How did you audition for the role?
It was actually the craziest experience. I never considered myself a legit actress , I’ve always been into improv since I was very little. I never even took the risk to audition for a project before. The writer of the show came across my Youtube videos and found a way to get in contact with my mother and told her “This is who I see playing Jade.” When I got the call I was so confused! It opened up my eyes to the fact that maybe there was some acting potential there.
Your claim to fame are your YouTube videos with your Beyonce impersonations. How did you fall into that?
My dad is my biggest inspiration and he is crazy with voices. I grew up doing voices like Dorothy from Wizard of Oz and British accents. So doing impersonations was always something fun for me. One day I saw Beyonce doing an interview and I tried to imitate her and I succeeded. I thought to myself that this could be very entertaining because I’ve never seen another Beyonce impersonator.
Do you prep before doing your Beyonce videos? Do you watch old footage of her for inspiration?
No not really. I actually like to improv my performances. When you write things down you lose the flow of things. Whereas when you’re doing things off the top of your head, you have to think quickly. I brainstorm a few key points I want to cover, while I’m brushing the wig (laughs) and once I put the wig on, I’m no longer myself. It’s game on!
You’re also planning to come out with an EP. How would you describe your musical style?
When I was younger I was a Billie Holliday and Nat King Cole fanatic so I became an old soul when it came to music. Now I have a lot of world influences in my music, I love Brazilian percussion and Indian instruments. I’m bringing in sounds you don’t usually hear and combining with old school R&B. These days you don’t hear people really singing. There are some true vocalists—Beyonce kills anything she sings. But people who grew up listening to En Vogue, SWV and Aaliyah. So I would say I’m pop/funk//soul/R&B.
Your dad is Robert Townsend– What was it like growing up having him as your dad?
I always tell people that my dad is from one of the worst neighborhoods in Chicago. So raising his kids he was like “I could raise them to think that they deserve this or raise them to think that they have to work for this.” My dad and I refer to each other as twins. We’ve always gotten along perfectly. Growing up around him I was a free-spirited child. At three years old I declared that I wanted to be a singer and my dad said “Yes you are!” Of course I couldn’t sing but it was great having an artist as a father because even image wise he allowed me to take risks and to speak my mind and be creative. I think my dad is a genius and so humble—he doesn’t speak about half of the projects he’s behind because for him it’s really about art. Growing I learned money is fun, it can buy you some cool things but it’s really about the work and making people smile. I’ve also gotten a front row seat to seeing how Hollywood really works—it’s not all beautiful, it gets real.
What was the best advice your dad gave you concerning the industry?
I’m very passionate about my friends and try to help them the way I help myself, but you can’t take everybody with you. The second piece of advice he gave me was don’t share your dreams because when you tell people, you allow them to break your dreams down.
Your dad wrote and directed “Hollywood Hustle” which explores the negative stereotypes of African-Americans in movies. As a black actress, and being Robert Townsend’s daughter, do you find yourself being more selective in the roles that you will choose?
Yes, one thing I’ve learned from dad is positivity and when you create art, it lasts forever. So if you act ignorant in that one role, you will forever be remembered for that and that’s how you’re showing other ethnicities how black people act. I’ve been blessed to have a really good education and know the history of our people dating back to minstrel shows, and I wouldn’t even dream of taking us back to that. I feel sorry for people who feel the need to do it for a check but I’m very selective about roles because it represents who I am.
How would you rate the current depiction of African-American women on TV and film?
I’m really disappointed right now. We’re in a place where we’re really going backwards right now and it really upsets me. We should be allowed to be intelligent, articulate. Even with the men, do you have to carry a gun, be a thug and call women bitches? It doesn’t need to be like that. I feel like we’re backtracking.