Interview with Richard Brooks and Victoria Rowell of “The Ruth and the Ruthless” on BET+ by Suzanne 5/25/21
This was such a fun interview! You probably know Victoria from “The Young and the Restless” or “Diagnosis Murder” years ago. You may know Richard from “Law & Order,” “Good Trouble,” “The Haves and the Have Nots” or many other shows. Between the two of them, they have an impressive list of credits. Victoria not only stars in the show but also created, produced and directed it. With her history at Y&R, and all of her friends and colleagues in the daytime soap industry, she has a lot of rich material to spoof.
Here is the video of our interview!
Suzanne: I’m glad I got to talk to both of you. Victoria…I interviewed you in 2014 over the phone for, I think, it was one of your Chandler family Christmas movies.
Victoria: Oh, sure. Sure. With Melinda Williams. Yes.
Suzanne: Those are great.
Victoria: Thank you.
Suzanne: And Richard, you’ve been some of my favorite shows like Bosch – I love that show – and Law & Order, of course, I mean, my gosh.
Richard: Oh, yeah. Bosch was fun too.
Victoria: Yeah, now he’s doing Shameless.
Suzanne: He’s everywhere.
…So, the trailer for Season Four looks hilarious. I like how you’re making fun of the soap actors having to use mannequins and things like that. That was really brilliant. That’s not a question; that’s just a compliment, but if you want to expand on that, feel free.
Victoria: Well, with COVID, obviously, different productions, we’re resorting to different ways of getting the scenes in the can, whether it was actually using the spouses or significant others of the actual actors, so they could be close, and they were in their own bubble. I don’t know if you know that. So, the kissing scenes are actually done with husbands and/or wives in soap opera. And certainly mannequins were being used, and I just thought, “God, I’ve gotta put it in the show.” I mean, this is fantastic. So, that was it, and the actors were amenable to it. We had a lot of fun with it, at the same time, including COVID as a character.
Suzanne: All right, and a lot of masks and jokes about masks and that kind of thing.
Victoria: Right, and not really making fun of actors. I never want to say that. I’m not making fun of daytime, but the situations that we find ourselves in in daytime, because the reality is that we are producing 64 pages a day, and anything that is producing a movie in one day, the wheels are going to come off the rails, but I defer to Richard, who’s also a producer on the show.
Richard: Well, I didn’t get to work with a mannequin, but it was fun. It was fun. It was definitely fun. A lot of the cast had fun with that.
Suzanne: I think they used it most on The Bold and the Beautiful, and then they later made fun of themselves with it by having a character (Thomas) who was obsessed with the mannequin who looked like the woman (Hope) he was obsessed with, and then he had a brain tumor, a head injury or something, and her husband (Liam) walked in on him making out with the mannequin and flew off the handle. So, they’re good at making fun of [it] too.
Richard: Oh, that’s funny, yeah.
Victoria: Right, right.
Suzanne: It was ridiculous. It was ridiculous.
Victoria: So, we’re happy to be on BET+, our new home. It is an opportunity for our viewers, our fans, to watch all four seasons; they can binge watch. There’s a hashtag binge-watch weekend on BET+, and, of course, Richard was nominated for an Emmy. We’ve won Best Ensemble Cast, and our audience is growing with this bigger platform.
Suzanne: Yeah, that’s really great. I have to sign up. I haven’t signed up yet.
Victoria: Oh, yes, you must, and there’s a seven day free trial. Go for it. $9.99 a month.
Suzanne: Yeah, I belong to all the others. It adds up, doesn’t it?
Victoria: It does.
Suzanne: So, seasons one through three had six episodes each, and I was looking on Amazon; it said that there’s five episodes this season. Is there any particular reason for that?
Victoria: COVID. You know, just we were so fortunate to be able to shoot; this is a SAG-AFRTA production, but we were able to produce a really cogent, soapalicious, scintillating season of five episodes.
Richard, what did you think about the pace at [which] we were going and what we were able to produce?
Richard: Well, I mean, it’s always such a smooth pace. I mean, you’re such a great director and create such a good environment for all the cast and the actors. So, I think we all just have fun, and it’s always fun whenever we get to come back and do the show and do another season and all get together. You’ve created such a great family environment for everyone. So, I know the pace didn’t seem hectic or anything. I felt we went really smooth, and it was really organized and tight, and it was just great that we were able to get another season together.
Victoria: Thank you, Richard. And that’s how it went.
Of course, we’re held to the same standards. If you’re new media production or ultra low budget, you’re still held to the same COVID safety standards. So, we had our COVID safety officer on set; we had a nurse. We had to do testing, [have] individually packaged meals, I mean, all the COVID safety protocols are in place. Of course, SAG rep visits [the] set, and I always want my actors, as would any producer or producers on a show – You don’t want to get shut down, and you certainly want the environment to be safe but happy, and we achieve that each season.
Suzanne: And do you know yet whether they’ll be a season five?
Victoria: We don’t know yet, but I always write on speculation that I will get picked up, and so I just finished working on Richards courtroom scene. You know, he’s involved in the art forgery business. So, I continue to write, and I work with a wonderful writing consultant, Victoria Christopher Murray, and I just keep going. You know, it has momentum, and we’re really privileged to be able to work, certainly during a global pandemic, and we enjoy working together. Richard and I have been working together for like, 25 years. We started on Diagnosis Murder working together.
Richard: I like when you said you’re gonna try to get Dick Van Dyke to come in. That’d be so great.
Suzanne: Wouldn’t that be great?
Richard: Yeah, he was so amazing to work with.
Suzanne: Yeah, he’s still working.
Richard: He’s the nicest man. He was the nicest man on the show when we did that.
Suzanne: Yeah, I watched all of that show.
Richard: Having his family there with him, that was just so cool. I really loved that, you know?
Victoria: Yeah, yeah, he’s really –
Richard: You were doing two shows. I remember when we met, she just blew me away, because she was running two shows at the same time, like full time cast member on that and on on your soap, but it was crazy.
Victoria: The Young & the Restless, yeah.
Richard: The Young & the Restless, yeah. It was just so energized, and they just made it all work. I was like, “Wow, anything is possible in Hollywood.”
Victoria: Anything is possible.
Richard: You know what I mean?
Victoria: That was Viacom CBS, and by the way, Bryton James, who plays the rapper, Traque, on The Rich & the Ruthless, Suzanne, he played my foster son, then my adoptive son, on The Young & the Restless, Devon. So, he came on and did a guest star role. So, people have to tune in to watch that, but he just was nominated today for Best Supporting Actor on The Young & the Restless. So, we hope he’ll win an Emmy for us on The Rich & the Ruthless.
Suzanne: Oh, that’d be nice.
Richard: Oh, wow, that’s great.
Suzanne: Yeah, I will say, what you said about anything is possible, if you have as much talent and drive and energy as she has –
Richard: Really, exactly. It’s incredible. It’s incredible, and these are based on her novels, too. So, she’s a novelist also.
Suzanne: Yeah, I was going to say…
Richard: So, [she’s] just prolific. Fiction and non-fiction.Suzanne: …When I interviewed you in 2014, you were talking about [how] you were writing, I think, you called it at the time, The Rich & the Restless, and I remember thinking, “Restless,” they might think that’s too close to The Young & the Restless, and then you made a TV series out of it. So, that’s amazing.
Victoria: It really is a testament to putting, you know, the power of the pen and carrying it all the way through. And, you know, it started with an artist residence [at] the Hambidge, in Georgia. I got a fellowship, if you will, artist residency, and I was able to finish one of the two books. And it starts with just the discipline. As you know, Suzanne, and certainly Richard knows, [it’s] just staying in the chair and finishing the manuscript and just having a passion for your project.
I have a great cast. We have Alesha Renee, who’s now recurring on Kenan. We’ve got Robert R’ichard, who plays our son. Richard plays my husband, and I play, obviously, his wife. Robert R’ichard is going to be starring on Harlem, the series Harlem. And then, we have Akilah Releford. We have Vivian Lamolli, who’s starring in All the Queen’s Men along with Chrystale Wilson. I mean, the list goes on. Our actors are working actors. So, I’m so fortunate to have this incredible cast. Michael Colyar.
Suzanne: I was looking at your cast list last night, and I had seen in the previews that you have Shadoe Stevens, and I remember him from the early 80s when he was doing the Federated commercials. Did you ever see those?
Victoria: I didn’t see those.
Suzanne: You should go on YouTube and look. There’s a compilation of all of his hilarious commercials for this electronics store in California.
Victoria: He’s great. He’s great. He’s very supportive, and he’s an integral part of the cast…
Richard: I was going to say, “He’s so funny, too.” He’s just so funny on the show.
Victoria: He’s hilarious.
Suzanne: Even in the promo I saw he was really funny. I went back and watched the promos for the other seasons too, so I could sort of get a sense for them. I think your promos are getting better too.
Victoria: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah, we’re really happy with BET+. BET+ has really come on board and pushed the series and into another dimension, and looking forward, obviously, to what the consensus will be after the summer, and hopefully we’ll have a pickup.
And I have a second soap opera, as well. So, we’ll see what happens.
Suzanne: Do you have a title for that one?
Victoria: I do. I do, but I won’t say it yet.
Suzanne: Okay. What else can you tell us? For those who haven’t watched it yet, what can you tell us about season four?
Victoria: Well, I’ll start, and Richard, if you want to chime in anywhere, but season four, we pick up with the devastating fan club cruise for The Rich & the Ruthless, Destination Nowhere, and the boat is faulty, because the Barringers, well, Max Berenger (R’ichard), our son, is trying to cut corners and save money. So, he leases a faulty boat, which takes on water. So, that was our cliffhanger for the fan club cruise. Season five picks up with who survived out there in the treacherous waters off the coast, and we see some of our cast stranded. We see some of our cast and the Barringers who have survived, and some of them have not really been able to maintain all of their faculties. Some people are seeing ghosts. Richard chime in anywhere.
Richard: Yeah, and then, our son, Max, is trying to take advantage of our misfortune and our predicament to seize control of the of the soap opera. So, we’re fighting with him. It’s good; it’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of fun. We’re still trying to maintain the show and keep the show going.
Victoria: Yeah, he’s always trying to prove himself. He’s like – you know, his parents are iconic in the business, right? [It’s] the only black-owned broadcast soap opera in Hollywood, and Max wants to be a movie producer. He wants to be a rap producer. He’s trying to do everything and anything to get out from under the shadow of his parents. So, he makes mistakes.
I do want to say that we have fabulous soap opera vets on the show. We have Brenda Epperson, who played Ashley Abbott on The Young & the Restless. We have Kimberlin Brown [who] played…a major villain on The Young & the Restless. I think she just went over to General Hospital. So, we want to encourage soap fans and film and primetime fans, because we covered the gamut in terms of talent. There’s something for everybody, and it is a dram-com.
Richard: And it does all happened during COVID. So, it’s funny that we’re persisting to do the show in the series with all the COVID protocols and complications that come from doing it with masks on and stuff like that. So, it’s really funny.
Suzanne: Are Brenda and Kimberlin in season four, as well?
Victoria: Brenda’s is in season four, and she has a very prominent role in season four as network exec head of daytime, Edith Norman, and she plays a part that she hasn’t been given the opportunity to play in her career. She’s just so treacherous. She grabs her chest when she sees her performances. I mean, she takes your breath away, but it’s fun for her to play.
We also have fabulous comedians. We have Gabi Sanalitro, we have Elaine Ballace, and we have newcomers to the show. We have Guerin Berry.
Richard: Michael Colyar.
Victoria: Michael Colyar, who was mentioned. So, we’re fortunate to have this incredible cast. Kristen Mako, who’s a newcomer. Yeah.
Suzanne: So Richard, you’ve never been in a daytime soap opera before, right?
Richard: No, no, I haven’t, no.
Suzanne: In real life, I mean.
Suzanne: So, Victoria, of course, spent many years on The Young & the Restless, and she wisely used her knowledge and experience from that show to satirize in The Rich & the Ruthless. Was there anything in the script that surprised you to learn about soaps?
Richard: Well, I mean, you know, whenever I speak with Victoria, she tells me some of the stories. I mean, what really surprised me the most is that this is based on some real experiences, all the things that happen on the show and all throughout the seasons and stuff. The pace of it is crazy, you know, that they that they’re able to produce the shows in a day, which is amazing to me, and just the level that the actors bring to it, just the work ethic. I think people miss that a lot of times. They don’t realize [it]; they see it as fun or sort of easy, whatever. I don’t think they really realize how challenging that is as an actor, to stay on top of it, to try to go home and learn your lines, and then still be there on the set and just stay focused and give a turnout, great performance. So, it was fun. You know, this one is great, though, to me, because I love the comedy level to it. I just love that we get to have fun and put a little bit of a spoof spin on it, and then, just the freedom that we have. Also, this one is funny, because this is one of the larger casts I think that I’ve been on with the show this consistent. And the fact that she’s able to put together this amazing cast, such a large cast, that adds to it, all these things add to how much fun it is. So, yeah, but I mean, I’ve had a few opportunities, I guess, to be on soaps, but it never panned out. I wasn’t available, but, yeah, I like it. I think it would be funny.
Suzanne: Yeah, you probably have a larger cast than like actual soaps, daytime broadcast soaps. General Hospital has a huge cast; you probably have a bigger one, looking at the list.
Richard: Yeah, exactly.
Victoria: You know, soaps have about 30 cast members. So, we’re right about there; we’re like, 27.
Suzanne: I think one of the things that they do now, because they can’t afford to pay as much as they used to; they can’t afford to pay as many regular actors, is they do this – I know at least two of them do this constant revolving door of characters, or they’ll have like two or three that are always on, and then everybody else, they go out of town, and then they come back. They do that, and it drives the fans crazy. I’m sure the actors aren’t too happy about it. But what are you gonna do when the costs and the ratings and everything – I don’t know if you ever touched on that in the show or not, because…you’re characters are on a shoestring [budget].
Victoria: Well, in season one, Richard does address it. He calls Willie Turner (Colyar), who plays the judge, the gardener, the butler; he plays this black character, plays multiple characters on the show. He calls him into his office – and Richard, do you want to expound on [that]? [unintelligible]
Richard: Yeah, I tell him I have to cut his salary in half with cutbacks. He goes, “Half?!” He thinks he’s coming in to get a raise. So, it’s really funny. He comes in all confident and like, “Yeah, I know you called me in, and I’m gonna get a promotion. I’m gonna get a thing.” And I’m like, “No, I cut you in half. Sorry Willie.”
Suzanne: Yeah, now they don’t have those big splashy weddings anymore. They’ll have like, five people and and some guy who’s always the minister, even though he’s not really. He’s like, “Oh, I did the online minister thing.” Like, there’s this guy Carter on The Bold and the Beautiful, and they’re finally giving him an actual story. Before he would just be the guy who married everybody, and he was a lawyer. So, they don’t unfortunately have those big splashy weddings that they used to have with all the whole cast.
Richard: Oh, yeah.
Victoria: Yeah. So, we do address it, is the point. We’re constantly addressing. Every season we address cuts. We’re constantly arguing. Like in season four, Edith Norman, played by Brenda Epperson, along with Robert R’ichard tell the wardrobe mistress, played by consummate actress Dawnn Lewis, that she has to identify and put used wardrobe on different actors. And she’s like, “What wardrobe? You make a return everything that has a price tag on it.” We’re constantly [addressing] . It’s always in the script.
Suzanne: That is funny.
So, let’s see. Victoria, what have you learned most about writing, directing, and producing since you first started working on this show?…
Victoria: Well, I’ve been producing live shows for like 20 years for fundraisers, big shows, like with Patti Austin, and Yolanda Adams, and Sharon Stone, and Sheila E. I’ve been doing that for a long time. I stopped doing it, because it requires a lot of work to do a live show with big talent like that, but I include that as part of my experience, of course, and coming from theater and ballet. So, all of that has informed what I do today, as a producer, for sure.
And in terms of writing, of course, Viacom CBS gave me my first – Dick Van Dyke gave me my first [script] writing opportunity, and I really – I guess, in summary, it’s the sum of all of my experiences that inform running a tight ship that is malleable at the same time and fun to work in. as Richard described. So, I’m as good as my team. My first ADs, my second ADs, my DP, you know, my team, all my hair and make-up [team], right down to the food. And my SAG-AFRTRA rep, of course, my cast led by Richard. So, I’ve learned through people I’ve worked with, being on the set with a Dick Van Dyke; it starts at the top down, the tone of the set. It starts with the top down on the other side of the camera, so I’ve just learned to be sensitive to that.
Suzanne: Are you still going to be writing books, or you’re focusing just on the TV shows right now?
Victoria: I may do another book. I have another book that I want to write, but my scripts – I’m working on a Christmas movie right now, and I have a Christmas movie coming out on BET that I directed this December starring Bill Bellamy, titled A Rich Christmas.
Richard, what are you working on right now?
Richard: Well, I’m writing also a little bit. Yeah, I have a new screenplay I’m working on. And yeah, I’m just working on The Rich & the Ruthless.
Victoria: I have a question for Richard. How was it working on Shameless recently?
Richard: Shameless was really, really fun. You know, Bill [Macy] was just a great, great character. And, again, it was a little bit more comedy. So, that was just really – I got to play Big Liam. It was like a future Liam, the little son on the show, with all his attitude and his his language and a way to, like, talk to his his father and cut them down. So it’s just, it is really shameless. I mean, that show is really funny. They push it; they push the envelope so far that it’s incredible. And I think this is their last season or the last season coming up. So, it was great to just get to talk to Bill a little bit behind the scenes too and just see what that experience has been like, what he’s looking forward to, in the future. And we go back, too. We started with Law & Order. He was on the show…
Richard: In one of the first seasons, I think, actually, when we first started it. And his wife, we graduated high school together; we went to art school, Interlochen Arts Academy. So, it’s a small world. You know, it’s great. With Hollywood, I think you get a lot of years and in the game. You’ve connected with people, and then when you get to reconnect, like with Victoria and I, it’s always like you just pick up right from where you left off. That kind of thing about being an actor is one of the things I really love. A lot of times it’s just one of those those great fortunate things to have a long career.
Suzanne: I’m trying to remember. I remember you playing Paul Robinette. Was it only on Law & Order? Were you an SVU as well? Did you cross over?
Richard: The only one I crossed over was when they had Chicago Justice. Robinette came in for that season of that show, but, yeah, I’ve recurred a lot as a defense attorney now from leaving the practice and to join. And now I think they’re going to come up with a Law & Order for the defense. I think that’s in development. I think that was picked up.
Richard: Hopefully Robinette will get to reappear there.
Suzanne: That would be great. I couldn’t remember if they’d killed off your character or not, because there’s so many characters on Law & Order.
Richard: Yeah, no, it’s a great universe. It’s so good.
Victoria: I played a judge on SVU, a recurring judge. So, that was cool, but, yeah, Richard’s right. It’s full circle, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention we also have a number of wonderful – Davetta Sherwood, also from Y&R, has guest starred. Dorien Wilson, who plays Pastor Bell. Starletta DuPois. I mean, you can see we have a big cast. They don’t play every season, but we’re so fortunate.
Suzanne: And Richard, I heard you singing on YouTube. You have quite a voice.
Richard: Thank you. Yeah, I’m trying to get I’m trying to get Victoria to write me in to sing a little bit and serenade her sometime on the set.
Victoria: It’s coming. It’s coming.
Suzanne: I listened to your Bill Wither’s song, and that was good.
Richard: Thank you. Yeah, I love that. Yes, you know, social media now is a great opportunity to kind of express a little, you know, talents that you don’t really get to do a lot with. So, I want to do more with the music, but that’ll be fun.
Suzanne: Okay, so any anything else you’d like to tell your fans?
Victoria: Well, I just like to remind folks to get their BET+ subscription, #TheRichAndTheRuthless. You can reach me on instagram and twitter @VictoriaRowell. Richard?
Richard: Yeah, same thing. Yes. Support the show. We appreciate all the fans who have supported all these seasons and crossed over from BET+, and you can follow me also. @RichardBrooksJr on Twitter, @RichardLeeBrooks on IG, or Richard Brooks on Facebook. That way just continue to support us; we really appreciate everybody, and we really love that we have this opportunity to do this show.
Interview Transcribed by Jamie of http://www.scifivision.com
VICTORIA ROWELL STARS IN THE AWARD-WINNING SERIES, “THE RICH AND THE RUTHLESS” BEGINNING THURSDAY, MAY 13 – SERIES HAS NEW HOME FOR SEASON FOUR ON BET PLUS (BET+)