One of our favorite soapstars of all time shares about her latest project, her takeaways from the ESSENCE Festival and joining in the new ESSENCE #HeIsNotASuspect campaign.
We fell in love with her ballerina-turned-model character Drucilla Winters on The Young and the Restless and now she’s plotting her move back to our TV screens with the upcoming series, The Rich & the Ruthless. Victoria Rowell, who participated in the ESSENCE Festival’s Empowerment Experience, has started a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to launch the show, which she describes as a dramedy that exposes the workings of the soap opera business. It’s a spin-off of her successful novels Secrets of a Soap Opera Diva and Young and the Ruthless.
ESSENCE.com spoke with Rowell to learn about her vision for The Rich & the Ruthless show, what she took away from this year’s ESSENCE Festival and her participation in the new ESSENCE counter-stereotyping campaign, #HeIsNotASuspect.
ESSENCE.com: What’s the focus of The Rich & the Ruthless?
Victoria Rowell: The show is a dramedy. It’s about a soap opera, The Rich & the Ruthless, and the owner, Augustus Barringer, who has two small children in their 20s. One child doesn’t want the show, but the other child does. It’s about how Augustus navigates staying on the air. He’s African-American—think Bob Johnson or Quincy Jones and think major Black entrepreneurship. I am going to play the protagonist Calysta Jeffries, who is from Mississippi and was raised by her grandmother.
For the first time on a show, you are going to see how a Black actress in Hollywood is juggling the red-carpet life, but also the real-deal life of a family in Mississippi.
ESSENCE.com: Where did your vision for the show come from?
Rowell: The vision came out of my many years in the entertainment industry. I worked in daytime television on three different shows, including The Young and the Restless. I also drew on my theater experience. I started out in classical ballet in New York City at American Ballet Theatre School, Julliard and Ballet Hispanico. That was drama.
ESSENCE.com: You launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to get the show on TV. Why did you decide on this route?
Rowell: It’s grassroots and emblematic of what I’m about. The goal is to raise $50k in now less than 40 days. Kickstarter has changed the paradigm forever in that the public is now selecting what they want to see on movie, TV and Internet screens. They are investing in the entertainment they wish to see.
ESSENCE.com: What lesson did you take away from your participation in the ESSENCE Festival this year?
Rowell: Ask for help if you need it. The ESSENCE Festival was not only about encouragement. It was also about courage to live your passion and to talk about it. It was about healing and trusting your instinct. It was beautiful.
ESSENCE.com: Who was your favorite Festival performer?
Rowell: I love Jill Scott. She took me to another level. She is soul food. She lifted my heart, she lifted my spirit and topped it off with opera. Jill Scott is the real deal and that’s the gift that the ESSENCE Festival gave me. I’m still floating.
ESSENCE.com: You also joined the latest ESSENCE social media campaign called #HeIsNotASuspect, which is designed to combat negative images of young Black men. Why did you decide to join it?
Rowell: It’s not a decision. It’s a must. I have a 17-year-old Black son who I share with his dad, Wynton Marsalis. We love our son. The frightening idea that our son could have a hoodie on and be shot is paralyzing and unacceptable, and so our son is not a suspect. Our son just received a four-year, full scholarship to college. He is a visual artist, a world traveler, a DJ and a wonderful person. He is a beautiful, young humanitarian.
The idea that young Black men cannot walk from a convenient store home without being attacked in the U.S. is unacceptable. We have to be vigilant because this kind of injustice cannot be tolerated. As a people—not just Black people—we need to be invested in this not only domestically but globally.