Raven Symone: Taking roles that ‘represent’ change, all women

Raven Symone

By Sandra Varner, special to shades Magazine

She captivated TV audiences as Olivia, the precocious 3-year-old darling on “The Cosby Show” some 20 years ago.

She acquired an enormous fan base of “tweens” to teens in her effervescent roles on a string of successful TV shows, among them “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper,” “Kim Possible” and “That’s So Raven,” and appeared in such feature films as “Dr. Doolittle 1 and 2” and “College Road Trip.”

Presently, she voices the character of Iridessa – the first African-American fairy in “Tinker Bell,” Disney’s popular animated franchise.

For the past two decades, Raven Symone has become synonymous with family-friendly fun and she has no desire to switch gears at this stage of the game. Today, she is making her mark as an adult actress who chooses roles that she hopes will celebrate women and look beyond color.

Recently, I spoke to the charming, engaging, candid and soon-to-be-24-year-old Atlanta resident about her fairy tale image and her realistic outlook on life.

Q: Watching the Tinker Bell story brings back so many early memories of how one feels as a child seeing fairy tales; the joy and wonder that tends to be a part of this whole scenario. How does it feel when you watch these kinds of movies and how does it feel knowing that you are part of them?

A: It feels that I’m a part of someone’s childhood forever. I remember watching “Peter Pan” and I’ll never forget that story. These DVDs will cater to that audience as well. To be a part of that and to know [that] as the generation watching this Tinker Bell grows up, they’ll be able to tell their children, ‘Oh, Raven was in this movie and so was this person and Lucy Liu and so on.’ That’s so cool and I’ve always said [that] I wanted to be a part of the Disney vault. Hopefully, this movie will become a classic like many others and I’ll be able to be a part of that legacy.

Q: … You are a fully developed actor, able to do whatever you want with a skill set that is unlimited. What do you consider when analyzing projects that may take you away from the audience that holds you ‘so’ dear as a cherished personality?

A: I never pick roles that take me away from them. They are the reason that I’m here. They are the reason that I can do this work. What I want to do is grow up with them so I don’t ever lose them. The people that were watching me when I was 15 on “That’s So Raven,” hopefully were 13-14-15 and now they’ll be 21-22-23. I’m 24, so I want to do roles that cater to what we’re going through so they can always be with me. For the kids that are watching me now, that are 14-15-16, by the time they get to my age, they’ll be able to watch the work that I did at this time. I want to make sure [that] in every role I pick, I’m able to capture my age or time bracket, to make sure there’s something to entertain you with.

Considering various roles or things away from comedy, I only do things that I’m comfortable with and, as of right now, me as a person, as a human being, I’m not a very serious person. I really don’t like serious conversations. I’m the first one to be like, ‘OK, next topic, too serious, tears are starting to fall.’ I don’t like it, but I will have to tackle that eventually, especially if I want to grow up, I guess. But, I don’t want to grow up all the way just yet.

Q: That’s good to know. How has your life changed since “That’s So Raven” ended, or has it?

A: If it has changed, I think perhaps my child-like mind, which actually, I don’t want it to go. I try my best to lead as normal a life as possible; I’m not really into the hype of “the celebrity” part of the business even though I know that’s what comes with it. I’m able now, if anything, able to say “no” more and “yes” more. I’m able to be a lot more picky with the choices that I make and respected for that which is just amazing.

But, all the other things that come with it is kind of funny to me. I’m like, ‘ya’ll know me, stop trippin.’ It’s funny when people come up to me that have watched me over the years; they feel like I’m their little sister so I can act like that, and that’s good.

Q: In this business, especially as a person of color, there is sometimes a tremendous expectation on what others think you should be doing. Using films as an example, if African American-themed films don’t do as well at the box office it seems to have a multiple effect throughout the community. Do you feel that you carry any undue pressure because you’ve been a successful African-American actor, and conversely, do you feel that there is any undue pressure because of it, your success?

A: Um, let me just answer this correctly because people might think that what I’m going to say might be a little insensitive. I look at myself as a female actor and I’m taking roles that any nationality could do. With that, hopefully, people will see African Americans in every light and the pressure of it for me is making sure that that is the trade. Am I making sense?

So, the pressure for me is when people say, ‘you gotta represent for your black girls.’ I need to represent for females in general, no matter what color. The ones that don’t get called beautiful, the ones that do get called beautiful, the ones that are a size in the double digits, the ones that wear single size digits. I think we just have to realize we’re in this world together. We need to stop separating ourselves and move forward as people, and to do that, just live. So, I pick roles that reflect what happened, what happens in my life and then I’ll say, as an African-American woman.

Q: When I look at you and the opportunities that you have, they warm my heart because I remember the time when those opportunities did not exist. I believe in change because I’ve lived through change and when I look at the time and space in life that you occupy, it makes me happy. It doesn’t make me sad about the past: what was and the limitations of the past, it just makes me happy to know that we have a measure of change and you represent that measure of change. Does it feel that way to you?

A: Can I just say what you just said? Can that be my answer? (Laughter) I want to represent change. I will answer your question, but I just wanted to elaborate. I know what happened in the past; I am respectful of every African-American woman that had to sit through being the slave in the movie, or being treated differently, or getting paid less. And, please don’t think that I do not think about it every day. But, knowing the space that I’m in, I’m going to show you that I can blend in where hopefully, people won’t see color.

Now to your question, do I feel like I’m really a part of it? I think that everyone in my age bracket is. Yes, I’m a part of it. It’s not my everyday thought, but hopefully, people consider me a part of that. I try my best to represent for my community, for my sex as a female and for people who want good entertainment. I just want to be there for you and give you something cool and new to look at; I don’t want you to think anything more or anything less of me and I think, well, I hope, that the females that have paved the way for me are proud [of what I am doing].

Read the full interview at www.talk2sv.com.

Celebrated for her informative and intriguing interviews, Sandra Varner is a well-established, respected and trusted voice in entertainment, arts and lifestyles coverage. Her extensive portfolio includes: A-List entertainers, newsmakers, political figures, authors, Hollywood personalities, filmmakers, celebrity lifestyles, music information, movie news, theatre and travel destination features. Read more about Varner and her collection of interviews at www.talk2sv.com.

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