate not only that your own life would be better, but that others’ lives would be improved, or you fall victim, and it’s easy for that to happen because it’s a very difficult road to walk. If you haven’t walked it, you have no idea. When we look at 75% of the prison population having once been foster care and the whole schools to prison epidemic, there’s a lot to be said.
I just did a big lecture and was asked to be a panelist on media and the disconnect on African Americans in Hollywood and other minorities a few weeks ago. If you go to facingrace.org, there are tremendous amounts of information on the national conference. I will specify with media. Though my life has been intertwined with media, I started out as a classical ballet dancer. I performed as a soloist as a ballet dancer. I experienced extraordinary racism in classical as a ballet dancer.
I am thrilled that my inspiration, Misty Copeland, will be playing the first African American female lead in the seventy-two year American Ballet Theatre history as Clara in The Nutcracker. There are a group of us that are going to watch history unfold, and this is my alma mater. I just wanted to give you the scope of my involvement. I sit on the board of Americans for the Arts, I have long been involved in arts and diversity, and I taught for inner city youth. That’s where I’m coming from, a place of undeserved children.
We lived on a farm in Maine initially and then to Roxbury, Massachusetts, before bussing and then during bussing and all of that violence over race, and one wonders how that has changed when we look at the world today in Ferguson. I grew up during all of that, and I was raised by strong, black, Hispanic and white women collectively who fought for justice, so I feel very fortunate to step into Hollywood with a foundation because if you don’t know who you are when you walk into Hollywood, it will define you, and you don’t necessarily want that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You have been very outspoken about the racism you experienced while on The Young and the Restless.
Victoria Rowell: It’s very well documented. I long, long fought for diversity behind the camera. Not only did my single character, Drucilla Winters, spin off twelve other contract jobs for African Americans, but also the first African American writer in thirty-seven years was hired. I worked with the national urban presidents themselves, and we got the first African American writer, Writer’s Guild of America writer after a thirty-seven year absence. I am not taking on everything. I am taking on my strengths, and my strength is television. Yes, I’ve done films, but most people know my strength is in daytime drama TV where African Americans are almost absent in areas of writing and directing.
In my research, I have never found a single African American executive producer in the history of soap operas, which began on radio in 1930. The audience is over indexed in African American viewership. That is the core audience. I’m a producer, a director and an award-winning actress. I was told “no” when I asked to write and direct.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So racial diversity on television has not really improved over the last ten or fifteen years?
Victoria Rowell: A lot has not changed. A lot has not happened for us as African Americans and all minorities. Not enough is happening, and if you read the 2014 UCLA Ralph Bunche Hollywood Diversity Report, it’s in black and white. It’s all there. People nod their heads and say “how terrible,” and wring their hands, but it takes courage to march. It takes a lot of courage to march because the flip side of talking about it, marching about it, staying on track, can cost you a lot.
I don’t think I need to go into the details of that, but my background dictates that I wouldn’t be allowed to vote if the African American suffragettes hadn’t marched. I find far too many people who look like me just sit back and clap their hands, and say, “Whew. That’s done.” It’s so far from done. We’re backsliding. People have to get our there and support movies such as Marry Me for Christmas and Marry Us for Christmas.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Not only because of the predominantly African American cast/crew and great acting, but also these movies are entertaining family fare.
Victoria Rowell: Marry Us for Christmas is an amazing opportunity for all audiences to tune in to a family production with great values. It’s entertainment, it’s funny, it’s emotional, and it shows the power of love, the power of families working through circumstances, and it shows what Christmas is really all about.
There are Christmas weddings, there’s family drama, plenty of drama, and we have Stephanie, my character, possibly wanting a romance. I’ve done quite a bit of dancing in films and on TV given my first career, and I will be dancing in this movie, so I hope I’ve enticed people to mark their calendars for December 7 and other dates.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you have other upcoming projects?
Victoria Rowell: I have Merry Us for Christmas, I’m doing Merry Us for Christmas … Merry Us for Christmas. I’m hoping that if we up the ante again, who knows? Could be that three’s the charm. I do have other projects that I’m very excited about that I will be executive producing. Perhaps you and I will get an opportunity, I will have the good fortune of talking with you again to share what’s happening in 2015. It would be premature to talk about these projects at this time.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Certainly, looking forward to it. I know there have been many daytime fans over the last seven years wishing you could bring Drucilla Winters back to life or be involved with The Young and the Restless in some capacity.
Victoria Rowell: Like I said previously, it starts at the top, right? And if there’s not diversity behind the camera at the highest levels, it doesn’t change. I don’t believe in writing what you don’t know or at least what you’re not willing to listen to. I’ve thrown my hat in the ring to write years ago, to write and direct. I’ll continue to throw my hat in the ring as a writer, director and executive producer. I know that others in the soap opera community have been allowed to do all the aforementioned.
I’m a black woman, and I continue to exercise what I was taught which is to push it forward to make it better for the next … certainly help yourself, but help others, too. That is how I’ve led my life, not only in foster/adoption mentoring, but also I take that and apply it to my work in Hollywood. It’s more than a red carpet for me. It always has been, and it always will be. I’m proud to be a part of the Hollywood legacy and equally as proud to take my body of work and apply it to Marry Us for Christmas.
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