August 01, 2019 

By Lapacazo Sandoval 

Contributing Writer 

 

It might be premature to state this but I think OWN’s “Ambitions” will be a very successful and long-running series for the network. One of the reasons I offer this opinion, so boldly, is because the series deals with love, money, ambition, and betrayal, all being played-out by characters that we all know or dare I offer this, characters that we might ourselves become if faced with the same circumstances. Money and power are always alluring and when combined are intoxicating and addictive. 

 

The definition of ambition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is described as an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power. The Latin word for this effort was ambitio, which came from ambire, a verb meaning “to go around.”

 

I offer the definition of ambition to help paint the backdrop of the new series, “Ambitions,” produced for OWN by Will Packer Media in association with Lionsgate, along with producer-distributor Debmar-Mercury.

 

Created by writer Jamey Gidden, the series is a multigenerational family saga centered around one woman who, having recently relocated and intent on revitalizing her marriage, finds herself going head-to-head with some of the most powerful and deceitful players in the city of Atlanta.

 

Robin Givens stars as Stephanie Carlisle, the wife of Atlanta Mayor Evan Lancaster (Brian White), whose true loyalty is to her own family's prestigious law firm, where she is the latest in a long line of distinguished lawyers. Evan's political ambitions seem to cloud his judgment as he is willing to do anything to get to the next level in his career.

 

Essence Atkins plays the role of Amara, a lawyer in the U.S. Attorney’s Office who has newly arrived in Atlanta with her husband, Titus (Kendrick Cross). Originally from Texas, she is quickly gaining attention from the U.S. Attorney’s Office as a diligent prosecutor. Titus has been hired as in-house counsel for a big pharma company run by Hunter Purifoy, who is fighting a class-action suit brought by the powerful Carlisle family.  Brely Evans plays the role of Rondell, Mayor Lancaster’s sister, who runs a not-quite-profitable restaurant called Thelma’s Place.

 

Essence Atkins is best known for her sense of comedy and girl-next-door charm, although her name may not be familiar, her face has been in people’s living rooms for more than twenty years. Some of her credits include “Marlon,” “Mr. Box Office,” “Are We There Yet?, “ “Half & Half,” “Malibu Shores,” and “Under One Roof” to name a few. 

 

As Amara Hughes in “Ambitions,” Essence brings her sex appeal and classic comedy timing to a complicated and very juicy role.

 

Here is an edited phone conversation with actress Essence Atkins on OWN’s  “Ambitions.”

 

L.A. Watts Times: Tell me about your character?

 

Essence Atkins: One of the things that most appealed to me by playing Amara was how flawed she is. People are used to seeing me playing these very comedic, girl-next-door, put together that has the world in the palm of her hand, type characters. What I love about Amara, although he’s smart and successful and put together to a certain extent, her life is falling apart.  And, that’s where we find her at the beginning of the season and of the series. She and her husband, Titus [Kendrick Cross], have just moved to Atlanta in a hope that they recapture where they [first] fell in love.

The new environment gets them away from her affair, the indiscretion; she’s struggling to regain trust, to get a footing, and to convince the man she loves that she’s redeemed. She’s struggling not to lose what they have built in the last 20 years. There is also the ongoing investigation into her former best friend’s husband cabinet, (played by Robin Givens) who is also the ex-girlfriend of her husband. So, it’s sticky and complicated. I think she’s a bit naive thinking she can put Humpty dumpty back together again.

 

LAWT: Juicy. Love it. That’s ‘Ambitions.’ My first thoughts were, wait, why did she tell her husband, Titus, about Evan [Brian White]? He has very strong feelings about it.  Dude is not over it. 

 

EA: (laughing) Hilarious, that was your take?  She’s again, complicated, and as the season progresses, you will find out more about her flaws.  I hope that the audience sees that they have a real love for reach other, to save their marriage and the 20 years they have been married. But when you face every day with people who have their agendas and people who have their ambitions, you run into trains.  I don’t want to say that you run into problems in the show [here], you run into trains. 

 

LAWT: Was it a long affair?

 

EA: You have to keep watching. It will be revealed. 

 

LAWT: Does her husband have any affairs in his past?

 

EA: You have to keep watching,  As you know, the man she had an affair with, Evan, comes to Atlanta and she’s very suspicious and on edge. At the same time, trying to assure her husband that he’s not a threat. In one episode Titus suggested that she quit her job to stay away from him.

 

LAWT: Did you just saw that you watch the episodes in real-time?

 

EA: Yes, we are watching as the audience is watching and we engage in social media.

 

LAWT: What’s it like working on OWN

 

EA: Just being under the umbrella of Oprah Winfrey, she had a hand in deciding on who was playing how, and that she’s a fan of my work.  And thought that I was the person she wanted to play the character and the fact that Lady O has entrusted me with a very complicated, complex woman.  And not just because she’s Oprah, the indemnity, but also her as an actress. I think her work is quite fordable; it’s very good. She’s very talented in her own right, as a producer, and as an actress.  I was incredibly flattered that she saw me as this character and wanted me to play the character.  Also being on a network [OWN] where you feel supported.  Where you don’t feel like you’re on an island by yourself. They are accustomed to supporting and telling Black stories and stories of people of color and doing caliber work where we can shine and tell a myriad of different kinds of stories.  We’re not relegated to [playing] the strong partner or the sassy friend.  We get to be the sexy leading ladies, and the villains and the heroes and that’s a great place to be for an actress such as myself. 

 

LAWT: I love that you said the ‘sassy, best friend.’

 

EA: (laughing) I’ve played my share and I am grateful.  I’m grateful to have been able to sustain my career in a bunch of different ways, in a bunch of different roles and all of that. No shade, but it’s not to be relegated [In “Ambitions”] to the sidelines and not feel like the baby is in the corner anymore.   

 

“Ambitions” airs on Tuesdays on OWN.

Category: Arts & Culture


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