Actress Ashley Love-Mills is one of those people who believes in naming and claiming it. And why not? It’s worked out for her thus far. The star of the new Tyler Perry sitcom Too Close to Home, TLC’s first scripted drama, said years ago during the Miss USA pageant that she wanted to work for the acclaimed writer/director/producer/actor.
She told host Jeannie Mai, well before she even starred on The Real, that Perry inspired her and that she hoped to work with him someday. The former Miss North Carolina, the first African-American woman to wear the crown from that state in 61 years, says that she feels that her being chosen to star in a Perry show was because she believed in herself before any of her dreams manifested.
“I’m definitely a living testament,” she says. “I’ve always been a firm believer in speaking things into existence, regardless of what your circumstances are or how unfortunate they may be. While I was pursuing acting, I was broke and I had to move in with my mother for a time. Most people that are successful are [at one time] broke and trying to make it. I realized that it was OK and that I just had to stay focused on me and what my dreams were.”
As a women of color in the pageant world, Love-Mills found it challenging but ultimately made it all the way to a top 10 placement in the Miss USA pageant. She said that experience helped her stay the course as she continued towards her goal as an actress. TV and film projects followed, but her biggest break thus far has been getting cast on the show. Ironically, Love-Mills, who plays Valerie, is the one of the few Black actors on the show, a reversal of Perry’s usual casting demographics. Too Close To Home also borrows liberally from shows like Scandal and Perry’s own The Haves And The Have Nots.
“I wasn’t taken aback by it at all,” Love Mills says of Perry’s change in casting preference. “Tyler Perry is an artist, a creator and a visionary. I find it interesting that so many people are feeling a certain kind of way because he decided to make a show that has a predominantly white cast. He has a target audience that is African-American, but with that said, he’s given so many opportunities to African-Americans in front of and behind the camera. So many people have used the word ‘abandoned,’ which I don’t agree with. In my opinion, I don’t see why it’s not OK for him to give opportunities to other people. There are other actors on the show that are Black, they are just not starring in the show.”
A graduate of North Carolina State University, Mills-Love says that the experience helped her not just as an actress, but in navigating the world that comes along with it. She also says that regardless of the ups and downs of a career in entertainment, having a degree gives her a measure of extra confidence.
“If I decided to take a break from acting, I can get into film production. which I already do, since that’s my area of expertise. I think that [completing my education] contributed a lot.”
You can see Love-Mills on Tyler Perry’s Too Close To Home on TLC, which airs Mondays at 9 p.m.
PHOTO: Ashley Love Mills promo