I proudly present Ms. Denyce Lawton. The D.C.-to-California transplant has been on the grind and has a career that has literally blossomed in front of your eyes. This multi-racial beauty (Black/Korean) can be seen on Tyler Perryís hit series Ė House of Payne on TBS. Playing Dana, Lawton has went from Seoul, South Korea to high ranking positions in the entertainment business.
2008 looks to further her growing impact within the business and as Ms. Lawton speaks with Beauty & Brains, she discusses her Hollywood ambitions, how the camera outweighed the schoolbooks and gives a tidbit of advice for those willing to follow in her huge footsteps.
Beauty & Brains: Youíre a very busy young woman. How does your ambition outweigh your availability?
Denyce Lawton: Oh gosh! Itís never balanced. Iím one of those people who want to do everything. If I had five more hours in the day, itíd still be not enough to get everything that I want done. Iím a handís on person and I see the world as an opportunity to conquer all of my dreams. There is so much work and so much money to make that thereís not enough hours in the day to do so.
B&B: What were some of the setbacks you faced coming from South Korea to the U.S.?
DL: I was born in the South Korea, I was raised a military brat. Iíve lived all over the country and the world. I use it as a tool for my career, though. I didnít keep a lot of friends because after that Iíd have to move. I never familiarized myself with the areas that I lived in. There were setbacks to it, though. With me living in different areas, people never really understood me or where I was coming from or even my ethnicity. After that, people judge what they donít understand. Itís been a set back for me. But by being an actress and being in the industry, itís a great tool to take those criticisms and use it to study a character. I get to unleash my anger.
B&B: Now, you graduated at the top percentile of your high school class? Why not pursue the life of an academic instead of an actress?
DL: I went to school for medicine and it was something that I had wanted to do. I thought that it would help me to help people, but later on I realized that thatís not the only way you can help people. Sometimes people think that the entertainment business is not the way to ďhelpĒ people. I was going through a lot while being in the medical field. I saw it [entertainment business] as a stress reliever. I was taking acting classes and I saw things that I could identify with in the entertainment business. Thatís why a lot of people really identify with music. Once I got the acting bug, I went with it and it touched a lot of people who I knew. Acting is a lot more stress free and fun, but I can still see myself as a doctor at the end of the dayÖ one day. I am not discouraging anyone from being in the entertainment business or pursuing an education, but being an actress is my plan A. Not saying that medicine is my plan B, but I have so much appreciation for the business. Being in this business is school; it is boot campÖ you either do it or you donít.
B&B: The Internet allows people unprecedented access into oneís life. When has someone taken that opening too far?
DL: Ah, geez, when do they not?! I reluctantly got a MySpace page and since then my life has been an open book. Youíve heard the stories of people really thinking that an actor is a certain character, right? Well, the world is the same way. If I donít take certain pictures or if I do, people react to me in certain ways. They feel like they have the right to come and touch me or say something to me that is really inappropriate. They feel as if I owe them something through MySpace. Sometimes people take it too far. Women really take it too far. Theyíll come up to me in public places and do something really disrespectful. I think that itís way out of place. People hide behind computers or half the time people donít look the way they say they look.
B&B: Assistant Junior Publicist for 20th Century Fox Films and an Assistant VP job at Warner Brother Records arenít anything to scoff at. How did the access benefit you with your other endeavors?
DL: The first job I had was at Warner Brothers and the initial reason I got in was because I saw a lot of people in the music industry find their way onto the big screen. In my mind, I thought that I could juggle both lives as a musician and an actress. I was blessed with knowing the right people. At my job, I would meet magazine editors, publishers, print photographers and theyíd like my look. They would express interest in me and it was definitely a different twist. It wasnít what I initially went for, but it went along with the job description. When I left Warner Brothers, it was a while before I went to 20th Century Fox. But the job just fell into my lap. I was working in Times Square and I would drive down to D.C. to work in a bar. I hit up a temp office and it was one of the jobs that I got. I took the job of an assistant. A day turned into a couple of months and eventually, one of the ladies was getting married and the job was up against me and another lady. She left; I got the job and the check. The only conflict was that I wasnít able or allowed to interact with the actors or directors and whatnot. I wasnít able to network the way I thought I could. But I did learn the other ends of the business.
B&B: For those who are trying to be screenplay writers or more so of the behind-the-scenes variety, what are some words of advice you can give?
DL: Thatís hard. I, myself, even though I write, itís a really tough business. There are shows that have in-house writers. If youíre not a writer, attached to the show, already, they wonít take your idea for review. Theyíll return your package unopened. Thatís something that Iíve had problems with. Writers are so attached to their projects that they sometimes donít notice that the public sees something different. Most writers want to be directors and 90% of the time, theyíll [directors] rip apart your script and retool it. There are problems where the writers come in with the movie and they are so passionate about the project, that theyíll stop the actor from adlibbing or helping the project. Being a writer, myself; just like in any field of work, is hard. You have to be able to let go so much of yourself and let go so much of your standards and morals to be able to get things that you want made. It can be very scary when youíre not able to do that.
B&B: You have a reoccurring role on Tyler Perryís House of Payne show. Can you talk a little bit about how you got it and what youíve learned from that experience?
DL: Itís something Iíve never been through in my life. Itís an amazing experience. On the show, I play Dana. She is a sassy, young technician and has just been added to the show. The character is basically Kimora Lee Simmons in Atlanta, stuck in a nail shop. Tyler is very hands on. We shoot one episode a day. After the Olympics run, weíre going to do two episodes a day. You have to be very quick on your feet and very adept at ad-libbing. Heís very handís on. Heís very passionate about the workers that work with him and heís a genius. The show itself, the cast, is perfect. Iíve never worked with a cast thatís so funny and so loving. Everyone gets along. I was sent there through my agent and I auditioned before Halloween. I felt okay about it. I was comfortable when doing it which was good. There were so many different types of women. They had the Whoopi Goldberg type, they had women who looked like me and others. It seemed like the show didnít know who they wanted to play the role of Dana. Then on Tuesday, the 30th, I didnít hear anything, but on Halloween, my manager calls me and says that she needs me to pack for a wardrobe fitting. The role was for a recurrence and I was expecting, at the most, three episodes. Long story short, I get to Atlanta and I find out that I was going to be on for 11, then it got bumped on to 18 and now itís looking at something like 20-25 episodes.
B&B: Before Perry became a well-known name, critics used to pan his dressing up as a woman and even questioned his sexuality. As an actress would you ever take a role to go against your natural personality?
DL: Of course, we all do. If youíre not willing to, then youíre in the wrong business. Will I do something that Iím uncomfortable with in a project? I will not. I have no problem playing a lesbian, but particular projects arenít necessary for the show. You donít need to see me carpet munch to know that Iím playing a lesbian. Tom Hanks started off dressing like a woman. Everyone has done it. My problem is when they want you to be holding hands and kissing another man to get a project done, I think that that can be unnecessary. Will Smith didnít have to go that far in Hitch. People are just trying to push the envelope and the borders of integrity.
B&B: Do you think of it more of a challenge or more of a rebellion against the Hollywood industry standard?,
DL: I think itís more so of a Hollywood rebellion. Everyone wants to one-up someone else. They tried to say that The Grudge was the most scariest movie made, so then you have others who compete with that and then they make it too grotesque or too much for people to handle. Thereís a film thatís supposed to be the black Brokeback Mountain, and I donít know why they have to push the envelope and expect our big name actors to do those projects. It takes everything else that theyíve worked so hard to be and pushes it to the backburner. Theyíre already battling so many things already in the business. People are so critical and the fans, the public are the viewers, so they have to do the things to please them.
B&B: How do men react to your ambition? Do they feel like you donít have any time for them?
DL: It depends on the type of man it is. Thatís why when you asked me about my turn-onís and turn-offís, there are a lot of things that could turn me off. I think in the past five years, one relationship was with an actor who didnít support my ambitions. He would criticize me doing it. He wanted me to write and heíd take care of me. If I was introducing people to him, I know a lot of people; heíd be insecure about it. You shouldnít be that way. I would never disrespect our relationship to do something like that. I dated someone after, now, heís very supportive. Heís been in the business for 20 years and heís not the typical guy. He encourages my sexiness. Heís not one of those guys who desires to see me in whatever. He encourages me to go out there and be on the grind. He pushes me to be better. He actually feels bad because of his resume, he canít help me. I am a young, black woman and itís depressing sometimes that you canít help someone. It depends on the guy. Not all men are close-minded and not all men are insecure about their women working.
B&B: What makes you such a suitable catch if youíre involved in such a cutthroat business as Hollywood?
DL: I have a very creative and open mind to doing different characters. It doesnít matter about my looks, Iím not afraid to take the next step. I can look crazy. I love the physical comedy of things. I am a chameleon. I can change my look with the twist of my face. I think that what I have is what other people lack, a definite passion and love of the business.
B&B: If you had to compare your sex to a movie or TV show, what would it be and why?
DL: Itís not a taboo question, because Iím open and honest, but I donít see anything that I donít identify with. I wouldnít identify with a show like Sex and the City, but Iím not prude or anything like Sister Act. Maybe Friends, I donít knowÖ
B&B: Assumptions aside Ė you are active in your community. Would anyone think that a pretty woman would be involved in something like the City of Hope Cancer Center?
DL: People think I donít have the intelligence or willpower to do that and thatís what pisses me off. People assume that I donít have the time to do anything and that the things that I do are hard. Even on MySpace, people cannot believe that I have the time to write them and whatnot. Theyíre shocked because their judgment towards me is that Iím not a nice enough person to do it; that Iím so critical that I wouldnít have the heart to do those things. Letís be realÖ I had to drag my friends out of their beds and had to threaten their friendship to get them to come to my charity event. How dare anyone expect me to support them and their movement and not get anything in return? People expect things in return of doing charity. Out of all the people, my man, whose been in the business for 20 years, deserves the right to be an asshole. He attends all of the functions and signs autographs for any and everyone, while you have people who are in L.A. who wonít even get out of bed to go around the town and do it for the locals.
B&B: Youíre the first interview of the new year and everyone has their resolutions. Care to share yours?
DL: To be honest I havenít even thought of what my resolution would be. My overall advice and mission is ďDonít wait for life to be perfect to be great.Ē It should go into effect and should be applied as soon as possible. You shouldnít wait till December 31st at 11pm to lose those pounds. You should be ahead of the game. Start thinking a few weeks and months ahead of people. Overall, just make everything count.
Be sure to check out Denyce Lawton as Dana on Tyler Perryís House of Payne airing on TBS [check your local listings for times]. If youíre an eager fan or just like Ms. Lawtonís smile, head over to MySpace.com/Denyce11 or her personal site at DenyceLawton.com.