“Baby Boy” is one of those Black classics that’s it hard to picture anyone other than Tyrese, Taraji P. Henson, or even Ving Thames starring in. But there was a chance we could’ve seen Essence Atkins play the role of Jody’s girlfriend Yvette — or at least she thought so.
“I screen-tested for ‘Baby Boy’ against Taraji,” Atkins shared during a Zoom interview. “I screen-tested with Tyrese and John (Singleton) was there and it’s so funny because I remember when I was done I felt like, ‘aw this is mine,’ and then I saw Taraji walk in and I was like, ‘Maybe not’ [Laughs]. Because we had worked together and she played my best friend on “Smart Guy,” I knew how brilliant she was and I knew how gifted she was so I wasn’t surprised when she was cast and she killed it. She was amazing in that film. But, yeah, that’s one of those almosts.”
Atkins may not have landed that opportunity but she’s certainly snagged many others during her more than 30-year career, including her most recent project, “Christmas Dilemma,” in which she took on the role of director for the first time.
“‘Christmas Dilemma’ is a story about a newly married couple played by BJ Britt and Brittany Hall, they play Jay and Monica, our hero couple, and they’re like fresh out the gate. They’ve been married three months and it’s Christmas and they’re both trying to figure out what to do for Christmas and they each have, basically, opposing agendas. She wants to spend it with her family; he wants to spend it with his family and their parents don’t get along so spending it together doesn’t really work –until it has to because they all show up.”
We’re used to seeing Atkins in front of the camera, but this time when she received a phone call from Swirl Films production company in Atlanta, it wasn’t to play the lead in a new film but to direct it.
“I still had to do a presentation and the network had to sign off on me so I wasn’t the only person who applied for the job but I ended up getting the job. I had like just a day-and-a-half to prepare my vision to the network executive [at TV One],” she explained.
Pointing out what a tight turnaround it was to read the entire script and put her idea together in a mere 36 hours, Atkins added, “I won’t even lie and tell you I didn’t shed some tears. I definitely felt like, oh my gosh how do I do this? I’m not really sure how, but it’s really interesting my ex-husband gave me a great pep talk. He said to me, ‘If this has anything to do with organizing, you are the most organized person I’ve ever met in my whole life.’ …And when it comes to execution he goes, ‘Just make it better and don’t cost them any money’ and I was like, ‘Okay, I can do that too.'”
Even more interesting is how, in a way, Atkins own experience coming to direct the film mirrors the very dilemma that is central to the movie which she explains is really about “When you’re married, how do you choose, how do you blend, you don’t want to hurt feelings…there’s all these things that pull at us and it’s really about the mayhem when you don’t have any choice, when it just shows up.”
“Christmas Dilemma” premieres this Sunday, December 6, at 7/6C on TV One.