There’s something so comforting about the sound of actress Jasmine Guy’s voice. The second that she greeted me, I was tossed back to a different time, a happier period when the television series “A Different World” ruled the airwaves.
The original series, a spin-off of The Cosby Show television series, aired for six seasons (on NBC), from 1987 to 1993, followed by a healthy syndication deal. The series focused on Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) and the life of students at Hillman College, a fictional historically Black college in Virginia. It was inspired by student life at historically Black colleges and universities.
Once Bonet departed, the remainder of the series primarily focused more on Southern belle Whitley Gilbert-Wayne (Jasmine Guy) and math whiz Dwayne Cleophus Wayne (Kadeem Hardison).
Ms. Guy is a busy woman and although she did well in the aforementioned iconic series, she’s done more than just shape a single, legendary character. In fact, she never let a single blade of grass grow under her lovely feet.
Currently, she’s lending her creative energy to the comedy series from Tracy Oliver for Amazon Prime, “Harlem” — take a look.
Her other credits include “Vanished: Searching for My Sister,” a movie for Lifetime, and stars in a new feature film, “The Lady Makers,” which is currently available on Amazon Prime, and she recently completed filming “Not Just Another Church Movie,” and “A Wesley Family Christmas,” a holiday-themed feature film slated for release this winter.
Guy’s long list of television credits includes her recent multi-episode role in “Grey’s Anatomy,” Showtime’s “Dead Like Me,” HBO’s “America Me,” BET’s “The Quad,” the CW’s “Vampire Diaries,” NBC’s “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” and the CBS miniseries “Queen” and “Stompin’ at the Savoy.”
In 2019, she starred in the Oscar-nominated short film “My Nephew Emmett” and HBO’s short film “Irreconcilable.” Jasmine’s other film credits include “October Baby,” Spike Lee’s “School Daze,” Eddie Murphy’s “Harlem Nights,” and “Diamond Men.”
A trained performer, Jasmine started as a dancer, performing with The Alvin Ailey Repertory Company and appearing in “Grease” (as Rizzo), “Leader of the Pack,” “The Wiz,” and “Chicago” (as Velma Kelly). On stage in Atlanta, she starred in the Alliance Theatre production of Pearl Cleage’s “The Nacerima Society,” Theatrical Outfit’s production of Sam Shepard’s “Fool For Love” (with Kenny Leon), and she has starred in Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre productions of “Miss Evers’ Boys,” “Blues for an Alabama Sky” and “Broke-ology.” She has directed productions of “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf,” “Brownie Points,” and the Martin Luther King, Jr. opera “I Dream.”
As an author, she wrote “Evolution of a Revolutionary” (Atria Books), about the life and times of Afeni Shakur, Black activist and mother of slain rapper, Tupac Shakur. As a vocalist, Jasmine has enjoyed performing on Broadway stages in musicals and has toured the country in the one-woman show, “Raisin’ Cane,” with the Avery Sharpe Trio which explores the literature, music and political climate of the Harlem Renaissance, the rich decade between World War I and the Great Depression.
A woman in demand, she now travels the country sharing her vast and diverse experiences with people from all walks of life, speaking at colleges, universities, conventions, conferences, and leading workshops on diversity, acting, and living out your dreams, aspirations and staying true to your calling.
Here is what actor/author/producer/dancer and soon-to-be children’s book author, Jasmine Guy had to share about her life and career.
Jasmine Guy: I like your name. It sounds very musical.
L.A. Sentinel: Wow. Your voice. It takes me back. Growing up, did you have a show or a favorite song that connected you to happier times?
JG: Of course!
LAS: Well, you are that voice for me. Your character, Mrs. Whitley Gilbert-Wayne, takes me way back. Right now, I’m listening to your voice, and I’m back in my old apartment and Harlem on Broadway.
JG: Well, thank you, that means a lot. (said, in the perfect, Mrs. Whitley Gilbert-Wayne voice).
LAS: Did you know that you would be stepping into television history and becoming a cultural touchstone?
JG: No. I had no idea. I was such a gypsy when I got this part. And I was, you know, young so thinking ahead, six months was a lot.
LAS: You didn’t know the power of the show?
JG: No not until the show was over did I realize just how powerful the show was, and it cut across the board. Young people. Kids going to college and that families were able to watch the show [A Different World] together.
LAS: I didn’t know that.
JG: On this show, we addressed a lot of important issues, and it gave parents and people a lot to talk about. Things that were not easy to talk about. It was a great vehicle for people to talk about those heavier issues.
LAS: On the page, I feel, Whitley was set up for us not to like, but you made it impossible not to fall in love with her.
JG: Thank you. When I came on the show, it was after four or five episodes, but none of them had aired yet. So, I was inserted once the show already had its ensemble and rhythm and its star. But then, as the show progressed, I realized too, you know that I just didn’t want to have one note, and as an actor. I created my own backstory for the character.
LAS: And, it showed. You created an iconic character, not unlike Archie Bunker, Rhoda, Martin, or Steinfield. You did that. I suspect you grew up around strong, creative people. Am I right?
JG: Actually, my father taught at Morehouse College, for 35 years so my sister and I used that campus as our personal playground, riding our bikes through the school, we knew all of the buildings and dorms. It was a great experience. But I didn’t realize when I got to LA, how disconnected the West coast was from Black colleges, I thought it was natural to be connected to these institutions, and these powerful, directed, and intelligent Black people. That’s why when, now President Barack Obama was running, I was like, ‘Why did they keep acting like he’s this unique?’ He’s not a unicorn.
LAS: Hay! Right! We know five or ten like him.
JG: At my church, Maynard Jackson and Andrew Young attended so growing up, I was surrounded by accomplished men.
LAS: Are you a church girl, Jasmine Guy?
JG: My father was the pastor of that church for 35 years.
LAS: I’m a church girl myself but I ran away. I won’t bore you. Hey. I hope you don’t think I am weird but are you a children’s book author?
JG: That’s funny. I do love children’s books. I keep buying them. They’re so beautiful. Especially, the artwork that they use. You know, I didn’t have these choices when I was growing up or when my daughter was small.
LAS: How old is your daughter?
JG: She’s 23 but I keep buying children’s books.
LAS: Jasmine Guy. It’s a sign. Step into the circle. Write your first children’s book.
I will check in with you