top of page

Exclusive: Vanessa Bell Calloway, of Allblk’S New Drama Series 'Wicked City'

Interview by Lisa K. Stephenson

Image courtesy of Strategic Heights Media

Vanessa Bell Calloway speaks with She’s SINGLE Magazine on career, her legacy and professionalism.

SSM (1): From Coming To America, to What’s Love Got To Do With It, to Shameless, and now Wicked City, can you share with us your journey from then to now?

Vanessa Bell Calloway: Well, you missed a lot of stuff in between, but… But yeah. I mean, you know, that's what I do. I’m an actress, so it’s about taking on parts in acting, and you build upon the next role, the next role, the next role, and you take the next one. I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve been able to make a living off of acting for 40 years, and I’ve never had to have another job.

Once I started working off Broadway in New York I got my equity card, doing commercials in New York when I was right out of college. So, each thing builds upon the next, and the next, and the next, and it’s a journey. It’s not just one job. It’s all of the ones that I’ve done to this point that contribute to who I am, to my career, and to my resume, obviously.

SSM (2): So, what was it like working with Columbus Short, and so many other wonderful talents, such as Malika Blessing and Rolonda Rochelle?

Vanessa Bell Calloway: I didn’t work with Columbus. We weren’t in any scenes together. But I know Malika and I know Rolonda from doing theater in Los Angeles. So, you know, we’ve been friends for years. I’ve known them both for years. It was good to work with them in television. It was a lot of fun to actually work with them in television, and to see them grow, and to see them have the opportunity to be on TV, because that's something they really wanted to do, to get a series in. To see them blessed with that, it was really great to see. And they both did a very good job.

SSM (3): I myself am a huge fan of fantasy stories. Did you have any spiritual reservations before signing on for the project?

Vanessa Bell Calloway: Well, you know, I did think about my belief in God and doing a project like this, but I’m an actress. You know? And God knows I’m faking it, he knows I’m playing. So, I think that was good with him. And he put me in this profession. And I’m an actress, so I think that we need to give ourselves more freedom to do things.

I obviously don’t believe in witchcraft, I’m not conjuring up anything, I don’t believe in Satan, I’m not doing anything like that in my real life, so I don’t see where that- I didn’t need to have any reservations about doing it as an actress. I don’t have reservations about doing love scenes with people I have no particular romantic interest in, but I do them. I’m not leaving my husband just because I have a love scene. It’s make-believe. I’m acting.

SSM (4): I also see that you’re starring in the show The Black Hamptons. So, based on the synopsis for that and Wicked City, it does seem like night and day between the two. How would you say that you were able to prepare or transition from one role to the next, or from one production to the next, so to speak?

Vanessa Bell Calloway: I went to get costume fitting and went to work, read the script, learned my lines and went to work. You know, it’s not a big deal. That's part of my job, to be able to transform into another character quickly, and with intention, and do it well. Inside of us we all have a lot of people that we could be, or people we know, we’ve seen stuff, we’ve been in situations, so you tap into who you are and your experiences.

You know, a good actress, the longer you live it makes you better, because you have life experiences, you have situations, you have things that you’ve seen that you can use for projects. So, it was nothing. First of all, I didn't shoot them close. I finished Black Hamptons last November, and I didn’t do this project until the following May-June. So, they were nowhere near.

I did several things in between the two. And it’s just a matter of me tapping into the resources that I already naturally have, reading the script, understanding who the characters are, and the situations they're in, and the people that surround them, and once you understand what it is that you’re doing, then you delve deep down inside of you, and give it the best shot that you have to become that person.

SSM (5): What was the most memorable thing that happened whilst working on the set of Wicked City?

Vanessa Bell Calloway: People always ask that question because they always think there’s something that really happened. And you know, most times there’s not. We’re just working. We worked late; we worked long. There was a lot of back and forth. They were trying to get me out. I shot my part in about five days. So, it was just memorable. You know, it was not funny. It was just work. I was in there working. So, sorry I can’t give you a funny story, because I don’t have one.

I was just working my butt off because I had to get out of town and do something else. But I did enjoy the part, when it came time to pretend like I was doing the magic, where I got to throw somebody somewhere. And that part hasn’t aired yet, so that was cool. I kinda felt like I was playing, like a little kid playing with my friends. Like, ‘I got the power today, I’m gonna be the one with the power right now.’ You know, it felt like that.

SSM (6): I’m pretty sure you spend a lot of time on social media - maybe you do or don’t, but a lot of millennials, we refer to actresses that we’ve grown up on, such as you, Jennifer Lewis, Nia Long, you know, we refer to them as aunties. Do you see that as something that is considered, maybe disrespectful, or do you see that as something that is empowering, or just an okay thing for you?

Vanessa Bell Calloway: You know, it always depends on the person that's coming at you. I know some people don’t like- I read an article, Ava DuVernay, she was like, ‘I ain’t your auntie, don’t call me auntie’. And I get that perspective, because it depends on the people that call me, the energy you have. But no, it doesn’t bother me personally. Sometimes it’s a term of endearment, depending on the person it’s coming from.

There’s a lot of young people that I mentor, that I like, or that I meet, and I just care about them. And obviously, I’m not their mother, and they're like, ‘can I call you auntie?’ Or I’ll meet somebody that's like, ‘oh, you’re gonna be my auntie.’ They determine that I’m gonna be a part of their life. So, sometimes it’s a term of endearment, because that person is telling me that they relate to me, they see me, and they want me in their life in some kind of way, because they feel that I have something to contribute. Sometimes that happens, and sometimes it doesn’t.

So, once again, it just depends on the person. You don’t want anybody coming to you and calling you anything that has negative energy, and that's not good and true, and honest, and just understands the responsibility of being in an honest relationship. And when I say that, I’m not talking about a love relationship, I’m just talking person to person. So, it depends on the people who want to call me auntie. There’s a lot that do, and it doesn’t bother me.

SSM (7): 40-plus years in the game, and there’s other actresses that are coming up - is there specific advice that you would give the upcoming actresses? Those that you’ve worked with, those that you see in other productions?

Vanessa Bell Calloway: Yeah, there’s a lot of advice. Quite a bit. I say the same thing all the time: stay ready to be ready. And that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I’ll use the example: if you’ve got 10 pounds or 15 pounds to lose, you wanna lose them, not because- there’s nothing wrong with being 15 pounds, with being heavy. But, if you don’t like the way you look, you don’t like your hair, you don’t like your teeth, then fix what you need to fix. If you need to study to become a better actor, get your butt in some classes, read plays, look at movies, read books. Because when that happens, you don’t have time to get ready.

There were so many times where I literally met a producer or director and started working the very next day. You don’t always have time to get ready like you think. If you look one way on Friday, you’re gonna look that same way on Monday, nine times out of 10. So, go ahead and fix what you feel you need to fix to make yourself better, more appealing, and more hirable, and be ready. Because when that door opens, baby, and you step through, that's when the work begins. Because you may not get all the way through. The door may open, but if you’re not ready, it will close right in your face. And you’ll be like, ‘what happened?’ Well, you weren’t ready. It’s about professionalism.

I was just talking about this. Be on time. If your call is at 5 AM, don’t be pulling up at the lot at 5 AM. Don’t be doing that. You should be in the chair, getting your hair and makeup done at 5 AM. There’s a schedule. You are interfering with the schedule if you do not adhere to your time. So, be on time. 5 AM means be there at a quarter to 5.

If you’re on time you’re late, and if you’re late you’re fired. Be kind to people. Learn people’s names on set, from the craft service to the DP. Talk to people, be nice. As talented as you are, nobody’s that great. And the wonderful thing about the set is, I don’t care how you’re throwing down the scene, you could be killing it. If the sound man ain’t doing his job, if the DP ain’t doing his job, if the cameraman is not operating right, if the wardrobe didn’t do right, your performance means nothing.

So, understand that going in, that it takes everybody to put on a show. And you may be the star of this particular show, or one of the main stars, but don’t nobody really care. Be a nice person. That's what people remember, that you were easy to work with, that you were nice to work with, that you were delightful. Because they definitely will remember if you were a bitch to work with. That, they don’t forget.

So, all those things help you in your career. If you want longevity, you want people to say, ‘oh yeah, she was dope. She was easy to work with, knew her lines, she was on time.’ I always say, every production is gonna have a problem. That's just the way things go. But guess who’s not gonna be the problem? Vanessa.

SSM (8): Thank you so very much for that! We’ve seen this shift from theatrical releases to streaming, and productions obviously have also taken a turn in that sense as well. I mean, for you to be in the industry for the time that you’ve spent in the industry, and have done theatrical releases, and now you’re on streaming platforms, do you feel like there’s a vast difference between the two? And for upcoming actresses, should they be looking to focus more on productions with a theatrical release versus productions that are just strictly going to be on streaming platforms?

Vanessa Bell Calloway: I think that, if you’re an actress, you focus on the project that you want to do. Don’t worry about how it’s gonna be seen. That's not for you to decide. If it’s a good project, and if it’s gonna not only give you- obviously, we all need money, but if it’s gonna help you grow in your character, as a person and as an actress, that's what you worry about. You let everybody else worry about whether it streams here, or it comes there, or it’s on ABC, or NBC, or what network, or if it was Netflix - don’t you worry about that. Because work begets work.

You do good work, and you’ll get other good work. And don’t worry about where it’s streaming versus whatever you said. I could care less. I just wanna do good projects, and how they're seen is how they're seen. Now, a viewer, I love things that stream. I love to go and binge-watch. That's one of my favorite things, to sit down- And even the things that I tape, I can’t watch it one week at a time, I have to let a couple of weeks go by, so that when I sit, I can see these two-three episodes at one time. That's how I like to watch TV. As a viewer, I love it, but as an actress, give it to me whichever way it comes. Just keep me working in good projects.

SSM (9): I love that mentality. I think that's something that more people should adopt. So, my last question is: what’s next for Vanessa Bell Calloway, and where can our readers stream and watch your shows?

Vanessa Bell Calloway: Well, you can see my six seasons that I starred in Saints and Sinners, this was our last year, our sixth season was this past summer. You can see that on Hulu, Saints and Sinners. I just finished with Shameless this year as well, and the last season of This Is Us this year. I have an animated movie coming out with Keke Palmer, actually. I play her mother. It’s called Under The Boardwalk. I think it’s coming out 2023. We finished it- I finished my part this past summer, doing the voice stuff. And I think it’s coming out 2023.

I have a show called Grand Crew on NBC, I did an episode of that that's coming out. Of course, Black Hamptons, we’ve been waiting to see about the pickup of that. That was really great fun. And Wicked City, which you can see every Thursday on Allblk. We have six episodes of that. This is the second episode that will be airing tomorrow, so if you missed last week, you can sit and stream them together. Do like me, binge-watch it. Or, third week, sit down and watch all three. But just watch it. It is streaming on Allblk as we speak, and we have six episodes of that.


bottom of page