WINTER ISSUE 2009
By Paula Ficara for Kougar Magazine
I walk out in the bright cool afternoon to the gate of my apartment complex to greet my friend who I haven’t seen in several years. Time has just gotten away from us. I’m excited to see her. I get to the gate and she stands there with a huge grin on her face. The woman who’s been nominated as best featured actress for a Tony for her performance in Fosse on Broadway, 3 time NAACP nominee for her role on the hit sit-com Half & Half as the glamorous diva “Big Dee Dee Thorne”, and has worked on a list of theatre, television, cabaret shows, recordings and films as long as my arm, strolls in wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, no makeup, glasses…and is as gorgeous as ever. It’s wonderful to see her and I’m so honored to be able to feature her as our premiering Celebrity Kougar – because THAT she is!
We get inside, I make some coffee, and we catch up a bit. Then, it’s time for me to become interviewer and her, interviewee. I turn on my voice recorder and open my laptop, and we’re off!
KM: FIRST THINGS FIRST! AS KOUGAR MAGAZINE’S FIRST CELEBRATED KOUGAR, WHAT IS YOUR DEFINITION OF A KOUGAR?
Valarie: (laughs) A Kougar to ME is a Hot – Sexy – Wise – Great freakin’ sense of humor… just well-rounded woman who knows who she is, who knows what she wants, and knows HOW-TO-GET-IT!...AND knows how to not take no for an answer!
KM: I LIKE THAT! NOW DOWN TO THE NITTY-GRITTY! WHAT PROJECTS HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING ON LATELY?
Valarie: Well, it’s been an interesting time for me because with the pending SAG strike and the industry still trying to recover from the Writer’s strike, television and film has not been as plentiful as it once was. Everybody’s vying for a job and I look at it in tiers: your A group, B group, and C group, and the A group’s getting the jobs that the B group used to get, and so on. I mean, competition has always been awesome, and I love the competition because the people that I usually go up against are pretty damn brilliant. Just to be in their company makes me happy, but it’s even tougher now. And then with Reality TV, it’s just a really tough time for the art. There are actors who have worked their butts off to get where they are and they’re ruled out because the show will go with some Reality TV star who happens to have the built-in fan base instead. So, with that being said, it’s been a rough time. Thank God that I sing and dance because I can always find something to do to be creative, and that’s something I’ve learned that I have to have in my life – so I do One Woman Shows where I sing and dance. I work with incredible musicians, I collaborate with an incredible director and musical director. I get the chance to do what I do.
KM: AND WHERE DO YOU DO IT?!
Valarie: Oh! Wherever anyone will hire me! (She laughs) I haven’t traveled around the country yet with my shows, but I’ve performed in New York, LA, Palm Springs, Catalina…
KM: IT DOESN’T SEEM TO BE THE BEST TIME FOR A STRIKE RIGHT NOW AND I’VE OVERHEARD A LOT OF PEOPLE SAY THEY’RE AGAINST IT FOR THAT REASON. HOW DO YOU FEEL?
Valarie: I have very strong feelings about this! Because of the current time we are living in, nobody can afford a strike! It involves so many people - not just actors. But!!!! And this is a BIG BUT!!!! I believe in what we are striking for!
KM: DO YOU THINK THE AVERAGE PERSON REALIZES, OR EVEN OTHER PEOPLE IN THE INDUSTRY, DO YOU THINK THEY REALIZE HOW HARD AN ACTOR REALLY WORKS?
Valarie: I don’t think so. It can take a lot of money for the up-keep of an actor. I still study to prepare myself. I still have to go out and get those headshots, demo reels, get that training to keep my body, my instrument in shape; especially when I’m not working – and the average professional actor, not the top box office stars, but the meat and potatoes of your films and your television shows, just don’t make the kind of income people assume we do.
KM: YOU LIKE PERFORMING AT BENEFITS, DON’T YOU?
Valarie: Yes! It’s a way that I can lend my services with my talent. I get a chance to be creative and learn new material that I normally wouldn’t do.
KM: WHICH BENEFITS HAVE YOU PERFORMED FOR LATELY?
Valarie: Every year I perform for APLA, which is a benefit for AIDS. Then I do “What a Pair”, a play on words, which is for breast cancer and features pairs of women that sing together! You always get a chance to work with incredible women and it’s so much fun! It’s just a brilliant, brilliant benefit.
KM: DO YOU FIND IT DIFFICULT BEING A WOMAN OF YOUR AGE IN THE INDUSTRY?
Valarie: Definitely. The roles are not as plentiful for women of a certain age and it’s 3 times harder for minorities!
KM: VALARIE, EXACTLY HOW OLD ARE YOU?
Valarie: I WILL be 49 in July!
KM: WOW! YOU LOOK AMAZING! TALKING ABOUT TRAINING, WHAT ARE YOU DOING AT 48 YEARS OLD TO KEEP YOURSELF IN THIS KIND OF SHAPE?
Valarie: Well, I’m a dancer first, so I’ve always been body-conscious…and every decade (she laughs) I have to revamp my “upkeep”. I can’t do what I used to do in my 20s or my 30s and because dancing is no longer my main profession I have to do other things and I realize, especially in my late 40s – I can’t believe I’m actually saying that – I have to watch what I eat, when I eat it, and that I have to do a combination of cardio and weights. I never knew how important that was but it really makes a difference.
KM: GIVE US SOME SPECIFICS.
Valarie: Ok, well, let me preface this by saying – I love food! I love big portions of food! I can eat you under the table! BUT as one gets older one has to change that behavior and the way I did that was to start eating smaller portions. That’s number one. Number two is I cut out most dairy products. I love my coffee but instead of having the half & half, I’ll have 2% milk – and I couldn’t believe how that alone changed my weight. I also cut out a lot of bread, which I love - I’m a carb girl! But I don’t cut it completely out of my diet, I just watch my intake of it so, if I want a sandwich, instead of using bread, I’ll wrap it in lettuce. Now as far as sweets, I won’t deprive myself completely of them, so I’ll occasionally allow myself to have just ONE cookie instead of a whole bag, and I don’t keep them in the house or I would eat them all… Once you cut that stuff down, it changes your brain pattern and you don’t feel like you’re on a diet because when I hear that word “diet” I freak out. I feel like I can’t have anything.
And as far as working out, I recently had knee surgery, so I’ll put the treadmill at an incline of 15 and I’ll just walk for 30 minutes – it works up a nice sweat. Then I’ll go to the machines that work on the “pulley system” and I’ll jump from machine to machine doing 3 sets of 15, slightly raising the weight each set. Then it becomes like a “boot camp” kind-of thing. I used to be afraid of raising the weight but even my doctor assured me that it won’t bulk you up and he’s right. I’ll also mix in some free weights. It’s a combination of these things that I find really works. As far as numbers of times I work out, I TRY to go five times a week – especially after the holidays! – and I try to be in the gym no more than an hour a day. I also like to change my routines up. For example, I’ll do upper body one day and lower body the next so I rest different muscle groups.
KM: HOW DO YOU FIT WORKING OUT INTO YOUR BUSY SCHEDULE, FOR INSTANCE, WHEN YOU WERE WORKING ON “HALF & HALF”?
Valarie: Uh, let me think back! (she laughs) Sometimes when you get old the memory goes! Actually, with “Half & Half” we were on the best schedule. It wasn’t like your typical episodic where you’re working 12 to 14 hour days. Instead of starting really early in the morning, we would normally start at 10am and finish up by 3 or 4 and on shoot days by 8pm. So I would go work out afterwards which was great! As many days as I could get in. I wasn’t always up for 5 days a week. I feel that you have to at least get in 3 times a week. You get in 3 times a week and you’re doing well. Any more than that and it’s a bonus.
KM: I’M GOING TO TOTALLY SWITCH IT UP AND ASK YOU HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT OUR NEW PRESIDENT!
Valarie: I’m IN LOVE with our new president! I love him! I have a CRUSH on him! I have a CRUSH on my First Lady! I’m just feeling so much joy for those two little girls! Oh my God! I…I guess I’m feeling the way that my parents did about Kennedy. I get it now. One, I am proud of the man that he is…I believe in what he stands for and what his goals are as president.
And THEN because he’s an African American. I did not CHOOSE him because he’s African American. But I’m not gonna lie, it’s an awesome thing. I never thought, in my lifetime, that this day would come… and… I wish my dad were here to see it.
KM: WHAT CHANGES WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE MADE WITH BARACK AS PRESIDENT?
Valarie: My number one hope, and it’s already started because we elected him, is that we finally become color blind. I think once we do, at least on that level, we will be truly chosen for our abilities! I’d like to think that would also play a big part in the entertainment industry - for more minorities to be placed in leading roles. Speaking from a woman’s point of view, an African American woman at that, it would be nice to see it get to a point where it’s OK to have more than one black female on a show!
KM: LET’S TALK ABOUT MICHELLE…
Valarie: Ooooh! I wanna be her when I grow up! She’s everything we could want in a mother, a wife, and also a First Lady! She brings everything to the table! She’s smart, witty, she’s a great mom – you can tell! Just look at her kids! And you KNOW she’s a great wife because look at the way President Obama looks at her! There’s a lot of love and a lot of respect there. And I just want to add, I don’t know if it’s the public’s perception or the media’s of how everyone feels about what he’s going to do for us, but it’s going to take time. But there is a definite shift for a better world and he’s already started it by who he is and I’m ready to take the journey with him. He’s been left with a mess and I feel he’s going to do the best he can. That’s all you can ask for. Everybody I know, people on the streets, are ready to work. He can’t do it alone, we have to change our way of thinking and doing things and, unless we all pull together, nothing’s going to get done.
KM: ON THE SUBJECT OF RELATIONSHIPS – YOU RECENTLY CAME OUT OF A 19 YEAR MARRIAGE. HOW IS IT BEING 48, SINGLE, AND ADAPTING TO A NEW LIFESTYLE?
Valarie: I feel like a kid again. (she grins) I can’t wait to see what comes next, scared too! Full of anxiety about where life is going to take me, but as long as I keep that childlike wonder, it doesn’t overwhelm me – the fear doesn’t take over and I don’t start wondering “Oh my God! – I’m 48! Is it all downhill from here?” Instead I say to myself “Wow! What’ll I do next?!” And because I AM wiser and older – I don’t have to make the same silly mistakes that I made as a kid. I’m really finding the joy in the discovery of who I really am and what I really want.
KM: AND DATING?…
Valarie: (She groans) Ok, to be honest with you, at this time in my life (she laughs) I like being alone! I really don’t feel like learning about someone’s bad habits, dealing with their family, their friends – how I’m gonna feel about them, how they’re gonna feel about me…too much work right now! So! That being said, Who ever tickles my fancy has got to be FIERCE! Whooo! I mean the bar is set way up high for me to have to deal with that shit!
KM: WHEN DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU REALLY STARTED GROWING INTO YOURSELF?
Valarie: It was during my first one-woman show entitled “Finding My Voice”. It was a chronicle of my life in show business and the amazing people who influenced my life. That exploration was profound. And being alone on stage for the first time, for an hour and a half, singing and dancing and story telling was a daunting task but the most thrilling experience I have ever had!
KM: AND WHEN WAS THAT?
Valarie: I was 43 years old…
I still have to constantly fight to believe in myself. Sometimes the business of show business has a way of making you doubt yourself, or it can be just old tapes that run through my head, it’s still not easy, BUT I have strong faith. I’m still so passionate about my chosen profession that I STILL will not take no for an answer.
I once went to a Women In Film luncheon and Suzanne De Passe, who used to run Motown and is a great producer, was the guest speaker and she said something that I will never forget – she said, “If I can’t go over the mountain, I’ll go around it!” I love that visual! You’re not giving up – you’re just finding another way.
I think, at this age, I find comfort in living in the present and not worrying about the future. That can change from day to day, moment to moment because of outside influences, of course, but I like who I am right now. I’m a good person, I love my friends and family so much, and I really enjoy meeting new interesting people who are good people.
I deal with a few little pains here and there. Every once in a while I’ll look in the mirror and see something and say “Oh my God! That wasn’t there last month!”, but there ain’t nothing you can do about it - and I choose not to go under the knife! But instead of looking at the negative, I’ll flip it around and say my mantra which is…”Shit! I’m still here!...having the time of my life!”
After our interview, I walk Val out to her car, which happens to be a snazzy Frontier pickup truck. As she hops in she says, “ You should see the look I get when I pull up to red carpet events!” And as she pulls away, I think...now THAT’S a Kougar!
Having dedicated her entire life to artistry and entertainment in one facet or another, Paula is able now to draw on her many different skills to help create and contribute to Kougar Magazine. “Working in an incredibly competitive industry where one has to constantly find ways of building and maintaining self-esteem has given me the passion to help others do the same. It’s not easy and, hopefully, Kougar Magazine will bring a little support, relief, and even a smile!"