Jasmine Guy, 54, has been an important staple of the television landscape for more than 25 years. While she may be most well-known for portrayal of Whitley Marion Gilbert–Wayne on The Cosby Show spinoff NBC comedy sitcom A Different World (1987–93) and starring as grim reaper Roxy Harvey on Showtime hit Dead Like Me (2003-2004) she is also a celebrated singer, dancer, author and director.
After attending the Performing Arts High School in Atlanta, Georgia, Guy moved to New York City to study dance at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center. After a few early roles including playing a dancer in TV series Fame, and as a girlfriend of Will Smith in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and portraying Halle Berry’s mother in the CBS TV mini-series Alex Haley's Queen.
After A Different World concluded in 1993, she continued to act in many movies, TV shows, plays and lent her voice talents to HBO documentary, Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narrative.
Guy was nominated for and won six consecutive NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, from 1990 to 1995.
Jasmine Guy took the time to speak with TheCelebrityCafe.com about her new role as Professor Ella Grace Caldwell in new BET series The Quad, whom she admires, what she is passionate about and more.
TheCelebrityCafe.com: Hi, Jasmine. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.
Jasmine Guy: Oh, it's my pleasure. I'm very proud of this piece, so I'm happy to do it.
TCC: Can you start by telling me what's new with you?
JG: Well, The Quad, which is premiering on Feb. 1 at 10:00 p.m. ET.
Anyway, you know this takes place on a fictitious HBCU campus called GAMU and it's introducing as its first female president in the hundred years of its existence Anika Noni Rose, who is playing our new president. The political climate and the social issues that take place on the campus with the kids -- there are a lot of storylines in the pilot. I don't know if you've had a chance to see it yet, but it plants seeds for great drama. I'm just very excited to be a part of it. I'm playing a history teacher, by the way, Professor Ella Grace Caldwell. I'm the dean of the sociology department. I had a wonderful time working with Anika Noni Rose and developing our relationship and also teaching in my class. I have a good time with the kids, too. I think people are going to like this show. It looks great and I'm very excited about it.
TCC: Now, you've been involved in many history documentaries or PBS. Are civil rights something that you are passionate about?
JG: Our history is a passion for me. I feel that we leave out so much information and huge gaps in the American story and it makes it hard for people to really understand that we are all intricately related as Americans. So I am attracted to historically based projects because we entertain and learn something at the same time. I just love that combination. So civil rights, but also I would love to hear more about the Native American story, the story of the Japanese internment camps, what happened after the war with reconstruction. There are just huge gaps of wonderful amazing stories to be told. We see with Hidden Figures, it's like, "Wow, we never heard of these women. How come we didn't learn about these three women? How come we heard the giant gun story but it didn't include these three women?"
So I think it's important to do it. I love documentaries as well, but this is a great way to reach people. I think the quad because it's young and energetic and it's on a college campus it's going to seed a lot of conversations about not only politics on campus, but in our country, sexual assault, anti-hazing laws-- it brings up very specific things to the school that I think are generally important to the audience.
TCC: Now, The Quad is a TV series. Is that correct?
JG: Yeah. It's an hour drama. It will come on at 10 o'clock on BET on Wednesdays and-- it does have drama. I will give it that, but it's also just beautifully shot. I love the cinematography of it. I love the look of it. It's been awhile since there's been a show that takes place on a black college campus. A Different World was, what, 25 years ago? School Days came out 25 years ago, so it's time. It's time to get a 2017 look into these young minds.
TCC: Now, I believe you're from Atlanta. Is that correct?
TCC: How did growing up in the South influence you?
I actually grew up across the street from Morehouse College. My father taught there, so I was very much on that college campus as a little girl. We used to ride our bikes and I think we thought we went to Morehouse. We weren't aware that it was an all-male school we couldn't go to. Growing up in Atlanta was great. I mean, I loved my church. I had a great experience in high school. I went to performing arts high school. Once I stopped bouncing around-- I moved a lot-- I mean, I went to a lot of different schools until I was in high school. But we were moving from the North, so there was a culture shock.
In 1972, the move down to the South from Port Chester, New York. Mostly, it was in the accents and understanding them. And they were all different kinds, and I used to imitate everybody. I imitate my fellow students. I imitated my teachers. I used to entertain myself by doing my own show with different characters into my little cassette player. So, I could hear it. I could hear the difference before I could really feel the difference of the South. But I think Atlanta's not indicative of the South, and we didn't travel outside of Atlanta that much.
But now, even now, when I go to places like Alabama and Mississippi and more rural parts of Georgia, I'm like, "Whoa." Sometimes it's like time stands still. But I would say generally I was there, had a great time in the '70s. It was a time of awareness, so I learned a lot. And there was a lot of black pride in the city. And what I saw in Atlanta, you know our mayor, Maynard Jackson and Andy Young, I just really didn't-- it looked progressive. It looked normal. It looked natural. So, I really am glad I grew up there. I grew up with a sense of history and pride and belonging, and I'm glad that that's the way I grew up.
TCC: Whom do you admire? In general. It could be an actor, or people you look up to.
JG: Well, I love the Obamas. Both of them. Always have. I worked on the Obama campaign in '08, supported him when he was running for Senator of Illinois, even though I lived in California. I just knew that that was a special man. And I'm really going to miss hearing his eloquence, and putting things in perspective for us in a bigger way. And I miss his mind and his velocity. So, I think the two of them are really on my mind the most right now.
TCC: And let's go professionally, in the acting, directing, performance realm. Who are people that you admire, would really want to work with?
JG: Well, people that have inspired me along the way, I'd have to say Alvin Ailey first, because I was a dancer first. And I just loved him as a choreographer, and his me, influenced me as a little girl. And that's when I decided I want to be a dancer. I want to dance with Alvin Ailey. So, he would have to be first. And then, probably Debbie Allen, because of the diversity of her career, from dancer, to singer, actress, producer, choreographer. I had of me enough to let me know that it was possible, and she continues to be an inspiration to me, especially when people say I can't do something. I always think, "Debbie did [laughter]." Because it's usually something that she has done.
But in my career, I had a lot of transitions, and those transitions are sometimes -- people don't necessarily want you to transition. They want to keep you in the chorus. So, they want to keep you as an understudy. And we try to make those moves to something else, there's always some kind of resistance, because they like to define you a certain way, as a little dancer. "Oh, I didn't know that you can act." "Oh, you're a comic actor." They just constantly -- I'm like, look, I'm just doing what I know how to do. I'm not great at any one thing. I'm just great at being good at a lot of things.
TCC: All right. I think that's a good way to be though -- being well rounded. Okay. Two more questions. Is there something you'd like to add about your life and career that you want people to know?
JG: That's a good one. I wrote a book called, Evolution of a Revolutionary about 10 years ago, about Afeni Shakur, and I would love for people to experience the book and her life. She passed last year. She was the mother of Tupac Shakur. So, I think I would just like to, in addition to watch The Quad, I would like to say, if you can read my book, it's a good read. It's a good airplane read. Get lost in the book, and you'll be landing before you know it.
TCC: And how do you like to connect with your fans?
JG: Yeah, I tweet. I mean, I have Instagram and Twitter. I do have a website, but I have to update it. So, I'm mostly doing Instagram and Twitter. TheJasmineGuy is Twitter, and iamjasmineguy is Instagram. And my Facebook is Iam Jasmine Guy.
TCC: Well, thank you very much. Good luck with The Quad and all your endeavors. I've been a big fan of you since you played Whitley.
JG: Oh, thank you so much. Okay. Have a great day.
You can catch Jasmine Guy on The Quad on BET starting on February 1, and get her book Evolution of a Revolutionary here.