When you’re destined for greatness maintaining your balance and perfecting your craft makes for the perfect blend. If you don’t believe it just ask The Haves and the Have Nots actress Antoinette Robertson. Grounded in her family values and faith, playing “Colandrea ‘Coco’ Conners” in the Netflix series Dear White People she is set to use her growing platform in a various number of ways. Antoinette recently sat down with Sheen Magazine to discuss Hollywood’s black women stereotypes, self-confidence, and the Justin Simien film turn series, Dear White People.
You’ve played an array of characters — from “Lynly Hayes” in Hart of Dixie to Melissa on The Haves and the Have Nots and now “Coco Conners” in Dear White People. How do you see yourself in each of those characters?
“Lynly” is super naive and bubbly. I’m very close to that type of personality in terms of my light-hearted nature. She likes to play dumb a lot and that’s not who I am, so that’s why it was so much fun to just have everything be light-hearted and cute. “Melissa” is way docile for my liking. It’s very difficult to be “Melissa” when I speak up for myself and I’m very opinionated and I have a tendency to not allow people to walk all over me no matter what. So being “Melissa,” I’d have to say is the most difficult for me because I have to really think about if my father were dying and I really needed money, would I allow someone to treat me like this versus finding another way to make the money.
I relate to “Coco” in the regard that we are both black women trying to find our way in society and having society’s perception of who black women are and who we want to be and how we get mislabeled at times is a struggle for me as well. I actually want to be more like “Coco.” She’s that girl that has it together all the time — not just for an event, but she walks out of the house with earrings on, nails always perfect, hair always laid. She’s the ideal of perfect. I’m a little more laid back and tomboyish. My hair is always on the top of my head in a really big curly bun with my glasses on. When I turn up and decide to go to an event, I bring my inner “Coco” out. I’m also unapologetically ambitious.
Your character “Coco” has been typecast as being “bad and bougie” in the Justin Simien film. Has anything changed with the film being adapted into a series?
No, the heart of “Coco” is still very much the same. I just have a different interpretation of who she is in comparison to the film. I kinda feel like Justin had this character for five years now and she’s evolved in every phase that you’ve seen her in. She’s constantly evolving like we do as individuals. She definitely is the epitome of “bad and bougie.” That is the perfect label for her. She goes through a transformation during the course of this season internally that brings about a lot of noticeable changes. Her perspective on society changes and how she fits into society and how she’s probably allowed society to dictate the things that she does and how she wanted it to be for a while. I think when she truly finds what she wants and accepts who she is, that’s when the evolution takes place and it’s so beautiful to watch.
If you could give your college-aged Antoinette one piece of advice what would it be?
No matter what, it’s going to be okay. Stop stressing about trying to please everyone and listen to that inner voice inside of you because the latter you allow that to be, is the closer you are to living your truth. And I think for a long time I did what was expected of me — I was expected to be a good student. I was expected to go to school and get a degree in some form of a science and probably end up in medical school or in some lab somewhere. It was not until senior year of college that I realized that I wasn’t listening to that instinct inside of me that was telling me, ‘I really want to do this acting thing.’ Had I listened to that voice earlier I probably would’ve been acting earlier and I would’ve been fulfilled early on.
With that, do you feel as if you’re life is now complete?
I’ve never felt incomplete. I’m very grounded in my faith. I know that I’m ever changing and ever evolving. I’m trying to take the path that God wants me to take and sometimes that’s very difficult because what we want and what he wants is two different things sometimes. What I’ve realized is, I can’t live my life pleasing other people and I feel like I would be miserable right now if I were working in a chemistry laboratory. It feels like a testament that you should always bet on yourself and really listen to your instincts because my life could be completely different right now.
You’re originally from Jamaica and grew up in New York — how has having those two backgrounds influenced who you are today?
Growing up in Jamaica and understanding where my family comes from and how hard they had to work to come this country so that I could possibly have a better life — just the thought of my mother having a better life and subsequently me having a better life because of how hard my grandmother worked is something that is very humbling for me. That’s why I don’t take any of this for granted. I’ve been put in a position where, not only do I have the opportunity to do what I love, but I have the opportunity to use my voice and I’m going to have a platform so that I can speak out about all different types of social injustice and that for me is a blessing.
New York being the melting pot that it is, I have to say that I learned quickly how to be tolerant of people and embrace our differences. It’s such a beautiful place to learn about different cultures and different people and be more accepting. I feel that if the rest of the United States were more like New York that we would have a lot less of a racial divide. I think people will be able to experience more cultures and be understanding that we are all human. We should be treated the same; with respect.
How important is it that celebrities use their platforms to be active in speaking out on social issues? For example, the case of the skyrocketing number of missing black women and girls in the US right now.
I don’t know and I say that because I’m starting to understand the media a little bit more now. I understand that it’s definitely done from a skewed point of view. The missing black girls to this society is of less value than missing white girls and that breaks my heart because there are so many brown girls that go missing and you hear nothing about them. Then there’s that little part of me that tries to understand that if someone’s social economical status is taken into consideration, so that if they were rich little black girls then they would have the attention on them. It’s one of those things that I feel that people of color or people who don’t have and or live in ungoverned areas go unnoticed in this world. That is heartbreaking. Under this particular administration I’ve made it my duty to speak out against all of those things because I feel like at this time more than ever, the people who are the most vulnerable among us — the elderly, people of color, and child need us to stand up for all of them.
Being a black woman in an industry where black women are often being typecast, do you feel obligated to break the stereotypes?
I’ve always been of the mindset that if I win, you win, then we win as women of color. If there are women of color working a lot consistently then more power to you. The more people see your face and diversity is normalized, the more doors open up for the generation after me and subsequently the generation after that. Sometimes what I don’t necessarily understand is how in this industry we paint women of color with one brush and assume that we are one thing or the other. Usually, it’s not a positively reinforced stereotype. It’s usually something that’s degrading or a misrepresentation of who we are as a whole.
What I want to do and what Dear White People does is shows the various shades of blackness. It shows you beautiful, articulate, unapologetic, ambitious black women who have it together and aren’t just reinforcing negative stereotypes; who could potentially be the next Michelle Obama because “Coco Conners” has her eyes set on The White House. You’re seeing a woman who carries herself with the class and integrity that black women carry themselves with, but it’s not represented as such by the mass majority. I’m at the point where if something I’m asked to do for the character makes sense, then I don’t have a problem doing it, but I’m not going to just be a character that perpetuates stereotypes. We all know that stereotypes have a way of bleeding into the way society views us. You don’t know how this media is informing people and how they will conduct themselves with our race.
There are things that I’ve turned down where I’ve said, ‘I don’t want to play that.’ There are other girls who can do that better than me and it doesn’t feed my soul. It doesn’t make me happy. If I were going to do it just for money, there are so many other things I would do. That’s my moral conviction towards it.
There has to be a lot of self-confidence and self-love involved when pursuing a career in the arts, especially when it comes to acting. Who or what has assisted in helping you establish those two things?
My mother and my grandmother. My family as a whole is very supportive. At a very young age, my mother let me know that I could do anything that I wanted to do. Whether I wanted to be a chemist or an actress, I could do both. Being smart and being beautiful are not mutually exclusive things. I could own the world if I wanted to. What I’ve learned from her is that I should have confidence in my God-given abilities. I should most definitely love myself and be a reflection of love to other people and speak life into other people because you never know if that person needs that little bit of encouragement to keep pursuing their dream. I tell people all the time that this is a really tough business and there were times when I’d be in New York and those little pieces of doubt would creep. I’m so grateful for the powerhouse women in my life and also the love of my life for both speaking encouragement and words of wisdom and letting me know that ‘Hey, you can do this! There’s nothing you can’t do!’ I attribute my confidence and tenacity to my tribe. My grandmother is also up at 6 am every morning praying for me so that definitely helps too.
With it being Women’s History Month, let’s focus on us. When you think of being a black woman, what are three characteristics that come to mind?
Intelligent, powerful, and resilient
What is one lesson you’d like to share with a young girl that may be looking to pursue a career in acting?
Constantly pursue growth in all areas of your life. In this business you have to stay ready so that you don’t have to get ready. So when opportunity knocks on your door, you’re prepared for it. My favorite quote is, “Luck is opportunity meets preparation.” If this wonderful opportunity falls in your lap and you are not prepared then it is a wasted moment of time. Constantly work on your craft.
You’re a busy woman, who’s also in a relationship. How do you find time to sustain balance in your relationship?
I’m not sure if I’m good at balancing it if I’m being completely honest. What I can say is, I’m with a man who completely believes in me and respects my time and talent. So much so, that he’s never put me in a position where I had to choose between him or what I love to do. Understanding that the types of love are completely different. He is very supportive and goes out of his way to help me accomplish everything I want to accomplish. It’s pretty easy to have a balance with him, especially since he’s an artist as well and he understands what’s happening with me right now is what we want for all of us. Anything that he can do to help me achieve my goal right now is what he does and it’s also why no one can compare to him as far as I’m concerned.
Dear White People the series airs in April, what other projects do you have lined up? Will you be returning to The Haves and the Have Nots?
In terms of The Haves and the Have Nots, we film so many episodes in advance that what you’re seeing now is just a quarter of what we filmed last year. You’re going to be seeing me there, but I’m not currently filming. You’ll see me there while you’ll see me on Dear White People. I’ve actually begun writing a series of my own. I’m not completely finished; I’m in the rewriting process. I’m definitely going to produce it myself because I think there’s another shade of blackness that we haven’t seen.
Photo credit: Bobby Quillard Photography