If this is a man’s world, Lady Ella Johnson certainly didn’t get the church memo saying so.
Lady Ella is the dominating force known as the forever First Lady of the Greater Hope Baptist Church, devilishly portrayed by award-winning actress Vanessa Bell Calloway, on Bounce TV’s hit drama series Saints & Sinners.
In the series third season, Calloway has become a fan favorite, emanating a ferocious spirit as the Mayor of sinful Cypress while leaving viewers holding tight to their church hats.
In an exclusive interview with The Grio, Vanessa Bell Calloway talks about what she learned at the helm as a director and what changes she’d like to see happen with her cut-throat character.
Why was it important for you to direct episodes this season and what did you learn?
Vanessa: “It’s important to grow. Last season I directed one so it made sense to direct two. I’ve directed other things like online things, like web-series and stuff like that…shorts. It’s about growth and it’s time to keep going to direct more and other projects. After that hopefully I will be directing other TV shows. It’s a natural progression. I’m an actress I’ve been in front of the camera for over 30 years now. It’s time to get behind as well. Because I’m a new director, every time I direct I’m learning something. So next time I’ll know how to do that better. Next time, I’ll take that different approach. When you’re learning a craft, the only way you get better is if you practice. There are challenges that come up and discoveries that come up, so I’m in the process of doing all that.”
You play a ruthless take-no-prisoner character, how do you like playing this type of character and is there anything Lady Ella won’t do for power?
Vanessa: “I’m going to answer the last question first, I don’t think there’s nothing she won’t do for power. She may not do anything but she’s gonna stop and think about it first. If it sounds tempting, she’s gonna run it through her mind a couple times. Playing a part like that is fun because you get to abort everything you’re about. I don’t have to be Vanessa, I don’t have to do Vanessa’s moral compass. I get to totally create this wicked fun woman who loves—she does have a lot of love in her heart—she’s just doing the best she can with what she has. So it’s great fun. I get to abandon everything I am as a person and play someone I will probably never be in life.”
Saints & Sinners is just so dramatic and you never know what’s going to happen. What has surprised you about your character’s storyline this season?
Vanessa: “Nothing much. Nothing surprises me. I just love to look forward to what other great funny, manipulative things that she’s going to do. I look forward to seeing what that is.”
Have you had any response or backlash from the Black church?
Vanessa: “No, church is our backdrop. If you [viewers] see yourself in it, don’t be mad at us! Then look at yourself. We’re here to entertain. We’re not here to make comments on the Black church. We’re very seldom in church, our characters. So it’s not really about the Black church it’s about the people in the church that happen to be Black.”
What would you say you love most about your character and what needs to change?
Vanessa: “What I love most about her is that she doesn’t need permission from men to do what she wants to do. She doesn’t live in a man’s world. She’s totally in her world. She’s running shit her way. And she really don’t care. Either you get her or you don’t. She’s not a “yes” woman, she’s not downtrodden for nobody. She’s not answering to nobody but herself. And she can have a little more compassion, I think. Sometimes she’s a little greedy and manipulative and a little power hungry. But that goes with the territory, I guess.”
What do you think makes this show so addictive to viewers?
Vanessa: “It’s just plain ole’ drama. People love dramatic even when it seems off-the-cuff and a little overboard. There’s a lot on TV these days and with people, you know you’ve got to get their interest. The storylines go quickly. It doesn’t drag. Each character has something going on. And when they get together, that’s two somethings going on. It’s fun and you can just let go of reality and just soak into it. People know some people like this! People are messy! There’s no filters. It’s not guarded. It’s just drama, pure gut-bucket, low, dirty scale drama and people just respond to it. And then I hope that there’s some good acting that they like as well.”
Tune into Saints & Sinners on Bounce TV Sundays at 9:00 ET.