Soap Opera Digest: Let’s chat about your Christmas movies by starting off with CATFISH CHRISTMAS. What was your involvement with this project?
Victoria Rowell: I was approached to consider directing it and when I read the script, it was delightful and very engaging. I really thought it could be a crowd pleaser as a great rom-com with crossover appeal, as well. I said I would love to direct this and then they told me, “We’re shooting in Detroit,” and that’s exactly what happened.
Digest: How did Leigh-Ann Rose (Imani, Y&R) get involved?
Rowell: I said, “I have your leading lady for you,” and I presented Leigh-Ann Rose. They looked at her resumé and said, “Wow, can you get her?” And I said, “I believe I could, because I just cast her in my [other] movie, BLACKJACK CHRISTMAS, and she’s an excellent actress and a great person.”
Digest: How did you become aware of Leigh-Ann prior to BLACKJACK CHRISTMAS?
Rowell: I’ve always stayed in touch with Bryton James [Devon], who plays [Drucilla’s] foster-then-adopted son, all these years and why wouldn’t we? We genuinely love each other. I’m so proud of him and how he’s been able to keep that story going because it falls on his shoulders now. I was looking for an actress and Bryton recommended Leigh-Ann and I thought she would be incredible. Mishael [Morgan, Amanda] is another actress on Y&R who could do features and prime-time, but as far as I was concerned, Leigh-Ann was best suited for this role in BLACKJACK CHRISTMAS.
Digest: What is Leigh-Ann’s role?
Rowell: She plays a very family-oriented, loving adult daughter with her own dermatological business in Beverly Hills. There’s a warmth that emanates from [Leigh-Ann] and she was a delight. She’s so beautiful and the camera loves her, so she’s really a package deal. She came prepared and she was nothing but a joy to work with.
Digest: BLACKJACK CHRISTMAS is about gambling addiction. How does such heavy material work for a holiday movie?
Rowell: It addresses real life. Families come together during the holiday time, whether it’s Thanksgiving or Christmas, and still have to deal with real life, but many family members are holding a secret or discomfort that they don’t want to share with their family, either they’re ashamed or they don’t think their family will understand the predicament. So I wanted to tackle that aspect of family gatherings during holiday time.
Digest: You have quite an impressive cast in addition to Leigh-Ann.
Rowell: I was fortunate enough to assemble a sterling cast. It really is the centerpiece of my slate [of projects] repeated in all of my content for 2022 and BET licensed this movie for three years. They see the shelf-life opportunities and as an important piece of entertainment for audiences everywhere. The cast is remarkable. We have the legendary Dawnn Lewis, and she plays the sister of Charmin Lee’s [character], and I also recruited Adam Lazarre-White [ex-Nate, Sr., Y&R]. I always look to my colleagues, my friends [when casting] and I know these actresses, and my friend Adam happened to be available. I hired the Disney darling Kyrie Mcalpin to play the daughter of Leigh-Ann’s character. We also have two Jamaican legends, Oliver Samuels, who is a huge star in English-speaking countries, and Fae Ellington is a dramatic actress, very well-respected again in the UK, Canada and the Caribbean basin. It’s an amazing cast and powerful movie.
Digest: You’re also in front of the camera for this year’s THE CHRISTMAS GIFT on BET, so it must be fun for you to still do these acting gigs.
Rowell: It’s so wonderful to just get a call and offered a movie [role]. I’m really enjoying this part of my career both in front of and behind the camera where I get a call, but it’s not to say I didn’t just audition for Disney [laughs]. We shot [A CHRISTMAS GIFT] in Chicago last December and I play a mom to my very pregnant daughter and all that happens with the excitement of a pregnancy; when is the baby gonna come and extra family showing up and other sundry dynamics between siblings. Playing a mom is one of my favorite roles, as you know from Y&R.
Digest: What other projects are you working on?
Rowell: I was asked to play a cameo role in, and I’m also producing, a wonderful story called FORGETTING CHRISTMAS that we just wrapped in Maryland. It’s about a father who has sold the family house and is dealing with dementia at Christmastime and why Christmas can’t be where he thinks it should be.
Digest: Another hard-hitting Christmas movie?
Rowell: It has levity in it. I have a lot of levity in BLACKJACK CHRISTMAS, as well. When I first pitched it, people said it didn’t sound like a Christmas movie and I assured that it was very much a Christmas movie. And then I sent the script and the rest is history. It’s all in the writing, and FORGETTING CHRISTMAS really addresses elder family members, and I do like working on projects that pack a message and that are realistic to all families everywhere. We’re dealing with aging parents and dementia, we’re dealing with family members who are hard-hit financially and still trying to make a go of it. Right now in my career, I am looking to do material that has a social impact while still addressing the season.
Digest: You’re in Jamaica right now. Why is that?
Rowell: We did a promotional screening because we shot half of BLACKJACK CHRISTMAS in Jamaica and then we were asked to open the Skylark Film Festival. We were very honored because Idris Elba had a movie screened [at it]. That was very exciting and now I’m also scouting for two more projects. So I’ll take some downtime while I’m here, to spend time with people who I love and have been a part of the world I visited since the ’70s. Jamaica is my home away from home.
Digest: You always seem to have these interesting phases of your life.
Rowell: Well, for me, this chapter of my life is about economic inclusion — you know how hard I fought for it. If you’re patient and you have the determination and perseverance, eventually iron bends. I’ve had the good fortune of fortitude, good relationships and finding private equity and to put a button on that, the blessing and the gratitude has been that you can go back home and work with each other. That has been incredibly rewarding and validating to me, that I would get a call from Viacom to come back and guest-star in a recurring role on GOOD SAM. The company that I’ve dedicated my career predominantly to since 1990 came back to me after I’ve been fighting for diversity and economic inclusion in front of and behind the camera, and then I was able to work with them again in prime-time television and continue to license content to them. That says so much about the company and about the strength of our relationship, that it’s bigger than any one show. It shows growth and goodwill and smart business in the bottom line. I’ve always brought money to the table, whether it was through attracting an audience for ad buys or creating content that they can license. We’re on good footing, I’m super-pleased about it and I look forward to the future and doing more and being back home.