Thursday, June 13, 2019

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Essence Atkins Thinks You'll Become Addicted to 'Ambitions'

Essence Atkins stars as Amara Hughes in Ambitions.
Anticipation is building for the premiere of the Jamey Giddens-penned and Will Packer-produced primetime soap opera Ambitions, which debuts on Tuesday, June 18 at 10 p.m. ET on OWN. Ambitions 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. Essence Atkins stars as Amara Hughes, 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 investigator and prosecutor.

The all-star cast also includes Robin Givens as Stephanie Carlisle, the wife of Atlanta Mayor Evan Lancaster (Brian J. 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; Brely Evans as Rondell, Evan's sister, who runs a not-quite-profitable restaurant called Thelma's Place; and Erica Page as Bella, a fashion designer in Atlanta who designs all of Stephanie's dresses for her.

Prior to taking on the role of Amara in Ambitions, Atkins starred in numerous television series and films including Half & Half, Smart Guy, Mr. Box Office, Marlon, Are We There Yet?, Girlfriends' Getaway, Deliver Us from Eva, A Haunted House, Dance Flick, and many more.

We Love Soaps caught up with Atkins when we traveled to Atlanta in April to speak with the Ambitions cast. Check out what she had to say in our exclusive interview below.

WE LOVE SOAPS: What was your first reaction when you read the script for Ambitions?
ESSENCE ATKINS: I loved the idea of telling the story, especially from Amara's point of view. I auditioned for Will, and originally auditioned for the role of Stephanie. They liked what I did but wanted to see me as Amara. When I read the pilot, Amara was the character that I immediately connected with because of her earnestness when it came to keeping her marriage together. I went through a divorce in 2016 so there is a lot of "would have, could have, should have" moments that I still wrestle with a few years later, and questions that I have. I put a lot of that into Amara's character.

That's the great thing about being an actor.  It's truly like therapy [laughs]. There are moments, wherever you are, in which you can find ways to use that and work through it to a certain extent. The marriage that I had that fell apart now gets fought for in this dynamic.

WE LOVE SOAPS: What stood out to you?
I love the story. The story of Ambitions and what it drives us to do, which is a strange marriage of ethic, desire, power, tenacity and all the things it requires to really execute whatever your ambitions are. That's what we are wrestling with, and those are the stories we are telling. Those are the balls that are in the air, and the loyalties can shift on a dime depending upon what it is you are really after and what it is at the core of what is driving you. I love that about it.

That's what is so fascinating to me because as actors we are kind of like amateur psychiatrists. We're always trying to figure out what the traumas are, what the core of things are, and what the motivations are.  Not to sound so ridiculously thespian but literally these are things that we are always mulling over through our characters. It's fun to be on the roller coaster that is Ambitions. We'll be sitting next to each other at table reads and go, "Woooooow" [laughs]. The way things that come alive at the table versus us just reading them on the paper. Robin will say something or Brian will say something and it just comes to life, and you're thinking, "Oh, this is going to be so good." We are really excited when we have our table reads about what’s next. Sometimes, we're very surprised [laughs].

WE LOVE SOAPS: What is it like working for the OWN network?
ESSENCE ATKINS: I've never worked for OWN before. This is my first time. I think we are in agreement that it is an honor for us to work for someone under the leadership of Oprah Winfrey, the brand itself and navigating a world where there is familiarity in terms of what kind of content you see and what kind of guests she has.

I've done a number of shows where I have been a series regular. Every network is different. What I really appreciate about the OWN Network is feeling supported. Just because you have a show on the air doesn't mean the network is behind you, or they believe in you or are going to set you up for success. All we have control over is the "artist" part of it, doing our best, showing up to work, making sure we are prepared and executing it. The rest of it is out of our hands and then really becomes a partnership. Support like yours--where you go out to the world and tell people that this is worth their time. Also, the support from the network because they are putting the marketing dollars behind it to bring awareness.

With all these multiple platforms, choices and people pulling for your time, it's hard for the audience know where to look. It requires the network and studio getting behind the show so they can make some sort of impression. Without that you get lost in the shuffle. We are really excited about being on a network that's really going to go deep for us. They are going to go hard, and that's a really great position to be in as an actor.

WE LOVE SOAPS: Why is Ambitions a must-watch show?
ESSENCE ATKINS: It's a great forum for storytelling. I think anybody who likes suspense, drama, romance, sex and betrayal is going to become addicted.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Lovers, competitors, enemies, traitors, scandal—and that's just for starters! Don't miss the premiere of Ambitions on Tuesday, June 18 at 10 p.m. ET, only on OWN. Check out the Ambitions trailer below.

Shruti Sadana is a bicoastal producer and actor. She attended SUNY Purchase where she earned her B.A. in Cinema Studies. After graduating, she interned at EUE/Screen Gems in New York City and assisted with high profile events for Gen Art. She also worked on several productions behind the scenes and in front of the camera.  She recently produced the transgender rights short film ​Denim,​ starring Jazz Jennings. She also produces content and interviews celebrities for the online magazine, ​Hey Beauti. Shruti has worked on several cover photo shoots for their online platform with some of the industry’s most well known talent: Steve Howey (​Shameless, Reba), ​ Sarah Shahi ​(The L Word, Person of Interest, Reverie), ​ Emmanuelle Chriqui ​(Entourage, The Passage, You Don’t Mess with Zohan, Shut Eye). ​ Her interviews include Priyanka Chopra, Megan Fox, Malin Akerman and many more. Her positive nature, work ethic, and keen sense of understanding people on a deeper level has lead her to build strong relationships in the industry.

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