Rochelle Aytes: Role Play

From gorgeous mastermind behind TLC in VH1’s upcoming biopic Crazy, Sexy, Cool to assertive side piece in Mistresses, premiering on ABC June 3, Rochelle Aytes’ reel redefines upcoming attraction

It took a bitch fit for Rochelle Aytes to realize her passion. After the former dance student dabbled in Broadway theater for the Elton John and Tim Rice smash Aida, she nailed a breakthrough performance during a 10-minute improv called “I’m So Pissed” in one of her acting classes. “Ironically, it was the perfect time for me to take the class because I was hurt by an ex-boyfriend who cheated,” she recalls of the moment she decided to consider acting as a career. “You face the wall and then you wait until you’re at a heightened 10 emotionally, turn and yell out whatever you want to say to the person. There’s so much you can draw from that.”

A hot and scorned woman is a recurring theme for Aytes, who returns to small screens as the widowed single mother April Malloy who discovers her dead husband has a secret family on ABC’s Mistresses this June. She was also tapped for the role of TLC’s founder Perri “Pebbles” Reid in VH1’s Crazy, Sexy, Cool: The TLC Story – a biopic on the R&B/rap girl troupe set for release later this year. While the dancing actress admits to lacking pipes, her Harlem roots helped level out her character’s street mentality. “Pebbles told it like it was and was a little hood She’s from Oakland, Calif. and because I’m from Harlem, I got to bring a little bit of that cool, homegirl fun to her,” says Aytes, who stars alongside rapper Lil Mama, singers Drew Sidora and Keke Palmer. “This situation was far from me in that I’m not a singer, but I have an assertive side. This is how [Pebbles] was. Sometimes, I like to be in control.”

The self-professed boss lady makes that clear with her career path. After her mother enrolled her at the Ruth Williams dance studio in New York at an early age, Aytes would shake her tutu in ballet class and then perfect her shoulder-pop to Janet Jackson’s “Control” at home. The in-house choreography proved valuable during her education at the LaGuardia School of Arts—alma mater of Nicki Minaj and Azealia Banks—where she earned her degree in fine arts. She even clocked in at KFC for two months during high school before swapping fried chicken for sandwiches as a classroom assistant while still showing up for her acting and dancing classes. “I didn’t grow up hand-fed things,” she says. “I made a living at my craft from a very early age, which is why I am where I am today.”

Now, the 5’6” caramel beauty, whose cinematic debut as Denise Porter in the Wayans Bros. funny flick White Chicks and her crime-solving prowess as detective Grace Russell in the TV thriller The Forgotten has landed her plenty of face-time, continues to look to greater heights on-camera, even in the air. Her character Lisa Breaux’s bad romance in the 2006 Tyler Perry bawl fest Madea’s Family Reunion earned her a thank-you note on the plane from a woman who’d just left an abusive relationship. But the 36-year-old good girl insists changing the world isn’t always on the agenda. While she admits to blocking a hater on Twitter, she says her best impressions are up to the audience. “There may not be a huge lesson in everything,” she says of the roles she takes, “but if there’s supposed to be, I want to do the best that I can.”