BY PENNY DICKERSON
SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER
Just in case you haven’t heard, the lovely pillar of grace donning haute couture fashions in Tyler Perry’s “The Haves and the Have Nots” on OWN is none other than Jacksonville native Angela Robinson.
Cast as the wealthy Veronica Harrington in Oprah Winfrey Network’s (OWN), first original scripted drama series, the former Miss Florida A&M University and musical theater actress is now employed by Tyler Perry Studios based in Atlanta.
Robinson, who also starred on Broadway as Shug Avery in “The Color Purple,’’ now is an integral part of a historical collaboration between media mogul Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry.
More than 1.77 million television viewers embraced the show’s debut on May 29, giving OWN its highest rated premiere ever.
Landing the big role
The rise to stardom was not a quantum leap for Robinson who learned early that the combine of diligence and discipline are necessary to success.
Since “The Color Purple,” she has enjoyed continuous success as a seasoned performer with range.
“I played the Acid Queen in the Who’s “Tommy” [Berkshires] and a dream role – The Witch in Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” [Atlanta], Robinson shared.
A stroke of luck placed a Tyler Perry Studios casting director in the Atlanta audience who was so impressed, she extended Robinson an audition for “Meet the Browns.” Angela didn’t get the part.
Was she disappointed? Extremely. Landing a part on a Tyler Perry show had been a nurtured goal. One year later, she received a call to submit a taped audition for the role of Veronica.
Serendipity leads to success
A dream deferred for Robinson is better deemed a blessing delayed. She approached the opportunity as simply, “another audition.” Husband Scott Whitehurst helped record the scene, forwarded it to the studios, and they went about life as usual. Robinson has been married to Whitehurst, one of New York’s top acting coaches, for about 17 years.
Rarely tethered to her cell phone, Robinson missed a succession of calls from her agent when the good news arrived: “Tyler Perry Studios wants to fly you to Atlanta tomorrow to audition for Mr. Perry.”
She joined 15 other hopefuls from New York and Los Angeles for a three-hour wait that included insanity pacing and wrecked nerves.
“Auditions are usually filled with anxiety, but I kept telling myself to have fun because I loved this character so much,” stated Robinson. “After my scene, they asked me to read with Gavin Houston who plays my son on the show. It was magic. The next day we each received an offer, and this great blessing unfolded in just four days.”
The Tyler Perry pace
On the set, he is called Mr. Perry. It’s southern respect, but not a mandate. “Tyler Perry is one of the hardest-working directors I’ve ever worked with,” offered Robinson. “He is focused, serious, and he is fair. He began each day of shooting with prayer.”
Perry is credited as writer, producer, and director for the show. Widely known for his cross-dressing comedic character Madea, his “arrive early/stay late” work ethic resulted in 16 episodes being filmed in six weeks.
“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” Robinson confessed.
“Memorizing lines has never been my strong suit, but my stage experience prepared me for television. It took a minute to learn technical adjustments and was scary at first, but I viewed it as acting boot camp and enjoyed the experience.”
Her mother and biggest fan joined her in Atlanta for the tapings.
Among the perks of being in a Perry production was the “state of the art” gym and well-balanced meals. The latter is a must for the former Miss America pageant circuit winner who ascribes to a strict diet and fitness regime.
“Pinch moments” for Robinson included attending a private party at Perry’s home following the premiere of his movie “Temptation.”
A-list celebrities whom she has admired for years were present. Additionally, attending red carpet events render her giddy.
A hometown hurrah
The city of Jacksonville is proud. Floridians everywhere – from her fellow FAMU alums to parishioners at First Baptist Church of Oakland – everyone was claiming Robinson as their own before Winfrey’s OWN catapulted her to primetime fame.
Following each Tuesday airing, social media sites are abuzz and novice predictions emerge regarding the plot’s next twist and turn. Cast members also tweet live during the show.
Robinson’s Twitter handle is angelarobschild. Viewers also can tweet about the show at #havesandhavenots, #tylerperry, #owntv and #mynameisveronica.
An alumnae from William M. Raines High School, she maintains a sincere, classmate allegiance, but has established roots in a new home in Englewood, N.J. where she is an arts minister for Metro Community Church – a thriving ministry with an 80 percent Korean descent membership along with a West Indies/Jamaican representation.
“For many years my husband and I commuted to Brooklyn for church. We made a conscious effort to find a church in our community when we relocated to Englewood,” Robinson explained. “We previously selected ministries based on what it gave to us. This time we chose based on what we could offer and were prepared to serve in a deeper way.”
Having her say
“The Haves and The Have Not’s’’ seeks to parallel the lifestyles of a rich, southern family and their domestic help and families who are poor.
“This is one of the only shows on television with a diverse cast that looks like America: Black, White, Latino, straight, gay, rich and poor,” claimed Robinson.
“It’s important to support this show, because it might inspire other producers to follow Mr. Perry’s lead.”
Robinson pulled from her own southern roots to define Veronica. “A strong, Black woman who is unapologetic for her success is a joy to play,” said Robinson. “I looked at women like Oprah and First Lady Michelle Obama complemented with the acting skills of Phylicia Rashad and Diahann Carroll.”
For Robinson, Father’s Day was bittersweet. Her dad, Willie C. Robinson, didn’t live to witness this achievement, but would have been proud.
“I miss my dad so much,” reflected Robinson, just days after Father’s Day. “He would advise me to make a plan and ask, ‘What do you want to get out of this experience?’ Dad never stayed in an emotional place long; he always brought me back to reality and was one of my greatest teachers.”