With over 18 years of acting experience, Jacksonville native, Angela Robinson-Whitehurst is back as Veronica Harrington; in season two of Tyler Perry’s “The Haves and the Have Nots.” Angela talks with me about her new season on the OWN Network, working with Oprah and Tyler Perry and why you should tune into the new season on January 7th!
You’re from Jacksonville, FL and an alumna of FAMU, how has acting been in your life since your early years?
Wow. I kind of got my start at FAMU, when I was there my parents had this rule where I could take as many dance, music and drama classes as I wanted, but I couldn’t major in theater; I had to get a degree in something else. So I got my degree in sociology. The theater department was holding auditions for my first musical there, and the director cast me as the lead. Dr. Davis really encouraged me to pursue this as a career and that was the very beginning for me; I really owe him and the theater department a lot.
You were also involved in the local Jacksonville Theater as well, right?
I was! After I graduated college I went back and auditioned for the local professional theater, which was the dinner theater. That cast and the director gave me my union card and were extremely influential in my life. I did several seasons of praise and musicals there; the director wanted me to really get a resume and have as many shows under my belt before moving to New York, so he cast me in a lot of things. I was so comfortable being in Jacksonville, working there, being near my family and having a professional acting career, I don’t know if I would have left. When it was time, he didn’t cast me and told me it was time for me to go and spread my wings— and I did reluctantly.
What do you miss about living in Florida?
I miss the weather so much as well as my family. My mom lives here in NJ with me so I don’t have to grieve missing her so much. But before she did, I was in Florida once a month and I do get there quite regularly, every two-three months taking my mom back or visiting my family. It’s not like I went away and never went back, it’s still a great part of my life.
You are no novice when it comes to acting and things of that sort. You have over 18 years in the industry. You’ve worked on Broadway in the “Color Purple,” “Wonderful Town,” “Play On!,” “Bells Are Ringing,” amongst many others. What do you think makes a good actor/actress?
So many things; I would say life experience, being open to your emotions, being observant, picking up behaviors of other people, and training. I know some have a God given gift to act, but it’s nothing like dedicating some time to study your craft. You can learn on the job but the stakes are very high, in class you can make mistakes and try new things. But definitely having those life experiences because that is the only thing you pull from when trying to bring your character to life.
You and your husband own the WhiteRobinGroup, which caters to upcoming actors by offering workshops. If someone wanted to get into that world, what steps would they have to take?
I think a lot of it is being in the right place at the right time. Also being prepared, have your headshot and resume together so when you are at the right place at the right time you have something to show. For example, if musical theater is your thing, have a few songs prepared so if you get the chance you are ready when they ask if you have something to sing. The main thing is being prepared, I know people say this a lot and I agree with it, but luck is nothing more than opportunity meeting up with preparation. You have to be prepared when that opportunity comes. When the opportunity comes, when the doors start to open and the blessings start to flow there is no time for preparation.
Describe the process leading up to starring in the Haves and the Have Nots? (Auditions, agents, meetings, etc.)
That was a prime example of what we were just talking about, you have to be prepared. It happened so fast. About a couple years ago, I was in a production in Atlanta called “Into the Woods.” This was at a regional theater in Atlanta; one of my absolute dream roles was to play the witch in “Into the Woods.” About two years ago, I got an opportunity to do it and I was so excited. When I went to Atlanta I was hoping that I would be able to audition for Tyler Perry and I did. The casting director for Meet the Browns was in the audience at one of the shows. She invited me for an audition to play a hospital administrator for one day on Meet the Browns— I was so excited. I went out and auditioned, but did not get the part. She was in my corner and everything but it just didn’t work out, I just wasn’t right for the part. Fast forward a year and a half later, I get a call from my agent saying “they’re doing a new series on OWN, but it’s a quick deadline, can you put yourself on tape by tomorrow for the role of Veronica?” At the time I had a lot of company in town and wasn’t sure, but I did my best. I stayed up that night getting it together, put myself on tape and sent it in. I got a call telling me they wanted to fly me to Atlanta tomorrow to meet Mr. Perry. I couldn’t believe it, after the disappointment from Meet the Browns you think that one thing is meant for you but you don’t realize that everything you do is for the laying groundwork for something else. The idea really is to always do the best you can every time, whether you get it or not you’ve created some type of impression. They flew me in and I auditioned for Mr. Perry that day and came back home. The next day they called and offered me the job, it all happened in like three days and we started shooting literally three weeks later.
You are from Jacksonville, FL, live in New Jersey and the show tapes in Atlanta. When shooting a season, how long are you away?
I was away the first time for two months, this time I was away for three months because we had to shoot more episodes but altogether this past year, five months.
This is Tyler’s first scripted drama series and Oprah’s first scripted series for OWN. What was the pressure like working with these two heavy hitters who have their own level of success?
Well I had the pleasure of working with Oprah on “The Color Purple;” she was one of the producers of that as well but that didn’t get me as much. I was just excited to be doing another project that Oprah was involved with. She was very hands on and very supportive during “The Color Purple” so I couldn’t expect anything but great things for The Haves and the Have Nots. The one I was nervous and excited about was Tyler Perry because I have never worked with him and didn’t know what to expect. I’ve found the audition process at Tyler Perry Studios to be one of the best audition processes in studio situations that I’d ever experienced. It didn’t disappoint, it is a beautiful place to work. He is one of the classiest people I know; he doesn’t disappoint and working with and for him is a pleasure every day.
I came across a video clip when Tyler Perry came onto the set and brought Oprah with him. He prayed over the entire cast and set before filming began. Does he do that all the time before filming? What is it like behind the scenes working at Tyler Perry studios?
Every morning before filming begins we pray with the cast and crew, that wasn’t for the cameras that were there. That is how we begin every morning. Behind the scenes is a big love fest most of the time. The cast members love one another and support each other which is good, but it is the most hectic and fast paced working situation that I’ve ever experienced. Once we start, there is a beautiful prayer but then it’s a shot out of a canon. Mr. Perry is the most energetic person I ever met in my life. If we finish early you would think he would say “it’s early, let’s go home.” Nope! He’ll want to shoot another two scenes. He is the energizer bunny so everyone needs to be on point. I would never forget my first day on set and I thought the take that we did was rehearsal but he’s like “no, that’s it, next.” Coming from the theater, we rehearse till the cows come. In theater you rehearse for 3-8 weeks for production. We would do one take and that was it. And, I thought it was the rehearsal. So I had to learn to take every take as the final take. If you got another one, great, if not it’s still another one you can live with.
There were more than 1.77 million viewers that watched season one’s debut on May 29th, giving OWN its highest rated premiere ever. For someone who’s never watched your show, how would you describe it? And what would you say to get them to tune in to this new season that airs on January 7th?
If you’ve never watched the show, where have you been?! Tune in because it is so versatile in so many ways. I don’t think television today looks like this and I think television should look like this because our world looks like this. The people are from every walk of life, every economic and racial place. There are very few shows where you get to see the world as it exist on one show. I think that is a great thing about what Mr. Perry has done. It definitely relives the true lives of a lot of people. You can look at the show and see yourself, a cousin or someone in your family somewhere on the show, people identify with the show. I think the writing is good, the acting and the work is good. This new season will be even better than last season; it has a lot of intrigue. Once you watch two episodes, you’re hooked. If you loved season one you are really going to be hooked on season two. I love that there were a lot of naysayers saying they wouldn’t watch it and they got so hooked.
A lot of people went/are crazy over Scandal; would you say that your show is in ‘competition’ with other shows out now?
No, I don’t think so. I don’t think there needs to be a competition. I think there is room for all of it. I don’t think of “Dallas,” “Dynasty,” “Law & Order,” “Criminal Minds,” and “CSI” as being in competition. I think often times there are Black shows with Black writers where we often feel that we have to be in competition with one another, that we have to pick one. I think that we can all exist, have hits and everyone can enjoy both equally. We explore Black life in a different way and class statuses differently from “Scandal.” But I love me some “Scandal” too.
The show thus far in season one touches on so many topics affecting our homes and communities, such as substance abuse, prostitution, poverty, abortion, homosexuality, rape, crime, infidelity and so much more. Though these issues are presented through the TV screen, how do you think viewers will be able to relate and gain guidance from such issues they may be facing?
I don’t know necessarily how they would obtain guidance, but it would make them want to seek guidance. If you see yourself that isn’t favorable I think it would make you look at yourself in a deeper way and want to seek guidance. It is amazing to really see yourself on television. I would say things are heightened a lot for the drama sake, but for our show it isn’t, it is really real. It is things people face all the time: coming out, a parent who can’t accept it; someone who is so poor but has so much ambition that they turn to prostitution, but are so smart and bright but that is just their way out. There are real people facing those issues. To see it come to life on television, if it does nothing else it makes you say, “I’m not crazy,” “someone else understands me,” “someone else has gone through that.” It is a beautiful feeling to know you are not alone.
You play Veronica Harrington, the strong, educated, affluent, no-nonsense mother, wife and friend. How do you channel your Veronica character when filming? How similar are you to your character in real life? And how are you different?
I’m pretty different from Veronica [laughs]. I don’t know how I channel her, but I know people, who are like Veronica, and I am able to remember them… but I won’t say who it is. I know someone who is similar that I studied and got some insight from. I believe everyone has an inner diva and I get to play it out and bring it forth through the series. I love a woman who can speak her mind, say what she means, but not about a roll in the neck or waving of a finger, but lets you know what they think and where they stand. I love people like that. It’s not as much as I would like to be, but it is easy for me to play it because I admire it so much. I have strong respect for people when you know where they stand. With Veronica you know where she stands and I don’t think she will ever change, I hope not but I think that is just who her character is.
Season One Finale: Episode 116
In the show, your son Jeffery is battling his acceptance with homosexuality and it is also clear that he is timid and afraid of you. We know that Black men struggle in society and to be a Black man and gay, it is not widely accepted. Outside of your character, what is your stance and beliefs on homosexuality, especially within the Black community?
I think it is a tough one, especially within the Black community. As you said, we know what a Black man has to face and to add that, it is tough. I, Angela, I’m greatly entrenched in the theater, and you can’t be in the theater and not love the gay community; those are my friends, they are my family. Playing this part is really funny for them, but I get it and I love that I get the opportunity to bring the Veronica side of it to light. I really want the people who are giving their kids such a rough time to really see themselves and maybe think about it a little more deeply. I would really love that. I try not to sugar coat the character and make her nice. When parents feel strongly about something their child is doing they are not nice. It was a tough one to really dig my heels in and go there, but it was necessary to go there and feel the true pain Jeffery was feeling.
For your specific character, Veronica, what do you want to see happen to her over time?
That is always Mr. Perry’s call and how he wants to write it. But, I would like to see her always being no-nonsense, slightly but a lot controlling and more of her practicing law because I think she is a good attorney. She became a millionaire and didn’t have to work but I would love to see her more into her profession at some capacity. Though her husband is running for governor, I do not want her to be the good little lady who goes to society luncheons, but instead, back to work. In terms of family life, say what you will about the way she treats her son but she loves her son, a lot of people express love differently when they are trying to help their child be the best they can be, they have a heavy hand and may not be the gentleness of people, but the love is still there. I would like for the audience to see the love a little more, I don’t think it will happen [laughs], but to see the love between her, her son and her husband. In the end it all started with love. We disappoint our parents all the time when we grow up not being all that they dreamed for us to be, but I think parents evolve and go through a process of deciding to accept us for who we decided to be. I remember when I decided to be an actress that took a lot from my parents, that was not what they wanted from me. They didn’t necessarily disown me but I knew that that wasn’t their choice, but they never missed a show that I did, even in their disappointment they showed up and they were supportive.
Each individual family presented in the show has their battles that they’re fighting. Specifically one situation with the Harrington’s is dealing and accepting their son, Jeffery’s claim to be homosexual. How will the Harrington family develop more through season two?
Wow. I can’t tell you, Ashley. The only thing I can tell you is the Harrington family will continue to have challenges and let’s just hope they can survive them. That is all I will say [laughs].
I feel like you were really able to bring your character home toward the ending of season one. The ending scenes were so powerful when Jeffery finally announced that he was homosexual. We were really able to see more of who Veronica was and hear her story. What can we expect from you in season two?
I’m excited for you to see, it is such a great opportunity for me to be in this family. To see a wealthy Black family that has the same struggles as everyone else. That’s the name of the show “The Haves and the Have Nots.” Basically people who have everything materially still suffer from having nothing in terms of emotional love and understanding one another.
How will season two differ from season one?
It will differ in look. We are doing a lot of exterior shooting that we didn’t do last season. We will be outdoors, in different locations and restaurants. The Harrington’s have a house; we won’t be having great emotional scenes in the judge’s chambers [laughs]. I can’t talk about the content but it will differ in look and style.
Would you say the fans and viewers will be pleased with season two?
Oh yea, if they loved season one, they will lose their minds during season two [laughs].
How many episodes are we expected to see in season 2?
Some may argue that Tyler Perry’s work over the years has become redundant and plays off of stereotypes. Since working with him first hand, how can you attest to his craft?
Hmm, from working with him first hand, he is one of the hardest working people I have ever worked with in my entire career. Even though he works hard and does a million things at one time, no one ever feels like they’re being overlooked or not getting his best. He listens to and respects actors, which is a major thing a director can have, and he does. I don’t know if I would agree with those statements but I think he has written from his life experience. A lot of directors evolve and live more life and see more things, and write from an expanding place and I think Tyler Perry is starting to do that as well. In terms of working with him and being a part of anything he does, if he calls I’ll be ready; it is just that great of an experience, and I’ve worked with a lot of directors.
Reoccurring themes within Tyler Perry movies seem to always have a lesson or moral at the end of his plays/films. Though the show is a TV series, what is the underlying lesson/moral behind The Haves and the Have Nots?
He doesn’t take it lightly. I think there are many. I don’t think Tyler or myself needs to point out what they are because they are what you take them to be after watching the ending of the show.
Between the media and people, they sometimes hype up the life of an actor/actress claiming all the glitz, glamour and fame. We know that all that glitters isn’t gold. What is one story that you can share with viewers to show how serious this business is?
It’s not always high; there are hills and valleys just like in life. In this business there are peaks and there are valleys. You have to understand that just because your career may be going wonderfully, it doesn’t last. There will be valleys but you have to financially and emotionally prepare. One of my favorite bible scriptures is in Philippians when Paul says, “I learned to be content in whatever state I find myself, whether I’m abound or I’m a base.” That has become my mantra and I think that is a good one for actors to have to be content or find a place of content. When you are in the valley always do your craft, don’t think you can only do it when you’re at the peak. When you’re in the valley, it’s a great time to get into class, go to a small theater and learn how to do other types of parts. It is easy to look at it as a glamorous and wonderful life but there are not constant peaks, there are long stints when you are trying to figure out how you are going to make it financially. To me those are the times when you build your craft, and grow as an artist, and when the peak comes you are on a whole different level because you used that time in the valley wisely.
* Season 2 of The Haves and the Have Nots premieres Tuesday, January 7th, 9p EST on OWN.
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