Written by | Ray Cornelius
It has been said, “That a prophet is received everywhere else but in his or her own city,” but for Jasmine Guy she has all but been the exception to that rule.
Since returning to her Atlanta roots 4 years ago, Jasmine Guy has been creating minor miracles on the stage at the Alliance Theatre, on the small screen in television shows like The Vampire Diaries and in the director’s chair for Kenny Leon’s True Color’s Theatre Company.
Is this the ‘second coming’ for the award winning actress-dancer-singer?
Well, according to fellow Atlantan and good friend, Kenny Leon, it is and we better get ready!
Jasmine Guy recently sat down with us to talk about her work in Atlanta, her newly established Jasmine Guy Ace Foundation and what it was really like playing Whitley Gilbert on A Different World…
RC: You are the Producing Director for Kenny Leon’s True Color’s Theatre Company. How did that come about?
JG: Yes! Kenny and I have worked on so many plays together. Either he was directing me or he asked me to direct one of the True Color’s productions. Finally he said, “Ok, it’s time for you to have a title since you’re doing so much for the company.” I love working with True Colors. They have become my little Atlanta family.
(Jasmine Guy with Afemo Omilami in the True Colors production of Broke-ology, 2011)
RC: When you and I met four years ago, you were very involved with the Obama campaign. Are you supporting his re-election this year?
JG: Yes! In fact, I told them, “Call me!” I don’t know what the issues will be this go round. But we’ve got to get people out to vote. I think that might be the biggest issue because people will assume that he is going to win and not vote. That’s what happened to us in the House. We didn’t show up to vote. We have to continue to support the president. He can’t do it alone. He needs us to just show up and vote like we did when we elected him.
RC: Let’s talk about The Jasmine Guy Foundation…
JG: Yes! The Jasmine Guy Ace Foundation is for arts, culture and education within our the African-American community—not reinventing the wheel. I want to support pre-existing efforts that are done all over Atlanta , from charter schools that have lost a music teacher to little kids that want to learn dance and need the money. There are so many people and organizations that just need funding. I am really passionate about putting the arts back into our school systems because that’s how I was trained, I attended public school.
RC: “A Different World” turns 25 this year? Any plans to celebrate?
JG: Yes! It’s a really big year for me. Whitley is 25 and Jasmine is 50! So I’m having a really big fundraising event for my foundation in July to help celebrate. It’s called the Jasmine Guy Roast and Toast. I am inviting all of the show’s cast members and giving them permission to either roast or toast me. Now some of them may choose to toast me. (LOL) But I have a feeling the some of them will remind me of things that I am not going to remember. A few moments I might have gone off! The day Denzel Washington came on the set and I didn’t know! So, yes I’ve invited all of them and I can’t wait to see them.
RC: When you look at “A Different World” now. What goes through your mind?
JG: Well a couple of things amaze me like the fortitude of the show. I don’t think you could have told me then at age 25 that it would still have some kind of impact on the world and our community. A lot of kids say, “I went to school because of A Different World and I watch the reruns.” It still has a relevance that I didn’t really appreciate at the time I was doing it.
RC: What is your favorite episode?
JG: My favorite all time episode is Rudy (Keshia Knight-Pulliam) and the Snow Queen. Rudy comes to the dorm to visit Denise Huxtable and Whitley has to babysit for her. Because that was the first season and I hadn’t been given that much direction other than to come in, drop the bomb, slam the door and leave. Which was fine with me; I was happy. But this was my first time finding how Whitley would act with a little kid. And Keisha Knight Pulliam was such a sweetie. She literally followed me around in and out of character. Played with my hair and brushed it. And it was the first time that Whitley could show another side. I love that episode.
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RC: What was it like playing Whitley?
JG: Whitley was a viper. It was fun. First of all, it was such a broad choice of an accent. But I wanted that job and I had auditioned three times and hadn’t gotten it. So I went in as something further away from me and did it on purpose. And I really didn’t think that ‘Whitleys’ existed. I thought it was just a television creation. But I’ve met a few ‘Whitleys’ since then. Some of them right here in Atlanta. (LOL)
RC: We saw her evolve over time. Was that part of your decision?
JG: Well, actually the biggest creative shift for the show was bringing Debbie Allen on as producer. If you look at the first season, there was no Debbie. So there was a drastic shift in the direction of the show and even in Whitley.
Debbie being a graduate of Howard University was like, “This is not real Black college life.” And so, she insisted that the writers come down and visit Historically Black College University’s like Spelman and Morehouse . I mean she made huge creative changes. One of which she said, “And everybody is taking out all them weaves!” (LOL) She also wanted The Pit and the character, Mr. Gaines. She said, “There was always some kind of uncle or aunt or mother that looked over you. Yall ain’t just running amuck!” Debbie also brought flavor to the show like, the frat show…the South African show…the date rape show…the AIDS show. And all of these shows, she had to fight for. So that’s a credit to her.
RC: What’s next for Jasmine Guy?
JG: Right now I’m writing a play for the Alliance Theatre based on the book I wrote about Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur. I’ve also learned to say, yes and just be open. I’m living in the now and accepting opportunities as they come. And they keep coming!
Photo Credit: Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theater Company