*It is extremely rare to come across an entertainer who is considered a triple threat. Veteran Hollywood actress, Jazsmin Lewis, is ever the anomaly, carving out an illustrious career that spans over twenty years, conquering the world of music, television, and film.
As an actress whose talents are in high demand, Jazsmin has consistently landed roles in big budget studio films and independents alike; amassing an impressive 43 silver screen successes to her credit. Born in Cleveland, Ohio and highly regarded as a renaissance woman, Jazsmin at the tender age of three mastered the piano, at 11 the bass guitar, and at 12 years old she discovered the hypnotic rhythm of the drums.
Ever the consummate musician, she is also an accomplished vocalist and has toured as a background singer and bass player with such venerable performers like Roger Troutman and Zapp, Gladys Knight, George Clinton, The Ohio Players to name a few. By the age of 20, she set her sights on conquering the world of acting, her first love.
Unsurprisingly, Jazsmin found success on the small screen with guest appearances on Family Matters, Martin, Moesha, Living Single, and Eve. Her big break came in 2002 when she landed the co-starring role of Jennifer Palmer playing opposite Ice Cube as his wife in the widely successful feature film Barbershop. Jazsmin reprised her celebrated role as Mrs. Palmer for the sequel, Barbershop 2: Back in Business and in the third installment of the franchise.
Eurweb.com had a chance to catch up with the busy actress who took a break from filming In the Cut, her new sitcom on Bounce TV, to discuss Barbershop: The Next Cut due in theaters April 15. As well as, her other upcoming film projects and her views on the under-representation of nominated black actors that spurred the controversial Oscar Boycott.
You have a very musical background, how did you segue into acting? Did you always want to be an actress?
I have always acted, starting from kindergarten in school plays. I did not originally plan to be an actress. I love music, and I have been doing it my whole life and that is what I planned to do and I did. When it was time to transition, it was a natural segue for me.
Audiences are excited to see the third chapter of the Barbershop movie franchise. How was it working with Ice Cube the third time around?
It is always good, on the first Barbershop, the core cast, which all came back thank God, formed a family, and we kept that way. So he is my real life movie husband, and those are my movie friends. Many of them are my actual friends now that it is fifteen years later from the first Barbershop movie.
What do you think of the success that Ice-Cube is experiencing with his record-breaking movie Straight Outta of Compton?
I am super excited for him, his son, and all of [new] young actors because it is so groundbreaking of what they did [with this film]. They had to take a risk to do [the movie] in the first place because N.W.A had a stigma on it; it gave the people a little back story on how they came to be. I am super proud of him that he took the risk to do it, and the success is amazing. [The movie’s success] might [cause] a new climate in Hollywood; maybe we are ready for these things.
On the set of Barbershop: The Next Cut, did you get a chance to interact with the newcomers Nicki Minaj, Common, and Tyga?
Yes, I did, coming into a family like ours can be a little daunting, especially Common, and he seemed to us that he had always been there or always should have been there at least. He walked right into this family and joined right in and brought his incredible talent also. Deon Cole, Lamorne Morris, obviously Nicki and Tyga, they just joined us and expanded our family. We have some incredibly talented people this time around; this [installment] will be our best one yet.
What can we expect from your character Jennifer Palmer?
You know what is interesting; this is the first time I actually got to play this character as an actual Mom. She has been a Mom since 2001 in the first movie, and I wasn’t a real Mom, and even in Barbershop Two, I wasn’t a real Mom. I did not feel as authentic as I do this time. In this film, [we see it] from the family perspective, and you see a lot more of Jennifer and her opinions. She is not solely supporting her husband; she is voicing her opinion on how to raise her child and I get to exercise those muscles as a real Mom.
The Barbershop franchise has sustained a loyal fan base. The first Barbershop dealt with Calvin Palmer Jr. preserving his father’s legacy of keeping the shop, the second dealt with gentrification, and in the third, the film is addressing violence in the South Side of Chicago. Do you feel the franchise’s honest perspective on these social issues has contributed to its success?
I do, the one thing that is true about a real life barbershop is you can talk about anything in the barbershop like what is socially acceptable or unacceptable. Everyone can have their opinion, and it is ok to have one. That is the beautiful thing about [the movie], we can deal with things that are [current], and they turn around so quickly, so things are still going on, everything we deal with in this movie is very relevant to Chicago right now. We [are] addressing social, political, and economic issues in these movies which is why I think they are so successful because we can address everything. You are going to see lots of different points of view, even between me and my husband, Calvin. Out there in society, someone is going to feel like someone in this movie, so it is like they get a voice too and I think that is why we are still beloved as a franchise.
When you landed the role of Jennifer Palmer in 2002, did your intuition tell you that the movie would be successful? Did you think that the characters would be so relevant today?
No, not at all, I remember reading the script and I loved it, and I thought it was great. But I wasn’t sure where we were socially, were we ready for this? We were one of the first urban movies to make 25 million dollars at the box office in the first weekend. We sent the gold standard for all the movies to come that were urban or with predominantly people of color. We broke records, and I did not see that coming, I knew it was great, I knew the people [involved] were amazing, but I did not see this kind success or [the longevity] of the franchise.
You stated in an interview with social media Talk Show Host Bianca Bee that the landscape is changing. As a Hollywood insider, do you feel the landscape for African-American actors and actresses is truly changing?
I believe that it is changing, it is a slow change, and I would like it to be faster. We do have more producers, directors, and writers that are writing and producing, and getting our stories told more. We can always use more, but it is tough to get those stories told. I applaud people like Will Packer and Tim Story that are out there doing it because it is not easy but they are still trying, and they are quite successful. I feel that there is a change; it is not just as fast as I would like it to be.
What do you think can aid in making the process develop faster?
In my opinion, [we need more people with] power to greenlight [projects]. We have some amazing stories, we have some amazing scripts, but if we can’t get it greenlit no one else knows about it, so I think a few more executives that are more objective or people of color that have the power to greenlight a project. It is not just on our storytellers to do it, we can raise money, we can do independent movies, but they are not as widely seen as studio films. If we had more studio people in power to do that we can get our stories told better, faster.
With the increased economic power that Black Hollywood does have, why haven’t the black actors, actresses, writers, producers, and directors united to create their own studio and distribution, rather just relying on the path of mainstream Hollywood?
Well, we are, sometimes you don’t know the actual people in power. Right now, I am at work on a show called In the Cut, and that is on Bounce TV, and one of the silent partners is Will Packer, so he does have a stake in this network.
You know there is Tyler Perry [who runs his own studio], there are not a lot of [others like Tyler and Will], but they are there, and they are popping up more and more as we become more empowered and [obtain] more money.
What is your stance on the Oscar boycott controversy?
I knew you were going to ask me that. It is tough for me to say because I understand all points of view, I understand both sides. I do not want to boycott Chris Rock; he is in a tough position. It is an amazing platform for him, yet it is very white-washed. I would not want to boycott him, and I take a stance of I am not saying yes or no of boycotting the Oscars, but I think that talking about it once a year is not enough. If we talked about it all year-long, maybe the outcome will be slightly different. If I was invited to the Oscars, which I am not, I can’t say if I would or would not boycott, but I can say I will raise the question all year-long. We are doing amazing movies, people of color are doing amazing movies and the fact we are not nominated, I mean Straight Outta of Compton was not nominated the only people who were nominated were the writers, and they were not black. That is a tough position. I say take a stand, if you are on that red carpet talk about what is going on, I am not sure if we have enough power that a boycott will change anything yet.
The conversation is being had, and it is a hot topic right now, and it will probably continue throughout the year. But if we can switch gears, what are some projects that you have coming up?
After Barbershop three comes out, I have another theatrical movie that is coming out that is called Grandma’s House with the amazing Loretta Divine and Wendy Raquel Robinson. It is a smaller movie, but it is a great story, it is about a real life woman, and that comes out in June and after that, I did a film called For the Love of Christmas that I just finished in Chicago.
You have been in the business for a considerable amount of time. What has contributed to your longevity in show business, considering how difficult it can be working in this industry, especially for a woman of color?
Talent that’s it, I didn’t do the publicity rounds, I didn’t do what other smart people in this industry do, I based [my career] on talent because I love what I do. I said if I am good at what I do, then I will continue to work and I have, thank God, as well as, having perseverance and a very thick skin.
Tell me more about your production company Feline Entertainment.
It is something I am proud of, I started my production company even before I began acting, I started producing first because I did have stories that I wanted to tell. I [created] Feline Productions in 1994, a year before I started acting. Although I do not solely or exclusively do this, but I try to hire mostly women because we are great filmmakers and women, especially women of color, are not given the chance to get out there and show what they can do. I [launched] my production company to do just that, to give women the power to tell these stories and make movies and television [shows]. We are six films in; we are currently in production of our television show as well called Humor Mill. At the helm [of the production company] are mostly women, and mostly women of color, I am trying to do my part to empower.
To keep up with all of Jazsmin’s latest projects be sure to check out her on Instagram @jazsminlewis.
Check out Jazsmin on an episode of FYI.TV’s Kocktails with Khloe