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Lisa Raye

A native of Chicago, Illinois, Lisa Raye was born Lisa Ray McCoy on September 23rd, 1967. She attended Eastern Illinois University, and had a short-lived marriage that left her as a young, single mother to her daughter. Lisa Raye stayed out of the spotlight and didn't pursue a showbiz career; her foray into film only occurred after a roommate of hers encouraged Lisa Raye to audition for a local movie called Reasons. Lisa Raye flubbed her audition for the three-line role she was trying out for, but impressed director Monty Ross so much that she ended up landing a lead part. Reasons had trouble finding a distributor and went largely unseen when it was released in 1996, but Lisa Raye received acclaim for her work, and was thereby encouraged to try again. Following Ross' advice, Lisa Raye moved to Los Angeles for pilot season, and landed guest-starring roles on such black sitcoms as Martin and In the House. She also appeared in Tupac Shakur's final video, "Toss it Up," which caught the eye of hip-hop star Ice Cube. Ice Cube soon chose Lisa Raye for his 1998 directorial debut, The Players Club. Lisa Raye was indelibly on the map with her performance as a troubled stripper, and her fame grew the following year when she was cast in the ensemble piece The Wood, alongside Omar Epps, Taye Diggs and Richard T. Jones.

Lisa Raye was back on television in 2000, this time as co-host of Source: All Access, a popular hip-hop news and entertainment show. Lisa Raye was uniquely qualified for the show, since her younger sister is hip-hop artist Da Brat. In between her TV gig, Lisa Raye appeared in more movies, including the made-for-TV movie Rhapsody (2000), The Cheapest Movie Ever Made (2000), Date from Hell (2001), and All About You (2001In 2002, Lisa Raye starred in Civil Brand, a "women behind bars" movie that won Best Film at the 2002 American Black Film Festival, plus the Audience Award and a Special Jury Prize at the 2002 Urbanworld Film Festival. In 2003, she appeared as a gambler in Gang of Roses, alongside Stacey Dash. In the meantime, with her sister's support, Lisa Raye recorded a song, first with Benzino, and then with her Gang of Roses co-star, Grammy-winner Lil' Kim.

During this time, Lisa Raye became the spokesperson for Hennessy cognac, and traveled the country on a 20-city tour. Since 2003, Lisa Raye can be seen as a regular on the UPN sitcom All of Us, created and produced by Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. Lisa Raye plays a self-absorbed ex-wife, Neesee James, who must come to terms with a new family dynamic. She finds the role especially rewarding because it mirrors her own life as a single mother, while the episodic sitcom format gives her both a new challenge and welcome stability.

A "Raye" of Light: An Interview with Actress Lisa Raye

We sat down to speak with the beautiful, LisaRaye while in Los Angeles on the “Never Blend in Tour” promotions for Hennessey. She told us about the 20-city tour and the current path she is treading for her career. To find out where her next stop will be, visit www.neverblendin.com.

AH: You are doing a 20-city tour. Tell us of one moment that stands out in your mind so far?

LR: I will never forget St. Louis! I went to one of their local liquor stores. It was a small little area and there were tables in the back. Everyone was coming in and out. I saw this guy posted to my left for the entire time that I was there. When it was time for them to walk me out to the car, I walked by the guy and he grabbed me. He held me tight and laid a wet, yucky kiss on my cheek and said “Girl, come here – I love you!” I could not do anything but say, “thank you.” I got in the car and screamed, “That should have never happened!” But it was great fun. All of the kids were outside, hanging from the light poles and stop signs. The neighborhood really came out and showed mad love. I was just so surprised; and I was in the hood. I never would have had the opportunity to go there if it was not for Hennessey. I appreciate this whole thing. I realize that these fans never get an opportunity to see anybody that they’ve seen on film or in print. They never thought in a million years that they would actually see and get to meet me.

AH: With your emphasis on being a mother, do you feel a sort of responsibility of being the hostess for an alcoholic beverage?

LR: It was a business decision. I would never front. Everything is business along with the power of relationships. I knew if I was able to come aboard the business side of Hennessey that would elevate me. It would help me to be able to be out there with my fans, promoting, representing Hennessey, but also give me the chance to grow and have someone grow with me. I am not speaking to the people telling them to just go out and drink. I am targeting the mature mind and adults. If you are going to drink, make sure that choice be Hennessey.

AH: How do you like being the Hostess/Spokes model for Hennessey?

LR: I see this being a long-term relationship. This is our first year doing The Never Blend in campaign and I think it’s awesome. I have shown them that besides seeing who the hosting model is, they are coming out to see LisaRaye. That’s name recognition. So if Hennessey is saying to me, I want to grow with you and your career. I don’t want to stand still. I want to go up. Anyway to elevate me, let’s do the damn thing.

AH: Can you talk about the independent film you starred in, Civil Brand?

LR: We had a lot of problems with the film. I shared a lot of my emotions. I honestly think I went too deep on that film. It was my first drama piece, my first reality piece, and I felt that I had something to prove coming from “Players’ Club” and “The Wood.” I am the woman that started the riots against the male prison guards that were raping and molesting the women in jail. You do your time but no one really says anything about what you go through when you go to jail. Although my character brings you into the jail and I had to form a sister unity inside, for me, business is big business. So I was being educated all the while, because I did not realize that at first. It leads me to ask whether or not we are really rehabilitating people in prison with our tax dollars. So it was bigger than just doing a character for me. My character was a mother of a daughter. That hit close to home for me because I am the single mother of a thirteen-year old girl. It was deep for me. Now I know where to cut it. Mos Def, Lark Voorhees, my sister The Brat, Monica Calhoun, MC Lyte, and a host of people that made the film spectacular.

AH: What advice would you give to young women who want to follow in your footsteps?

LR: It’s not easy! So often we forget about the other words, “show business.” We know the show aspect, but the business side of that requires that you be educated. You have to know how to read, annunciate, hold, smart, and stay focused. It cost money to get a stylist, and a make-up artist – all of that for fifteen seconds of fame. I want to let them know that it’s not easy. I cry sometimes and it’s all right. You have to stay focused. I am just glad to be here, working, able to wake up and live.

Lisa Raye is a multi-talented entertainer

Starting her acting career relatively late, Lisa Raye was able to make it on her own terms. We admire her judgment and sophistication -- such as endorsing a swanky cognac like Hennessy instead of some "lite" beer.
After becoming an actress almost by accident in her early 30s, Lisa Raye has gone on to become a lauded presence in black television and cinema. Her breakthrough performances in The Players Club (1998) and The Wood (1999) were soon topped in Civil Brand (2002) and Gang of Roses (2003). Meanwhile, she's been a mainstay on TV's Source: All Access, and the UPN sitcom All of Us. A fiery and independent personality, Lisa Raye has occasionally been taken to task for the friction between her and other celebrities; but with her good looks, jaw-dropping physique and distinctive style, such troubles don't seem so surprising.

Nevertheless, while Lisa Raye is often the victim of the Hollywood rumor mill -- especially when it comes to her personal life -- she remains a caring and devoted single mother, in addition to being a multi-talented entertainer. Lisa Raye has a laid-back yet vibrant and distinctive personality. She's always eager to interact with her fans, but at the same time, as the single mother of a teenage girl, she's conscientious enough not to let her daughter get caught up in a celebrity lifestyle. Still, sometimes Lisa Raye's fiery personality goes too far, such as when she recently complained about being bumped from the September/October 2003 King magazine cover (Mya was on the cover instead).

Lisa Raye's talent has underlined everything she does. The good reviews she got for her role in Reasons launched her career, and critics agreed that in movies like The Players Club, The Wood and Civil Brand, she only got better. In addition, Lisa Raye used her extensive hip-hop knowledge to good use while hosting Source: All Access, and has even recorded singles with Benzino and Lil' Kim.

Lisa Raye may indeed be the mother of a teenage daughter, but that hasn't stopped men from fighting over her. Readers of Black Men magazine named her The Year's Sexiest Woman in two consecutive years -- a distinction matched by no other star. Lisa Raye's sex appeal is demonstrated by the wild rumors of her romantic adventures. Gossipmongers have linked her to athletes such as Michael Jordan, Jalen Rose, Allen Iverson, Gary Payton, as well as to musical artists such as Naughty By Nature's Treach and hip-hop star Benzino. But Lisa Raye dismisses such talk: "They want to put me with all of the people that got some money, but let them be available, though!"

In 2000, Ebony magazine named her one of the top five rising female stars of that year. She's appeared in numerous men's magazines since, including Black Men magazine and Smooth.

With deep, enchanting eyes and a charmingly seductive smile, Lisa Raye's beauty is hardly a matter for debate. Her looks have just the right balance of sweetness and sass to give her the best of both worlds. But there's still room for her to maneuver: Lisa Raye sometimes adds brown or blonde highlights to her natural jet black hair. As for her physique, Lisa Raye is just as impressive -- even if she is a mom in her late 30s. Her voluptuous and curvaceous body remains in peak condition, and it's been featured in a string bikini in magazine spreads.

Lisa Raye's fashion choices are often quite varied, within set limits. For example, she tends heavily toward earth tones -- beiges and browns -- which complement her complexion. But within this narrow palette, Lisa Raye paints some pretty adventurous fashion pictures. On one occasion, she might wear a leather skirt and leopard print hat for a stylish safari look, while some other time she might appear dressed in a two-piece dress, with her belly bare and hair tied back, the way an Arabian princess would wear it. Yet when sophistication is in order, you'll catch Lisa Raye in a demure copper-colored evening gown.

Lisa Ray “All I’s On Her”

The one-woman promoting machine that is Lisa Raye is hell bent on making it big. On her terms.

Lisa Raye is a true hustler fo’ real. The curvy, grown-up actress has several completed and soon-to-be-released films under her belt (including the prison drama Civil Brand and the Western-flavored Guns and Roses), a role on Will and Jada’s new UPN show, All of Us, travels the world promoting Hennessey, makes very successful swimsuit calendars and has a spot in the Bravo reality series about actors in L.A., The It Factor. Only in America could all this be parlayed from a role as a stripper (she broke through in Ice Cube’s The Player’s Club in 1998).

Known for keeping it truly gangsta, it’s obvious LisaRaye wears the pants in her relationships. Perhaps she learned the game from her late father, who flipped an 8th grade education into serious paper as a street-savvy entrepreneur. Being a daddy’s girl gave LisaRaye an old-school mentality: she’ll cook for you and break you off proper, but, fellas, get your credit card balances to zero, because she’s definitely gonna put it to work!

Lisa Raye takes a trip to prison

LisaRaye wears a white ensemble form-fitting enough to give two sneak peak into her body's mysteries in an air-conditioned room. She is a little discombobulated over the interview schedule to promote her starring role in the political prison drama, Civil Brand, but she seems to take it all into stride by joking with reporters about playing musical chairs.

Truth be told, LisaRaye looks every inch the seductress she plays right down to the skivvies in The Player's Club. With her heart-shaped face, large brown eyes and cascading multi-hue hair she could stop traffic and perhaps is the reason why the 405 Freeway is so congested with the film's poster looming large.

Production for Civil Brand was disastrous at best. Problems with finance and rights plagued the shooting schedule and forced the cast and crew into prolonged filming cessations. As a result, the film hits the screen as disjointed and pieced-together product with contrived performances.

As Frances Shepard, the newbie on prison role with other hotties like, Nikki Barnes (N'Bushe Wright) and Little Momma (Lark Voorhies) exudes innocence and naivete. In almost every scene before the violent crescendo, LisaRaye has eyes cast down and thoughts hovering around her child. As a single mother, herself, the former model and sister of rap star Da Brat, channeled the motherly instinct into her big screen role and small screen role in Will and Jada Smith's new UPN comedy "All of Us" about joining broken families.

How did you get involved with Civil Brand?
They wanted me! (Laughs) I was involved with this at the first draft of the writing of this movie. And it wasn't the same storyline, but because I was a very new actress at the time, any movie that would have came down the slot for me, I would have table read for anybody. I liked the story because it was different type of character that I've ever played, so I was very ansty - 'Let's do it! Let's do it!'

How did this film change through production?
I will be very honest with you, this film had been done two years ago and prior to that, the table read was a year ago. I cannot remember what that script was like three years ago opposed to what we have done now. I know that's it's a total different story, it's political now than it was before. It's more character-driven than it was before and it's deeper than it was before. Seems like to me, when I first read it, it was more of a movie and not more of a documentary movie type-thing. It was more like a shoot-em-up-bang-bang [type of movie].

When was the last time you saw the film?
Girl, I'm sick of seeing the film!

Was it difficult being a new actress and working with a new director?
You have to understand what it took for us to film this movie and how [Director Neema Barnette] really pieced this movie together, so when we're looking at it, we're looking at it totally different like 'Wow! She did an incredible job with what she had to work with.'

Since the production was so disjointed, how did you manage to recreate your character every time you can back to it?
I thought it was some bullshit! I said, 'We're missing how many scenes and you're going to try to get this all in one day?' I'm a team player, so I will be down with you, but I sure don't know how you're going to pull it off, but I'm here and that was my whole attitude. And because I had to stay true to the character because the character is who I portray, then I had to do my job, but I had to leave[the director's] job with [Barnette] because if I had to do her job too and try to think about how this was all going to come together, then it would have messed with my character.

Was it difficult to channel your character each time after a filming hiatus?
As a director, [Barnette] sat us down and said, 'Okay, this is where we left off. This is what your character's position is and this is what you're trying to portray.' So as an actress, that's what our job is - to stay true to that, so it was easy to get back into the ripe of things with a group of women that you've been working with for a month already. [It was like] a football game from Sunday to Sunday - you don't forget what happened last Sunday. You get back together with your teammates and it's like, 'Okay, let's do the damn thing.'

Your character, Frances Shepard, seems to be slightly different from who you are in real life. Do you see yourself in your character?
I think in every character that you portray, there's a little bit of you in it. The similarities of my character in Civil Brand [and myself] is after I actually kill my husband for self-defense, I become a single parent. I am in real-life a single parent (to a 13-year-old girl), so my hustle, my surviving skills [are] much more stronger than they were or what they wouldn't be if I weren't a single parent.

Does being a single parent affect your choices as an actor?
I don't want to portray anything that isn't true that isn't real, isn't honest and is something that she would be embarrassed of. [Some critics asked] 'Why would you choose a movie [like] The Players Club to do (where she played a stripper), but to be very honest with you, that was real. My characters had goals - she did what she had to do and she moved on, so I brought my daughter to the set to make sure that she knew the difference between the character that I was portraying and her mother. Even in the videos that I do, I don't want to portray any of the slang-term 'hoochie mamas' … that's too much.

Do you think there's a line between 'hoochie mama' and being sexy? If so, what is it?
What is sexy? To me, sexy is when you have more on than you have off when you're just like BAM! Here I am and here it all is for the taking. That, to me is not sexy. That, to me is, 'Come get it. And then I'm going get it. And I got it.'

So no nudity for you then?
I did that in The Player's Club. A lot of times you were supposed to see me topless or bottomless and I was like 'Come on. This is not what it's all about. It's not about the T & A.' Let her have this one strip scene because she's a stripper and I understand that we need that in there and let's be done with it. And that's what we did.

What about the level of violence in the movie? You play a woman, who kills men. Do you worry that you're sending the wrong message about justified violence?
There's a certain amount of honesty that you have to portray and to worry about when you do movies. Half of it is for the form of entertainment and the other half is to tell the story - the true story. I would ask you, if someone did all that to you and you were in prison because you did the crime and you're doing the time, would you if given the opportunity to get this person off of you and to keep this person off of you, would you kill him?

Personally? No.
Well, if you weren't given a choice and if it were me against that person, then I would choose myself to kill that person, to keep that person off of me. Absolutely. And that's exactly what happened in the film. Is it right under the law of life? Probably not. Under the biblical law of life - probably not, but how long do you really take the molestation and the beating and the whatever to get someone off of you?

Tell us a little bit about 'All of Us'.
The storyline is loosely based on Will's and Jada's lifestyle - about Will and his ex-wife and his son collaborating together with the new-found family and blending the two families together, which is not always an easy task to do. I play the ex-wife. I am the baby-mama drama.

Are Will and Jada going to make cameos on the show?
Yes. Absolutely. Will has six episodes and I don't know how many Jada has. He's portraying my first boyfriend after the divorce.

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