Vixen Chat: Robinne Lee Talks 'Being Mary Jane'
Unlike everything else on TV, Being Mary Jane is already proving to be a much needed breath of fresh air for the black community. This show touches on issues that affect many but rarely have light shed on them. Robinne Lee agreed very much with the purpose and message of the show, which is why she was so eager to audition for a part in this series. Lee stars as Avery Daniels an overachiever trophy wife who's perfect marriage gets flipped once new enemy, Gabrielle Union informs her of the affair she's having with her husband. While she's polar opposites of her character, "she’s much more tolerate of her husbands infidelities than I’ll ever be and she’s much more harder to read," she identifies with the issue raised within her character and the entire storyline: "BMJ is pretty much how we are now. It’s not a fantasy, it’s a woman’s life, it’s real and it’s relatable."
We got chance to chat with the wife and mother of two about her original career path, "I knew I always wanted to pursue a career in the arts--but my parents were immigrants from Jamaica and were very vocal about me not pursing acting professionally until I was done getting my degrees", the actress told us of her educational path through Yale and then Law School first. And she also dished on working opposite her longtime friend Gabrielle Union again, "she’s like a sister to me and when you get to work on great material plus with someone you know and love, it’s a better set up and such an incredible experience."
The show aires Tuesdays on BET at 10p/9c. While you wait for next week's show, flip the page to get familiar with Robinne.
Photo Credit: Film Magic via Getty
VIBE Vixen: How did it come about you getting the role?
Robinne Lee: I auditioned for it. When the pilot was being shot, I read for two different shots, I read for my part and the part played by Lisa Vidal, it was either best friend or the nemesis. Even when I was reading it, I was really, really drawn to the role of Avery Daniels because the material was so strong, surprising, and different from anything I’ve ever played before. Sometimes you go in there with blind faith and hope you can do the best you can and you give them everything you’ve got and just hope. That’s pretty much what I did and I was really lucky to get it.
How similar are you to Avery and how different are you?
I’m similar because I’m kind of an overachiever and I’m married, and I’m trying to juggle it all. I’m a little Type A [laughs] so I think that’s the things we have in common, but that’s where it ends. She’s much more tolerate of her husbands infidelities than I’ll ever be and she’s much more harder to read. I feel like she put up this wall and she’s very reserved, not cold but just removed. I’m very emotional and I let it show and I feel like for her it’s the complete opposite.
Being that she’s so different, how did you prepare to get in the role?
I feel like I turned something off in myself. For me my natural instinct is to show everything. As an actress your learning that camera reads through your emotion so your goal is to convey what you’re feeling so the audience could read it. I feel like for this character it’s the complete opposite and that was my struggle—keeping things under wrap and things private.
How important do you think Being Mary Jane is to women in general, but mainly to women of color?
I think it’s huge because it is something we have not seen before. It’s a portrayal of a Black woman that is very real and very multi layered and multi faceted. It’s not this character or cliché of what people think and because it’s produced by a Black woman who’s got all these insights but wants to go about it in a subtle way and make it very real and not just go for the laughs or the craziness of it, it’s real life. A lot of situations are heightened but I still think the responses and everything that’s happening are real. This is one woman’s experience, but many of us have gotten ourselves into very similar situations. it’s relatable. It is written about and for a Black women but it’s not just a Black woman’s story. I think men will be able to relate to this and I think it’ll be able to cross the board.
If there is, is there any show that’s out there right now that’s similar or goes in the same direction as BMJ?
Not right now, no. I think people are going to want to compare it to Scandal because it’s a hot show right now and Kerry [Washington] does such a wonderful job and it’s great to see a Black woman carry the lead in such a powerful role. But I mean Scandal—and I love Shonda Rhimes—but its much more fantasy and if it’s not fantasy, it’s not every Black woman. Black women are not having a current affair with the president. BMJ is pretty much how we are now. It’s not a fantasy, it’s a woman’s life and it’s real and it’s relatable. Both of them that I really do like and Shonda has done a great job and Mara [Brock Akil] the same thing, these shows allow us as Black women to see us as desirable, vulnerable, and flawed. I don’t feel like we’ve seen that. Either we’re the sassy one and we don’t get to be vulnerable or we are unattractive because we’re aggressive in the business area, or we’re the sidekick and we’re not seen as desirable or we’re so desirable it’s like the hot character and we’re not seen as flawed or vulnerable. I like that we’re being touched upon and both those characters are educated, and it’s a wonderful image for girls growing up today to see that you can be all those things.
It is and that’s my next question--are you hoping that it alters the direction of TV and movies in the way that black women are depicted?
Very much so, we haven’t seen that in a while. I’m trying to imagine the last time we saw Black women in those roles and I can’t [remember], there was Girlfriends and it was slightly different because it was multi-camera comedy. Coming from that way you’re going for the laughs. Even the shows that I can think of where we were in abundance like the Cosby Show, they were sitcoms; they weren’t dramas. It’s been a long time for a good Black drama.
It’s refreshing but you also ask yourself why wasn’t this done a long time ago.
I know, it’s a no brainer, but it’s also getting the studio to believe in you and I think BET is probably the first one. I think Shonda Rhimes has been doing wonderful with ABC and not just with this but with Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice and just having very multiracial and cultural cast. She does a really great job with that but this story is really about a one woman’s story. It’s not focused on a hospital or doctor’s office but this is a woman’s life and all parts to her life.
Photo Credit: Trailer
It’s wonderful. We’ve been close friends since Eva so it’s been over 10 years. She’s like a sister to me and when you get to work on great material plus with someone you know and love, it’s a better set up and such an incredible experience. We have our own language, we go into the scene having a common short hand and we don’t have to discuss like ‘how do you want to play this’ or ‘how do you see this’, we’re not testing each other out. It’s easy like playing dress up with your sister like, ‘let’s pretend you’re sleeping with my husband, okay go.’ But it’s that enjoyable, that good because we allow each other the space to be in it emotionally and take the ride. We can throw these punches at one another and take them. I think it’s something actors do, yes, but it’s a little bit more enjoyable and easy because we are friends first.
With your educational background, what made you go off your corporate path onto a creative one?
I knew I always wanted to pursue a career in the arts whether it be a writer or an actress. They both always appealed to me but my parents were immigrants from Jamaica and were very vocal about me not pursing acting professionally until I was done getting my degrees, they were all about education. I went to Yale and on the car ride up my dad said to me “don’t think we’re sending you to Yale to study drama” so I ended up majoring in Psychology. When I graduated, I moved to New York and I felt like it was my chance to pursue my dream professionally and they said you can but we made a deal, I applied to law school while pursuing acting. I got in [to school] the same time my career was taking off and the first one, this little film I did called Hav Plenty got picked up by Miramax film festival and I felt myself thrown into both head first.
Isn’t that usually how it happens?
Yeah exactly! My first year of law school was notoriously the most difficult year the first semester. It’s very different from undergrad but I really felt lucky because I felt I had a balance. My friends who were in law school were consumed with everything going on in school and my friends in the acting world were consumed with themselves, their auditions, and their work and I felt like I had balance because I had other things I had to focus on in both directions. For me it was really good because I had two things going on at once and I never became that crazy neurotic law student who’s pulling her hair out and I didn’t beat myself up after every single audition. It was a nice balance.
Are you conscious over what role you’ll take because of your kids?
I am and I’m not. I’m in a point now where I want to do things for me so I’m looking for roles that will stretch me, stimulate me, and excite me. I don't want to do roles that won’t push my career forward at this point or stretch me as an actor unless I’m doing a favor for a friend. Because time working is time away from my kids, I have to be more selective of the roles that I take. I’m not worried because I’m hoping their friends aren’t watching it either. My sons in second grade and my daughter’s in pre-school so I don’t worry about that. I’m aware of what they’re watching and consuming and if something’s adult, they can’t watch it.
Do you have a dream role you’d want to play and dream person to work with that you haven’t worked with yet?
I love Cate Balanchett, I love everything she does. I would love to work with her. I love to watch Matt Damon’s work, I love that he makes such varied choices and he’s happy doing comedy or an ensemble, he can do action, or drama; he can carry a film. I love Viola Davis’ work I would love to be across from her in a scene.
What advice do you have to someone wanting to follow his or her dreams?
In general it’s important to have patience and be determined and know it may not happen over night but it is. First and foremost get your education. Finish high school and if you can go to college, go to college. If you want to act, study it. Don’t go to LA or NY thinking you have a pretty face and you did that play in high school because there are so many out there like you who have done the work. Know the work, study it, and do your homework.
Photo Credit: Getty