by Mary L. Datcher
Special to the NNPA from The Chicago Defender
If one can say their life was an open book then LisaRaye McCoy would probably agree that hers have been on display ever since she made her feature film debut as “Diamond” in the Ice Cube directed film, “The Player’s Club” nearly 18 years ago. Since then, we’ve witnessed her acting career gradually gain momentum from the large screen playing opposite Omar Epps in “The Wood” and other films-Rhapsody, All About You and Go for Broke. Her most familiar connection to households is her role as Neesee James in the CW sitcom, “All of Us” which had a comfortable run for almost 5 years.
During this time, she never missed a beat as the First Lady of Turks and Caicos Islands, married to Michael Misick- the island’s first-ever Premier. After a very public and messy divorce in 2008, the Chicago native immediately brushed herself off and dived into her work. Through her entrepreneurial spirit- she’s had her own reality show, launched a jean collection and hair line as well as segueing into the romantic comedy series, Singles Ladies on VH1.
Just recently, we can also add ‘director’ to her long laundry list of talent. In February, McCoy made her directorial debut with the independent film release of “Skinned” at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles. Sharing co-director credits with Avery O Williams, a writer-director and professor at Morehouse College, the film was produced by fellow Chicago native, Sharon Tomlinson of Studio 11 Films, Divine Entertainment International and Lot 10 Productions. It also features Van Vicker, Jasmine Burke (Drum Line 2), Brad James (Tyler Perry’s For Better or Worse), Drew Sidora (The Game, Step Up, Crazy Sexy Cool) and newcomer, Cycerli Ash.
Shot in Atlanta, “Skinned” tells the story of Jolie, a young girl that is so uncomfortable in her own skin and the stigma of what society places on dark skin that she uses skin lightening creams to alter her complexion. The film is slated to be released in select theaters nationally.
Never too far from the comfort levels of her hometown, she is in Chicago this weekend to host a special event, Life Rocks Vision Board Workshop where she shares how instrumental creating vision boards are to building personal success. We talked with LisaRaye on her new projects and how her personal and professional milestones have been a catalyst to her success.
Tell us about your experience co-directing and acting in the independent film, “Skinned”.
LR: It was a fantastic opportunity in so many ways. Not just being the boss on the set, but both showcasing both angles of my creativity coming into play. I was able to direct and bring out what was needed from the actors during their performances.
I nurtured them the way that I would like a director to work with me. I received that treatment and nourishment from Ms. Debbie Allen when she was the director on the set of ‘All of Us’. I knew how and what kind of director I wanted to be. The storyline was good, breathing life into the scenes of this movie- creatively was great as well. It’s an independent film so you start out slow and on the low budget side but the kick off of the cast was phenomenal.
Do you find the transition from actress to director is something that you can carry for your own future projects on the production side?
LR: Believe or not, I felt more comfortable behind the scenes than I really do in front of the camera because of my maturity. I’ve been in the business for the last 15 years and now I have a little more fire in me. It’s exciting to me because it’s new.
Just being in that position where I can call the shots for something that I created brings a certain amount of freedom to you. I am ready to pass the torch and do something different while staying in show business. With this role, I didn’t have to stay in the makeup trailer before ‘action’ starts. As a director, I just showed up to be ready to work and bring the creativity to life.
People seem to find a real connection to you. Who do you credit for your ‘down to earth’ attitude?
LR: My father was a ‘people’ person and a paraplegic so he handled his business from the bedside. He would have a lot of meetings from the bedroom. So, I would see him get up with very little sleep from the night before and wake up so ‘happy-go-lucky’. All the time! I never saw him wake up mad or mean with any discomfort. Everyone liked him and he helped everyone so as a kid, you really don’t understand what that gift means. I grew up learning how to keep that together. Coming from a two-part family, my mother was the housewife, but she was also the strength and backbone of the family. From her, I learned how to be a girl, a woman, a nurturer and a cook. She keeps me grounded to this day.
What kind of advice can you offer to younger actors who are seeking a career in the film business?
LR: To stand strong because we do get to that desperate state when we just want to be on television – we feel like, we want to be famous. I understand it, it sparks and stems from something. Once you get into it, you have to realize it really is business behind the ‘business’. The show is the ‘show’ but if you’re lacking the business- you’re going to lose anyway. A great personality and having morals will go a long way.
How do you sustain balance in your life?
LR: Having God, family, a good circle of friends and your conscious is balance for me. You know when you’re doing something that is not good. Our conscious reminds us, if you listen to that inner voice and stop continuing to be complacent-then change may come.
I am on a spiritual journey right now. I was baptized about nine months ago. I think even the bad experiences helps you. When I came out of my divorce, I thought at first,’Oh my God, how did I get here?’. It put me on my knees and God asked me, ‘Are you ready to listen? Are you ready to give me the reigns of your life instead of the reigns that you’ve taken?’ I had a great amount of success but now I’m learning that it is easier to turn it over to Him. Be able to build my strength with the wisdom to be able to tackle the things I know is going to come into my life. Life has its ‘ups and downs’ and ‘valleys and peaks’. When you know that, you don’t have to get ready for what you know is coming. I want to stay ready.