Vanessa Bell Calloway’s New Role & Beauty Advice

As an actress, Vanessa Bell Calloway is no stranger to transforming herself for a role. Her latest role in Love Under New Management: The Miki Howard Story allows her to peel back the layers of singer Miki Howard’s mother, Josephine. Calloway has had a lengthy career in both television and film; but one of her most iconic roles is Princess Imani in the classic film Coming to America, which celebrates its 28th anniversary this month.

JET caught up with the actress to discuss her role in Love Under New Management: The Miki Howard Story, her memories of the film Coming to America, and her beauty secrets that keep her looking so young.

JET: Talk about your role as Josephine Howard and how you prepared for it.

Vanessa Bell Calloway: Miki Howard’s mother, Josephine Howard, was a great singer. Her mother was a part of a gospel group along with gospel greats like Shirley Caesar and James Cleveland, to name a few. Just like everybody, she had issues she had to deal with, including being bipolar. I have known Miki for years, so I had to talk to Miki because I wanted to make sure that I portrayed her mother fairly and accurately. I wanted to be as true to the character as I could be.

JET:  Why do you think it’s so important that stories like Miki’s are told?

Calloway:  I think that anytime that someone can learn from other people’s trials, mistakes, and desperation, it makes us more human. It makes us believe that we too can triumph after seeing them triumph after the storm. It’s that type of humanizing of people that makes it real. Miki had real struggles. She had drug addictions, and she had men that maybe weren’t the best for her. There are lots of people going through things like that. So I think all of these stories are important. Miki’s story is about triumph over tragedy. We show them that you too can survive. We all know you have to hit the bottom before you can rise to the top. Some of the best lessons learned at the bottom are some of the best lessons you’ll ever learn.

JET: You recently snapped a picture channeling your character Princess Imani from Coming to America and you haven’t aged a bit! Talk about that photo and spill some of those beauty secrets!

Calloway:  I was working in Atlanta, and my makeup artist said let’s re-do you as the princess. So we got someone to recreate the dress. My hair stylist Elijah recreated the look and Derek Blanks did the photo shoot. We were just trying to gauge the interest, and here we are 28 years later, people are still interested in the film. I was blessed with great skin thanks to my mother and grandmother, but if I don’t take care of it then it won’t stay that way. I don’t sleep in makeup, I don’t use soap on my face, I cleanse my face morning and night, and I moisturize. I don’t smoke or do drugs, the only thing I’m guilty of is having a glass of wine. I eat very healthy. I mostly eat fish and a lot of greens, salads, and lots vegetables. I exercise 5 to 6 times a week.  I drink lots of water. 

JET: With this month being the 28th anniversary of the movie, how does that feel knowing it has become such a classic film?

Calloway: We get blessings without knowing they are blessings first of all. The story behind Coming to America is really interesting for me because I didn’t want that part, I wanted Shari Headley’s role as Lisa McDowell. I went in and wore a cheap curly wig since I had a short cut at the time, and I wore this little short dress when I went to see the casting director. I read for that role since it was the bigger part. I came back and read for the director John Landon with my curly wig and little dress on and he says there’s another part of the princess that you’d be perfect for. Inside I was so disappointed because I wanted the other part. I ended up getting the role of Princess Imani. This part has become more iconic than anything in the movie, so you just never know what the future brings. It’s been a blessing. I can’t tell you how many girls dress up like me for prom. Even Beyoncé channeled my look for the Met Gala, and Blue Ivy was the princess for Halloween. God knew better than me, I thought I wanted the bigger part but I got the part that would service me better in the long run.

Love Under New Management: The Miki Howard Story airs on TV One on June 12 at 7/6pm.