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Courtesy of Andra Fuller

Andra Fuller Was 28 With Three Degrees Before Deciding To Start Over And Follow His Hollywood Dreams

#xoMan

Despite the temperature hitting the 80s in downtown L.A., the inside of The MacArther is a stark contrast to what's going on beyond the double doors. A massive Christmas tree stands in the center of the lobby flanked with Christmas decorations and cameramen and crew members move back and forth throughout the movie set.

I'm led up the grand staircase and dropped off at the make-up station where Andra Fuller, all smiles, is being made camera-ready. “Sorry about that, they told me I was supposed to go on at 3:30, but they needed me on set at 2:30," he says, hinting at the spontaneity that comes with being an actor.

I follow him across the room and behind a curtained area that serves as his dressing room, where he slides into a suit jacket, transforming from Andra to Edmund, his character in the upcoming TV One film, You Can't Fight Christmas. “I've always been a character," he tells me. And for some reason, I believe him.

Courtesy of Andra Fuller

Growing up in Houston, Texas as the youngest of three to a single-mom, Andra naturally gravitated towards being the center of attention. Friday nights turned into family gatherings where adults played rounds of pitty pat, while the kids became a source of entertainment. Andra, in particular, had a knack for impersonating Michael Jackson and some of his favorite comedians of the 90s.

“Do you remember this?" He says turning towards me and contorting his lips to expose his teeth. “Heeeeyyyyyy. For real though? I'll rock your world."

“Ah, Jamie Foxx," I chuckle, thinking about the actor and comedian and not the character.

“My name is Wanda, not Jamie," Andra corrects me, still in the tone of one of In Living Color's most memorable characters, and then returns to being Andra. “That was my go-to."

Though he would one day grace the stage of the Apollo, it was sports that kept him off the streets of his Acres Home community. In school, he was the class clown—he was smart but chose to focus more on the game than the classroom. But near perfect SAT scores and impressive stats on the field as an All-American athlete had Ivy League colleges calling. Following a coach from Notre Dame, he chose to stay in his home state and go to Baylor University, where he'd spend the next four years as a starter and business management major.

Andra? Waiting for your downstairs," a voice calls from the other side of the curtain. I follow Andra into the middle of the room as he adjusts his tie in front of a full-length mirror and back down the grand staircases where he was shooting his next scene.

Andra Fuller as Fish in "Black Jesus."Courtesy Black Jesus

“He just walked in and didn't even say hey," jokes co-star Brely Evans. We're lounging on the steps with Richard Gantt (The Game) as Andra walks towards us after wrapping up his walk-by scene. He trades jokes with his cast members, assuring them that he spoke and that they were too busy ignoring him before we head back upstairs where he changes for his next scene.

“I've never done a Christmas movie," he says when I ask him what drew him to the script. “Hopefully if it's good enough, which it definitely has the potential, hopefully it will be one of those Christmas classics."

He pops a chocolate-covered raisin in his mouth and tells me about Edmund, a multi-dimensional character that he plays two ways—one where he's a buttoned up professional reviving his grandfather's hotel business and dodging marriage proposals from his assistant—played by Persia White—who he describes as “compatible on paper but no chemistry off the page." The other side of Edmund is down-to-earth and jovial, but only when he's with the hotel's Christmas decorator played by Evans.

“Most of the roles I go out for and book are leading man roles," he says. “Now the term leading man doesn't always mean you're the [main] guy, leading man most often refers to a look. I want those roles that aren't necessarily leading man."

In other words, he doesn't just want to be eye candy nor soul food, he wants to be respected for his talent. We got a little taste of that in L.A. Complex, where he played a famous rapper struggling with his sexuality. And again in his role as Fish in Black Jesus, an ex-con and one of the followers of Black Jesus in the controversial comedic series.

Andra seemingly gravitates towards complex characters that are often battling with some part of their identity, but by no means is he struggling with his own. He credits getting his start late in the game to giving him time to find himself without getting caught up by the distractions that often come with the Hollywood lifestyle.

“I didn't get into acting until I was 28, so I was already a grown ass man with real life responsibilities, and I was comfortable in my skin. I knew exactly who I was. I had already went to school and gotten three degrees, I was a schoolteacher—I had already lived."

Courtesy of Andra Fuller

After graduating college, Andra was teaching kids during the week and on weekends he would drive back home to Houston to take the stage as a stand-up comedian. “The goal was always to have that springboard me into acting because when I lFGooked at all of my peers, the ones that I looked up to at the time, Martin Lawrence and Bernie Mac and almost every actor that I looked up to besides Denzel Washington and Will Smith, pretty much all of them had a stand-up comedy background. So if it was a good way for them to blow up into acting, then I'm going to take these same damn steps."

With nothing to lose, he packed his bags and moved to East Harlem where he dabbled in theater and modeling while juggling a full-time job as a personal trainer making only $15,000 a year. Taking funds from his steady paycheck, he would ride down Broadway to Chinatown, purchase knock-off designer purses and throwback jerseys, and fly back to his hometown to sell them at market value. “New York taught me how to have thicker skin. It taught me how to grind, and it taught me ambition. It taught me that you had to have a job, a career, and a side hustle."

While he was making rounds doing comedy in New York, his acting career was at a standstill. Taking the advice of casting agents, he relocated to Los Angeles where he worked two full-time jobs as a manager at Equinox by day and a manager at CVS by night, all while picking up co-star roles on shows such as Prison Break, iCarly and Secret Life of the AmericanTeenager.

“There weren't ever any moments of doubt per se, but definitely frustrating moments because acting is a cycle. When you move to L.A., they send you on these auditions, but you can't book shit because you won't have any credits. So they'll be like, 'Oh you're good, but you don't have any credits.' But you can't get any credits because you won't give me a job, so then you start your way from the bottom."

Courtesy of Andra Fuller

His big break came when he booked his first major role with L.A. Complex as Kaldrick King, which earned him a nomination for the Canadian Screen Awards and put him on the radar as he went up for leading roles against more seasoned actors like Larenz Tate and Omari Hardwick. He eventually landed the role of Jayson on Black&SexyTV's online series Roomieloverfriends, which is currently being developed into a film by co-creators Numa Perrier and Dennis Dortch.

“The Jayson character needed to be an every day guy's guy, but up for the challenge of dealing with someone who was as high strung as the character of his roomieloverfriend, Tamiko," says Perrier. “It was very hard casting this role. No one was coming in with all of those qualities plus that unknowable 'x' factor thing until Andra showed up. He actually crashed the audition. He was next door at a casting for another project and stuck his head in our door and said, 'Hey, can I read for this too?' Then he came in and nailed it. It was one of those great moments that we couldn't have planned, and that very assertiveness was just perfect for the character as well. We knew we had our guy."

Not bad considering that he had no prior training as an actor.

“My philosophy on acting for me is that it has to feel organic. I don't take classes and all of that stuff. I tried it before. I did three months and I was like I can't do this. It wasn't beneficial for my acting style because for me to act organically, I have to become that character."

Instead, he pulls from life experiences to help develop his characters. In real life, he's been the star athlete playing on television with over 100,000 fans screaming his name. But he's also been the child raised in a house with no electricity, surviving off of ramen noodles, relying on groceries from the church, or stashing away school lunch meals to save for a rainy day.

“What I don't necessarily gain from acting classes, I have 30 plus years in life experiences. I've been in some shitty, shitty dark situations. I've been on some super mountaintop highs, so when I'm acting and I'm in a role, I draw from anywhere in that apex, that mountain high to that deep ocean dirty low. So there aren't many roles that I can't connect with because acting is all about finding a way to connect to a role."

“What I don't necessarily gain from acting classes I have 30 plus years in life experiences."

While his journey has taken longer than some, Andra has no regrets. Not being a child actor has saved him from falling victim to the mental and emotional struggle that sometimes accompany those who've gotten their start earlier in the game.

“If you look at the amount of formal education that I had people would be like what the hell are you doing acting? That's a waste of your degrees.

If I had stayed on the career path that I was on and I was still living in Texas, I would have a 6,000 square foot home, big back yard, front yard, in a gated community. Some might view it as a mistake, but it's a good mistake because ever since I've been doing this, I've not had a day where I hated work.

This isn't even work, man. I get paid to pretend to be other people. How cool is that?"

Perhaps getting his start later in the game has also brought about a sense of humility. Though he's now able to afford the lifestyle of the rich and famous, he prides himself on staying grounded and not being lured by life's luxuries. He still lives in the same Hollywood apartment that he started in years prior. He still does pick-up games at 24-Hour Fitness instead of Equinox, and he still grinds to make a name for himself in the industry.

Success for him doesn't look like driving a Maserati in Beverly Hills, it looks like telling the untold stories, like the Black Wall Street script he's currently shopping around, having a large enough platform to be able to speak on issues without recourse, and leaving behind a legacy of being a genuine person in an industry of shifting values. For that, he's willing to make the necessary sacrifices and do things a little unconventionally, because without risk, there's no reward.

You can keep up with Andra and his latest projects by following him on Twitter or Instagram.

All Images Courtesy of Andra Fuller

You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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