Eva Marcille Pigford is more than the perceived beauty-and-brains stereotype. The Clark Atlanta graduate was selected to attend Vanderbilt Law School before Tyra Banks’s America’s Next Top Model came calling. After winning season 3, Eva flipped her immediate modeling fame into a solid acting career by dropping her last name in a ballsy attempt at auditioning minus her modeling claim to fame. A decade later, after successful NAACP-nominated stints on daytime TV and film, she takes another risk, heading back to her roots in reality TV as one of the stars of BET’s About the Business (premiering tonight).
EBONY: You dodged the perception of models turning to acting by dropping your last name. But Hollywood tends to look down on reality TV. How are you dodging the reality show stereotype?
Eva Marcille: For me, I’ve been blessed, because the type I started in was competition based. It was about being witty and smart and innovative and different. I don’t get backlash like some of the reality shows today because that’s not who I am. I don’t care if the world knows my name. But if they do, I want them to know the true essence of who I am. And the woman I am. Not just what kind of eyelashes I wear and beauty tips. But the fact that I am a hustler, and I fight the fight every day. And I was raised in a beautiful Black two-parent family that has given me amazing morals to go out to make a better life for myself and others. That is who I truly am. And this show allows me to display the true essence of who I am and why I’m in this business.
EBONY: How does this show relate to what the business is to you?
EM: The business is about coming up with a business plan and using your relationships and networking and seeing your dreams come true. Everyone on this show has their own business. Fifteen minutes of fame is fleeting. It’s about learning the business and creating a new business.
EBONY: What is your new business outside of the industry?
EM: I have two children. One named Marley Rae, and the company I have, named Mameth. The H is for housing. My mother, a hustler at heart, and my brother decided to start a company where we repurpose shipping containers. It’s eco-friendly, and we make homes. My mother’s passion is to make homes for the needy. So we have a nonprofit, where we partner with the Midnight Mission to develop a division in downtown L.A. to help with the homeless and homes crisis, while simultaneously building luxury homes for less, which is my part of the company.
EBONY: What advice would you give to other young women who might want to model and follow in your path?
EM: Education is fundamental. And I know some aren’t blessed to be afforded the luxury, ’cause as sad as it is in 2016, it is still a luxury. I’d say when you’re young, look for someone, an older woman, you’d like to emulate. Not necessarily her career, but the soul and essence of that woman. I use women like Susan Taylor and Tyra Banks to girdle me up so I can find my own strength and forge my own path.
EBONY: You have to, especially as a woman in the business who is also Black. What do you think of the Hollywood diversity issue and the Oscars backlash?
EM: You don’t talk about it once a year. You talk about it all year long, when Black actors have no auditions to go on, or when you’re going to the movies and there are no Black films to see, and you turn on network television and there are no Black actors represented. That’s when you talk about it. You don’t wait until the Oscar nominees are nominated and then use that as your opportunity to talk about what has plagued the Black community since Sidney Poitier. It’s something to deal with all year around.
Will and Jada, I love them to death. They have Overbrook [Entertainment] and the opportunity to produce whatever they want, and they have the rights to some of the most amazing Black stories, such as Sister Souljah’s Coldest Winter Ever. Why haven’t we made that a film? Let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about this amazing film, Star Wars, and the only two identifiable African Americas are covered up in a suit the whole time. Talk about it then at that point.
And I’m sorry, to boycott the Academy Awards is a slap in Chris Rock’s face. To host is such a prestigious honor. To boycott it is not the issue. I think it does a disservice to all the African Americans that have worked so hard this year that will be attending and looking at this as an opportunity of a lifetime. I think it’s a slap in the face. I understand the sentiment, but I don’t appreciate the tactic.
EBONY: What’s your advice on having love, a career, and staying focused in the business?
EM: That has to be the most difficult part of the business: your life is on display. But I’ve learned that I can only live for myself. I cannot be focused on the world’s idea of who they think I am or who I’m supposed to be. I can only be the best me. And if that means that even though I seem eligible and should be in a relationship, maybe I shouldn’t be right now, because I am not emotionally available. It’s knowing yourself and being more in tune with who you are vs. who the world wants you to be.
As a 31-year-old woman, looking back and being engaged at 24, 25 years old, I was head over heels in love but didn’t know what I was doing, [listening to] the views of the world about what I should be doing vs. me looking within myself and deciding what it is that I want. So if I can give anyone advice in this business on love and balancing, it’s that you truly have to take a second, step back, to figure out who you are and what you want. And it is okay if those people around you don’t fit into that. Because what you don’t want to do is end up living your life for someone else.
BET’s About the Business premieres tonight at 10pm ET.