Essence Atkins has built a name for herself as the hilarious sweetheart on several television shows throughout her more than 30-year career. This summer, the talented actress explores her more dramatic side on the new OWN series Ambitions, starring as Amara, an attorney who once stepped out on her husband and is now looking to make things right.
The perennial favorite discusses the new show, her attraction to stories of Black family life and offers advice to those who have also suffered through the breakdown of a marriage but are looking to raise well-adjusted children with happiness and love.
EBONY: What interested you in such a dramatic role when you are known for your comedic acting?
ESSENCE ATKINS: Probably that, to be honest. My first two on-air series were dramas, but they were short-lived. I'm known for comedy because those are the shows that endure, and I’m good at them, but I definitely love doing and telling all types of stories. This was a great opportunity for me to showcase another side of myself, and I thought that I could bring a lot to it, so I leaped at the chance.
EBONY: In Ambitions, Amara and her husband are dealing with the aftermath of infidelity in their marriage. Have you ever dealt with infidelity in your own personal life?
ATKINS: Oh, sure! I've been cheated on, I've cheated on people, particularly in my youth. You don't really understand necessarily all of your mistakes when you're young and you take people for granted.
Even if our intentions are good, I think we can get caught up in the moment, and that’s one of the reasons people will relate to this character. She loves her husband and has huge regrets about her mistakes. The fact that she is the one who committed infidelity was a huge draw for me because it is not often that we have stories where the woman is responsible.
EBONY: You've been a part of several shows that were very family-oriented, (Smart Guy, Half & Half, Marlon). Is that a coincidence, or is there something that draws you to these stories of Black family life?
ATKINS: It’s something that I understand well, the variances and nuances of Black families and telling our particular stories.
EBONY: If we can talk about your own family for a bit, fans know that you are absolutely in love with your adorable son, Varro. Can you speak a little bit on the importance of peaceful co-parenting after a separation or a divorce?
ATKINS: Look, divorce is horrible. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. Even if it is done amicably, it is terrible, especially when you have children. It's yielding to something that you had hoped would be forever falling apart. It is a terrible thing to contend with.
I think the only thing that can make it palpable would be to discuss issues with your children with love and kindness. If you can find a way to move through it respectfully and remember that you created this life together, you created this child that sees [himself or herself] in both of you, you save everyone a lot of grief, heartache and pain.
Unless the child is in danger, I think it is really important to try and remain a cohesive unit. Be aware of how you direct your energy around the child, especially when you’re all together because my son sees himself as his father and he sees himself as his mother. We are his heroes for different reasons, and I think it is important to maintain that for his sense of self-worth.