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The Christmas Aunt

Source: Brandon Bassler / lifetime

With the year that 2020 has been, we could all use some holiday cheer. Like right now.

Granted, we still haven’t even made it past Halloween yet, but many people are thinking towards Christmas and the joy it usually brings. Lifetime is helping with that as they have already started rolling out their annual flock of holiday movies. We’re always obsessed with their offerings, and so is actress Keshia Knight Pulliam.

“Lifetime has definitely become family and they just do Christmas so well,” she told us over the phone. “People love it. It’s that warm, fuzzy time of year. Lord knows we need it this year.”

And Pulliam is helping to provide those warm fuzzies. She’s starred in previous Lifetime films and this year, she’s the star of The Christmas Aunt, one of the 30 new movies premiering from October 25 through Christmas day. She plays Rebecca Miller, a woman returning home to help take care of her niece and nephew while their parents are away. Noticing their Christmas spirit isn’t anywhere near merry, she attempts to revive it, all while reconnecting with a childhood friend who could possibly grow into a lot more than a buddy.

“I love the story of an aunt coming home to spend time with her niece and nephews and just bringing that whole joy and the love and the Christmas spirit back,” she said. “We had a really good time. And also, I love working with kids. Maybe it’s because I started in this business at such a young age and was a child on set.”

With the holiday spirit already emanating through the star, we talked to her about how she’s planning to celebrate in the midst of a pandemic, finding love off-screen with her boyfriend Brad James and his bond with her daughter Ella, and aside from family friendly fare, what’s next in the career of this Hollywood veteran.

MadameNoire: With everything going on in the world, have you begun to think about your own holiday plans? Things will be very different for everyone this year. 

Keshia Knight Pulliam: You know, I’m excited about it. We’re going to do the same thing we always do. Luckily, me and my immediate family all live within 15 to 20 minutes of one another. So even through this pandemic, that has been our bubble. We see each other and my mom is actually my nanny. She travels with me. So in terms of family, I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had the opportunity to still see and interact and enjoy my family. And it’s crazy because we all kind of work in the industry adjacent, so we all have to be COVID tested regularly because we’re working. So it makes it even more safe. I’m headed back to The House of Payne to film the next season so I have to get tested for that. And then one of my brothers is actually a COVID safety manager for a studio, so we all are very safe about it. We do have the luxury of getting to enjoy each other.

I was wondering what the whole protocol was now that people are going back to work in terms of acting and being back on set. What was it like for you? 

It varies from set to set. Luckily when we were filming The Christmas Aunt, we were in Vancouver. Their numbers were nowhere near what ours were and it was kind of during the summertime. That was a whole thing because they weren’t even letting Americans in. But because I was working, my family and I were able to go. But it’s definitely a different work space. Everyone’s wearing masks. There are hand sanitizing stations and every precaution is taken in addition to being tested.

As far as holiday plans, we’re assuming your partner Brad James will be by your side.

Absolutely!

You guys are a beautiful couple. Were you ever apprehensive about giving him a chance after your divorce? 

One thing is, I live by the motto “Don’t ever let anyone steal your joy.” So regardless of what I’ve experienced or been through, I learned my lessons in that experience. I kept moving. I took the time that I needed to heal and to really kind of release all that I had been through so that I was able to be in a space to be in a loving relationship. But at no point did I ever think that it wouldn’t happen again. And with us, it just happened so organically and so naturally. It was nothing forced because we were working together on a Lifetime movie coincidentally! We were doing Pride and Prejudice: Atlanta and just hit it off. And I think that’s the best, when you can just genuinely get to know people without all the pretense, without all the pomp and circumstance. Just get to know and love the core and the heart of the person you’re dating. And that’s really how it happened. And once you make it through all the craziness of this past year, it’s like, “OK. You know what? I think I’ll keep you. I like you. I love you. [laughs]”

How has he been able to bond with your daughter, Ella? 

Oh my goodness. They love and adore each other. If that wasn’t the case then we wouldn’t be together because that’s definitely a priority. Any mom or any single mom will say that moving forward, it’s a package deal. It’s not just about me anymore. I have a little one who is my world and my everything and comes first.

Speaking of Ella, do you see yourself having more kids down the line?

You know, I could definitely see expanding our family but I don’t know if it’s adoption. I’m open. I’ve always wanted to adopt a child, which is something before I even had Ella that I wanted to do. I feel like we definitely will at some point, but I don’t know what it will look like.

Aside from doing The Christmas Aunt, you’re back on House of Payne. You’ve also worked with Tyler Perry on Madea Goes To Jail. What do you love about being a part of his projects?

This is actually our eighth season of House of Payne that we’re going into. All the cast and crew, it’s definitely that same family feel. It was crazy after stepping back on the set to shoot House of Payne after almost a five-year hiatus. We just picked right back up where we left off. It makes a difference when you genuinely enjoy the people that you work with. And I can say that’s the case. We are friends outside of working together and have been over the years. I feel that you feel that chemistry and that bond between us as a cast. It shows up on screen.

In terms of Perry, because you’ve worked with him, what do you make of the criticism he sometimes gets for his work?

It’s real simple: If you don’t like what he’s doing, do it better. So many people are quick to criticize, but they’re also people who haven’t even accomplished what he’s accomplished. Whether you agree with everything or love his work or not, you can’t take away the indelible mark that he’s left on this industry and doing it on his terms. He’s really revamping and recreating a system and making it work for him and creating content for our community. I just say, hey, there’s room for everyone. There’s room for more people to build studios and so many different jobs and facets that fall under the umbrella of what we do. I say, go for it.

At this point in your career, you’re doing a lot of family friendly stuff. What’s next? Is there anything you like to delve into that you haven’t tried yet? 

I’m one of those people who kind of just rolls with the flow. You go with the flow and allow the different opportunities to come and present themselves to you. I’ve always been one that’s more story driven and something I’m driven to versus one particular medium, whether it’s film, whether it’s television. And now, with everything going on, everything is almost pretty much moved to being seen on your television. I just love and enjoy what I do. I love the variety of characters because that’s the joy of being an actor. But I know I tend to just like to play amazing, strong women in a variety of different settings, atmospheres. I think a misnomer is that you have to be hard to be strong. One of the most powerful things is vulnerability. So it’s all about showing the truth and the vulnerability in any and every character I take on.

I randomly asked that cause I thought about you reappearing after your Cosby Show years in the Chingy video for “One Call Away” and how surprised people were at you taking on the opportunity to appear in a music video.

The crazy thing is it’s because people saw me as a little girl. What’s right and appropriate for a 10-year-old is different than what’s appropriate for a 22-year-old or however old I was when I did that video. So I think it’s more, we’re all growing and evolving. No one’s going to stay the same.

I know you created the venture capital Fearless Fund. Is it still going at this time when black women business owners are struggling during the pandemic?

Absolutely! That has been so exciting and such a blessing. We are doing so many great things. We actually deployed around a million dollars in investments already in minority women-owned businesses. We have some good announcements coming out. We have some powerful things. I’m just really excited to be able to be a part of moving the needle. Eighty percent of venture capital funds are headed by white males. Literally only .0006 are African-American women. That’s where the VC dollars go. In terms of, if you have 80 percent white males, you can imagine where they invest their money. And with it only being that .0006 going toward Black women, we needed to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem. That’s why we started the Fearless Fund. And also in January we have Get Venture Ready, which is a 12-month program where it’s teaching you about venture. How do you get your business ready? What do all these terms mean and how do I put myself in alignment for these venture dollars? And does my company even need venture? So I’m really excited about that. Not only are we changing the landscape based on the companies we’re investing in, but also doing it through education as well.

That’s awesome, especially in this time. Having that fund and having the opportunity available for Black women entrepreneurs is major. A lot of have been struggling or trying to change how they do their business during this time.

I’m an eternal optimist. This isn’t a time to be doom and gloom. This is a time to pivot. It’s time to look at this glass as half full and not half empty. What can I do differently? More than anything, between COVID and Black Lives Matters and everything that’s going on, it’s giving people pause. It’s giving you time to really focus on what’s important and what your true desires and passions in life are. Tomorrow is not promised and now is the time for you to invest in you instead of investing in everyone else’s dream.

And what else do you have coming up next?

Well I have my Keshia’s Kitchen Collection, my spice line. And we’re gearing up for the holidays and we’re adding some new spices to the collection that we will be announcing shortly. I’m really, really excited about that. Not only are we going to have savory, but also some more of the sweet tooth for dessert spices coming up. And then of course my non-profit, Kamp Kizzy Foundation, which is all about empowerment and self-esteem for youth. We celebrated our 10 year anniversary this year. I’m just really excited to continue from an entrepreneurial standpoint and to just do all the things that I’m passionate about. Yeah. Just continuing to enjoy life.

The Christmas Aunt, starring Keshia Knight Pulliam, premieres on November 1 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime.

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