A versatile actress of theater, primetime, daytime and feature films, Rowell is known around the world for her various roles. She is a daytime television icon as the feisty Drucilla Winters on CBS' THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS. She has been nominated twice for a Daytime Emmy and has won 12 NAACP Image Awards. She also co-starred in the CBS hit primetime television series DIAGNOSIS MURDER, with Dick Van Dyke, for eight seasons - while continuing her daytime TV work.
On the big screen, she has worked with award-winning leading men, including Beau Bridges, Jim Carrey, Dick Van Dyke, Mario Van Peoples, Will Smith, Eddie Murphy and Samuel L. Jackson.
THE RICH AND THE RUTHLESS promises more of the zaniness that readers have fallen in love with in her books, "Secrets of a Soap Opera Diva" and "The Young and the Ruthless."
We Love Soaps spoke with Rowell this week. Read our exclusive interview below:
WE LOVE SOAPS: Can you tell us about your new project, THE RICH & THE RUTHLESS, and what you're doing with Kickstarter?
VICTORIA ROWELL: I've been involved with daytime dramas over many years, predominantly on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS for 14 years as the iconic Drucilla Barber Winters. But the pilot is an amalgamation of my stage experience in the ballet world, as well as primetime, film and daytime drama.
I was fortunate to gain a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster Atria which further inspired me to continue to write. I had already gotten on the New York Times [Best Sellers List] with "The Woman Who Raised Me," which is still selling. But I really wanted to write a soap opera series.
I asked to write for Sony/Bell/CBS for THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS. Due to extenuating circumstances, which I will never know, I was denied that opportunity. But it inspired me to write my own show.
We have an incredible cast including three former members of THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS. We also have primetime and film stars as part of the cast, which is thrilling. The audience wants to laugh. It's a dramedy, and the audience is going to get what they asked for: they want to see me back on television. They love a soap opera but millions of people don't have time to watch a soap opera during the day, they want to watch it at night, and we're going to provide that.
It's a soap opera about a soap opera, and I pull back the bubbles. It's Soap Dish meets THE OFFICE meets 30 ROCK, in a nutshell. It is salacious and crackles with drama and is over-the-top. It's behind-the-scenes secrets, but not in a one-dimensional format. It is not only about the stars on-set, but behind the scenes - and when they go home. We really get a very comprehensive feeling for our characters. It's a multicultural cast and we also have a phenomenal crew.
VICTORIA ROWELL: It's very exciting. I am the executive producer, creator and head writer, and I have a fantastic writing team. I can't go into details, but there are noted soap writers who want in. The story is black-led and the soap opera is owned by Augustus Barringer, who is an African American with two spoiled children. He's trying to run the show and keep it on the air.
We tell the story from the perspective of real-time, with soap operas trying to stay on the air and the lives of the characters. It's a soap opera about a soap opera, but even more, about the lives of these people. You really invest in the people more than them just being soap stars. I think that is extremely important in the storytelling. Although this is a fictional piece of work, we are endeavoring to explore the complexities of who they are offstage, and between each other.
WE LOVE SOAPS: We Love Soaps produces the Indie Soap Awards every year honoring the best of independently filmed, scripted and serialized programming for web. There's some amazing undiscovered talent out there, but they have no chance to get hired on network television, especially daytime, with the same people getting hired over and over.
VICTORIA ROWELL: It's very incestuous. I really applaud you for your entrepreneurial thinking and having the Indie Soap Awards. I hope to get an invitation!
WE LOVE SOAPS: Drucilla was always a really funny character. She was in these very dramatic situations, but you were one of those special actresses that elevated scenes, and could bring a comedic element to it. Do you like doing comedy?
VICTORIA ROWELL: I love doing comedy. Let's face it, getting a product on the air is a competition. The whole point of competition is raising the bar, and whether that's TV, sports, film or music, I see THE RICH AND THE RUTHLESS as a fantastical game changer. I do have that element, maybe it's because of 18 years in foster care, but I have a fearless personality, and a lot of experience. Comedy is where it started for me, with Bill Cosby. I've worked with everyone from Bill Cosby to Dick Van Dyke to Will Smith to Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels and more. That's a lot of funny people, and it's not an accident. I'm getting back to my root of comedy.
I have to say, there was a producer who did not like my funny stuff on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS. But the audience absolutely embraced it, and I'm going to bring them more of it in THE RICH AND THE RUTHLESS.
I'm working with actors who have comedy, as well, in their toolkit. It's going to be a lot of fun.
WE LOVE SOAPS: Do you plan on shooting this as a pilot and shopping it around? Or will you air something on the web?
VICTORIA ROWELL: I've been asked to hold that close to the vest right now. What I can share with you is we already have interest, and we're shooting in the next 60 days. It's a SAG/AFTRA/DGA project.
WE LOVE SOAPS: Where are you shooting?
VICTORIA ROWELL: Los Angeles. We have already received requests for location shoots, from cities with strong tax incentives, and that's been lovely. But we're not prepared to take up those invitations at this moment.
WE LOVE SOAPS: Can you reveal any other names involved in the project, behind the scenes or in front of the camera?
VICTORIA ROWELL: I can reveal the three former THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS stars who have come on board: Brenda Epperson, who played Ashley Abbott; Davetta Sherwood, who played Lily; and Ben Guillory, who played Drucilla's dad. We also have one of the stars of the summer hit film, The Heat, coming on board for the pilot. We have some other actors but it would be best if I did not share more information about the ensemble cast.
You will not be disappointed. We're going to have a couple of "Oh my God!" reactions. I've called in favors. I've worked with a lot of fabulous actors, and they have risen to the occasion.
WE LOVE SOAPS: There are a lot of great indie shows on the web that tell diverse stories, but not as many on TV. Do you think network television is making progress in terms of diversity?
VICTORIA ROWELL: It's not nearly enough progress. Hence, we have these independent opportunities, where independent creatives have a platform to raise funds for their projects. It's absolutely genius.
WE LOVE SOAPS: In my mind, Drucilla on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS was a universally loved character. It's frustrating, as a fan of the show, that she didn't return.
VICTORIA ROWELL: My representatives have asked for my return based upon my pictures being used in many soap magazines, and daily fan requests since 2010, but my representation and I have been turned down systematically. That's something out of our control. That is executives making that decision, so the best practice for me is to take this opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons.
What I have before me is a fanbase that has been extremely loyal. They've put me on the New York Times Best Seller List, they're buying the novel, and they want a soap opera and want me to star in it. So I will.
I'm going to take the audience that I built, and present a product to them. Hopefully they will want to watch it, and want to show their support, either in viewership or in funding on Kickstarter.com. I know that Kickstarter is saturated, but we're going to give it the old college try. Donations of $1 or more are accepted. We're looking for so little money, $50,000, inside of, now, 20 days. We're hoping the audience out there will say they want to fund a project like this, even if they don't watch that genre of entertainment, because of the diversity element - and the exquisite cast.
WE LOVE SOAPS: People want to see themselves and their stories represented, and they want to laugh too.
VICTORIA ROWELL: People want to laugh and that's what's different about my dramedy. People are going laugh and cry, and I'm going to bring the brand of entertainment that I know how to do well, that I've brought to daytime, primetime and film. An audience today wants more than just faux-reality television. That's what soap opera is, and why reality television has taken over. If you're going to go there, you've got to bring more than what once was. You have to bring a brand of television that is going to be enticing, game changing and, in some cases, provocative.
THE RICH AND THE RUTHLESS is an exhaustive process, but I ardently believe in the product. And if enough people know about the project being available to invest in, on Kickstarter, we will meet our goal. We're going to film, one way or another.
This is not just a product for domestic audiences. My vision is: this also has international distribution reach, ultimately.
WE LOVE SOAPS: Going way back into the past, we always get asked about your role as Nella Franklin in AS THE WORLD TURNS. Do you have any memories of working on that show?
VICTORIA ROWELL: I just saw Count [Stovall, who played Roy Franklin on ATWT] and I see Tamara Tunie [who played Jessica Griffin]. It was a wonderful experience and an entrée into daytime drama. I really enjoyed playing that role.
WE LOVE SOAPS: If you could go back to the beginning of your professional career, and give yourself a piece of advice, knowing what you know now, what would you tell young Victoria Rowell?
VICTORIA ROWELL: [Laughs] That's a great question.
Make sure you carefully select your support team. I always say that to young actors. You want supportive representation that supports your vision with the big picture. If you are an actor who writes and choreographs or an actor or writer who does other things, make sure your team embraces that. It's very important, because going forward, you don't want to have to wrestle with staying in a box.
I'm an artist that dances and writes and produces and lectures, and I have a portfolio career... So I would always caution artists to be judicious, and selective, about who is on your team, going forward.
SUPPORT THE RICH AND THE RUTHLESS
For more information about the Kickstarter campaign and how you can donate, visit kickstarter.com.
Roger Newcomb is a producer and writer in New York City. Aside from co-hosting WE LOVE SOAPS TV, he has written and produced a full-length indie film, Manhattanites, and two radio soap operas, SCRIPTS & SCRUPLES and ROCKLAND COUNTY. He has also made acting appearances in indie web series IMAGINARY BITCHES and EMPIRE. He has consulted on numerous indie soaps, worked as a producer on the first two seasons of Emmy-nominated THE BAY, and is executive producer on the indie short May Mercy Lie, which is currently making the rounds at film festivals. He appeared in FRANCOPRHENIA in 2012 and the documentary SOAP LIFE, out on DVD in 2013.