She Can Do 'Whatever'

Vivica A. Fox hopes to wow 'em at the Lyric, just as she's done in everything from comedy to dancing with stars.

October 23, 2007|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Vivica A. Fox seems to be going for the performer's equivalent of a triathalon.

Though the sultry Fox is best-known as a film actress with no formal training in the waltz or the cha-cha, she didn't hesitate to strut her stuff before the television cameras in ABC's Dancing With the Stars. When she was ousted relatively early in the competition, it was widely perceived as an injustice, as her dancing had won strong marks and consistent praise from the judges.

Though Fox has no previous experience at improvisational comedy - which requires very different skills from scripted acting - she wowed the producers of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, snaring a season-long role as a Hurricane Katrina victim who moves in with the lead characters, Larry and Cheryl.

And though Fox has never before appeared on the stage, she doesn't hesitate to test her mettle in front of a live audience. Fox is in the midst of a tour of a new play, Whatever She Wants, which opens tomorrow for seven performances at the Lyric Opera House.

What career will the multifaceted performer take up next - ice ballet?

"When I was a little girl, I wanted to be involved in everything," she says. "I try to not limit myself. I have not let Hollywood dictate to me how my career should go."

Whatever She Wants was written for Fox by Je'Caryous Johnson. It tells the story of a 40-year- old single woman who, tiring of the dating game, starts a private social club where men have to submit credentials to gain admittance. Potential suitors with such disadvantages as bad credit and pot bellies are disqualified - as are those who live with their parents or who have fathered children out of wedlock.

But Fox's father, played by Richard Roundtree, dislikes his daughter's elitist attitude and decides to teach her a lesson.

The show is being staged by I'm Ready Productions, a Houston-based, minority-owned production company. The firm was founded by Johnson and Gary Guidry, who were featured earlier this year in a New York Times article about urban theater.

Fox doesn't appreciate the disparaging attitude that often attends this type of entertainment.

"People say, `Oh, you're doing the chitlin circuit,'" she says. "And I tell them: `No, I'm doing a play.'"

The challenge of live theater is that the performers have to do it right on the first try. Unlike film and television, if an actor forgets her lines or a scene fizzles, the performers can't stop and start over.

"We did a preliminary, four-week tryout in April to see if I liked it all," Fox says.

"But I found that I really enjoy acting before an audience. I love the instant feedback that you get," she says. "Some days, it takes a little while to get them warmed up, but by intermission, we've got them."

Actress Cheryl Hines easily recalls Fox's audition for Curb Your Enthusiasm. Hines plays Larry David's wife in the half-hour show.

"We were just saying, `Where are we going to find a funny, beautiful, smart and interesting woman to play Loretta, the Hurricane Katrina victim?'" Hines says.

"Vivica walked in, and she was perfect. Improvisation must come very naturally to her."

Hines says that actors traditionally are taught to peruse the script to find clues to their characters' motivation and relationships with other characters.

"Improvisation can be intimidating because there is no script," she says. "You have to find the answers in yourself. You have to really know who your character is and what your relationships are. Not everyone is good at it, and Vivica nailed it."

The 43-year-old Fox grew up in Indianapolis, the youngest of four children. Her father was a teacher, and her mother worked for a pharmaceutical company. As a girl, she was active in sports, which provided her with a self-confidence that would later stand her in good stead.

"I played basketball, volleyball, track - you name it," she says.

By the time she was in her teens, Fox was modeling, (in 1997, she was named by People magazine as one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world). The modeling led to her first roles in soap operas.

"I first dreamed of a performing career when I was in my teens," she says.

Fox's first big career break came in Independence Day in 1996, when she played Will Smith's stripper girlfriend. Other notable films include Born on the Fourth of July (1989), Soul Food (1997) and Kill Bill I and II (2003 and 2004).

She was among the female performers (along with Angela Bassett and Jada Pinkett-Smith) singled out by actress Halle Berry at the 2002 Oscars. Berry accepted her Best Actress Oscar (for Monster's Ball) on behalf of "the women of color who now stand beside me" and whose achievements have traditionally been overlooked.

But Fox has no complaints. She declines to join those who complain that it is difficult for black women to land starring roles in mainstream films.

"I'm lucky to have achieved longevity in a business that chews people up and spits them out," she says.

It's also a business that tends to chew up families. Fox's marriage to singer Sixx-Nine ended in divorce in 2002, and a relationship with the rapper 50 Cent also went belly up.

"I've gone out with some losers, but I believe that God's going to send me someone who's right for me," she says.

"One thing that I've learned from being in this play is that you have to get to know a person, and not just financially or physically. You have to take the time to read a person's heart."

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

Vivica A. Fox

Age:

43

Occupation:

Actress

Personal:

Single; she lives in Los Angeles

Birthplace:

Indianapolis

Education:

Associate's degree in social sciences from Golden West College, Huntington Beach, Calif.

Career highlights:

Born on the Fourth of July (1989); Independence Day (1996); Soul Food (1997); Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003)

Current projects:

Appearing on HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm and in a stage play, Whatever She Wants

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