Valarie Pettiford, a veteran of the screen and stage, continues to build her impressive resume with the character of Charlotte “Chippy” Duncan on BET series Carl Weber’s The Family Business.
In this exclusive interview with EBONY, the triple-threat singer, actress and dancer dishes on the series, talks Being Mary Jane and shares her thoughts on the progression of Black women in Hollywood over the span of her extensive career.
EBONY: Carl Weber’s The Family Business is based on his bestselling novels of the same name. Had you read any of the novels before filming?
Valarie Pettiford: No. I try not to when I’m doing any type of work that’s based on the book. I like to come in with my own slate.
How did you take to the material when you first got the script?
I loved it! The great thing about it is, I worked with Tri Destined Studios before Carl even joined the group, and I loved them from day one. They see me in an amazing light as an actress and let me do all kinds of wonderful characters.
When Carl came along, I had done The Preacher’s Son as well as the sequel, The Choir Director. I immediately fell
in love with him, I immediately fell in love with his writing. So, when he asked me to do this, a character I’ve always wanted to play, like a mob wife, I was like, “Game on!”
Seeing as the show heavily deals with family matters, what real life experiences did you draw from when tackling the character of Chippy Duncan?
The only thing that I drew from myself as Valarie is Chippy’s love of family. If I were ever put in a position to have to protect my family, I think I would do whatever I needed to do. Don’t mess with my family.
That was definitely a connection that carried through and made it easy to play this very complex woman by the name of Chippy.
This isn’t your first show with BET; you starred as Rhonda Sales on Being Mary Jane. How did the experience of filming Being Mary Jane compare with shooting The Family Business?
First, let me just say I am so blessed. I have gone from one incredible project to another throughout my entire career. Now, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but I can tell you, it’s been delicious!
By the time my career got to Being Mary Jane with one of my dearest friends off-camera, Gabrielle Union, to finally get a chance to work with this incredible human being on this incredible show, it meant the world to me. To be able to play a character in a genre that I was not used to—I never played a journalist or newscaster—I wanted to do right by her, especially that particular woman at that age in her career. It was truly a gift.
There was something about being on Being Mary Jane at that point in my career that felt like it got the ball rolling for this show, The Family Business. I also have another series that’s a huge hit, Discovery of Witches.
I thank BET, Gabrielle Union and Being Mary Jane for setting up 2018 to be one of the best years of my career.
Both you and your on-screen husband, Ernie Hudson, are veterans in the business. How is it starring opposite Hudson as the heads of the Duncan family?
I absolutely, positively adore that man! First of all, I’m a huge fan of his. Also, we’ve played husband and wife before, so we were used to each other. We did an episode of Hart of Dixie, which was on The CW, where Cress [Williams] from Black Lightening played our son. I fell in love with him then, and we work really well together. Jumping on this was a no-brainer.
As someone who’s been in the game since the late ’70s, how do you feel Hollywood has evolved in its treatment of Black women as far as opportunities, pay, etc?
Because I’ve been around since the 70’s, I’ve seen a lot happen. Slowly, but surely, we are seeing some light. We are not there yet, we have not reached nirvana by any means, but good God, from where we were? Progress has been made.
I thank everyone before me, during me and after me that keeps paving the way. From Taraji to Regina King to Gabrielle, Viola, Ava. It’s a struggle but they’re breaking ground. We’re seeing these changes, and I’m just
As a vet of the stage as well, would you say theater has evolved in the same way as far as opportunities for women of color?
The opportunities then and now are basically the same. There are not enough especially in mainstream Broadway and tours!!!
It felt like there were more opportunities back then because we had more outlets, small theaters, off-Broadway regional companies, etc. in contrast to television and film. However, the opportunities were and still are devastatingly limited.
The first four episodes of Season 1 were immensely popular, landing the series in the top viewed shows of 2018. What do you think it is about The Family Business that has viewers hooked?
I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. Weber already has a great fan base that watches because they’re familiar with the books. Then you have this delicious cast that is just amazing. There’s an incredible team behind the scenes, production, hair, makeup, wardrobe and stuff like that.
Then, the content itself is perfect! I mean, there is something for everyone. You have great-looking people, men and women, all ages, and at the root of it all, whether you agree with their tactics
Watch new episodes of The Family Business every Tuesday at 9p.m. EST on BET.
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Born and raised in Compton, California, Jessica Bennett began her career as an intern at The Oakland Post, and later, The Source Magazine. She went on to write for respected hip hop publications such as DJ Booth and Hip Hop DX before becoming the Urban Editor of pop culture website, Wetpaint.com. She joined Ebony as the Entertainment Editor August 2017. Bennett has interviewed such names as Vanessa Williams, Spike Lee, Tyra Banks, Forest Whitaker, Magic & Cookie Johnson and several others.