Amber Stevens West: The accidental comedian

It’s uncanny how much Amber Stevens West favors the Knowles girls. While her gift is not performing on global stages like Beyoncé or deejaying like Solange, it’s a recurring compliment that she acknowledges.

West takes the call for this interview as she’s leaving LAX and headed home after a trip to San Francisco. Within 10 minutes, this writer realizes West is way too chill to be driving through the congested streets of Los Angeles. West informs me that she’s a passenger. Duh! We were so engaged in BFF-ish banter, I forgot I was on the phone with a rising Hollywood star.

West stars in “The Carmichael Show,” which is a classic situation comedy that offers witty, relevant writing and many times controversial content.

“My character is Maxine, Jerrod’s live-in girlfriend, a therapist-in-training, who loves to challenge Jerrod and his entire family on all their views. She’s a very open-minded, liberal thinker, who brings an interesting balance because her point of view is always different than anyone else’s,” she explains.

West shares that she doesn’t have any formal education in theater arts; she’s just a natural actor. “When I was in high school, I did commercials and modeling when I was 17. It’s when I met my manager,” says the graduate of Beverly Hills High School. “I’ve taken an on-camera acting class. It’s a small class offered in Hollywood. You have to learn to hit your mark and learn to memorize your lines. I stuck with the class for two or three years. There’s something to be said about going to whatever class works for you and knowing what your own strengths and weaknesses are, polishing them and trusting your instincts, and going with that. I found that I got what I needed from acting class because I continue to get work.”

In three words, describe Amber.

Happy, grateful and friendly.

Why did you try out for the role? How did you hear about it?

Actually, Jerrod [Carmichael] had a deal at NBC. They made a pilot a year before “The Carmichael Show” and it was a different incarnation of what the show is now. I auditioned for it back then and I was trying really hard to get it. Jerrod and I have a really good vibe. His stand-up is really smart and I figured he’d make a really awesome sitcom.

What is your favorite episode to date?

I have so much fun on every single one; they all tickle me in a different way. There are certain scenes that stand out more than others to me. Really, as a whole, I am very proud of all the episodes. It was the funeral episode where Joe’s [character played by David Alan Grier] father dies. I was so moved by that. When Marla [Gibbs] came to play his mom, it was just shocking. We couldn’t believe she was there. She was so funny and so good. The scene they did together, during rehearsal, had every single cast and crewmember with tears in their eyes. It was so moving and special. I will never forget that moment, especially to have something like that in a sitcom. These are characters we haven’t known for long. For them to have such a real, honest and open moment like that in a sitcom is so unique and special. I am proud to have that moment in the show — even though I wasn’t even in it.

How is it on set working with your cast mates?

Oh, it’s exactly what you’d think — super fun, silly and professional. It’s amazing. Jerrod is such a great leader. He’s the youngest of the entire cast. He sets a great precedent. He comes into work really focused but excited, collaborative and very positive every day. It sets the tone for everyone else. David and Loretta [Devine] are the most professional actors I think I have ever worked with — they’re always on time, always know their lines, mess around when it’s OK to mess around but are very serious when they need to be.

Everything runs smoothly and efficiently at our job. We all really like each other and have a lot of fun. We’re always singing. Every single one of us on the cast can sing. There [are] many times where we stop during the middle of the day and everyone is singing Dreamgirls’ songs or the latest from Adele. Loretta jokes at least once a week about doing a musical episode.

[David Alan Grier and Loretta Devine’s friendship spans 25 years. He starred as James “Thunder” Early and she originated the role of Lorrell Robinson, a fictional character based on Mary Wilson in the hit Broadway musical Dreamgirls].

What was the last Broadway show you attended?

I had a callback in New York. I had an afternoon to myself and went to see The Lion King. It’s been around for a while. I saw it as a kid and never forgot it. It’s one of those shows that I have always loved and been obsessed with. I’m a huge Disney fan. The “Circle of Life” was in the opening. I was in a puddle of tears. I loved it.

Do you prefer TV or film?

TV. There’s something special about working with the same group of people for a long period of time. With movies, you come and go as an actor, especially if you are not the lead, from week to week. You don’t really have a lot of time to get to know anyone, and then on to the next thing. I know a lot of actors who find fulfillment in playing an entirely new character. I like to stick with one character and create a family with the people around me.

Reflect back on your days doing on-camera work and commercials while a student. What was your most awkward phase growing up?

Middle school was my most awkward stage. I switched schools after the sixth grade after having gone to the same school for six years with the same group of 40 kids. It was a shock. I reinvented myself. I experimented with different styles, different groups of friends and different types of music and not knowing how to be cool. I came into my own by eighth grade.

Do you like to sing in the shower?

Singing was the first introduction into entertainment. As a little kid, I’d put on shows for my family. I would sing songs and play piano. I thought while growing up in high school that I would stick with music and try to make a career out of that. As I gave it an honest, real shot, I realized it was not for me. It’s a really different life path. I feel that you have to be born and made for it — you have to have a much stronger passion for it than I ever did. I do love to sing. From time to time, I will get on stage like cabaret. I did a musical once — nothing too serious. … I joke with people that one day I will do a stint on Broadway. It will be really cool to do a show for a little while.

What’s your favorite Beyoncé song?

I can listen to the entire Lemonade album. It’s basically the best thing that I’ve experienced this year. I’m obsessed with every song on it. My number one song from her right now is “Freedom.”

What is it about Lemonade that has you so inspired?

It’s an honest, vulnerable album. I’ve always been a fan of hers and enjoyed everything she’s put out. But there’s something personal about it, in a way that she hasn’t done before. The music is beautiful, different and every song has its own vibe. It explores different types of music, featuring James Blake, Kendrick Lamar, and [it has] a Southern charm, but it’s still cohesive. When anyone talks about anything personal, you connect to it.

You married actor Andrew J. West (“The Walking Dead”) in 2014. How did you and your husband meet?

We met on the set of “Greek.” We fell in love. We realized quickly we were made to spend our lives together.

How did you spend your honeymoon?

We went to the Dominican Republic. We explored the island and had a great time. It was beautiful. They were some of the nicest people we’ve ever met in our entire life. We’ve traveled a lot of places and people had never treated us so wonderfully. We had an amazing trip.

Any big travel plans for your second anniversary?

For our anniversary we’d like to organize a trip to Paris. I’ve been there before but we haven’t been there together. It’s the most romantic city in the world. We’re trying to find time so we can go there next. But there is a very long list of places that we’d like to visit and see.

When it comes to marriage and relationship advice, to whom do you turn?

My parents, certainly. … They’ve been married for 30 years. They’ve never been more in love. I have such a great example of what marriage is right in front of me. If I ever have doubts, fears or questions, they are the first people to talk to. And, a couple of our best friends are married; they’re a really strong, solid couple. Supportive people surround us.

(A critically-acclaimed comedy, ‘The Carmichael Show,’ was renewed for Season 3 at NBC, during the Upfronts for the 2016-17 season.)


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