- Category: Spotlight
- Created on 19 March 2016
- Written by Shernita Wiggins-Wynder
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LADY ELLA JOHNSON, “SAINTS AND SINNERS”
HER LEGACY IS HER CREATIVE & FIERCE CHAMELEON SPIRIT
Hi everybody, so sorry to interrupt, but would you gentlemen mind if I had a moment with the Pastor? (Lady Ella pleasantly smiles as the staff exits the room. Her husband walks up to her and before he can speak, she turns and slaps him) I should KILL you! Do you think I’m stupid? Do you think I wouldn’t notice the missing money from my campaign account, Evan?! (He tries to plead his case) Don’t you try to turn this around on me! You think I didn’t know about your dirty ways all these years! Your gambling and your gutter deals you do behind closed doors?! (Pastor Evan is sitting at his desk and she leans down close to his face) I grew up in this church watching my father do the same exact thing, so I know all about it! And I’m not just gonna sit back and let you ruin this opportunity for me!…(She slowly walks towards the door and then turns to speak to him again) You know, after everything, I thought we were still a team. But now I see it’s every man for himself. (Lady Ella looks sternly at her husband and slowly speaks) So, game ON!
Season one, episode one of Bounce TV’s Saints and Sinners broke record numbers as the show’s cast caught the attention of viewers all over the world, intrigued by this new original drama. The main characters set the stage for the fans who try and decipher “What’s gonna happen next?” The stunning and tenacious veteran actress, Vanessa Bell Calloway did not disappoint her longstanding fans with her character, Lady Ella Johnson - the vivacious force behind Pastor Evan Johnson’s success. Her stellar moment in his office transforming from an “angel of light” to “cutthroat executor,” was as smooth as a hot knife slicing butter…she did it with ease. This just shows the caliber of this fascinating actress who is no stranger to television dramas. Known for her roles in Cheaper by the Dozen (2003), Daylight (1996), and her epic role as the betrothed wife-to-be of actor/comedian Eddie Murphy in Coming to America (1988), her career spans decades, and began as a dancer in the Broadway production of Dreamgirls. Vanessa Bell Calloway is also accredited with other television roles in Shameless (2011), Dexter (2006) and CSI (2000).
T2T was able to get an exclusive interview with Vanessa Bell Calloway to discuss the moments that helped her to define Lady Ella’s fierce chameleon persona and she had a lot to say about “why” to watch Saints and Sinners this season.
T2T: Thank you Mrs. Calloway for sharing time from your busy schedule. I will just dive in and ask, how did you prepare for this role?
Vanessa Bell Calloway:Basically, I just connect with people I know like that. There was no preparation. I didn’t have to do anything much because we know the Black churches and the ambience and stature of the First Lady. We know the people who have a lot of mess going on. So you just combine those ingredients. You know…add water and stir. (She laughs)
T2T: Can you relate to your character in any way?
Vanessa Bell Calloway: The only thing that I can relate to Lady Ella is that she is a wife and a mother. (She chuckles) What she is doing on Saints and Sinners, that AIN’T Vanessa. But that’s what made it so much fun! Of course that’s not who I am; that’s who she is, and, yet breathing the life into her character was exciting, especially the mischievous things she does.
T2T: How is this role different from past roles?
Vanessa Bell Calloway: It was fun to step away from past characters to do this role. It was every reason to do it and no reason not to. I got to work with people I knew like Christian, Keith, and Cliff who I’ve worked with before, and some new people that I have come to love, like Jasmine and then Gloria, although I knew her, but hadn’t had the chance to work with her until now. It was great to do this character. Lady Ella has flaws, and many different levels that you can peel back and there is an art you can create. The writers have an art they contribute, but you have to add your own flava into it. The fun is that you can be this delicious person who appears sweet but has a lot of stuff going on. In the end, you know she wants to get her play. Everybody has their own intentions; it’s never cut and dry because you have an A, B and C storyline. They got what they’re trying to get, so Lady Ella’s trying to get what she needs to get, regardless of what the other people are trying to get at the same time. So it was a lot of fun.
T2T: You are no stranger to entertainment with stage plays, films, movies and TV dramas to your credit. So how was this drama different?
Vanessa Bell Calloway: What makes it different is-- it’s a different show, cast, and plot. But as far as the dramatic aspect, drama will always be drama. You have to figure out what to do, who they are, who they are going to grow into, who they were, where they are now and who they used to be - then understand how they communicate with the people around them. I love stage, and I presently do a 90-minute one woman show called Letters from Zora. I travel around portraying this historic figure, author Zora Neale Hurston, and her controversial views on segregation, integration and social justice. This production is a monologue which means once I start talking, I don’t stop. But with Lady Ella, in this film, I get to do a lot of things in the world of the church. I get to shoot in various locations in Atlanta, so the format is different. But, the drama portion is the same except you gotta get in it and do what makes it work for that character, to make it happen. You have to make it believable and you should always enjoy what you do.
T2T: Tell our readers why they should watch Saints and Sinners.
Vanessa Bell Calloway: It’s entertainment! There are many reasons to watch. If you are fans of any of the cast, watch it. If you are a fan of the church, naturally, and if you like things that are flawed and have a lot of different depths and levels, that’s a reason to watch. If you like great music, we have Kelly Price, Keith Robinson, Deitrick Haddon and many others. The most important reason is—if you support African American performances and shows, you should watch it. I believe once people start watching, they’ll be consumed with it and get involved with the characters, and anxious for what will happen next. It’s going to be great!
T2T: I have enjoyed hearing the formula behind your amazing talents. One last question. What projects do you have on the horizon?
Vanessa Bell Calloway: (In an excited voice) I have a busy schedule and it has been a lot of fun! I am going to be starring in a biopic of Miki Howard on TV One as her mother, Josephine Howard opposite Teyonah Parris of Chiraq, another young actress paving her way. It will be airing this June. I just got cast to star as Ellie, a mother to one of the leads and gifted singer who once performed with James Brown, but now drives a city bus. This is a pilot for A&E called The Infamous, which takes place in the 1990’s. It’s kinda like Straight Outta Compton meets Power…meets Empire. It has the grit and drugs of Power, and it’s the 1990’s, the era of Hip Hop, but it will have the music of Empire. Be sure to watch out for it. I have an Unsung Hollywood coming out on TV One in March. I also have a web series called In the Company of Friends and a new web series entitled Cooking and Hooking Up both on www.inthecompanyoffriends.tv and playing alongside Christian Keyes again, in The Preacher’s Son.
T2T: Thanks again, Mrs. Calloway. It was a pleasure to speak with you.
Vanessa Bell Calloway: Thanks for having me and be sure to watch Saints and Sinners.
Tune in Sunday nights at 9/8c on Bounce TV or visit Bouncetv.com to view episodes of Saints and Sinners this season. To keep up with what Vanessa is doing, you can follow her on Instagram: @VanessaBellCalloway, on Twitter: @VanessBCalloway, Website: VanessaBellCalloway.com and MORE on www.inthecompanyoffriends.tv .