Andrea Lewis: The Pursuit of A ‘Black Actress’
As diversity remains a growing trend in mainstream culture, we now take a closer look at the stories being told by the media. If you recall Andrea Lewis as Hazel, the love interest of Drake’s Jimmy on the 1990s show, “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” then you’re aware that she was one of the only Black cast members.
“As much as it was a really amazing experience as a teenager, my character didn’t always get the chance to shine and I think that’s because a lot of the time, Hazel was treated as a Black girl and not a normal person,” Andrea tells JET.
It was becoming a “role” Andrea was too familiar with in life and she wanted to branch out beyond the portrayal of the stereotypical “Black girl.”
Fast forward to the age of social platforms and creating D-I-Y content and distribution. Artists are now able to exercise their creative abilities and build a solid viewership. For Lewis, the platform became YouTube and the vision came to fruition when she created the popular web-series, “Black Actress”, a comical, quirky and real documentation of life through the lens of a black actress.
In an energetic conversation with JET, Andrea dishes on vision and creating content for the millennial generation.
JET: What’s brilliant about the “Black Actress” series and your character Kori Bailey, is that while you’re working to get booked off of your talent, we’re seeing/experiencing Andrea’s talent and creativity along the way.
Andrea Lewis: You’re completely right! I’m glad that you understand. I sometimes thought, especially when I first started “Black Actress,” that people were going to think that I just turned the camera on and this is just what we’re doing. But there’s a script. I write the script and have to cast, conduct people and produce it! It’s not like a reality show.[…] I think that as an actor, people sometimes think that you are the character you portray and not a real person. I have so many more ideas and what I want my true legacy to be and how I want people to think of me and that was really my goal when creating my own web-series and production company.
JET: In creating content, what stories are missing from the Black narrative/female narrative that you’d like to touch on?
Andrea Lewis: I grew up being the minority and that’s really what has inspired me a lot – to advocate for Black girls from my own experience. I was filming a movie in Vancouver and one of my cast-mates [introduced] me as “Andrea, The Urban One.” And literally in that moment, I knew that I needed to make something and not have people feeling like that because it was kind of like, he saw me the same way the script saw me. I was just the urban girl. I wasn’t his peer and somebody as well, pursuing my dreams just like him. So it was there that I said, I want to tell the story of a Black girl who is pursuing her dream – Black actresses. Because I know what a Black actress is.
JET: An appealing factor with “Black Actress” is the mini-interviews incorporated at the beginning and end of each episode with actresses who have familiar faces and work, but we don’t necessarily know them by name. Why did you feel it was important to include these short talks?
Andrea Lewis: I’ve been in this industry a long time and know a lot of actresses and their stories are all unique and inspiring. A part of my work is to inspire somebody else to go out and accomplish what they want to accomplish in their lane. And a lot of the actresses, whether we know their names or not, we don’t get to hear their voices and stories. When we’re filming those interviews, it’s literally the most inspiring day because they tell such amazing stories.
JET: At this stage in your career and with 2 1/2 seasons of “Black Actress” under your belt, can you describe the audition process – any changes?
Andrea Lewis: Yeah, auditioning is a completely different process for me because I have to audition people all the time and get to experience both sides of the table. You go in with less anxiety because you understand characters and the casting eye and sometimes, I put people in “Black Actress” just because I love their energy and vibe and I just have confidence that they’re going to be able to pull off this character. Sometimes, it’s about the talent and sometimes it’s about “I really like how this person looks, I’ve got to figure out how to use them.” That’s just the real of the business. I try to have fun at every audition I go to because that’s the key to not being stressed out. It’s interesting because I love acting and I always have! But I also really love to create characters from the ground up. That is just something that is really fulfilling to me.
JET: What is your writing process like? Is it seeing a scene first and then documenting that space and dialogue or does a conversation enter first and you build around it?
Andrea Lewis: It’s a mix. I’m very much inspired by real life, my friends and people I interact with. I’ve always been a big people watcher and I’m always kind of ease dropping on conversations. I think dialogue is so interesting and hearing the way people speak, why they do what they do, or finding the humor in scenarios that might not necessarily be humorous for people. Every scenario sparks from something I find interesting or something I want people to learn about and then I have to digest it a bit — sit and think about dialogue for a long time. I send myself constant voice notes and the next morning I’ll listen back and start writing.
JET: Your company, Jungle Wild Productions, reached its 30K goal in April (actually exceeded the goal)! What are the next steps?
Andrea Lewis: We are working on the other productions that we’ve started. We’re finishing the second season of Black Actress as well as another show called Beyond Complicated, which is a story about dating and it’s inspired by my friends. So just being that third wheel in the middle of them, I was naturally inspired to write about what I was seeing and what it’s like to date right now. And there are two other shows that we’re developing. I’m really excited. It’s a really good time for my production company. My co-producer and partner, Brian Walker is a great person to have and we’re both really focused on getting out good content and taking everything that we’re doing to the next level. Really just feeling the void, truly of millennials of color.
JET: You’ve actually just made me realize how deep the relatable factor is with your content and that’s because you are speaking to the millennial generation and reflecting our daily lives. Refreshing.
Andrea Lewis: The issues that I deal with are not coming from my mom or little cousins. They’re coming from me and my friends; 20-somethings, girls of color, pursuing some type of career whether it’s a 9-5 or not. I don’t see this on regular television. I don’t see this at all. So that’s where, for me as a creative, I was able to fill that void and find a place for myself to say, “This is where I fit.” I’m a true believer, and maybe it’s the thought process of millennials, [that] whatever you want to be or do in the world, go do it. I can’t just sit around and wait. You have to be the one to do it.
JET: Nice! I like that. With “Black Actress” or any of your developing series, is there hope of being picked up by a mainstream network?
Andrea Lewis: There is! We are definitely pursuing that and we’ve been having these really positive talks. I love YouTube and putting stuff out on the web and being able to have that freedom but as a “Go big or go home” type of person, I’m always looking for the next higher platform. So right now, I’m not going to say too much but fingers crossed, we’ve been having some positive strides in terms of our work and production company. So I’m hoping next year that everything is on a bigger platform.
JET: Cool! As an actress and important content creator, what is your ultimate desire? What is it that you want?
Andrea Lewis: I really want to make a stake in this industry as a creative. When people think of Andrea Lewis, I want them to think of me as someone who is creating really amazing work that speaks to women, women of color, and people within this age group. Just something positive. Our voices really need to be heard. So most of the work that I’m doing, that’s what I want people to think of and do for the next generation or people around me, do for them what a Debbie Allen, Ava DuVernay, and Mara Brock Akil did. These women are paving a way that is like no other. They really open your eyes to possibility and I want to do the same.
In the pursuit of entering the entertainment industry, there are choices to be made and outcomes to consider. Is your love the art or the idea of fame? As filmmaker Ava DuVernay stated during her SXSW keynote address, evaluate the “intent of your attention.” I hope you end up fulfilled.
Keep in tune with Andrea Lewis on social media @MissAndreaLewis
Want more Andrea? Join us in a Mid-day Twitter chat Thursday, May 7 from 3-3:45pm CST! #JETBlackActress