Actress and comedienne Paula Jai Parker refuses to be placed in a box, so you can stop trying. For more than two decades, viewers witnessed the “Hollywood Diva” perform in just about every Black cinema blockbuster that comes to mind from the late ’90s and early 2000s, including classic movies: Friday, Hustle & Flow and Why Do Fools Fall in Love. This time around Parker is switching things up as she takes on a new role in her first ever horror film, “The Summoning.” Directed by Charles Murray and Chris Stokes, it premieres tonight, Saturday, June 6 at 8 p.m. on TV One.
Parker plays Angela Simmons Alexander, a young woman who throws a curve ball to her love life when she resurrects her late husband, TJ Simmons (Terrell Tilford). But wait. She has a new husband, Wayne Alexander (Dorian Missick). “This role was a dream come true and working with Charles Murray was phenomenal,” Parker says during a recent interview with rolling out.
Rolling out recently had the opportunity to chat with Parker exclusively about pressing reset on her career after a long hiatus, balancing family and acting, and the difficulty of finding roles in an industry that has a dicey relationship with Black actors. –lauren martinez
Check out the highlights from the interview below:
How does it feel to be back working in the film industry while juggling your acting career and being a full-time mother?
I feel phenomenal. Working in entertainment is all I ever wanted to do. To be working consistently again is truly a blessing. As you can see, just getting to this interview was hard [laughs]. My son is a now a working actor and I have my husband who acts as well. We are all working with one car and I have four jobs already lined up by myself. I have so many hats that I wear daily, so the situation becomes trying at times. I really need a personal assistant. I’m putting it out there that I’m looking for someone in the Los Angeles area.
How difficult is it maintaining a stable relationship in Hollywood?
I never thought I would marry an actor. I always thought they were a little you know… I need a thug and I never thought actors possessed that quality. Most actors that display that quality are usually acting. I met my husband when he was finishing college with his masters in Theater. We bonded over having acting in common. I believe it was the fact that he hadn’t been jaded and wasn’t a working actor at the time. He wasn’t a famous actor who hadn’t been thrown all kinds of underwear on the red carpet. He was learning the game himself and it was a ride I was excited to take with him.
What can you tell me about your role in The Summoning?
I play the lead, which is my first big lead in a movie. I have been offered leads before, but I never found one that I wanted to take. When I first got into the industry, I was a kid. So my focus was centered on having fun and making money. With me being older now I’m getting offered a wider variety of roles and I love it. This movie is an actors dream come true. I had the pleasure of working with Charles Murray. He is an actor’s director who specializes in actresses. The director made him watch the reality show I’m in and he used things he saw to get me in character. He brought out things I never knew existed within me.
What steps did you take in determining if you wanted to take on the role?
I always said God is my agent and my manager. I didn’t take any steps before my decision. The director offered me the part and I went for it. When the script was sent to me, I assumed I was getting casted for the secondary character. I thought there was a typo in the paperwork when I couldn’t find my characters name on it. My manager said, “You didn’t know you were Angela?” I automatically thought I would be playing the ghetto one. When I realized I was the lead for the film, I cried.
How was your experience acting in a horror movie opposed to doing comedies or dramas?
This is my first time filming a scary movie. People would like to say Tales from the Hood was the first, but it really wasn’t scary. The movie was more focused on the fear of living in the hood more so than ghosts or demons. The Summoning is really a PG-13 movie, but it still has the same elements as a horror movie. This is a movie that could definitely lead to a sequel.
What are your thoughts on diversity in Hollywood?
There aren’t many roles for us outside of the top five of us who are on prime time television or cable. If we allow ourselves to drift than that is exactly what we will do. In Hollywood, you have to differentiate yourself amongst your peers. People are attracted to others that can do more than just one thing. It’s definitely a plus when you see actors doing things for the community more than just sitting around and waiting for the next opportunity. You don’t have the power in this industry. It’s hard having to pretend based on the discretion of someone else’s decision. You have to be more innovative in creating roles for yourself. In the television show I’m on, my character is a Jamaican woman. I work hard on trying to perfect my accent. It means something to me to be honest and truthful to the Caribbean community. As an American, it can be frustrating for me when I see British people getting American roles. I am sure it can be the same for Caribbean actors in Hollywood who feel they should be getting that role. But what they don’t understand is that it’s not for me to stretch. This is another way of diversifying myself because I might not always be able to get the role for a white girl but I might be able to get cast as a Hispanic woman. When those opportunities come you don’t say no. You just have to work your butt off to prove you can be realistic.
What are your feelings towards people getting hired off social media for acting jobs?
I’m so about working and focusing on my own journey that it really doesn’t matter to me. I’ve always been a whatever-works type of woman. There is no right or wrong way to get into the entertainment businessindustry in my opinion. I applaud people who have taken it upon themselves to start YouTube channels or blogs. That type of discipline and dedication should be rewarded. As a director and producer, I would hire someone who has 500K followers not knowing who they are, based on their own ingenuity. I’m not mad at anyone on how they get on whether it’s a reality show, a porno, or singing because it’s all a medium of art. I want what’s supposed to be mine and I think other people should just focus on themselves.
Share the other projects your working on.
We are currently getting my show White Sisters together for a new season. I’m on a cable show called “The Hand of God,” which is an Amazon Prime show. Also, on an ABC family I’m in a show called “Recovery Road,” which starts in the fall. Of course, The Summoning will air with TV One on June 6 and “Hollywood Divas” returning later in July followed by Family Time. This is such a blessing to be getting so much work. I don’t take it for granted. This is the best my career has been in all 20 years. I’m just thankful for every one who has said a prayer for me.