While knocking out media availabilities and riding through The Big Apple last week, Angela Robinson found herself choked up when the journalist on the other end of the conference call asked her a peculiar question: "How does it feel being the fiercest (black female character) on primetime television this summer?”
“You know what?” she paused before letting out a long “Wowwwwww,” and then adding, “I’ve never quite heard it put like that, But I love it.”
After a moment to compose herself, she let out a loud cackle. The ice was broken.
As sophisticated villainess Veronica Harrington on Tyler Perry’s "The Haves and the Have Nots," the veteran actress is slowly becoming a household name and gaining a cult-like following from the hit series, which airs on OWN on Tuesdays.
She plays the ice queen with ice cold water running through her veins. She's the well-dressed woman everyone loves to hate — in the fashionable form of primetime divas of yore like Dominique Devereux and Alexis Carrington (of ‘Dynasty’) — mixed in with some of the despicable, loathsome destruction Mo’Nique shed light on as Mary Jones in ‘Precious.’
Veronica Harrington is the bougie buppie broad who crawled her way to the top of Savannah’s high society scene — pill-popping flaws and all. She’s unlike any other character on television — sans a few delusional, designer-labels obsessed reality show personalities bubbling up in the zeitgeist, who are the closest composites.
Playing the diabolical diva, Robinson revealed, was a little easy because of her association with similar people.
“I do know that woman. I won’t tell you who because you would run but I do know her,” Robinson said.
“Not her in the sense of her disapproving of her son, but I know someone who is extremely controlling to the point of alienating everyone around her who loves her and is extremely perfectionist to the point of nothing is ever right, no one is ever right," Robinson said. "So I do know that person.”
Over the past two decades, the Jacksonville, Florida native (who also uses her married name: Angela Robinson-Whitehurst) has gotten to know quite a few people. And vice versa.
With a career rooted in theater, she has appeared in an array of regional productions throughout the country, performed Off-Broadway and starred in a handful of Broadway shows including "Oprah Winfrey Presents: 'The Color Purple' " as Shug Avery — with a vocal prowess proving that she can not only bring the drama but also carry a tune. And shake a shimmy, too.
Of her trajectory to primetime, Robinson said she couldn’t have written it if she tried: “I never imagined it this way but it’s been great.”
“It started out in the theater, which is my roots,” the Florida A&M University alumnae continued. “I was in Atlanta doing ‘Into The Woods,’ at the Alliance Theatre and loved doing the role of The Witch, which was offered to (Tony Award winner) Adriane Lenox but she couldn’t do it and referred me to go do it and it was like a dream role for me.”
I love now that there are so many of us [black women on TV] that you get to see all of this variety. You get to see all of these beautiful images of us sisters and I think that’s just amazing.
Perry’s casting executives, impressed with her performance in the legendary musical, invited Robinson to audition for a role on the sitcom "Meet The Browns," which she didn’t land. Upset with not getting the role she worked so hard on, she returned to New York City to lick her wounds and pursue other opportunities.
“A year and a half later, they were casting for ‘The Haves and The Have Nots’ and remembered little old me and asked me to put myself on tape for the part of Veronica. And two weeks later, I was offered a series regular on that show," she said. "So that’s how it all happened and the journey has been non-stop ever since.”
“The role was supposed to be seven episode out of 16. I was going to be that snobby mother who was disapproving of her gay son, a rich society lady. And I was so fine with that. But it has become so much more. I’m so grateful to the fans and to Tyler for just pushing the storyline and for people wanting to see more of Miss Veronica,” Robinson said.
A powerful attorney and politician’s wife, who — in typical soap opera form — will stop at nothing to get what she wants.
And the one thing she wants the most is for her gay son to be heterosexual.
Getting a hardened thug to rough him up, blackmailing a helpless young woman to get pregnant by him, and even setting fire to her own McMansion, while her husband is sleeping for not co-signing her anti-gay rhetoric, are just a few of the tactics she employs on a weekly basis.
“You have to understand, my life, my community is in the theater and so many of my friends are in the LGBT community so this wasn’t foreign ground to me, I wasn’t talking about people that I didn’t know,” Robinson explained of her character’s homophobic storyline. “But the challenge was, ‘Well, how do I be hateful towards them? ‘”
“And once I talked to some of my friends about some of their experiences, about how their parents took it when they came out to them, it became easy. I could embody the character because I just listened to their stories and there are so many stories,” she continued. “Now, Veronica is an angel compared to some people’s stories that I’ve heard and I do think that some of the things that she’s doing is sort of heightened for television drama but I have heard some stories.”
Veronica Harrington — in all of her wicked ways — holds her own in a growing sea of strong black female characters who’ve dawned in the wake of Olivia Pope — such as prison matriarch Yvonne “Vee” Parker (played by Lorraine Toussaint in Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black’), crime boss Fish Mooney (played by Jada Pinkett Smith on FOX’s ‘Gotham’), Muslim civil rights activist Aliyah Shadeed (played by Regina King on ABC’s ‘American Crime’), top law firm partner Jessica Pearson (played by Gina Torres on USA’s ‘Suits’), music industry power player Cookie Lyon (played by Taraji P. Henson on FOX’s ‘Empire’] and legal shark Annalise Keating (played by Viola Davis on ABC’s ‘How To Get Away with Murder’).
These scene-stealing bold soul sisters could signal a renaissance on primetime dramas for black actresses.
“You know, it’s so exciting and it’s such a long time coming,” Robinson said of the surge. “My biggest concern is that I hope it’s not a fad, and that it is a reality because sometimes people can use us and we can become a fad like in the 1980s with the black supermodels, it was really something then. So I’m hoping that it’s here to stay.”
“I’m so extremely grateful to the people that came before us,” she said, giving a nod to Diahann Carroll (‘Dynasty’) and Phylicia Rashad (‘The Cosby Show’). “So many people who paved the way … I hope that they are looking at us like, ‘Wow, this is a dream come true for us too.’ We owe them a deep gratitude. Even people like Tyler Perry who put so many of these actresses to work when nobody else did. It’s a great time.”
“Also the stories are all different,” she added. “The one thing that always concerned me about having so few of us on television was that then you only got to see one image of who we were and I love now that we’re all so different. We come in all shapes and hues and sizes and personalities. We are a varied people. I love now that there are so many of us that you get to see all of this variety. You get to see all of these beautiful images of us sisters and I think that’s just amazing."
Earlier this year, Robinson was honored with a Gracie Award for Outstanding Female Actress — One To Watch. It’s 20 years after she started her career in acting, but she doesn’t mind the timing of the accolade. “You know it’s an honor when you’ve been hustling in the business for years, years and years it doesn’t matter when it comes, you’re just glad it came.”