With the absence of the black college experience over TV screens since the days of A Different World and in even movies like School Daze, BET is on to something with their newest series ‘The Quad’.
Executively produced by Felicia D. Henderson (Soul Food) and Rob Hardy (The Vampire Diaries, Empire, Stomp The Yard), the show will star Tony Award winners Anika Noni Rose & Ruben Santiago-Hudson, emerging talents Jazz Raycole, Peyton Alex Smith, Zoe Renee, Michelle DeFraites, E. Roger Mitchell; and television icon Jasmine Guy, who has graced us once again in her third fictitious HBCU role as Professor Grace Caldwell.
Some of us might be too young to remember just who Ms. Guy is, as she was the original ‘Bad and Boujee‘ if you ask me. Taking on iconic role as Whitley Gilbert of fictional renowned historical black college – Hillman College in A Different World in the early 90s, affording her six NAACP awards; it was a spinoff to The Cosby Show highlighting the overall college experience at a distinguished HBCU. In her new role as Professor Caldwell on The Quad, she plays the supportive colleague and mentor to the newly elected President of Georgia A&M (played by Anika Noni Rose).
So, you’ve been performing for practically your entire life, did you always know that you wanted to be on the stage?
Yes. I was the little 3 or 4 year old that played her Mary Poppins album over and over; and played all the characters, learned all the lyrics, and made up choreography. I was that kid. So I have to admit that yeah, it was pretty much always there. It’s awesome to be able to live your calling, whatever it may be.
These last few years leading up to 2017, tell us what has been going on in your life?
I moved to Atlanta and did a lot of theatre down there. And I’ve done a lot of guest appearances like on Vampire Diaries, Tyler’s show, If Loving You Is Wrong, and movies that have been filmed down there; a lot of independent films. It’s been a very diverse last three years. I do speaking engagements now, I’m directing, I teach; I’m like wow, I didn’t even know that I could do all this stuff, but when people ask, I just say yes and then rise to the occasion because it helps me to grow; and it also helps me to share. You know, at a certain point I guess, I realized that I did know more than I thought I knew; and it was time to share these stories and experiences with people. so I teach a lot, I do a one woman show about the Harlem Renaissance; I travel with that especially through January to March. It’s been more eclectic than just being on one show, but its also been very interesting. And I’ve grown a lot, and learned a lot.
Of course. That’s awesome.
Now leading us to Quad premiering real soon. Let’s talk about Quad, and you play a Professor Grace Caldwell?
I do. And I’ve been probably at this school, GAMU for about 20 years. I’m like an established Professor, head of the Sociology Department; and one of the few women there that supported the new President, Anika Noni Roses’ character; our first female President in this institution. And so, I’m kind of her mentor and guide through the navigation of the Trustee board, the politics of the school, who to mess with-who not to mess with; I’m kind of guiding her so that she can succeed – you know.
It’s very difficult for President’s in these schools to stay. They get micro-managed a lot by the board, they’re not able to implement their own policies. So, I love that the show is so true to our times – you know. Yes, it’s on an HBCU campus, but it’s really different in that there hasn’t been an hour drama about this; its like watching a movie as oppose to, A Different World that was a sitcom, or School Daze which was a musical. In some ways, yes it’s my third HBCU, fictitious HBCU, but it’s still very different because of the way the story is told, a more cinematic experience.
Even touching on certain controversies or certain relationships between faculty and the student body, that was kind of
I know the politics of a college campus is deep, its reflective of our bigger picture, but it can still be kind of treacherous; and its small, like everybody knows each other. And then it does have that Atlanta feel too because we’re filming it there, and it criss-crosses, the politics, the running of the school does come into play.
So this being your third fictitious HBCU, like you said, and then having other affiliations with other HBCU’s over the years, can you speak on your experience with it.
I didn’t go to a real HBCU, but I’ve kind of become an advocate for HBCU’s; not only from my association with these three projects: A Different World, School Daze, and the Quad. But because I’m from Atlanta and I grew up across the street from Moorehouse; because my father is out there, all my family went to Moorehouse and Spelman. And I just thought it was natural, it was organic. I thought everybody knew about HBCU’s because that’s what I grew up with, riding my bike on the campus’ of Moorehouse and Spelman.
And so when I realized that there was a lack of awareness for HBCU’s and lack of awareness as to their value. Why is it important, and why is it important that we keep these institutions funded and alive. What does an HBCU do for a student that they wouldn’t get at a larger University or white University. And there’s something about not being a minority, there’s something about being embraced and loved and supported that is apart of the HBCU campus; that you may not get in another experience because it behooves everybody that you succeed as a student.
You’re an investment when you’re a student at a HBCU. Everybody wants you to do well, and will work to do that; it’s like a village raising your as oppose to you wondering around by yourself. And a lot of people that go to HBCU I’ve noticed that they do have a certain sense of pride and self identification that is very strong; and I think that’s accredit to going to a HBCU.
I agree. I didn’t go to an HBCU either, but now really knowing what it meant, I wish I knew then what I know now. You know what I mean?
Right, because you don’t really know. That’s kind of the underlying lesson, but on the surface when you’re picking colleges, you may not get that. You may not even get why it would be important for you to have that experience at least once in your life.
Going back to Quad and working with your cast mates: Anika Noni Rose, Ruben Santiago Hudson, and producer Rob Hardy, who I believe you worked with on Vampire Diaries. How was that?
Yeah, Rob Hardy was also a producer/director for Vampire Diaries, and now he’s created this show; and I think Rob went to FAMU, and I think Anika went to school in Florida too, maybe even FAMU but I’m not sure. So they are really bringing their truth and experience to this show.
And I hope that the show even though it’s GAMU (Georgia A&M Univ), really makes people go, ‘Oh, I bet their doing Howard…or their doing FAMU, Moorehouse‘ etc. I want it to ring true for any school that you might have gone to, that you can see your school in this show.
And love that it’s like a cross-generational show, because of course we have ea lot of young people, a lot of students, football players, marching bands; then you’ve got the teachers, I’m holding down he fort for the older people. And then Anika (who plays new President Dr. Eva Fletcher) is in the middle, at a crossroads in her career where she can really make a difference, and the journey of watching her do that; how poised and eloquent she is. I just love working with her.
And then Ruben Santiago Hudson, whose work I’ve loved over the years, I’m excited to be working with him too. And then our Atlanta talent, E. Roger Mitchell who is playing (Carlton) Pettiway. It’s always great to see Atlanta up there because they shoot a lot in Atlanta, but they’re not always using Atlanta actors; so whenever I see Atlanta actors in these projects, I get excited.
Can you talk about how the part came to you?
Well, I was offered the part. And after I read the pilot, I said, “This is really good, who’s playing the President?” And they said Anika Noni Rose, and then I said, “Okay I’ll do it.” Because to me, I was like this is only as good as the actor that plays the President. There’s only so much you can do on the side and I want somebody who I respect and admire so that I can grow. So I was excited once I heard she was doing it, I was like “Yes, I’m in.”
We also heard that your daughter, Imani Guy Duckette made her acting debut not too long ago; as her mother, what was that like watching her perform, a mini you?
I mean, I don’t know, it was kind of nerve wracking you know, when you’re watching. But she was very calm. The part she played was a 16 year old. Like my father said, ” I couldn’t really tell if she was acting at all, because she acts just like that.” Her character was just like her. And I said, “Well thats a sign of good acting when you can’t tell if the performer is acting.” So I think she did a great job. And I was happy that she was on stage where you can do a show multiple times, and its not like television where you just got to knock it out and never see it again; you go home wondering if you should have done this way or that way. When you do a show every night, 5 or 6 times a week, it really strengthens your chops, so I’m glad that her first experience was on stage.
Anything else coming up in these following months?
Other than the Quad, I have a couple of movies that I did last year, I don’t know when they are coming out. One is an independent film about the first black female aviator, and I think that’s coming out this summer. And I did a short film recently about Emmett Till (My Nephew Emmett), we actually shot in Greenwood, Mississippi. About the night he was he was abducted, in 1955, beaten, tortured, and murdered – so that was kind of heavy, especially to be in Greenwood, MI, a mile away from where it actually happened.
I’ve been having some very interesting adventures. I’m also doing a one woman show called Raisin’ Cane, and thats about the Harlem Renaissance and I travel the country with that; I think I’ll being Roanoke, Nashville. And in Detroit, we’re doing Wayne State, me and the cast of A Different World. We go to different HBCU’s and do panel discussions, questions, pictures, whatever; so that’s fun, it’s always fun when we all get together, we act like nothing has changed. So that’s whats up for the next couple of months.
Premiering Tuesday, Feb 1, 2017 at 10PM on BET.