Vivica A. Fox In Her Comfort Zone

At 43, actress and producer Vivica A. Fox is a walking lesson in healthy aging—
in body and mind. Fox remains beautiful and says she’s more comfortable with life than ever.
Behind her contentment are both the wisdom she’s amassed and the healthy place in
Hollywood that African-Americans have found themselves in,
both behind and in front of the camera.

By Allan Richter

From June, 2008

A decade ago, Vivica A. Fox was riding the wave of her first prominent film role. She had just appeared as Will Smith’s girlfriend in Independence Day, and acting jobs were streaming in. If Fox’s mood was upbeat after that sci-fi blockbuster, she is altogether jubilant these days. On Fox’s résumé is a long list of steady film and TV work, spotlighting a diverse, genre-spanning career of strong characters and increasingly leading roles.

She has tackled family fantasy (a gift-bearing fairy in Ella Enchanted); action (the kick-boxing assassin Vernita Green in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill films); romantic comedy (a scheming girlfriend in Two Can Play that Game); drama (an FBI agent in the TV series 1-800-Missing); and suspense thriller (the recently completed Junkyard Dog), among other roles.

At 43, Fox says she is at her most comfortable stage in life, attributing her sense of calm and confidence to the accumulation of sound judgment that comes with age. “I am taking complete joy in aging,” she tells Energy Times, “because I believe there is wisdom that comes with it.”

Fox’s contentment reflects not just her own success, but also the rising star power of African-Americans in film and television. More black actors of Fox’s generation are projecting a strong, positive African-American image and are taking roles with depth.

 In Independence Day, moviegoers could easily look past her nightclub dancer role to see the part’s fiercely devoted single mother struggling to make ends meet for her son and herself. Soul Food, in which Fox played a happily married mother-to-be, leaves its mark on filmgoers with its close-knit family and their values.

 Fox was moved by Halle Berry’s emotional 2002 Oscar acceptance speech for Best Actress, which acknowledged black actors, past and present, including Fox. “I love her for that,” Fox says of Berry. “That was her moment, and she didn’t have to share that with us. I just commend her for that. That was beautiful, and I’ll go down in history. Thank you, girl!”

More recently, Fox’s role as the cigarette-smoking Loretta Black on the HBO comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm points to a trend in which TV is undercutting racial stereotypes by poking fun at them. After a fictional hurricane leaves them homeless, Loretta and her family become houseguests of Larry David and his TV wife. Loretta’s TV brother Leon adds to the satire by happily lazing around the David house. Such roles indicate that African-American actors have become wholly comfortable enough with their place in film and TV to lampoon once-offensive stereotypes.

 “The important thing is there is no specific ‘black film’ anymore; blacks take roles of all sorts,” says Thomas Cripps, an expert on black film history and professor emeritus with Morgan State University. “They’re part of the system now. People when they watch them are not saying, ‘Oh, here’s the black guy.’ They can play anything. More importantly, they’re into production. They produce, they direct, they write. The Hollywood of Fox’s era is a far more open door than at any previous time.”

Fox has parlayed her skills in front of the camera to get behind it. Her production company, Foxy Brown, is a nod to one of her biggest influences, Pam Grier. (In 1974’s Foxy Brown, Grier exacts revenge against the criminals that have killed her undercover agent boyfriend.) Fox has production credits on several of her own independent movies, as well as on episodes of 1-800-Missing.

In August, she helms the reality show Glam God with Vivica A. Fox, a VH1 competition that aims to find the next great celebrity stylist. Fox knows style and beauty well. When Fox came to Hollywood in the 80s, she kept her middle initial (for Anjanetta) as a memory trick for directors—as in “Vivica’s a fox.”
    Fox’s age-defying radiance makes her as versatile in her beauty as she is onscreen; she can be exotic and sexy, or naturally alluring dressed down. But Fox doesn’t rely on her beauty. This playful and confident personality—USA Weekend called her “a mix of sweetness and sass”—says she prefers to play against her looks, revealing her depth of character.

Energy Times: Considering how beautiful you are, how do you play against your looks?

Vivica A. Fox: When I first started acting it was very hard for people to take me seriously as an actress. They think you haven’t had life’s struggles, trials and tribulations. When I stripped down the luster people took me a lot more seriously. Keep it simple. I wear a little mascara and lip gloss, and keep it moving.

ET: Your career also took off because you took an acting coach’s advice never to give up, to always be prepared for that break.

VAF: I was very frustrated that I wasn’t getting an opportunity to audition for Independence Day because I didn’t have a big enough name. She said, ‘You never know when that call will come. I want you to keep your spirit and mind together. What if you’re sitting around depressed, and they call?’ If you stay in a healthy state of mind and body, and the phone rings tomorrow and you have to go in the room and impress people, you’re ready and can’t blame anybody for not being ready. I totally believe that that applies to anyone. You should be prepared to study or do a great interview. If you want to succeed, preparation is key. I’ve seen so many people’s lives change in a day, with a phone call. Those are the stories you love to hear that inspire you: ‘Wow, didn’t see that coming!’

ET: You’ve said that you are in the most comfortable stage of your life in your 40s.

VAF: Yes, absolutely. I am taking complete joy in aging because I believe that there is wisdom that comes with it. I would never want to do my 20s over again because you’re searching, looking for your identity and what you’re going to do in life; there’s lots of peer pressure. In my 40s I know exactly what I like, what I don’t, what I’m going to put up with and what I’m not going to put up with. I’m a lot more focused. I’ve learned to go into a different chapter of my career. I’m producing my own independent films. I don’t have to feel the whole popcorn, young ingénue pressure that Hollywood can sometimes get you into.

ET: Is that comfort level reached strictly through the process of living and learning, or is there advice you can give younger people so they can reap some of that?

VAF: What worked for me might not work for another person so I don’t believe in being preachy. Everyone’s journey is their own and you must pursue that journey.

So many people feel just because they’re attractive that it’s going to be easier for you or that someone should hand something to you. Sometimes when you’re attractive you have to work twice as hard. In life you’ve got to learn that it’s an adventure and sometimes you make mistakes. I’ve learned not to beat myself up from my mistakes. I’ve learned to say, ‘Okay, that didn’t work, let’s not do that again.’ Sometimes you receive bad advice from people, and you don’t follow your first mind. If there’s one piece of advice I want to pass on to women it’s what Granny, my manager’s grandmother, says: ‘Follow your first mind, girl.’ When you think something’s good for you, then nine times out of ten that’s the advice you should take—from yourself.

ET: Nobody would ever guess that you’re 43 years old. Our readers are going to want to know your health and beauty secrets.

VAF: The older that I’ve gotten, one of the main things I’ve learned to keep myself healthy and happy is that it’s got to come from the inside. A desire to be healthy and beautiful starts with your spirituality. Your spirit has got to want to be happy and healthy, which means you have to make the effort to be a healthy and happy person. I make a lot of effort to stay healthy and happy by working out with a trainer, watching my diet and making sure that I get plenty of rest and that I have good people around me.

My trainer Basheerah Ahmad comes to my home three to five times a week; I built a gym in my house. We do light weights, cardio and floor exercises. There are hills where I live so sometimes we get out and walk and jog the hills. The one thing that I love about Basheerah is that she also implements my diet. We do low sodium, low sugar, low carb and eat a lot of tuna, a lot of vegetables, lots of seafood, chicken. I take a multi-vitamin. But I do allow myself a cheat day when I eat whatever I want, which is pasta and pizza.

 I also like the way Basheerah’s body looks. She’s slim, not too muscular, and has a tight, athletic type of body that always has been something that I’m attracted to. I don’t like girls looking like boys. I still like to keep a little bit of my curves because I’m a woman. I’ve found it especially difficult to have a male trainer just because they’re going to push a little bit harder, and I just prefer to have the feminine touch.

For my skin care I’ve lately discovered micro-dermabrasion because I have to wear so much makeup [onscreen]. I do that once a month, and I hydrate, take steam showers and drink plenty of water.

ET: Your fight scene with Uma Thurman’s character in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill must have taken some intense training.

VAF: Definitely. Kill Bill was six months of training. The first three months was eight hours a day, five days a week. I dropped about 25 pounds. I went from a size 8 to a size 2. I got a little bit too thin, but I just couldn’t hold on to the weight working out like that.

 But I thank Quentin so much because I just did a movie in Nashville, Tennessee, where I played an FBI agent in a suspense thriller [Junkyard Dog], and the fact that I can do the stunts and be so physical, I thank him for that training, and I wasn’t afraid, I didn’t wimp out. So for a 43-year-old woman I was blowing them away.

ET: Did you adapt any elements from your on-set training for either Kill Bill or other projects to your personal training?

VAF: Posture more than anything else. Posture and to take your time. And stretching— stretching is vital. You have to make sure you stretch, especially when you get older the muscles tighten up a lot, and then also to lengthen muscles. It’s a beautiful thing to stretch.

ET: Did anything about your diet or lifestyle growing up prepare you for the physical challenges that sometimes accompany an entertainment career? What kind of food did you grow up eating?

VAF: Oh my gosh, I was a fast food junkie. I was tall and skinny, I was growing and I didn’t really fill in until I got a little bit older, and that’s because I was always involved in extra-curricular activities at school. I played basketball, volleyball and track. I was a cheerleader and I was burning calories on a continuous basis, so I surely loved [burgers, tacos and pizza].

But you know when you’re young your metabolism is burning at 105 miles an hour. It’s unfortunate for kids today that with computers and video games there’s not a lot of cardio and running and extra-curricular activities. They’re entertained by their fingers nowadays, whereas when we were growing up we would play hide and go seek, hopscotch, double dutch, we made up games.

ET: We’re taking a look at soul food in this issue—I mean the food in this case, not your film—and reporting on the efforts to make it healthier while retaining its cultural importance. Do you subscribe to those efforts?

VAF: We all have to learn to cook healthier. You can still eat the same kind of food but instead of cooking the greens with pork you cook it with turkey. Learn to just enjoy the natural. You don’t have to load up a lot of butter in your greens. Instead of lard or heavy grease fry your fish in something lighter or grill your fish. You just have to learn healthier ways that are more calorie-efficient. Learn to taste your food. Don’t drown your food in all that stuff.

ET: Hollywood seems to be bolder in the portrayal of African-Americans. There seems to be a satirical slant that pokes fun not at African-Americans, but at racial stereotypes. Your fictional family, the Blacks, on Curb Your Enthusiasm, is an example.

VAF: I actually like it to be honest because in life you’ve got to learn not to take things so seriously. With life and the pursuit of happiness there’s humor, there are faults, there’s the good, there’s the bad and the ugly. So I’m glad it shows that we can be dysfunctional, and you can still find humor in that, that’s it’s not always ‘Don’t play the black people.’ It’s like, yeah, we have things that we go through, too.

ET: Do you think this trend is happening because African-Americans in media have achieved a certain status and power that has provided this comfort and sense of security? If so, that’s very healthy.

VAF: Yes, absolutely. And you know, you’re always so perfect and everything, and then people hate you anyway so you might as well fall on your face. Then they love you better. It gives them something to root for.

ET: In the framework of African-American portrayals in film and TV, what are you doing now that you weren’t able to do before you were a producer?

VAF: Because more African-Americans are in more power positions as far as writing, directing and producing you get truer portrayals of African-Americans. I first started acting during the whole late 80s period of ‘gang bang’ and ‘shoot ’em up’ very violent type of behavior. I fought really hard in my career to make sure that the portrayals were more positive and a little bit more accurate insofar as wardrobe, hair, makeup and relationships were not so negative.

ET: Your production company, Foxy Brown, is named after a Pam Grier movie.
Big fan?
VAF: My number one role model and idol is Pam Grier. I absolutely adore her. I believe that I’m the new generation Pam Grier when I play the kick-butt type of good looking chick that will draw a gun…but then put on a tight dress and shimmy away. Then I’m very attracted to singers, Diana Ross, Whitney Houston. I love girls that love glamour and dresses and hair and makeup. Iman, a beautiful woman who is 52 years old, and who just keeps getting better, is just gorgeous. Beverly Johnson. Beautiful women. I also love Oprah Winfrey; she’s become a billionaire and tycoon. If she ran for President she’d probably win.

ET: Your film Soul Food was about the importance and strength of family bonds. Your part of Maxine, the happily married middle sister, was one of a number of roles for which you’ve been nominated for an NAACP Image Award. You also won in 2005 for Outstanding Actress for 1-800-Missing. What is it about those roles that you feel has garnered that recognition?

VAF:The strong roles have been kind of the direction of my career. But I also played mom roles and then I also love roles that are fun. I love doing comedies. I love to make people laugh. I love to reveal when you fall on your face in relationships and dating, but I prefer roles that are strong. I play women of strength, which I will totally take my hat off to my mom for. My mom was such a strong woman and always instilled a huge work ethic in me, and taught that just because you’re cute don’t think someone’s going to give you something easy. ‘You’re an African-American woman; you always have to work twice as hard. Don’t think things are going to be easy.’

My mother and father separated when I was young, and I watched her work two jobs and instill great morals and discipline in her children. She always made sure we went to church and got good grades. Why I’m so gung-ho about work is because my mother set that example for me. So I think that is just how I am, my way of living, my way of being and I’m very attracted toward women of strength. I’m a Leo; that sign is a ‘lioness, hear me roar’ type of babe. That just has become my motto—live strong, be strong.

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