We talk to Yolanda Wood on her experience being a black actress in the regional film market of Salt Lake City. She also gives her advice to those in regional markets who are starting out and what you need to put towards your career.
RG: We’re talking to Yolanda Wood here; so, Yolanda, let’s establish first of all that you are a black actress in a major black metropolis of Salt Lake City. So, tell us about that. You’ve worked in LA a lot and many people know you as Corbin Bleu’s mother in high school musical. Do you feel discrimination here or has it been an asset for you?
YW: Well, it’s interesting because I’m in a transition right now. First starting, I would really say that Utah gave me a chance. That was probably more than anything I could have asked for; in LA, you’re swimming in a sea of a lot of people that look a lot like you. You have to fight to really stand out and there’s so much more going on, so I would have say that Utah gave me a chance that has been the best for me. I worked with John Lyde on Christmas Oranges, which is really known here in Utah, people know me from that more than High School Musical, which I’m fine with (laughs), but for me it’s been a blessing. I haven’t had a lot of competition here, I was very unique in the blackness that I am; I grew up in the projects of Chicago, so I came from the hood and yet I went through a lot of learning and training and have moved towards a better sense of self throughout my life. Utah may be a little bit behind but there are so many avenues to go forward on because a lot of people are stagnant here—there’s so much fear—they stay in little groups. When you’re African American, you get to bounce from group to group to group and everyone thinks you’re cool because they don’t really know you. So when you’re able to do that, you’re able to weave in and out and be a part of many different than just settling in on one little group.
RG: I’m just going to say on the standpoint as a casting director that you are a wonderful actress, but no roles have ever been thrown at you.
YW: No, I’ve played everything. One of the things I feel most honored to have ever done is that I actually got to play the chef in Don’t Drink the Water. And if you have ever seen that show, that’s a white French man cooking dinner at the white house, so to be able to twist a role like that and give it to someone like me, I got that here in Utah—I don’t know if I would have ever been looked at for that in another market. So, for me, this has been very fruitful.
RG: Let’s talk about where you’re going and where you’re branching out.
YW: I’m moving into producing; it’s always been a passion of mine . . . I was really tired of having my career in someone else’s hands. I didn’t want to be ruined by criticism of other people—I love the art of acting—I love it! I feel that it belongs to me, and at a certain point, I had to take it back for myself and make it something that was about me, for me. And with that, I knew I had that passion so that’s why I set out to bring more work to Utah. I know there are a lot of actors here with a lot of passion—they just don’t have the work. So, if I can bring more work to them, that’s ten fold to any part that I could get. I am so happy to be where I am in my life; I know that a lot of people are always down on Utah and saying that we don’t have enough diversity and that there’s not enough work, but if everyone keeps leaving, we’re never going to get there. So someone has to stay and make the trail—to pioneer and move forward. Someone has to do it, so if it’s me, then it’s me, but I’m done sitting around and complaining what’s not happening to me.
Anybody can be famous. But when you have something behind that, like integrity and self-worth, those are the things that acting brought to me.
RG: One of the reasons I wanted to have an interview with you is that I would love to hear your take on a lot of young people trying to obtain fame. You used to hear “I really want to be a good actor; I really want to be good at what I do,” but now we’re hearing more and more of “I really want to be famous.” Can you touch on that a little bit?
YW: I always tell my students that murderers are famous. Anybody can be famous. But when you have something behind that, like integrity and self-worth, those are the things that acting brought to me. It gave me a sense of observing life instead of trying to rush through life—it gave me a sense of who I am. If you really push past wanting to be famous and all of that stuff within the industry, you find yourself within the industry. You find yourself within acting—who you are, where you’re trying to go, your belief systems. How we live on this spectrum of life is about balance—not one way or the other, but you live somewhere in the middle. As an actor, you’re able to look at all sides of a circumstance and find this beauty within the character that you can bring out within yourself. What better job is there in the world than to be able to be yourself? Even the people that walk into the office put on a face every day they walk in there. They’re still going by what they’re boss says and everything like that. But an actor comes in with themselves as the foundation and then builds upon that character. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Part two of this interview will be published next month.
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Last modified: September 15, 2017