Date of Interview: 02/08/2012
Kim Fields (Facts of Life and Living Single) is a veteran actress who has successfully transitioned into the director’s chair. Equally talented in both roles, she has spent her talents most recently as the lead director on Tyler Perry’s House of Payne and Meet the Browns. She has also lent her directorial talents to BET’s Let’s Stay Together. As the daughter of Chip Fields, an actress and television director, Kim has been developing her talents – implicitly and explicitly – for her entire lifetime.
Bitten by the “acting bug,” Kim Fields removed her “director’s hat” temporarily and revisited her first love. On February 18, 2012, the Gospel Music Channel (CMG) premiered A Cross to Bear – directed by Tandria Potts – in which she starred as Joan. The original screenplay was crafted by Cas Sigers Beedles and Terri J. Vaughn and features Angie Stone and Kenny Lattimore in the lead roles.
On November 1, 2010, Kim Fields was awarded the “Industry Trailblazer Award” by Atlanta’s Women in Film and Television organization. In support of A Cross to Bear, a trailblazing project in its own right, Kim Fields spoke with Clayton Perry about the professional “crosses” women must bear in Hollywood, her frustration with entertainment’s status quo, and learning the importance of “staying in her lane” as an actor-director.
Clayton Perry: Although you are an actress, you also have an extensive amount of directorial experience. Describe the natural interplay between directing and acting. How has your time spent in the director’s chair affected your approach to acting?
Kim Fields: Well, everything informs everything for me. So, my acting, my directing, my writing, my producing, it all works together, even if I’m not wearing those specific hats on the projects. As a director, there are certain things that you want to feel like you are able to give an actor; certain questions that you want to be able to answer if they have them. You are breathing life into a character. And so as an actor, there are times when I’m looking for that. And on this project – [A Cross to Bear] — I was blessed to have a wonderful director in Tandria Potts. The script was also really terrific, and for the times where we felt like something needed the slightest bit of adjustment, it was the writer and the actor in me that said I have this question and it doesn’t seem like it’s totally there on the page for all the great stuff that was, indeed, on the page. So, it’s not really like I put down directing if I’m acting. I know how to stay in my lane. Don’t get me wrong, because that’s important, too!
Clayton Perry: Oh, yes! [laughs] Yes, it is very important! [laughing continues]
Kim Fields: But these roles all inform each other. For example, when I’m acting, I know to trust my director and not to ask for too many takes, because as a producer, I know that each take costs money and they’ve got other people to film besides me.
Clayton Perry: That is incredible insight – born from experience, of course. For this particular production, you were cast in the role of Joan. What personal connections were you able to make living vicariously through Joan, a fictional character embedded in realistic experiences?
Kim Fields: Well, certainly the idea of trying to help someone else or help in general, that’s kind of at Joan’s core. And even though it seems to be towards the end we find out she helps for semi-selfish reasons, it’s still to help. That’s a value that my mother instilled in me when I was very young that I try to maintain today. Help someone else along the way. Pull someone up by their bootstraps or help them as they’re doing that. So that’s probably the main thing. But for the most part, I was really focused on the work as an actor because it was a role that I hadn’t done before. It was a type of character I hadn’t played before. A very dramatic project. And even though I’ve done drama, I felt like this would still challenge me as an actor, and stretch me out. And that’s something that I’m really looking for when I’m selecting or looking at or considering various projects.
Clayton Perry: It’s interesting that in this particular role, your character is helping other women. When I think of just the current landscape in entertainment, there aren’t a lot of women who are in many of the leading roles in terms of the production side, the directing side, or the acting side. And I am also intrigued by the 2011 release of Pariah, another film helmed by a crew of women. As you look at your professional life and your incredible personal journey in relation to the title of this particular project, A Cross to Bear, what cross have you borne, and what present struggles are still pervasive within the film industry?
Kim Fields: Well, actresses as a whole—black, white or any other race, creed or color—have had to bear crosses, if you will, just by the nature of societal disparities between women and men. And what I mean by that is usually the entertainment industry, like most industries, can be very male-dominated. And then we only, in our recent history, have slightly moved away from some of the sexism that has happened, again, in most industries, but also the entertainment industry. If you are the slightest bit overweight as an actress, you either have no career or you immediately become a character actress. And more likely, you end up having no career. And God help you if you age any. You traditionally have had no career. So there have been those types of crosses that women have had to bear in the entertainment industry. But I mean, what year is this? Two thousand… – and when did Obama pass the equal pay for equal work bill? So it’s not like just actresses have had certain crosses to bear. I think women, overall, have had their fair share of crosses to bear. My own personally? I don’t usually send up the “bat signal” about my cross, because that’s a part of my life. My main thing is simply thanking God that I do not have to bear it by myself – like “footprints in the sand,” you know? “Those are my footprints because I was carrying you,” says the Lord. So anytime that I feel that I’m bearing my cross, first and foremost, I thank God that He took His cross. And so, I got nothing to say about any little cross I might have to bear. Please! Anybody nailing me up to mine, check your mouth and keep it pushing! [laughing]
Clayton Perry: When you reflect upon the production of A Cross to Bear and the filming experience, what memories shine bright? In particular, talk about you professional relationship with fellow director Tandria Potts. In your side conversations, did you share filming tips?
Kim Fields: Nowadays, because the production goes pretty fast, there was no “come to Jesus” moment or no “aha” moment. It really is just about the work. And I know I keep going back to that, but unfortunately, my industry has taken position in this horrible place where work becomes the last thing on the totem pole. It becomes about the looks. It becomes about the celebrity. It’s about everything else other than the work. And that’s incredibly frustrating, incredibly disappointing for people who really love this thing. Thank God for certain outlets that are still interested in showing a quality product that is about great lighting and great storytelling and great acting and visually-stimulating imagery and things of that nature. Thank God for that!
Clayton Perry: This motivating philosophy that guides you – “putting work first” – and serves as the foundation of your artistic principles, how did this develop over time? In general, what do you feel to be the purpose and function of art?
Kim Fields: To be perfectly honest: what guides me is the frustration of what is not high on the totem pole. When I see what is successful, what has become so much a part of pop culture, what has become the norms and the measuring stick of successful television or movies, most of my absolute disgust and frustration comes from seeing what is becoming a norm. I am waiting for this norm’s “fifteen minutes” to be up. But aside from that, what drives it again is my own motivation. I didn’t get into this to be famous. When I was a little girl, I didn’t dream of taking a hairbrush and pretending it was an award, and playing dress up on the red carpet and stuff like that. None of that was appealing to me, and it wasn’t what my motivation was. The motivation was, even at young age, to work. When I was visiting my mother backstage while she was performing Hello, Dolly! with Pearl Bailey, I liked seeing the people going by with the wardrobe racks and the makeup and the wigs that people were preparing, and all the props and the lighting. That’s the stuff that I felt was so interesting.
For more information on Kim Fields, visit her official IMDb profile: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0004917/