The divas have returned! Hollywood Divas—the TV One reality show featuring Paula Jai Parker (Hustle & Flow), Elise Neal (The Hughleys), Golden Brooks (Girlfriends), Countess Vaughn (The Parkers) and Lisa Wu (Real Housewives of Atlanta)—is back for a second season. This time around, the Black actresses are still striving to reclaim their show biz supremacy, but season two promises to get much more personal. And we, the unassuming viewers, get to come along for the ride. Well, sort of.
EBONY sat down with the fabulousness that is Paula Jai Parker and Lisa Wu. Beyond being purveyors of “fly” (indeed, a make-up artist and hairstylist were both at arm’s length), the ladies are tight cast mates and seemed to build a strong bond, at times finishing the other’s sentences. Check out the insight (and bit of intel) that Parker and Wu provided on their experiences in the biz, and what we can expect this season on Hollywood Divas.
EBONY: Lisa, from your perspective, as alum of the Real Housewives of Atlanta, how does Hollywood Divas differ RHOA or any other reality TV show?
Lisa Wu: It is different because you have women that are well-known actors that come with a built-in fan base, whereas some of these other shows, [some women] come out of the blue and you are like: “who is this chick?” They don’t have a fan base. And the need to perform for the cameras, they do that a lot.
As opposed to this show, The Hollywood Divas, we’re just being ourselves. Paula already has her fan base and she doesn’t have to act a certain way for people to like her. There’s no need to turn it up a notch. On the Housewives and other shows, they do some crazy stuff.
EBONY: Todd Tucker is one of the executive producers of the Divas, and clearly, there’s the RHOA connection. Does it feel like he’s trying to morph it into the Housewives?
LW: It doesn’t. On this show, all of us are creating a project, The White Sistas. This was another reason why I wanted to do the show: it was a different kind of show. We were creating a project together. I was really excited about that. I don’t think that there is any show quite like ours.
EBONY: Paula, let’s talk about the transition from acting to reality TV. What’s the difference for you?
Paula Jai Parker: The difference is that I am playing a character. When I do a role on television or on film, I audition for the part. I think to myself: what would this person wear? What sign is this person? I memorize all of the lines [and think], how would this person say this? It’s very calculated, my performances. Then I do the performance and let it all go.
But with reality, there’s no calculation because it is just me. There are no lines. I don’t have time to think of what this person would say, or how it would be said… It’s really off the dome. You can call it improv. You are in situations and you have to face that situation in the moment. I’m not the type of person that tolerates foolishness or feeds into it. In my real life, if conflict arises I’m just going to get up and walk away, because it’s not worth my time. I’ve got better things to do. But in this situation, I’ve been forced to have to deal and it’s taught me a lot about being a good human being. Dealing is important.
LW: Yes, resolving your issues.
EBONY: As women of color, how do you hope to portray yourselves to the world?
LW: It’s funny, because I used to get this question all of the time. Even with The Housewives of Atlanta: “Are you accurately portraying the women of Atlanta?”
We’re being ourselves. We’re all very, very different. But what they will get from all of us is that we are strong and resilient. [I’m] hoping we can guide some of these people by them watching us.
EBONY: You’ve both made yourself very vulnerable in terms of difficulties that you’ve had last season. How do you find that this helped or allowed you to connect with the audience?
PJP: I was very vocal, and obviously very vulnerable in my vocalness. I was going through some very, very hard times with my family. It wasn’t just a personal thing that I was dealing with, it was a familial thing. It was hard, not just on me, but on my whole family. My life affects my mother’s life, my son’s life and, of course, it affects my husband’s life. What goes on with me goes on with everyone. When you say that you are going to share your story, it’s kind of hard when your story involves your whole family. I felt hurt about the backlash that my family received: my mother, my son and my husband.
When the world really looked at Forrest [Martin] and I like we should have [financial security] but we had our son with us… We could have dropped him off at my mom’s house and tried to figure it out, but that wasn’t what we wanted. It became eye-opening, in my vulnerability, to realize that my choices were affecting my son. I’m not saying in a bad way, not at all, but in a way that I had to make better choices for him. It was magnified.
I’m an actor and have always called myself a vagabond, like a gypsy. I owned a home, but let my mom have it. [Forrest] and I would go from hotel to hotel, rent here for six months, go there… But my son cries. Kids want to go to the same school.
LW: They need stability.
PJP: They want stability. They want to go to the second grade with the same people that they went to first grade with. I’m like, “what difference does it make? It’s going to be a different class anyway. You’re going to have a different teacher. You’re not going to be with the same people. Does it matter?” [Laughs] But I remember being that age. I didn’t want to leave either.
EBONY: It sounds like there was some growth, then.
PJP: Yes, a lot of growth. On my part, being more conscious of the choices that I make and how they affect others: my family members in particular. My choices are not just mine anymore.
EBONY: It was rumored that Vivica A. Fox was going to sign on to do the show, but she went on to work on a sequel of Independence Day. Then, there were talks that Shar Jackson would be stepping in. Is there any validity to these claims?
LW: You definitely have to tune in, but she is taped with us. We really like [Shar Jackson].
PJP: This season is a lot more personal. Last season, you got to see us be creative. We came together as strong women and make what we said that we were going to do [The White Sistas]. We did an Obama: “I’m going to find him, I’m going to kill him!”
This season, it’s not so much about us and The White Sistas, because we had a hard time coming together with the business aspect. And in the interim, you get to see an inside look at who we really are as women. You get an inside look at our family lives, our dating lives, and even in one instance, our dating lives. Yes, one of us gets to go out on dates. And in terms of my personal life, you get to see that marriage is hard; it’s a lot of work. You get a bird’s-eye view of what it means to be us.
Hollywood Divas airs every Wednesday on TV One. Check local listings.