In front of the camera it seems that Susan Heyward is living a double life.
On one channel Heyward plays Cece, a savvy and foxy assistant to a high profiled music executive who’s addicted to drugs and the fast paced hustle of New York City in the 70s on HBO's new series, "Vinyl." Change the channel and her role in "Powers" is quite the antitheses — she plays Detective Deena Pilgrim, a woman who investigates cases concerning super-humans.
With "Vinyl" setting records and being approved for its second season and Playstation’s "Powers" also moving into their second season, Heyward certainly has her hands full.
NBCBLK contributor Sabrina Campbell caught up with Heyward about juggling two roles, repping the blerd community, and why going natural made her feel freer than ever.
Tell us about the decision to play in the show. It has a lot of sex, drugs, & music; did you have any hesitations taking the role?
I didn’t because it’s true to history, it’s what happened. Trying to pretend that things didn’t happen, I don’t think that serves us. I think it’s more useful to us to remember history as accurately as we can. Even in the nature of memory, things are going to be a little spotty. We are going to have our own lenses. We’ll put our glasses on it, so trying to be as true to the period as possible is always the way to go.
How did you get your start? What was it like leading up to this role, how did it come about?
It kind of came about like a big bang. I had just started working with a new agent and I never met Ellen Lewis, the casting director before. And so when I got the opportunity to meet her, that’s really all I thought it was. I thought great! I get to meet Ellen Lewis; she works with such amazing people. I saw who was working on this show and was so rolled over by the names, I thought there was no way I would ever get this! So I really took it one day at a time. Just kind of like, oh it’s a great chance to do some work, have fun, and meet a wonderful person in the business and it just kind of snowballed from there. It just kept going and I am so grateful that it wasn’t a huge big build up and I didn’t have time to think about it. It just kind of happened.
You’re also working on another show called "Powers," tell us about that role and how do you feel about juggling both shows at the same time.
"Powers" is a world that is the exact opposite of "Vinyl." If there is one thing that the two characters share is that they both work in the background where the glamourous things aren’t happening. They are trying to keep the wheels turning where Cece is kind of on the business side of Richie’s glamourous life. Deena in Powers, she is more on the gritty side of trying to find justice and trying to find her power that’s inside of her. And I love it; I am so grateful that I get to juggle two completely different roles and different women. I love it.
I see that you’re an advocate for natural hair; do you think that that has helped you in any way to land the roles that you’ve taken part of so far?
You know I think if it’s helped, it has been an intangible one not necessarily an aesthetic one. There is something, at least for me, about embracing my natural hair. I cut it off after freshman year of college, I cut off the perm! It was very dramatic (laughs). It took me a year to appreciate it, to feel that it was beautiful, to feel that I was beautiful with it. And so I think having that kind of self-acceptance & knowing who you are and how God made you and loving that. I think that it shows in ways that we can’t really quantify or put on camera, it comes from inside. And now I feel like more free than ever.
What’s your next step, where do you see yourself going in the next few years?
Ohh that’s a good one, no one’s asked that one! I hope I can find some time to get these ideas out of my head. And may be on a different part of the creative process, maybe it’s writing or producing or finding partners to do that. I think we are coming into a time where black people are taking ownership of their stories and we are creating spaces where we can make creative & business decisions in where that has been really difficult. And I’m so excited in supporting people in doing that and getting up the bravery to maybe do it on my own.
But you know Vinyl is awesome! I got to be confident that Vinyl and Powers will go for a few years, so I might be a little busy.
Looking at the cast for Vinyl, how do you feel being the minority on the cast? It seems like you’re the only black actress on the cast.
I feel like most minorities would feel I imagine when you feel isolated or surrounded by folks who don’t necessarily share your culture. And I think so many people move through the world like that. Where they have to cope with when they go to work and present a certain personality in order to survive in that world. Vinyl, the writers do an amazing job and it really speaks to that time period. So we get to see Cece take some things said around her that would not fly in the 21st century at all, both for being a woman and for being black.
There is another actor, Ephraim Sykes, who is busy dancing his butt off on Broadway in "Hamilton," who also works in the office, and I don’t know if it will make it into the show, but we did have some great conversations about how people move through professional spaces in order to survive and really how far we’ve come both as woman and as black people. So I feel like it was really important to show how much things have changed.
With that being said were there any difficult scenes that you can discuss?
Ummm, I think it’s better if we preserve that mystery and let people go on the journey. I know that there were things that were hard for me but I don’t know if we are going to keep them and I want to keep the surprise. It’s an amazing world that they’ve built and I am really glad to be a part of it. And it’s going to be a great ride for the audience.
Anything that you would like to add?
I’m excited for "Vinyl" and thank you to all the "Powers" folks. It’s been great to see the black nerd community, the "blerd" community, embrace it and being able to represent in a space where a lot of the times we get forgotten or left out or even teased because we love comic books or sci-fi or things that are considered “not black.” I love being able to represent in a space that we might not be easily seen.