Black Hollywood is booming and there are several stars who are on the rise and deserve everyone’s attention. As a way to amplify their work, Shadow and Act created a new video series titled “UpNext,” which features several rising black stars having a candid conversation about life on and offscreen.
UpNext comes at a time where diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industry remains an important issue. With UpNext, we want to provide an outlet for rising black talent to discuss their journey in ways that people of color are not often provided in mainstream media. We hope UpNext adds to the conversation and challenges the stereotypes put on black actors and actresses.
In our inaugural UpNext roundtable, we invited actors and actresses Jay Ellis, Bresha Webb, Aml Ameen, Antoinette Robertson, Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Tiffany Boone — each of whom are quickly racking up credits and taking Hollywood by storm. You can view the full roundtable below and learn more about our UpNext participants as they gathered around a table at Comfort LA, a black-owned restaurant in southern California, to break bread, share laughs and talk about their careers and dreams for what’s next. You can read more highlights below!
Jay Ellis — Ellis is a certified star on the rise. The 36-year-old actor, who got his breakthrough role on BET’s The Game in 2013, currently stars as Lawrence on HBO’s hit comedy-drama Insecure. He quickly drew fame as the show became a huge success and Ellis has since kept busy as he is also in post-production on the psychological thriller, The Maze.
At the UpNext roundtable with Ellis, he talked about the alternative career he would have pursued had he not chose acting, what it was like to meet Samuel J. Jackson and memorable moments on the set on of Insecure. In one particular moment in the video, Ellis recalls what it was like to work with the legend Debbie Allen during the show’s awkward sex scenes:
“I have a lot of sex on my show,” he says. “First of all...having to have sex with your boss, with Issa, it’s already funny as is. And it was her first time having a sex scene, ever. So we were already laughing like ‘No you stop it.’ ‘No, you stop it.’ ‘I'm cool if you cool. You cool?’ We were laying in the bed like all covered up. Like that was hella funny. And then, in that same episode, Debbie Allen was actually directing. And Debbie was like, we were blocking it. And she was like, ‘No, girl! Let me show you how to do this. You gotta walk over to him, and you gotta grab him, and you gotta turn him around, and throw him on the bed, and crawl up on him, and I'm laying in the bed with Debbie Allen on me. And I'm like, ‘Okay, Miss Allen. Uh-huh.’”
Bresha Webb — Webb’s personality is infectious. She’s passionate about life and that translates onscreen in a way that has helped to cement her status as a rising star in Hollywood. After having recurring stints on ER and ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, as well as starring in TV One’s Love that Girl, Webb can now be seen starring in NBC’s Marlon as Yvette. She’s also in post-production on the Kevin Hart comedy, Night School. During the UpNext discussion, Webb opened up about challenges she’s had throughout her career, what it was like to meet her idol Halle Berry and the importance of telling stories that shed light on topics in the black community:
“When you think of people that have come before us and that have paved the way for us to do what we do, they always used their voices in a way to inspire and to use their art to provoke people to make change,” she said. “I feel like it is a responsibility always to say anything about what’s going on in the industry, whether its you being a woman in the industry, in the black community, we have to use your voices because that is a part of the gift we’ve been given and the platform we’ve been given to use.”
Aml Ameen — The London-born actor has made a name for himself across the pond and stateside. He’s been in several films and television series over the years, including British drama Kidulthood and 2014’s The Maze Runner. In 2015, he starred in the first season of the Netflix hit, Sense8, and he is now in Idris Elba’s feature directorial debut, Yardie, which is currently on the festival circuit.
Ameen, who is currently in pre-production for his own feature directorial debut, A Night Worth Living, spoke up during the UpNext discussion about highlighting issues pertaining to the black community and the British/American divide:
“One of the things I've always wanted to do when I came here was spread what culture we have over there, here, and actually connect the international and global diaspora together,” he said. “I spend a lot of time in Kenya and Jamaica, and with Caribbean parents, so...even though the minutiae is very different, there’s similarities. Growing up as a young black Londoner, we look to African-American heroes growing up, whether it be in the arts first, but we’re talking about the heroes like MLK, Malcolm X, many different people. Black people are more similar than different around the world. That's one of the things I kinda wanna spread out there. The split and the fraction that comes with black actors it's like, ‘Oh you know they’re doing this, they’re taking the parts, da da da,’ and we’re hungry over there. There’s nothing!... But you know, it's just that desire to connect globally. And so that's one of the things I'm always interested in.”
Antoinette Robertson — Robertson had recurring roles on The CW’s Hart of Dixie and OWN’s The Haves and the Have Nots — she also had a scene-stealing guest spot on Donald Glover’s Atlanta on FX. In 2017, she debuted in her breakout role as Coco Connors in the Netflix satirical comedy series, Dear White People. Robertson is set to return as Coco on Dear White People Season 2, which is in production.
In our UpNext discussion, Robertson discussed how she wants to portray multidimensional women of color, why she received a degree in Chemistry at Stony Brook University and her desire to portray authentic characters and tell authentic stories:
“I was up for a show before Dear White People. And they offered it to me. And I read the script and it was a good script, but I went into the final producer session and they were like, ‘You know, can you uh…’ And they wanted to say make it blacker, you know? I said, if this is what they want, then this is not the project I wanna be signed on for four to six years. And I did the biggest stereotype I could have played in that audition, and they were like, ‘Yes that's it’ and I called my agent and was like, ‘I don't want that job.’ And now to have to like fight for that role, and to wanna to be a regular on a show and they offer it to you and to say no..I had to have faith and be like ‘Oh my God, Like how long have I wanted this? And somebody's handing it to me?’ And I was like, ‘But it's not right.’ Now, three days of depression and then darkness in my home, and then I get the call for Dear White People -- and I go into the audition and I was just like, I did me. I wasn't even thinking about it to be honest. I was still kind of reeling from the other thing. And then they just gave it, they gave it to me. It's a testament to understanding whatever is for you, is for you. I knew I wanted to have a job that could encompass my activism as well as, I wanna portray women of color in a different light, like we're not stereotypes. Like we're three-dimensional beings that should be depicted as such.”
Kelvin Harrison Jr. — Harrison is the definition of a star on the rise. After recurring on the Crackle series, StartUp, Harrison landed a starring role in the 2017 film, It Comes at Night. So far in 2018, Harrison stars in three films — Monsters and Men, Monster and Assassination Nation, which all debuted at Sundance to critical acclaim. Next up, he has several films set for release, including the Julius-Onah directed Luce, and Jinn, the feature directorial debut of Shadow and Act contributor Nijla Mu’min, which will debut at SXSW next month.
During the conversation for UpNext, Harrison discussed getting a degree in marketing, moving from his hometown of New Orleans to Los Angeles and how Jason Mitchell correctly predicted the outcome of his latest audition:
“When I first moved here, I was sitting in an apartment with my parents and I was like, ‘I'm gonna move to LA.’ And they were just like, ‘What?’ So I bought a ticket literally sitting in the park and I just moved here and I stayed with my aunt — and I just remember it really wasn't going well. I was getting small jobs and like, doing like really big films and stuff like that, but nothing was really happening. And I kept testing, and I kept doing. It just looked like I was getting so close and then bad stuff started working out, and I was like,’I don’t want to do this.’ I got so depressed — I had a couple auditions and… one was for It Comes at Night, which is the movie I ended up doing that kind of like changed everything for me. But I remembered being like, ‘Oh what is this?’ I was like this doesn’t make any sense. So I taped it, but I had my flight to go back home to New Orleans to be done with LA forever. I ended up leaving, but I got a small part in Mudbound, so then I went to Budapest for a week. And I remember being with Jason Mitchell, and he was like, ‘You got it man, you from New Orleans, you’re a fighter.’ And then later that night I got a call for It Comes at Night. It’s the small, little things of patience and just saying no to things that you just don’t believe in and just trusting yourself in the process.”
Tiffany Boone — Boone’s vivacious personality leaves viewers rooting for her characters. After guest-starring on shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, Boone got her first series regular role on FOX’s The Following in 2014. Beginning this year, she has starred in Lena Waithe’s Showtime drama series, The Chi. Although we are only a few episodes into the season, The Chi has already been confirmed to return for a Season 2.
For UpNext, Boone discussed which of her first few roles excited her the most, why she wants to portray black love on-screen and the job she held when while taking a break from acting: “I stopped acting for about a year, before I got this latest job. I was making flower arrangements. I'll tell the story of why I stopped. I was tired, over it, the desperation... and I felt like I was bringing that into everything and nothing was making me feel fulfilled. Like I'm auditioning, I'm testing, it's me and another person, and then I'm like, ‘I'm upset I didn't get this job.’ (But) I didn't even care about this job. I'm not telling any stories about people I know and I care about, I'm not doing anything challenging. It was just exhausting so I was like, ‘Alright, I'm done. I don't know how long, but I gotta make some money, somehow.’ I was like, "Oh, I know how to make flower arrangements.’ But luckily, I gave it another chance. And my first audition was for Chi. And, boom.”
You can watch Shadow and Act’s full UpNext roundtable above.