Known for her roles on Hawthorne and Cheaper by the Dozen, Vanessa Bell Calloway is lighting up the big screen again in The Obama Effect, a dramedy about an insurance salesman who takes an overwhelming interest in the 2008 Obama presidential campaign after a serious health scare.
Vanessa opens up to Celebrity Baby Scoop about her thoughts on the Obama Administration, her two daughters – Ashley, 22, and Ally, 18 – and her best tips for juggling career and motherhood: “Get your village and understand that you cannot do everything by yourself.”
CBS: Tell us all about your new film, The Obama Effect. Tell us about the film and your role.
VC: “The Obama Effect was the dream child of Charles Dutton. We actually shot it four years ago, but they wanted to add in new scenes. I always said that releasing it now was a working of the universe, because it shouldn’t have been released when it could have been. It could have been released three years ago, but I think that the timing is now and I think that we need the film more now than we needed it three or four years ago.
With that said, I am hoping that this movie will remind everyone about what excited them four years ago when our first black president was elected. I want them to be reminded of the joy and everything that went along with that moment that we all experienced as a nation. It was historical.
As I always said, it is like a marriage; no one is perfect, and you can be disappointed or angry at times, but you have to remember why you married the person and why you love that person so much. I am hoping that the limited release happening right now and the release that will come out in October will redefine what people thought of then so they can get back to what we need to do now.
In regard to my participation, I met with Charles, who is a longtime friend that I had wanted to work with for so long. It was so great to have the chance to work with him. His character in the film is very obsessed with getting Obama in office. His challenge is to get his family and friends to help. It is great, because it shows how you have to stand for something or you will fall for anything. He is that kind of man; he is forced to see that he needs to stand for something in his life. I really like that message. It is also a family film, as there are a lot of family values and different stories that go along within the family.”
CBS: It sounds like you’re a fan of Obama? Do you think he will be re-elected?
VC: “I am very much a fan of President Obama, and I think Michelle, Sasha, and Malia Obama are great. Like I said before, it is like a marriage. He is not perfect and is not God, but we all forget that he was handed a complete mess. In four years, you cannot undo what someone did for eight years.
With that said, Obama should be given eight years to fix what he was given. I think that if anyone had been president, whether it was Mr. Obama or not, it would have been a difficult tow for whoever got the job; we would all be criticizing whoever that was. When you think about it, everyone gets criticized, as that is a part of being in Office. You have to look at the good, and you have to look at the things that have been accomplished. Give the man a chance to accomplish some of the other things.
In my heart, at the end of the day, I do think that he will be reelected. I do not think it will be an easy fight; it will be a close battle. I think that Mr. Romney’s mistakes are going to be revealed. If you really look closely, the Republicans don’t even really want him…think about that. He wasn’t their first choice; they just kind of have to go along with him now because he is the only one they’ve got. They all jumped on the bandwagon because they have nothing else to do. I am really interested to see how this whole tax release situation plays out. The word is, there are some really interesting stuff on those tax releases. I really hope that everyone presses that.
I’m really annoyed with some of our black pastors. Everyone gets the right to his or her own opinion, and everyone gets the right to vote how he or she wants. But really, you won’t vote for a man because he sees the validity in same-sex marriages? The world is changing. I can’t believe that people won’t vote for him because of his opinion. He is not going to make it a law—he can have an opinion just like you can have an opinion. I am not a gospel-toting, scripture-quoting kind of person, but I am very spiritual. I am Catholic and believe in God, but I don’t believe that I am holier than Thou because someone believes something I don’t.
It annoys me that some of these black pastors are making a stink over how Obama says he understands now why people would want same-sex marriage and he now supports it. His views are changing just as the world is changing…you have to change with it. He isn’t going to get a law across the country; he is just offering his point of view. Why would you penalize all the other good things because of that? Good luck with that and let me see how that works out for you!”
CBS: Tell us about your two daughters Ashley and Ally. How old are they and what are they into?
VC: “Ashley is my oldest daughter and will be 22-years-old on August 13th. She just graduated cum laude from Spelman College with a degree in economics. She decided to reside in Atlanta and is starting her first professional real job at Delta corporation very soon.
She did several internships in her college years, two of which were at Google, which was very impressive. We are very proud of her; she is a dynamic young woman and I got the pleasure to see her first grown-up apartment. She literally was moving in when I saw it. It was very exciting to see my baby have her own ‘this is my life, I am on my own’ apartment.
My youngest daughter Alexandra, who we lovingly call Ally, just graduated from high school and will be 18-years-old in September. She will be on her way to Spelman. They are both dancers; Ashley decided she didn’t want to continue dancing after high school, but Ally wants to still dance. She got into a school dance program, but she decided that she wanted a different college experience.
Her whole world has always been dancing; they both trained extensively at other schools in Los Angeles, primarily the Libby Allen Dance School. Ally decided that she wanted more than just school and dance, which was what she did all her life. She wants to have a fun college experience. She decided to choose Spelman over Florida, but she plans to go to New York in the summer and dance. They are both beautiful and of course I adore them; they are my babies!”
CBS: We hear your daughter Ashley stars in the BET series Baldwin Hills. When did she get into acting? Were you supportive when she first came to you with hopes to enter showbiz?
VC: “Ashley did that her junior and senior years of high school. The way it happened was that when she was a junior in high school, they put a search up for a high school student to do a new show called Baldwin Hills. Ashley went up to us and said, ‘Mom, dad, can I go and audition for this?!’ I said, ‘Yeah, go for it if it is what you want to do!’ She went on her own; I had nothing to do with it and I made no calls.
When it was time for her audition, she asked me to go with her because she was a little nervous about the process. I said, ‘Sure!’ I didn’t even have makeup on, I just went. They recognized me when I went to the audition. My daughter has this great, vivacious personality, and they adored her immediately. They asked me to go on camera with her and I was like, ‘I have no makeup on – send me to makeup!’ Then I got makeup on and they put us on tape together.
She got the callback and the rest is history. They hired her because they liked her, but of course when they found out she was my daughter, it helped their storyline. She did that during her junior and senior high school years, and when it was time to go to Spelman, she didn’t turn it down for the show. She left to go to school.
I supported her choice to enter showbiz, but it actually isn’t what she wants to do. Her hopes of being in showbiz are on the other side of the camera. She wants to work at Delta for a few years, because now they don’t want the kids going off to graduate school; they want the networking experience. She wants to work and explore her economics degree, and then she wants to go to USC for graduate school and get her Masters in Business.
She wants to work on a studio set, so she is still interested in entertainment. She grew up in the business, as her auntie and godmother is a star. She came up to me and said, ‘Mom, I grew up in the business and really want to do something in the business, so I am going to stay here and work at Delta for a few years, and then come to L.A.’ She is bossy and likes to boss people around [laughs]. She wants to do something big in the entertainment industry, but on the other side of the camera.”
CBS: How have you managed your career and motherhood? What’s your best advice to working moms?
VC: “In order to manage your career and motherhood, it is very important that you have a supportive team. I have a fantastic husband of 24 years this September 3rd. We’ve known each other for 25 years but have been married for 24. The one thing that has kept us together is that I don’t bother him, and he doesn’t bother me. He allows me to be me, and encourages me to be me; he doesn’t expect me to stop being an actress. As a matter of fact, he pushes me through the limits that I create. He says, ‘No, go for it! Do it!’
He is an anesthesiologist, and I let him do his thing and I respect him a great deal. That has helped me a lot in being a mother, a wife, and an actress. My kids were lucky; my mother lives in L.A., as I moved her there from Cleveland twelve years ago. My husband’s parents have been there for years. So when I left home, everything was fine. My kids had their daddy, grandparents, and a housekeeper.
Now they are grown up and on their own. It is a delicate balance of communication, honesty, openness, and trust. When I leave to do my thing, we have to trust each other. It’s like, if you say that’s what you’re doing, than god bless you and if it’s not, then will come to the light. So we’re very good.
My best advice to working moms is to get your village and understand that you cannot do everything by yourself. There are two incidents in my life that I remember very clearly. One was when I was a bride. When you are a bride, you get insulted very easily, because you want everything to be about you. One day I realized that it was not all about me; it was everyone’s wedding. I was just the chick in the dress, and everyone had a piece of the wedding. I realized that and let everyone participate and do what they did best. I did what I wanted and marked my territory. I said, ‘This is what I’m going to do and the rest of you can go for it.’ It was a great wedding, and it’s been a great marriage and family. You can’t control everything.
The other instance was when my first daughter was born. The natural instinct is to not want anyone else touching your baby, because it is your baby. You are afraid of other people stealing your baby. The moment that I realized she had grandparents, aunties, her dad, and others as deeply excited as I was, I realized that she didn’t just belong to me; she belonged to God and the universe. I was just the vessel that she came through.
After, when people said, ‘Can I help you? Let me do this for you,’ instead of trying to be Superwoman, I took my cape off. It’s okay to take your cape off! Say ‘Thank you,’ and let those people help. When I was able to do that, I understood it better. My main advice is to let other people help when they can help, and when the people you love say, ‘Let me help you,’ they mean it! They want to make things easier, participate, and bond with the baby too.”
CBS: What’s up next for you?
VC: “Other than The Obama Effect, I have two other features being released soon. One is called The Last Fall, and I play the mother of a character played by Lance Gross, who was in Tyler Perry’s House of Payne. Matthew Cherry was a very young producer, writer, and director; this is a story that he personally lived. It is about football and how a lot of these guys that you think are starting and rich are actually not. The Last Fall is an independent feature that I shot for the American Black Film Festival, and it got picked up. It will be on limited release soon.
The other movie I did called The Under Shepherd was written, directed, and produced by Russ Parr, a big D.J. in the D.C. area. The Under Shepherd is about the black church, which is a very interesting topic. Isaiah Washington stars as a preacher who is out of control.
Likewise, I have occurred on Shameless, and I am coming back this season with some very exciting episodes that I’ll start filming in a few weeks. Everything is great! I am trying to keep busy; I had an episode of Rizzoli & Isles that just aired. You know, it’s about trying to stay busy, trying to stay blessed, and trying to stay in the game. It is a lot of work when you are a black woman over 40 years old, and I am way over 40 [laughs]. You just have to keep positive and keep it moving.”