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ICYMI: Donnell Turner & Vinessa Antoine Interview

Donnell vinessa
Credit: ABC

Soap Opera Digest: Let’s take it all the way back to your first meeting, when Donnell auditioned for GH in 2015. What were your first impressions of one another?

Donnell Turner: When I saw Vinessa, about to audition to be her love interest, I thought, “Ohhhh, shoot. She looks like she’s my daughter’s age!” And then I went back to my dressing room and had a panic attack. [Casting Director] Mark Teschner came to wish me good luck and I grabbed him by both shoulders and I was like, “She looks like she could be my daughter! Should I shave all this gray off my face or at least dye it all black?” [Antoine cracks up.] So, she was beautiful, and I had a panic attack, I really did.

Vinessa Antoine: When I first saw Donnell, he was with a group of men in the rehearsal hall, getting the rundown on what was going to happen. I came in, no makeup, no anything, and that probably made me look younger. Anyway, this was our third round of testing for men to be what I thought was my love interest. We hadn’t found him yet and I was frustrated — but when I read with Donnell, I was like, “Okay! This man has something that we have to look into.” The other guys just weren’t cutting the mustard, but Donnell was just so relaxed and present. And very good-looking, obviously. But more than that, I didn’t feel any nervousness.

Digest: I guess you got it all out in the dressing room, Donnell!

Turner: Almost all of it, because then we get up on stage to screen-test, now I see her in makeup, all dressed up, she looks incredible and I’m supposed to say, “Commissioner Ashford” — but I was still getting the last of my nerves out, and I said, “Commissioner Gordon,” who’s the commissioner from BATMAN. I thought, “Oh, there goes my dream right there!” Inside, I was doing cartwheels, sobbing like a baby, but I kept my cool and I said, “Okay, let’s just run that back.” And they probably appreciated that, because that’s not something a novice does.

Antoine: I really appreciated that you said that. And, of course, you got the part.

Digest: The original plan was for Donnell to be your love interest, but they didn’t really play the attraction between them in the beginning.

Antoine: Yeah, I definitely thought he was going to be my love interest, but they quickly shifted and made it more Dr. Maddox and Jordan, and Valerie and Curtis. In fact, any kind of flirty thing we tried to play, [Executive Producer] Frank [Valentini] or a director or a producer would come by with a note for me like, “Nope. You hate him.” So I was like, “Well, I guess we’re not going to be together!”

Turner: We always had fun working together, but we had to play things very adversarial, so it was a real contrast between on camera and off camera. They would say, “Cut,” and we would start laughing again. But she was playing my sister-in-law, so in my wildest dreams, I didn’t think we would go there.

Digest: But, of course, GH did go there, eventually. Was that transition challenging to make as actors?

Antoine: I actually met with the writers when we figured out that there was going to be a shift because I didn’t have Curtis in my [character] history in terms of her cheating on Thomas with Shawn and all of that. I had to go back and basically inject him and make him a part of my backstory, to knowing him before TJ was even born, to say, “I’ve had a deep attraction to this man this whole entire time.”

Turner: My side of things is very different. The onus was more on her because I didn’t have that responsibility, being a new character. But morally, it was odd for me to go there. It didn’t make sense to me why I would pursue her, especially knowing she cheated on my brother. That’s where I was at that point, but now, I dig it. I’m having a lot of fun. I’m finding the joy of what we’re doing. We’re starting to feel more like a real couple and one thing we have always been adamant about is wanting the writers to play more love — less confrontational, less adversarial. Let’s show black love!

Antoine: We get a lot of comments on social media about, “How does it feel to be a black supercouple?” I don’t think of us as “the black supercouple”, per se; I think of us just as a couple and we are finally at a place where we can actually enjoy these two characters as a loving couple, not fighting, not having that friction.

Digest: Still, if you look at the history of soaps, there are precious few examples of two strong black characters who are in love. And I think it means something to people that Jordan and Curtis are helping to fill that gap.

Turner: Absolutely, and that’s not lost on me. We are filling a gap, and we’re reflecting society. I’m in love with that.

Antoine: It’s not lost on me, either, and I do realize that there is a certain level of responsibility filling that gap. When I was younger, I was a YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS fan, a genuine fan, and I’ve got to say, as a young black woman who had aspirations of being an actor, to see Victoria Rowell’s character [Drucilla], and Shemar Moore’s character [Malcolm], and Kristoff’s [St. John, Neil] character, and Tonya’s [Lee Williams, Olivia] character on a daily basis in my living room did something for me. It was like, “Wow, I can do that!” And Victoria’s character was a ballet dancer, and that spoke to me, obviously, because I was a dancer. It was like, “Oh, my gosh!” That literally opened up a whole new world for me. So I think it’s interesting now to think about how as a young teenager, I looked at that, and now I’m doing it! I imagine younger viewers or just viewers in general looking at our characters and our story and maybe, hopefully, seeing a little bit of themselves in it.

Turner: For me, it was Jesse and Angie [from ALL MY CHILDREN]. We have a chance to be that — and that just rocks my world.

Digest: I knew you were a GH fan, Donnell, but I don’t think I realized you watched ALL MY CHILDREN back in the day, too!

Turner (laughs): Well, you know, I turned the TV on and I saw black people, so I watched!

Digest: So, let’s talk about love scenes. Are you comfortable with them at this point?

Turner: Vinessa says it’s like being with her brother! [They crack up.] You know what, it’s weird. It’s like practicing jiu-jitsu. I’m not saying making love with Vinessa is like jiu- jitsu, it’s quite lovely, but when you’re doing jiu-jitsu, there are certain submission locks. There is no halfway; you either do it or you’re not quite doing it.

Digest: You have to commit.

Turner: Right, right. It’s just odd to learn that — and I’m still learning. But Vinessa’s great! She’s like, “Do it, go for it, whatever!”

Antoine: I feel like I’m still learning, too. Honestly, I’ve been nervous, like, really nervous, the way I probably would be the first time I was with my partner. And obviously, with a crew watching, and lights and having to make sure, “Watch her hair,” “Touch his shoulder” — I mean, this isn’t real lovemaking. Real lovemaking is messy and you’re not worried about covering anybody’s face or whatever. It feels very calculated and very choreographed, but we still have to find that comfortability. But for me, it’s always going to feel like, “Oh, my God, I’m touching another man!”

Turner: Yeah. We’ll get it right, though.

Antoine: I’m the same way as Donnell, though; it’s all or nothing. I have no problem, like, if this is what we’re going to do, let’s go full-force. But usually, it’s something that we have to talk about and discuss and say, “Okay, are we both cool to just go for it?”

Digest: With the new year right around the corner, what is on your 2018 wish list for Curtis and Jordan’s relationship?

Turner: I can tell you right now, I wish for hand in glove. Two wholes being one. I wish for a symbiotic relationship that the audience can feel. Finishing each other’s sentences. And I would love to see us solving crimes together, high-fiving. Vinessa and I have talked about this, showing more love so that when drama happens, the audience will care. They will care why we’re not high-fiving anymore.

Antoine: Right. And for me, because I’m such a softie and I’m such a girly-girl — I just love, love, love a love story —

Turner: — Oh, Lord!

Antoine: So I want the completion of the love story. That’s what makes it so beautiful, to see the beginning and the middle and the end. I don’t want it to be the end, but I think the audience gets to enjoy and indulge in the beauty of romance, with a big wedding and all of that. We haven’t had that big, beautiful, black couple wedding on the show. [To Turner] So I would love a ring, honey!

Turner: Okay, baby! I’m gonna have to solve a few more cases, but I got you.