Wednesday, June 12, 2019

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Jamey Giddens Hits the Big Time with 'Ambitions'

Ambitions star Robin Givens and creator/producer Jamey Giddens.
Writer and producer Jamey Giddens made a name for himself covering soap operas for Daytime Confidential for more than a decade. His hilarious and insightful podcast commentary, and fascinating interviews, set him apart in the crowded blogosphere, not to mention the fact that he broke more news than every other soap opera journalist combined. What really made it work was his genuine love for the soaps as a lifelong viewer, combined with a deep understanding of how to tell stories as a talented writer. It was no surprise when he was asked to co-write the first season of Victoria Rowell's comedy series The Rich and the Ruthless, and earned an Indie Series Award nomination for his work. It was only a matter time before an even bigger break came his way, and it happened last year when prolific hit-maker Will Packer took notice and made a deal with OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network to pick up the Giddens-penned drama Ambitions.

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.

The all-star cast is led by Robin Givens, who plays 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. Stephanie desperately wants to be in charge of the Carlisle family law firm and quietly fumes about her father Stephen's condescending assertion that she's simply not ready yet. Essence Atkins stars as Amara, a lawyer in 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 but disappoints her supervisor by turning down the offer to run point on a major local case. Brely Evans portrays Rondell, Evan's sister, who runs a not-quite-profitable restaurant called Thelma's Place. Erica Page plays Bella, a fashion designer in Atlanta who designs all of Stephanie's dresses for her.

Kevin Arkadie is executive producer/showrunner, with Giddens and Will Packer Media's Sheila Ducksworth also serving as executive producers.

WE LOVE SOAPS: Situated in Atlanta, Giddens' award-winning writing staff includes Susan Dansby (As the World Turns, The Young and The Restless), Michele Val Jean (The Bold and the Beautiful, General Hospital), Trey Anthony (da Kink in my Hair, How Black Mothers Say I Love You) and Jazmen Darnell Brown (The Citizen, Saints & Sinners).

Ambitions premieres Tuesday, June 18 at 10 p.m. ET on OWN, following a new episode of The Haves and the Have Nots.

We Love Soaps traveled to Atlanta in April to speak with Giddens and the cast about the much-anticipated series. Check out what Giddens had to say in our exclusive interview below.

You found success, and received an Indie Series Award nomination, for your work on The Rich and the Ruthless, but Ambitions has taken you to a whole other level. What has this journey been like for you these past few months?
JAMEY GIDDENS: I've been in the trenches with it for so long. The work has pretty much taken over my life. Moments like this... a few weeks ago we had the first photo shoot and when we released the trailer is when I was able to go, “Oh, this is really happening" and people are reacting and responding to this.

We're here fourteen hours a day just living and breathing the production aspect of it, and working in the writers' room. I've been told once we wrap I'll really start to see everything.

It definitely has been life-changing. I've never just had one job and now I'm able to fully support myself as a writer and producer, which is an amazing opportunity for any writer. It's been a rare experience having been able to do this from development, and then being a part of the entire process to the point where it was picked up.

When I first came to the studio and saw the Ambitions plaques and the signs on the elevator, it was like, "Wait, that was just in my head a year ago." Seeing all the trucks with the title on it and walking onto the stages for the first time was a "wow" moment. It's been an amazing and incredible ride, and hopefully one that will go fourteen seasons [laughs].

WE LOVE SOAPS: You are known for your wonderful sense of humor. How much of that comedic side did you work into Ambitions?
JAMEY GIDDENS: There definitely are moments. The character of Rondell was actually meant to be our comic relief but Brely Evans is an amazing dramatic actress so we give her something to play within that range, too. There are also surprises that we didn't even write in. Robin Givens is really funny. When I created Stephanie, she was an ice queen. She was just dark. When it comes to her marriage, she kind of dealt with it in more an icy way. But Robin just infuses her scenes with so much comedy that we leaned into that.

That's one thing I learned the most as a writer. You come in with your script, bible, or your ideas but you have to watch the actors and lean into what they can play, what they bring into it, and their choices. Stephanie definitely has a villainous streak but she's also really humorous, snarky and fun. She became more of a black "Blair Waldorf" from Gossip Girl and how I initially saw her was as a black Cersei from Game of Thrones [laughs]. Now she's a mixture of both. She can take care of business but she does it with a dose of humor.

WE LOVE SOAPS: You brought some writers from daytime soaps onto the Ambitions writing staff. Why was that important to you?
JAMEY GIDDENS: When I was told that we were going to have a very tight writing room schedule and we need people who can turn out content fast, I knew no one could do it faster than daytime writers. Michele and Susan have a wealth of experience not only only with storytelling but Susan was the first black woman to direct in daytime television so she also has a director and producer mindset. Michele started her career in primetime and then moved to daytime. She watches every hot show and she's always on the pulse of what's going on in the world. They both have been invaluable. Daytime writers and actors are some of the hardest working people in the entertainment industry.

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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